Extensive scholarly literature aims to explain the different viewpoints concerning capital punishment. Some factors provide support for or against capital punishment with some of them including personal characteristics, political affiliation, and religion. Political affiliation to a great extent indicates the degree of support for capital punishment. According to Lambert & Clark (2004), Republicans show more support for capital punishment as opposed to Democrats. Religion on another hand emphasizes the importance of moral values, which explains why most religious people do not support the penalty. Various factors influence the conceptualization of capital punishment such as deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation.
Capital punishment is a discrete subsystem in the criminal justice system that equally affects government policy. The state through the judicial system has a responsibility to punish criminals. The form of punishment, however, differs with some countries embracing it. Arguments posit that the use of capital punishment deters criminals from murder, but it is not a dependable solution to controlling crime. Various legal concerns arise with this assumption of life-for-life being a solution.
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The legal issues surrounding capital punishment center on fair implementation considering the existing flaws in the criminal justice system. Laws have to be in place that explains the crimes that qualify for the death penalty for example in murder; clear rules have to indicate if the sentence is applicable for second-degree murder. The legality of it as explained by Fieser (2008), surrounds it being a public policy measure. In the discussion of capital punishment as a form of public policy, the ideas borrow from certain aspects such as proportionality, executing the innocent, and underlying racial bias.
Concerning proportionality, the focus is on whether capital punishment sentences take a uniform approach regardless of the crime committed. In an example of the Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia (1972), the court ruled the death penalty as unconstitutional. The conclusion follows the Court deciding the punishment as cruel and queer similar to an individual struck by lightning. Determining the proportions to justify the death penalty is difficult. For instance, where an individual loses their life during a fight in the bar, determining if the perpetrator is liable for the death penalty is a challenge. In evaluating the criteria for crimes that trigger the death penalty, having in mind factors such as the motive of the criminal and the level of violence helps. This becomes more difficult where the criminal is mentally ill. In such a case, exposing the individual to the death penalty proves to be unfair as committing the crime was beyond their control.
An interesting legal implication with capital punishment is the execution of the innocent. The death penalty predisposes many to undergo wrongful execution. In some instances, criminals experience wrongful prosecution for crimes they did not commit, which challenges the reliability of the punishment. The idea of executing the innocent is likely to attract countersuits from family members.
Another legal implication centers on underlying racial bias in the use of the death penalty. There is a general idea as explained by Fieser (2008), that the punishment centers on race. In a Supreme Court Case, McCleskey v Kemp, the defendant, McCleskey received the death penalty for shooting a white police officer. The underlying stereotype is that within the criminal justice system, those who murder black people experience under punishment because of the underlying racial bias.
From an analysis of the legal perspective, it is clear that the death penalty has more disadvantages as opposed to benefits. Despite deterrence presenting the opportunity for reducing crime rates, it is not a guarantee. Credible systems of rehabilitation have to be in place that encourages behavior modification as opposed to trading one life for another. By doing so, it becomes easier to revamp the criminal justice system by transforming the behaviors of criminals.
Moral Arguments Surrounding Capital Punishment
According to Sunstein & Vermeule (2005), a significant number of people consider capital punishment as morally impermissible. This means that it is a cruel form of punishment. The different supporters of capital punishment fall under various camps such as retributivists. They borrow their ideology from Immanuel Kant and argue that where an act is heinous, it is punishable through the worst form available even death.
The other defendants are consequentialists who claim that the deterrent effect of capital punishment justifies its use. It is then safe to propose that the debate on capital punishment finds roots in the assumption that the government acts as agent free from moral responsibility. Some support the death penalty from the premise of monetary charges. Having offenders imprisoned for life is expensive for the state not to mention the need to create space in the prisons to accommodate more criminals. While this viewpoint lacks the weight that necessitates the respect for human rights, it seems vain to reduce the life of other people on the merit of cutting down costs. Incapacitation is another reason that explains support for the death penalty. In this sense, offenders undergo close monitoring to prevent them from continuing their criminal acts. This is problematic as the criminals can easily get out of prison and continue with their lives. Death as a form of punishment is the ultimate incapacitation.
On the other side of the spectrum, the liberalists guided by utilitarianism provide the basis for not supporting capital punishment. Borrowing from John Stuart Mill as explained by Warkoski (2013), regardless of any idea of duty or justice, the consequences of any action undergo an examination to generate the greatest amount of good. Hugo Adam Beadau borrowing from the utilitarian perspective posits that using capital punishment to deter crime is distressingly inexact as there is no sure way of controlling crime despite the implementation of the death penalty.
Another moralistic concern stems from the deontologists. From deontologists, killing is termed as a capital offence which is wrong. This centers on the notion that capital punishment is an act with the refusal to impose on it counts as omission. The idea that the government engages in an act of omission with capital punishment by failing to protect its citizens then it still qualifies as morally unacceptable. Conservatism equally support the position by deontologists with them identified as abolitionists.
Punishment vs. Rehabilitation perspective
The death penalty serves as an example of the retributionary punishment that controls crime deterrence. For many individuals, the idea of retribution rests on granting justice to the family of the victim. However, retribution takes on a revenge approach that involves the appraisal of emotion above anything else. Emotional retribution is a critical component for support for capital punishment. The problem with the above view is that most murders are not premeditated but at times occur on impulse. The retributive pattern of thought is a traditional one stemming from the societal beliefs that advocate for the punishment of wrongdoers. Where a mass murderer kills ten people, if they received the death penalty, society looks at the act as a sigh of relief, to deter the killer from taking more lives, (Fieser, 2008). Through an analysis of Kant’s work, he believed in the value of every single individual regardless of his or her actions and their ability to become better. With revenge seeming a satisfactory solution to putting, murderers in their place, it is not effective in controlling crime in the end. The life for life punishment brings to question the ideology if indeed two wrongs can make a right. Punishment as a form of behavior modification aims to introduce a negative stimulus to change behavior. Capital punishment involves the termination of life and does not provide an opportunity for individuals to change their behavior or equally curtail criminal behavior. Punishment followed by an instruction is more useful as it provides people with the opportunity to reassess their actions and alter their behavior.
According to Marsh, Cochrane, Melville (2004), rehabilitative aims of punishment are future oriented having a utilitarian rationale and appeal. It centers on the belief that people change meaning that offenders can learn to change their behavior for the better.
The debate surrounding the pros and cons of capital punishment are continuous with various countries doing away with the system of punishment. Following its inability to curb crime, it does not prove as an effective method of controlling crime. These calls for the criminal justice system to revise how it is criminals pay for their crimes. As human beings, we have a responsibility to ensure that we protect each other from harm by valuing the importance of human life.
Lambert, E. G., Clarke, A., & Lambert, J. (2004). Reasons for Supporting and Opposing Capital Punishment in the USA Print
Marsh, Cochrane & Melville. (2004). Criminal Justice An introduction to Philosophies, Theories and Practice New York: Routledge.
Rhonheimer, Martin. (2011). The Perspective of Morality: Philosophical Foundations of Thomistic Virtue Ethics . Washington: The Catholic University Press.
Sustein & Vermuele. (2005). Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? The relevance of life-life tradeoffs University of Chicago
Warkoski, Nicole. (2013). The Philosophy of Ethics as it Relates to Capital Punishment Print