Issue Report: Death penalty

Is the death penalty justified?

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? These and other sub-debates are framed below.

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

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.”

Executions respond appropriately to the most heinous crimes

"The Death Penalty is an Affirmation of the Sanctity of Life". LA Times.

A two and a half-year-old girl was kidnapped, raped, sodomized, tortured and mutilated with vise grips over six hours. Then she was strangled to death. Her assailant, Theodore Frank, according to court records and his own admissions, had already molested more than 100 children during a 20-year period. A sentence of death is the only appropriate punishment for such a serial assailant committing such an extraordinarily heinous crime.”

Innocent life must be valued over that of a murderer

Executions help society express horror and abhorrence of murder

Don Feder, Boston Herald Columnist. "McVeigh Makes the Case for Capital Punishment". 21 May 2001

“Executing a murderer is the only way to adequately express our horror at the taking of an innocent life. Nothing else suffices…A murderer sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole can still laugh, learn and love, listen to music and read, form friendships, and do the thousand-and-one things (mundane and sublime) forever foreclosed to his victims.”

Life imprisonment does not repudiate murder like capital punishment

"The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment". Jewish World Review. 19 June 2001

“‘The loss of freedom for the remainder of one’s life is no mild punishment,’ James Bernstein of New York wrote to the Times. ‘We do not need the death penalty to express society’s utter repudation of those who would take the lives of others.’

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

"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.”

The death penalty is about punishment/due desert, not vengeance

"What do Murderers Deserve?". Commentary Magazine. March/April 1999

“Opponents of capital punishment describe it as a surrender to emotions–to grief, rage, fear, blood lust. For most supporters of the death penalty, this is false. Even when we resolve in principle to go ahead, we have to steel ourselves. Many of us would find it hard to kill a dog, much less a man. Endorsing capital punishment means not that we yield to our emotions but that we overcome them. If we favor executing murderers, it is not because we want to but because, however much we do not want to, we consider ourselves obliged to.”

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 sufficient punishment; execution is excessive

"The Death of McVeigh: A Time to Reflect". Letter to the New York Times. June 13, 2001

“The loss of freedom for the remainder of one’s life is no mild punishment. We do not need the death penalty to express society’s utter repudation of those who would take the lives of others.”

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

"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.”

Murderers might "deserve" death, but decency requires mercy

The Christian Century. February 17, 1988

“Opponents of the death penalty should be emphatic that relative to what is ‘deserved’ — that is, to what those who have committed murder have reason to claim from their society — there are many who ‘deserve’ to die. Indeed there must also be many who similarly ‘deserve’ that penalty among those who receive lesser sentences (as also among other guilty persons who are never apprehended or are not convicted). Indeed, there are some for whom legal execution is much better than what they ‘deserve.’ If the rhetoric rings a bit harsh to anti-capital punishment sensibilities, it is not designed for preaching to the converted. Somehow it must be conveyed that the capital punishment debate is not about what murderers deserve, but rather about how society should express and defend its fundamental values.”

Killing is never justified; the death penalty is no exception

The death penalty does not advance any social objective

P. N. Bhagwati, former Chief Justice of India. – “Death penalty does not serve any social purpose or advance any Constitutional value”

Compassion: Does capital punishment demonstrate compassion and decency?

Capital punishment is compassionate to the victims

"The Unjust Logic of Sparing Murderers". August 1998

“It is up to the law 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.”

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.'”

Death is more compassionate than life in prison

Patrick Henry: – “Is life so dear… as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! …but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

The state does not honor the victim by emulating the murderer

William Brennan, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice. – “the state does not honor the victim by emulating his murderer.”

Capital punishment is void of compassion

Jesus Chris interrupting a public execution of a woman for adultery. John 8:7, (NKJ)

“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Jesus said this to point out that no man is sinless, and, therefore, that no man or woman can maintain a perfect moral high ground from which to severely punish another person with execution. Jesus’ actions here are commonly interpreted to mean that a level of compassion, sympathy, and forgiveness is needed in any just law, and that a law that lacks such principles – such as capital punishment – is unjust.

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.

Opposition to executions is not about sympathizing with murderers

"The Case Against The Death Penalty". American Civil Liberties Union. 1992

– “Opposition to the death penalty does not arise from misplaced sympathy for convicted murderers. On the contrary, murder demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. For this very reason, murder is abhorrent, and any policy of state-authorized killings is immoral.”

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.”

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

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

"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.”

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.

Wrongful convictions can be fixed with better prosecutors

"Death Penalty Guards What is Valued Most". International Herald Tribune. 8 Mar. 2001

“American media, already biased against capital punishment, made a sensation of stories from Chicago about wrongful prosecution. The governor of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions. Most of the stories did not say, however, that the “innocence” was often technical. More than half the “innocent” defendants were later convicted. And malfeasance by prosecutors does not mean the death penalty is wrong, it means Illinois needs better prosecutors.”

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.

Due process is all that is required, even if it risks wrongful execution

Since 1973, 123 in 25 US states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. The Innocence project indicated that more than 150 people have been exonerated on the basis of DNA testing that concluded that they were innocent.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.exonerated_death_row_inmate

Wrongful executions cannot be corrected, violating due process

"A Legal Quest Against the Death Penalty". NYTimes. 2 Jan. 2005

“DISPLAYING ABSTRACT – Judge Jed S Rakoff of Federal District Court in Manhattan discusses novel legal argument against capital punishment which he developed while overseeing death penalty case; interview; his 2002 ruling pointed to increasing number of DNA exonerations and wondered whether death penalty violates due process because executed prisoners cannot pursue claims of innocence.”

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.”


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

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”.

