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Debate: Death penalty

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Is the death penalty justified?

Background and context

Capital punishment is the execution of a person by the state as punishment for a crime. The word "capital" comes from the Latin word "capitalis", which means "regarding the head". At one point and time capital crimes where punished by severing the head. Crimes that can result in the death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offenses. Capital punishment has been used in societies throughout history as a way to punish crime and suppress political dissent. In most places that practice capital punishment today, the death penalty is reserved as punishment for premeditated murder, espionage, treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries sexual crimes, such as rape, adultery and sodomy, carry the death penalty, as do religious crimes such as apostasy (the formal renunciation of the State religion). In many retentionist countries (countries that use the death penalty), drug trafficking is also a capital offense. In China human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are also punished by the death penalty.

In the past, capital punishment has been practiced in almost every society. Currently, only 58 nations actively practice it, with 95 countries abolishing it. Many countries have abandoned capital punishment, including almost all European and many Pacific Area states (including Australia, New Zealand and Timor Leste), and Canada. In Latin America, most states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment, while some countries, such as Brazil, allow for capital punishment only in exceptional situations, such as treason committed during wartime. The United States (the federal government and 36 of its states), Guatemala, most of the Caribbean and the majority of democracies in Asia (e.g. Japan and India) and Africa (e.g. Botswana and Zambia) retain it. South Africa, which is probably the most developed African nation, and which has been a democracy since 1994, does not have the death penalty. This fact is currently quite controversial in that country, due to the high levels of violent crime, including murder and rape.

The latest countries to abolish the death penalty de facto for all crimes were Gabon, which announced on September 14, 2007 that they would no longer apply capital punishment and South Korea in practice on December 31, 2007 after ten years of disuse. The latest to abolish executions de jure was Uzbekistan on January 1, 2008.

Around the world, the capital punishment debate revolves around a number of questions, which are important to layout as a way of summarizing the moral trade-offs of the debate. They include, is capital punishment intended primarily as a punishment? Is it a just and proportional punishment for certain crimes, like murder? Do murderers and some other criminals commit crimes so horrific that they forfeit the right to life? Should innocent life be valued over a murderers life, and does capital punishment demonstrate this? Is life imprisonment without parole a sufficient punishment? Is the idea of proportional justice a slippery slope to abusive forms of punishment? Does capital punishment jeopardize our sense of the "dignity of life"? Or, is it important to demonstrate compassion even to murderers by sparing them their lives? Is the purpose of our prison system retribution or rehabilitation?

Is the execution of innocent convicts a serious problem. Is it OK that wrongful executions can't be corrected? Does this deprive due process, by foreclosing the option of appeal to those that have been executed? Does it generally contravene a right to due process, even for those that are guilty?

Is the death penalty a necessary means of demonstrating the horror felt by a family and a society at a crime? Or, should we draw a line before capital punishment? If a family or a public desires capital punishment to see "justice done", is it important for the law to grant these wishes? Does capital punishment give solace, closure, and comfort to families and society generally?

Is the death penalty a legitimate means of protecting society? Is it important to kill a murderer so that they have a 0% chance of killing again? Or, can we trust that prisons should be able to hold these prisoners with 100% effectiveness so as to prevent further murders? Does capital punishment have a deterrent effect, dissuading criminals from committing future crimes? How disputed is this notion? If it remains highly disputed, can policy be based on it? Even if there is a deterrent effect, should this be considered? Or, would this be an instance of the ends (deterrence) justifying the means (capital punishment)?

Is it a major concern that innocent people may be wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to death? Does this happen infrequently? Is it statistically insignificant, or does it only have to happen once for it to put the whole idea of capital punishment on hold? Does capital punishment violate the notion of due process by killing those that might make future appeals?

Are capital punishment convictions given in a discriminatory manner? If so, is this a problem with capital punishment or the judicial system? Is it possible to apply capital punishment consistently, or is it susceptible to arbitrary application?

What are the economics of capital punishment? Is capital punishment more expensive than life imprisonment? Should the economics be considered?

These are the moral questions that must be asked by an individual considering this debate, and attempting to fully weigh its pro and con arguments.

Contents

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Justice/desert: Are executions sometimes required to uphold justice/due desert?

Many people believe that the only appropriate punishment for murder is the death penalty, as this matches the original crime. Some people, however, argue that life in prison is a greater punishment than the death penalty. As a result they say that if the goal is to punish a person as severely as possible, life without parole can be seen as meeting this objective better than capital punishment.
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Yes

  • The death penalty is proportional punishment/due desert for murder US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Majority opinion in 7-2 ruling that the death penalty is a constitutionally acceptable form of punishment for premeditated murder. 2 Jul. 1976. - "We are concerned here only with the imposition of capital punishment for the crime of murder, and when a life has been taken deliberately by the offender, we cannot say that the punishment is invariably disproportionate to the crime. It is an extreme sanction suitable to the most extreme of crimes."[1]
Bernstein has it exactly wrong. A society that bans the death penalty outright is confirming that it does not utterly repudiate its worst murderers. The United States last week made clear just how seriously it regards McVeigh's monstrous crime. Change the law so that no future McVeigh can be put to death, and the United States will be sending a different message: Mass murder isn't that bad."
  • Death penalty addresses crimes where victim can never be compensated Steven Farrell. "A Conservative Case for the Capital Punishment". 18 Mar. 2005 - "If one robs a store, the captured thief can pay back the debt and, in fact, under biblical law (which is better than today's law) would be tasked to work for the man he robbed until the debt was satisfied seven times the value of the goods stolen. With such a bounteous payback, the thief is then freed and, by his honorable labor, restored to a position of trust..." Farrell continues that murder is not a repayable crime, that society can never again trust that person again, and that the person, therefore, permanently forfeits all rights as a citizen, including the right to life.
  • Executing killers is not comparable to raping rapists "The Death Penalty: Morally Defensible?". Casey's Critical Thinking - "Abolitionists often insist that if we argue for lex talion justice we must be prepared to rape rapists, beat sadists, and burn down the houses of arsonists...Why then, if it is not morally okay to rape rapists, is it acceptable to execute murderers? The answer is simple. There is no redeeming value to carrying out the former punishment. Raping the rapist will only cause someone else to degrade themselves by doing it. It will not prevent the rapist from raping again. Executing murderers, however, prevents them from committing their crime again, and thus protects innocent victims. The good, therefore, outweighs the bad, and the executioner is morally justified in taking the murderer's life."[2]


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No

  • Eternal torture worse than clean break Imagine this room. It's a dirty, unkept room, with cockroaches and rats looking for bits of food. The people living near you are ready to kill, rape, and hurt you. The food is horrible. You feel terror in the night when you hear someone being beaten up. Now, this is life imprisonment, and you have to live this way until the rest of your life. Now, the death penalty. It's a clean break, where you are shown in TV, have a conjugal visit, have an expensive, delicious last meal, then you are painlessly killed by lethal injection. It's humane and painless. Now, compare these two punishments. Life imprisonment is certainly worse than death penalty. Life imprisonment is the same as torture, while in the death penalty, you get a clean, painless break wihtout having remorse for your crimes. Plus you shouldn't have committed a murder if your life is perfect. If you got a happy family and people that care about, you shouldn't even be thinking about murdering someone unless you have a reason for wanting life imprisonment, or the death penalty. A perfect life is when you have people who love you and you love them back. One of the many reason someone might chose to do something against the law is because they are after money, too much money.
  • Life in prison is a greater punishment than the death penalty If the goal is to punish a person as severely as possible, life without parole can be seen as meeting this objective better than capital punishment. The reason is that life without parole forces a murderer to live out their remorseful life, whereas capital punishment saves them from living it. This is why many people on death row express feelings of relief about being put to death.
  • The punishment principle of an "eye for an eye" is debunked Steve Kangas. "Myth: Murderers deserve death." The Long FAQ on Liberalism. - "Fact: Only God or an omniscient being could determine that; Jesus argued against "an eye for an eye.". Summary. Almost all societies have dispensed with the principle of "an eye for an eye," and considered it a step toward more enlightened civilization. Christians who cite "an eye for an eye" in their defense of the death penalty are usually unaware of the strict criteria that God imposed before it could be used to take human life. The Old Testament also allowed the death penalty for crimes that today we consider less than misdemeanors -- clearly, the Old Testament law is archaic. Finally, Jesus himself argued against the principle of "an eye for an eye."
  • Proportional justice risks justifying extreme punishment such as torture If the death penalty is considered a "proportional" punishment for someone who commits 1 murder, wouldn't we need a harsher sentence for a person that tortures and murders 10 people? If proportionality is the model, we might have to torture criminals in order to exert sufficient punishment. Therefore, the inherent flaw in a concept of justice based on "proportionality" is that it has no limits, creating a slippery slope to torture in the name of justice.
  • The death penalty is merely a vehicle for vengeance Harry Lee Anstead, Florida Supreme Court Justice, dissenting from a ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the electric chair. St. Petersburg Times. 26 Sept. 1999 - "Our justice system is not simply an instrument of vengeance, despite the connotation to that effect contained in the extreme rhetoric that sometimes surrounds the constitutional debate over continuing use of the electric chair."[3]



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Compassion: Does capital punishment demonstrate compassion and decency?