Capital punishment is not "unusual" ("cruel and unusual")

"Ten anti-death penalty fallacies". The New American. 3 June 2002.

“The death penalty is not unusual. All of the nations of the world have had the death penalty on the law books throughout most of their recorded history, and the death penalty remains on the statute books of about half of the nations of the world. The death penalty was on the statute books of all the states of the U.S. when the Constitution was adopted. It is far more unusual to have no death penalty than to have a death penalty.”

Death penalty can/should inflict pain on murderers; due desert

"Who Weeps for the Blood of the Weiler Family?". Chicago Tribune. 14 July 1999

“When Allen Lee Davis got a nosebleed during his execution, it caused an uproar. Few of those crying foul even knew what he had done to deserve execution.” Some go beyond this, arguing that causing pain to the executed is justified as a proportional (due desert) response to the heinous crimes they’ve committed.

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.


The death penalty violates the inalienable right to life

Families: Is capital punishment good for the families of victims?

Executions give solace to families; killer will never kill again

"The feeble 'arguments' against capital punishment". Jewish World Review. 19 June 2001

“The families of murder victims do not stop mourning when the killer dies, but for many, there is indeed a measure of solace in knowing that the monster who destroyed their loved one will never hurt anyone again. Abolishing executions certainly won’t bring ‘closure’ to grieving relatives. On the contrary, it will deepen their torment, mocking them each time they remember that the person they loved is in the grave, while his killer continues to breathe.”

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.”

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.

Capital punishment does not bring "closure" to families

Larry Fitzgerald, Spokeswoman for Texas Department of Criminal Justice. – “With an execution, everyone is a victim. I never believed any of that crap about closure.”

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.”

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.”

Modern society: Is capital punishment appropriate in modern society?

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.

Capital punishment is not barbaric; it is often a civilized punishment

"Preserving the Dignity of Man. The Case for Capital Punishment". Prison Fellowship Ministries. 2001

“Why is it barbaric to require that one who violently steals the life of an innocent (or 168 innocents) not be allowed to keep his own? Where is the moral tradition that prescribes life for mass-murderers? How can it be civilizing to tell the world’s worst people that no matter no matter how many victims they butcher, no matter what cruelty they inflict on others, the worst that will happen to them is that they will go to prison? Those are questions that abolitionists never answer.”


Modern states regulate executions, unlike barbaric executions elsewhere

"Ten anti-death penalty fallacies". The New American. 3 June 2002

“The arbitrary use of capital punishment in totalitarian societies argues for ensuring that government never abuses this power; it does not argue against the principle of capital punishment, which, in a free society, is applied justly under the rule of law.”

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?

The death penalty is uncharacteristic of a decent society

Abe Fortas, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice – “Why, when we have bravely and nobly progressed so far in the recent past to create a decent, humane society, must we perpetuate the senseless barbarism of official murder?”

Executions characterize oppressive, undemocratic countries – “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.”

Killing in any form victimizes all of humankind

"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.

Society is judged by how it treats prisoners; executions fail test

“One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishment that the good have inflicted.”[20]

It is wrong to give a person the job of executing another person

Crime: Does capital punishment help protect the public and deter crime?

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.

Capital punishment is 100% effective in preventing a murderer from killing again

There are many instances in which released, paroled, or escaped murderers have gone on to kill again. Capital punishment eliminates this risk. In this way, capital punishment is important to ensuring that murderers will never kill again, and in protecting innocent citizens.


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

"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

"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.”

Executions punish the guilty so can't encourage killing the innocent

"Ten anti-death penalty fallacies". The New American. 3 June 2002

“If capital punishment teaches that it’s permissible to kill, do prison sentences teach that it’s permissible to hold someone against his will, and do fines teach that it’s permissible to steal? In actuality, this fallacy confuses killing the innocent with punishing the guilty. To punish the guilty via the death penalty is not to condone the shedding of innocent blood. Just the opposite, in fact, since capital punishment sends a strong message that murder and other capital crimes will not be tolerated.”

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]

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

"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.”

Capital punishment does not deter crime

"Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Critical Review of the New Evidence". Testimony to the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Codes and other committees on the Future of Capital Punishment in the State of New York. 21 Jan. 2005

“These new studies [that claim a new evidence supports the conclusion that capital punishment has a positive deterrent effect] are fraught with technical and conceptual errors: inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all the relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key states, the tyranny of a few outlier states and years, and the absence of any direct test of deterrence. These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication and basic comparisons with other scenarios. Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in New York State compared to others, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or executions deter murder.”

"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:

alifornia 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.

Using death penalty to fight crimes distracts from underlying problems

"The Case Against the Death Penalty". 1992

“Reliance on the death penalty obscures the true causes of crime and distracts attention from the social measures that effectively contribute to its control. Politicians who preach the desirability of executions as a weapon of crime control deceive the public and mask their own failure to support anti-crime measures that will really work.”

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]

Implementation: Is capital punishment implemented consistently and fairly?

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.

Race is not a significant factor in capital punishment cases

"Death Decisions". 8 Apr. 2004

“The issue of race has been cited by critics, who complain that minorities are unfairly chosen for death sentences. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, white inmates have made up more than half of those under sentence of death. In 2002, 71 persons in 13 states were executed: 53 were white and 18 were black. The Cornell University study found that African Americans represented 41.3% of condemned inmates while they committed 51.5% of homicides.”

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.

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.”

Capital punishment is excercised irregularly and arbitrarily

US Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Furman v Georgia, 1972

“When a country of over 200 million people inflicts an unusually severe punishment no more than 50 times a year, the inference is strong that the punishment is not being regularly and fairly applied.'”[24]


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]

The state should simply not be involved in killing people

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