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Yes

  • The executed are not deprived of everything; they keep their souls. Capital punishment could only be the severest and most horrific punishment if it was able to deprive the executed of their souls and their after lives. But, it only deprives them of their bodies and lives on earth.
  • Capital punishment best prepares an evil soul for the after life Some argue that capital punishment is something like a spiritual medicine in the sense that it saves a man's soul from an evil life on earth. That is, capital punishment prevents a man from committing additional crimes and sins on earth, and so saves them from further damnation in the afterlife.
  • The death penalty best fosters repentance Pro Death Penalty Webpage - "Death can actually be a peaceful and spiritually enlightening experience. Victims rights activist group 'Justice for All' presents an excellent example of my meaning below: 'The movie Dead Man Walking demonstrates a very good example of how just punishment and Jesus' message of love and redemption can work together: Had rapist/murderer Matthew Poncelet not been properly sentenced to death by the civil authority, he would not have met Sister Prejean, he would not have taken responsibility for his crimes and he would not have reconciled with God. Had Poncelet never been caught or had he only been given a prison sentence, his character makes it very clear that those elements would not have come together. Indeed, for the entire film and up until those last moments, prior to his execution, Poncelet was not fully truthful with Sister Prejean. His lying and manipulative nature was fully exposed at that crucial time. It was not at all surprising, then, that it was just prior to his execution that all of the spiritual elements have come together for his salvation, something no prison sentence is able to do. It was now, or never. Truly, it was his pending execution which finally led to his repentance. For Christians, the most crucial concerns of Dead Man Walking must be and are redemption and eternal salvation. And, for that reason, it may well be, for Christians, the most important pro-death penalty movie ever made.'"


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No

  • Capital punishment does not allow for repenting as life imprisonment does John Paul II was one of the strongest advocates of life without parole over capital punishment, and applied the above rationale. He strongly upheld the Catholic principle of repentance as well as social forgiveness, in the tradition of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and maintained that any just legal order would need to apply these principles at the same time as penalizing criminals. He argued that life imprisonment was the best route to achieving all the objectives of redress, societal protection, repentance, and restitution simultaneously.[7].
  • Only love can conquer hatred and murderous acts Hector Black, whose daughter Patricia was murdered in Atlanta, Georgia in 2000, Victim Impact Statement delivered before the Fulton County (Georgia) Superior court, January 2002. - "I know that love does not seek revenge. We do not want a life for a life. Love seeks healing, peace and wholeness. Hatred can never overcome hatred. Only love can overcome hatred and violence. Love is that light. It is that candle that cannot be extinguished by all the darkness and hatred in the world. Judge Goger, that is the reason we are not asking for the death penalty."[8]


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Innocents: Is it wrong to be concerned about executing innocent people?

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Yes

  • Unquestioned guilt does not carry risk of wrongful execution. There is often no doubt of the guilt of an individual. The evidence may be obvious, with clear DNA testing, witnesses, and a guilty plea from the murderer. In these instances, there is no risk of executing the innocent, making this argument irrelevant. When there is room for doubt, this should be weighed into the equation. Therefore, the concerns of executing an innocent person must be approached on an individual basis.
  • Mistaken convictions have not translated into wrongful executions Michael Nevin, Freelance Journalist. "Death Decisions". The American Daily. 8 Apr. 2004 - "Several myths about the death penalty have been reported but continue to be debunked upon closer examination. The Liebman study at Columbia University, 'Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995,' released its results in 2000 claiming serious flaws in the system, including a high 'error' rate. It was later revealed that the misleading 'error' included any issue requiring further review by a lower court, even when the court upheld the sentence. The 23-year study found no cases of mistaken executions. The numerous appeals in capital cases demonstrate the extraordinary adherence to due process. The fallacy that innocent people are being executed cannot be validated, and it is intellectually dishonest for opponents of the death penalty to perpetrate this myth. The death penalty in America is undoubtedly one of the most accurately administered criminal justice procedures in the world."
  • Some risk of executing the innocent must be tolerated G. Edward Griffin in The Great Prison Break - "If we design a legal system that will be so generous to the suspect that there is absolutely no possibility of unjustly convicting that one out of ten thousand defendants who, in spite of overwhelming evidence, is really innocent, then we have also designed a legal system that is utterly incapable of convicting the other 9999 about whose guilt there is no mistake."[9]
  • DNA testing increases assurances of guilt; basis for executions Some argue that DNA testing has revealed the innocence of some that have been on Death Row, believing it indicates that the system is flawed. Yet, DNA testing cuts in favor of capital punishment, increasing assurances that the guilty are guilty and the innocent are innocent. If we can be more certain of guilt, we can be more certain that capital punishment is justified.
  • Exoneration from death row is not proof of innocence When people are let out of death row, it is often because re-consideration found that there was not sufficient proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not necessarily because proof was found of innocence.
  • Due process is all that is required, even if it risks wrongful execution The law does require only due process to justify the execution of the orders of a conviction. As long as the person is seen to have received due process in receiving a death penalty conviction, it is justifiable to execute them. It matters not if they are later determined to have been innocent; justice was carried out.
  • Wrongful convictions do not mean that the system is wrong. It is true that occasionally people are wrongly executed under the capital punishment. However, this does not mean that the death penalty should be abolished. Rather, it means that suspects should be scrutinized more closely.



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No

  • Risk of executing innocent people undermines death penalty Since 1973, 123 in 25 US states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.[10] The Innocence project indicated that more than 150 people have been exonerated on the basis of DNA testing that concluded that they were innocent.[11]
    This appears to create a likelihood that many individuals have actually been executed that were innocent. This is too many, particularly when the executed are seen as innocent victims of the state. This is harmful to the state and the judicial system, and is sufficient evidence to shut down the practice.
  • Individuals are executed on murder charges whom deserved manslaughter "Thoughts on the death penalty". Retrieved 1 May 2008 -
    "The person convicted of the murder may have actually killed the victim and may even admit having done so but does not agree that the killing was murder. Often the only people who know what really happened are the accused and the deceased. It then comes down to the skill of the prosecution and defence lawyers as to whether there will be a conviction for murder or for manslaughter. It is thus highly probable that people are convicted of murder when they should really have only been convicted of manslaughter."


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Cruel and unusual? Is it wrong to consider the death penalty cruel and unusual?

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Yes

  • The death penalty is not cruel Chief Justice Earl Warren, Trop v. Dulles. - "Whatever the arguments may be against capital punishment, both on moral grounds and on grounds and in terms of accomplishing the purposes of punishment.... the death penalty has been employed throughout our history, and in a day when it is still widely accepted, it cannot be said to violate the conceptional concept of cruelty".[12]


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No

  • Mistakes in executions can be very cruel/unusual. It can be cruel and unusual. e.g, if someone is hanged, but strangle to death. Also, sometimes, criminals do not die, and are still taking the effects of the punishment, for example, being electrocuted, but still being alive, and taking the pain of the volts.
  • Executions are cruel and unusual punishment, violating human rights
    The death penalty is severe in the damage it causes to the human body. Inflicting mortal damage on the human body, whether by electric chair or lethal injection, is equivalent to or even worse than torture, and violates basic human rights that are inherent and irrevocable. The death penalty is also cruel and torturous in the way that it inflicts psychological damage on convicts that wait on death row.
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Families: Is capital punishment good for the families of victims?

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Yes

  • Executions take vengeance out of hands of loved ones Jeff Jacoby - "It is up to the law to speak to them-to speak for all grief-stricken survivors confronted with the butchery of someone near and dear. Capital punishment says to them: We, the community, take your loss with the utmost seriousness. We know that you are filled with rage and pain. We know that you may cry for vengeance, may yearn to strangle the murderer with your bare hands. You are right to feel that way. But it is not for you to wreak retribution. As a decent and just society, we will do it. Fairly. After due process. In a court of law."[13]
  • Loved ones should not have to support a killer in prison "The Death Penalty: Morally Defensible?". Casey's Critical Thinking - Take, for example, a murderer who took the life of a teenager. The parents of the victim will be among the taxpayers that pay for his meals and his cable television. Should he choose to take advantage of college courses the prison may offer, the parents of the victim will be indirectly financing those expenses as well. Nothing could be further from justice. It is of this type of situation that the abolitionist approves. Somewhere along the line, their priorities have been turned upside down.
  • Can any one say that the people who hit the twin towers should be let free. Punishment is to create fear among the likes who are in line to do this kind of criminal acts.
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No

  • The death penalty does not bring back a loved one -- Sharon Borcyzewski, whose daughter was murdered in 1997, Arizona Republic, 12 Apr. 2004. - "The assumption is all too often made that all murder-victim family members want the death penalty. The horrible reality for those of us who have lost loved ones to homicide is that nothing that happens to their murderers is going to bring our loved ones back."[15]
  • The death penalty does not honor the memory of a loved one Jennifer Bishop, whose sister Nancy Bishop Langert and her husband Richard Langert were murdered in 1990. - "Our sister Nancy and her husband Richard were a young couple expecting their first child when they were shot to death in their home. They loved and valued life; our sister was carrying life within her when she died a terrifying and brutal death. Her last act as she was dying was to write a message of love in her blood. We can't imagine making the death of another human being her memorial."
  • The death penalty harms the family of the executed Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography - "almost any criminal, however brutal, has usually some person, often a person whom he has greatly wronged, who will plead for him. If the mother is alive she will always come, and she cannot help feeling that the case in which she is so concerned is peculiar, that in this case a pardon should be granted. It was really heartrending to have to see the kinfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment."[16]
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Modern society: Is capital punishment appropriate in modern society?

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Yes

  • It is acceptable to give a person the job of executing another. Some argue that it is cruel to delegate the task of execution; however, it is perfectly acceptable if the executioner opted for the job. While it is indeed unfair to pressure someone into becoming an executioner, claiming that "it is wrong to give a person the job of executing another" is not a reasonable argument.


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No

  • Same footing The state kills the murderer. The murderer kills an innocent soul. The state then kills the murderer. The murderer kills, and the state kills the murderer too. What's the difference? Every life is valuable. If the state kills, then the state is at the same footing with the murderer. Surely the state is better than a murderer? We cry when animals are killed, but we don't cry when humans are killed legally?
  • Executions characterize oppressive, undemocratic countries deathpenalty.org - "The USA is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers. The vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America -- more than 105 nations worldwide -- have abandoned capital punishment. The United States remains in the same company as Iraq, Iran, and China as one of the major advocates and users of capital punishment."[18]
  • Killing in any form victimizes all of humankind [19] John Donne (1572-1631), a Jacobean poet and preacher. "Meditation XVII: No man is an island...". 1624 - "All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." In other words, the death of a fellow human kills a part of all of us, and, therefore, the death penalty kills a part of all of us.
  • "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" - Mahatma Ghandi. In other words, if we insist on holding to an ideology of punishing a crime with proportional harm and suffering to that which was inflicted on victims, we will all lose sight of the real solution to our problems, which is compassion and love.
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Crime: Does capital punishment help protect the public and deter crime?

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Yes

  • Capital punishment has a deterrent effect on criminal activities As a deterrent to others, it depends on how effectively the death penalty is applied; in the USA where less than 1% of murderers are executed, it is difficult to assess the true effect of deterrence. But for example, a 1985 study (Stephen K. Layson, University of North Carolina) showed that 1 execution deterred 18 murders.
  • Criminals fear death and the death penalty Pro Death Penalty Webpage - Abolitionists also hold the notion that criminals do not fear death because they do not take time to think about the consequences of their acts. If that were true, then I wonder how police officers manage to arrest criminals without killing them. When a policeman holds a criminal at gunpoint and tells him to get on the ground, the criminal will comply fully in the vast majority of of these cases. Why would they do that unless they were afraid of the lethal power of the gun? It is because regardless of what abolitionists claim, criminals are not immune to fear! It is a common misconception to believe that fear is a thought process that has to be worked out with a piece of paper. It's not! It is an instinct that automatically kicks in when one is faced with lethal force! The examples below should confirm that point.
  • The death penalty helps protect inmates and prison guards Life in prison without parole does not protect everyone from a murderer. Instead, it puts fellow inmates as well as prison guards in jeopardy of being assaulted or murdered. This is particularly true when a prisoner calculates that their life is hopeless and that their punishment could not get any worse, so why not boundlessly murder?
  • The death penalty deters crime only if it is a certainty When the death penalty is a 100% assured punishment for certain crimes, it has a strong deterrent effect. When it is a possible, "maybe" punishment, it has a much less certain deterrent effect. In the United States, few states have established capital punishment as a 100% certain punishment, with it generally being a very rare and arbitrary practice. This is one of the reasons why its deterrent effect is unclear in the states, and why US-focused studies (used frequently by anti-death penalty advocates) are less credible in determining the real deterrent effect of capital punishment. Looking to cases around the world where it is a certainty show a closer causality between capital punishment and crime-deterrence.
  • The death penalty is a just means of protecting society Steven Farrell, professor of political economy at George Wythe College. "A Conservative Case for the Capital Punishment". 18 Mar. 2005 - "The legitimate role of government involves the protection of life, liberty and property. Just as the role of the government is to raise an armed force and rain down deadly force upon a bloodthirsty invading army, so also the government is duty bound to inflict death upon the man who chooses to slaughter fellow citizens in their own backyards. Few, if any, object to the use of deadly force against an invading army. Yet those invading soldiers, ordered to fight and likely whipped up by propaganda to go into battle, are far less deserving of death than the assailant who has been proven guilty and convicted in a court of law, by a jury of his peers, of shedding the innocent blood of his neighbor – and this of his own free will. Yet we do and must condone war in such situations. Governments must protect life. This is no less true regarding individual life."
  • Deterrence is not a necessary pillar of the case for the death penalty Thomas R. Eddlem. "Ten anti-death penalty fallacies". The New American. 3 June 2002 - "Death penalty opponents love to assume that the principal purpose for capital punishment is deterrence, possibly realizing it is a perfect straw argument. Tangible proof of deterrence alone is not a valid reason for capital punishment (or any other form of punishment, for that matter), nor is it the main rationale employed by astute death penalty advocates. As Christian writer C.S. Lewis observes, '[deterrence] in itself, would be a very wicked thing to do. On the classical theory of punishment it was of course justified on the ground that the man deserved it. Why, in Heaven's name, am I to be sacrificed to the good of society in this way?-unless, of course, I deserve it.' Inflicting a penalty merely to deter -- rather than to punish for deeds done -- is the very definition of cruelty. A purely deterrent penalty is one where a man is punished -- not for something that he did -- but for something someone else might do. Lewis explained the logical end of this argument: 'If deterrence is all that matters, the execution of an innocent man, provided the public think him guilty, would be fully justified.'" Men should be punished for their own crimes and not merely to deter others. That said, the death penalty undoubtedly does deter in some cases. For starters, those executed will no longer be around to commit any more crimes."
  • Capital punishment protects more innocents than it does accidentally take the life of innocent convicts. While it is possible that an innocent person may be executed through capital punishment, more innocent people have been killed by released, paroled or escaped murderers than innocent people executed. If a society chooses not to execute its most dangerous members, it risks these people killing again. The risk of innocent people being killed exists on both sides of the topic. It is wrong for the affirmative to assert that the risk of innocent lives being lost exists only when a society uses the death penalty. It would be difficult if not impossible to determine whether more innocent lives are risked on either side of this topic. Unless the affirmative could prove that a society that employs the the death penalty will always end up killing more innocent people than it saves, the death penalty cannot be said to be inherently immoral. So long as a just society reasonably believes that using the death penalty will protect human lives and is shown no evidence to the contrary, it could justly use the death penalty.
  • Deterrent of capital punishment varies across the states.-"on average, the states where capital punishment deters murder execute many more people than do the states where capital punishment incites crime or has no effect.Using various statistical techniques, I show that a threshold number of executions for deterrence exists, which is approximately nine executions during the sample period. In states that conducted more executions than the threshold, executions, on average,deterred murder. In states that conducted fewer executions than the threshold, the average execution increased the murder rate or had no effect."
  • It is impossible to determine that deterrence is not working John Stuart Mill, in a speech in favor of capital punishment - "As for what is called the failure of death punishment, who is able to judge of that? We partly know who those are whom it has not deterred; but who is there who knows whom it has deterred, or how many human beings it has saved who would have lived to be murderers if that awful association had not been thrown round the idea of murder from their earliest infancy?"[21]
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No

  • What's a detterant?Many former death row inmates along with murderers testified that before, during, and after the crime, they didn't think or even consider the death penalty. They never thought about the death penalty as a punishment to their crimes. Then how could people say that it serves as a detterant when the criminals never even considered it?
  • Life in prison deters crime/murder as well as the death penalty Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. "Justice, Mercy, and Capital Punishment". 2005 - "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it in these words: If 'non-lethal means [such as life without parole] are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor [i.e., the convicted murderer], authority [should] limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person'. (2267). John Paul II, writing in The Gospel of Life, stressed that 'the nature and extent of the punishment [for capital crimes] must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not to go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity; in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements to the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent' (no. 56). In modern industrialized states, killing convicted murderers adds nothing to anyone’s safety. It is an excess. It cannot be justified except in the most extraordinary conditions."
  • "Deterrent-effect" of executions is too controversial to justify policy. It is not proper to conclude that more executions cause higher crime rates with the limited information available. At a minimum, the issue is too contested to base any policies on the conclusion that the death penalty "deters crimes".
  • Executions have a brutalizing social effect that can increase crime Capital punishment has a "brutalizing effect" that increases the willingness of criminals to take life.[22] If state-sanctioned killings are occurring, might an individual feel more justified in murdering another person? If governments of men can take the power of life-and-death into their hands, might this make a man more comfortable with also taking that power into his own hands?
  • Higher execution rates may actually increase violent crime rates: California averaged 6 executions a year from 1952 to 1967, and had twice the murder rate than the period from 1968 until 1991 when there were no executions. In New York, from 1907 to 1964, months immediately following an execution showed a net increase of two murders - an average over a 57-year period.
  • The ends (deterrence) should not justify means (capital punishment) It is unacceptable to justify capital punishment on the idea that it will produce a desirable social end, such deterrence. This is an example of the ends justifying the means and is unacceptable, as it could be used to justify, for instance, crucifixions in order to deter crime. More broadly, it is important not to bring utilitarian, practical considerations into a debate about life and death.
  • The death penalty denies the opportunity to study murderers to prevent future ones. It is important that scientists be able to study murderers to determine what drives them to perform such heinous acts. If society has a better understanding of the causes of murderous rages, it should be better able to prevent them in the future. Capital punishment prevents this research from occurring.
  • Executions contradict strategy of sensitivity to urban neighborhoods Daniel F. Conley, Suffolk County District Attorney, Boston Globe. 19 Sept. 2003. - "I do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent or appropriate punishment for inner-city homicide. The death penalty runs counter to the strategies for preventing and prosecuting urban crime -- which include sensitivity to the neighborhoods we serve -- that have proven successful in Boston over the last decade."[23]


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Implementation: Is capital punishment implemented consistently and fairly?

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Yes

  • Capital punishment should be based on principle, not implementation. Some of the main criticisms of capital punishment are that innocent convicts may be executed and that the form of execution may be faulty and cause the convict excessive pain. Yet, these criticisms are simply a matter of implementation, which can be improved; they are not a matter of the basic principles of justice surrounding capital punishment.
  • Any discrimination in capital punishment cases can be corrected Instances of discrimination in capital punishment cases does not mean capital punishment is wrong. Rather, it would simply show that the judicial system is acting with bias. Yet, it would be unnecessary and inappropriate to ban capital punishment on these grounds. The problem should be solved by reforms that would ensure that the judiciary is not discriminating.



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No

  • Capital punishment is too often the decision of a single authority. Because Capital Punishment is resolute and irreconcilable, its application is either reserved for extremities, or for judicial statements regarding the severity of the law concerned. Thus, it may be either used exceedingly sparingly or overtly. Any sentence that welds such influential decision changing power cannot possibly be applied equally and fairly across all Judges/Juries deciding the sentence. As such, it should be removed as sentence the court has over the people.
  • The death penalty is often motivated by discrimination -- Steward F. Hancock, former associate judge of New York's Court of Appeals. - "As a matter of common sense, one would have to conclude, as the court in Massachusetts did, that since racial prejudice affects the death sentencing systems throughout the United States and since it has affected death sentencing under the previous statute, it will affect death sentences under the present statute as well."
  • The poor are unfairly vulnerable to capital punishment The poor are less able to afford a good lawyer that will defend their interests. For this reason, their defense is generally weaker, and they are more susceptible to capital punishment convictions. It is also true that the poor are likely to suffer from certain biases that make their conviction more likely.
  • Overburdened courts cut-corners on death penalty cases Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, dissenting in the decision to allow Thomas Thompson to be executed in California; Reinhardt, S.: "The Supreme Court, The Death Penalty, and the Harris Case" (1992) - "We are presently barely able to handle our current caseload properly .... We are always looking for new fast-track procedures -- which means less careful, less thorough review of cases on the merits. ... [Soon] not only will we not be able to handle those death penalty cases properly, but we will not, in all likelihood, be able to handle any of our cases in a manner that is consistent with the standards that have traditionally marked the federal courts."[25]
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Public opinion: Do publics support capital punishment and should they be heeded?

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Yes

  • Public calls for capital punishment must be met to uphold justice If a public demands capital punishment, and yet a government does not deliver it, the public will likely feel that justice has not been served, which is highly socially damaging. One of the risks is that a public rejects the legitimacy of their judicial system and becomes more prone to flaunting its laws.


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No

  • Public opinion is not necessarily rightOK. Let's concede that public opinion does support the death penalty. However, public opinion isn't always right nor justified. The public disapproved of the Civil War of the US when it first occured, but looking from hindsight, it was one of the most important decisions in US history. Public opinion supported segregation during the time of the KKK, but racism is now illegal. Just when had public opinion has always been right?
  • Public opinion should not determine justice. Justice is not supposed to be up to public opinion. On a matter that is so centrally about justice, public opinion should play a minimal role.
  • National hysteria can lead to unjust convictions and execution As with the famous case of the Rosenburgs, capital punishment is sometimes carried out in response to national hysteria. Following public opinion, therefore, is a dangerous approach to capital punishment.
    • Much of the societal conditions which condition persons to the idea of state sponsored executions are the same that are shared by those willing to sacrifice occasionally innocent and later exonerated inmates - so long as the process could retain good enough face to keep capital punishment operating.


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Costs: Is capital punishment economically justifiable and cost-effective?

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Yes

  • Opponents of capital punishment are responsible for high costs. Opponents of the death penalty prefer to ignore the fact that they themselves are responsible for its high costs, by causing a never-ending succession of appeals.
  • Capital punishment relieves strains on over-populated prisons. Prisons in many countries are over-crowded and under-funded, and this problem is made worse by life sentences or delayed death sentences for murderers. Many of the costs of over-crowding of prisons are intangible, or they accrue to the prisoners themselves in jails and prisons who are unfairly harmed by the conditions.
  • Why should taxpayers bear costs of supporting a murderer for a lifetime? Even if the costs of an execution are greater due to the appeal processes, there is a symbolic difficulty with taxpayers paying to fully support the ongoing life of a murderer.



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No

  • Opponents of the death penalty are not to blame for the costs. Capital cases cost more on average than housing a criminal for life because criminals are motivated to make frivolous appeals that delay their execution. Why should the taxpayer pay more per criminal when they could pay less?
  • There is no such thing as a frivolous appeal of the death penalty. No criminal wants to die and any attempt to save a persons life can not be deemed frivolous, nor inappropriate simply on account of the costs. The mass amount of appeals created are to be blamed on the judicial system not the criminal.




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Pro-life: Is the pro-life, anti-abortionist consistent in supporting executions?

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Yes

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No

  • Pro-life anti-abortionists inconsistently support the death penalty. How can you be pro-life in one instance (abortion) and pro-death in another instance (death penalty)? This is a very common position of many conservatives, and is inconsistent. If life is too dignified to be taken in the case of abortion shouldn't it also be too dignified to take in the case of capital punishment? While pro death penalty advocates defend themselves by saying that murderers are guilty, not innocent, and forgo their right to life, there are reasons why this is a faulty argument. The problem is that they talk in the abortion debate about a fetus having a "right to life". If such a "right to life" exists, it must be a fundamental, inalienable right. Yet, pro-death penalty advocates argue that it is alienable or conditional upon whether a person commits certain crimes. This is wrong, a "right to life" can never be taken away, it is innate.


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Rehabilitation: Are retributive executions superior to notions of rehabilitation?

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Yes

  • Capital punishment is reserved for those beyond rehabilitation. Some individuals are simply evil. They have no prospects for being rehabilitated. Their execution is a completely appropriate in this regard.


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No



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International law: Is the death penalty legal under international law?

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Yes

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights allows for death penalty Pro Death Penalty Webpage - "Abolitionists interpret from Article 3 in that [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] to proclaim each person's right to protection from deprivation of life, especially murderers! And they also point to Article 5, which states that no one shall be subjected to cruel or degrading punishment. From this, abolitinists self-righteously declare that the death penalty violates both of these rights. But in fact, nowhere in that declaration is the DP specifically condemned as a human rights violation!
[...]And in Article 5, it states: No one shall be subjected to cruel or degrading punishment. From this, abolitionists insist that capital punishment is ruled out because it is "the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment." But that is their opinion, only! Indeed, what is stated in Article 5 is highly subjective and open to interpretation and could just as easily be applied to prisons as well. And at the time it was implemented, most nations who signed it had the had the death penalty and continued to use it long after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved by them. So obviously, the signers back then had the moral coherence to appreciate the distinction between murders and executions."


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No

  • United Nations opposes the death penalty Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations. - "The U.N. does not support death penalty. In all the courts we have set up (U.N. officials) have not included death penalty".[27]
  • The European Union opposes the death penalty Brian Cowen, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Politics, 4/22/2004. - "Ireland along with our EU partners considers that the abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. This position is rooted in our belief in the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person. The European Union favours the universal abolition of capital punishment, and we work towards this goal in our relations with third countries."[28]



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US law: Is capital punishment justifiable under US law?

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Yes

  • 5th amendment of US Constitution allows for executions It states: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."[29]
  • US Founding Fathers approved of death penalty Pro Death Penalty Webpage - "I would imagine that the Founding Fathers could not have conceived of a world or nation without capital punishment. Indeed, in those days, there was absolutely no question of the value of public safety and personal responsibility. Had they foreseen the rise in violent crime we have had in the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, they might have declared the death penalty in the preamble!"


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No

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Religion: What are the religious arguments in this debate?

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Yes

  • Capital punishment is supported by the Bible There are many passages in the Bible that provide direct support to capital punishment. Some of them are (see the argument page for more in-depth coverage):
    • Exodus 21:12-14: "Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution."[30]
    • Numbers 35:30,31,33 - "If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. Moreover you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer who is subject to the death penalty; a murderer must be put to death...You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it."Cited by Gunby as what God prescribes for the breaking of the sixth amendment
  • The executed are not deprived of everything; they keep their souls. Capital punishment could only be the severest and most horrific punishment if it was able to deprive the executed of their souls and their after lives. But, it only deprives them of their bodies and lives on earth.
  • Capital punishment best prepares an evil soul for the after life Some argue that capital punishment is something like a spiritual medicine in the sense that it saves a man's soul from an evil life on earth. That is, capital punishment prevents a man from committing additional crimes and sins on earth, and so saves them from further damnation in the afterlife.


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No

  • Religious arguments are irrelevant to the legality of Capital Punishment. The state cannot utilize religious arguments in interpreting the appropriateness of capital punishment. The separation of church and state prevents this. Therefore, while it may be interesting to consider these arguments, they should not be used one way or another in deciding the law.
  • Bible does not support the death penalty
    • Deuteronomy (30:19): "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live".[31]
    • Exodus (20:13): "You shall not kill."
  • Bible's "an eye for an eye" does not support death penalty The United Methodist Church. "In Opposition to Capital Punishment". 2004 - "In spite of a common assumption to the contrary, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' does not give justification for the imposing of the penalty of death. Jesus explicitly repudiated retaliation (Matthew 5:38-39), and the Talmud denies its literal meaning and holds that it refers to financial indemnities. Christ came among us and suffered death. Christ also rose to new life for the sake of all. His suffering, death, and resurrection brought a new dimension to human life, the possibility of reconciliation with God through repentance. This gift is offered to all without exception, and human life was given new dignity and sacredness through it. The death penalty, however, denies Christ's power to transform and restore all human beings. In the New Testament, when a woman having committed a crime was brought before Jesus, He persisted in questioning her accusers, so that they walked away (John 8:1-11)."



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Pro/con resources

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Yes


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No


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Pro/con videos

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Yes

"Alan Keyes on capital punishment". Posted on YouTube July 30th, 2007.[33]

"Mike Huckabee Life, Death & Jesus" Posted on YouTube 28 Nov. 2007.[34]

"Capital Punishment Death Penalty from a Jewish View". Posted on YouTube on April 8th, 2007.[35]


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No

"Compulsion (1959)- Orson Welles anti death penalty speech".[36]

"Death Penalty - Mistake". Posted on YouTube May 2nd, 2006[37]

"Jeremy Irons talks about the death penalty" Posted on YouTube May 11th, 2006.[38]


See also

External links and resources

Books;

'The latest book on the subject has been published by Booksurge.com in August 2009. It covers 200 years of our experimentation with capital punishment. It will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the death penalty. Read it and decide whether the death penalty is right or wrong. The author has worked on this for almost 5 years interviewing a large number of people....judges, lawyers, accused, victims and the public. A serious topic in a simple understandable way.

Name of Book: Hanged...what if he was innocent..... Author: Dr. Binoy Gupta Publisher: Booksurge.com Foreword: Justice Krishna Aiyer, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India. =='

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