Criminal justice systems (CJS) across the world serve various penological functions, including repressing crime, reforming convicts, protecting the public, and deterring lawbreaking by punishing offenders. One of the strategies for achieving these objectives is through the imposition of death penalty, a judicial sanction reserved for lawbreakers who are perceived irredeemable. Notably, capital punishment was widely practiced in previous decades due to the effectiveness of its perceived deterrence potential and such challenges in the CJS as insufficient resources to facilitate extensive detention of the worst criminals. However, its usage has reduced significantly as justice systems continue to evolve and expose the strategy’s inability to provide a deterrence effect. Additionally, its irreversibility, widespread abuse in skewed judicial systems, discriminatory aspect, and utilization as a political tool amplify the inappropriateness of capital punishment and underscore the essence of its abolishment. Although death penalty is widely perceived to befit the most heinous crimes in society, it should be abolished since it does not promote the aspirations of an effective CJS.
Irreversibility of the Sentence
One prominent reason why capital punishment should be abolished is the punishment’s aspect of irreversibility and irrevocability. Unlike other judicial sanctions imposed on offenders, execution is characterized by its decisive permanency and inalterable devastation (Galappaththige 20). This implies that the consequential effects of this mode of punishment cannot be corrected or repaired, even if subsequent events demonstrate the innocence of the executed person or the inapplicability of the death sentence. Notably, this aspect of capital punishment is a significant concern, primarily due to the growing risk of executing an innocent person. For instance, in the United States, over 155 individuals previously committed to death row due to conviction errors have been acquitted on retrial since 1975 (Sethuraji et al. 4). Since the inherent faults and flaws in the judicial and prosecutorial processes cannot be decisively eliminated, the retention of capital punishment represents a real danger of executing the wrong person. Notably, these mistakes still occasionally occur in noncapital cases but are easily rectified. From this perspective, death penalty should be abolished due to the consequential finality and inability to effect amends in case of any errors.
Inimical to the Objectives and Purpose of CJS
Jurisdictions which impose death sentence as the ultimate punishment often cite the effectiveness of the penalty’s severity in deterring crime and penalizing the offender. However, this perspective contradicts the objectives of modern CJS, including suppression of lawbreaking, rehabilitation of convicts, restoration, and retribution. Maculan and Gil argue that criminal justice practices are increasingly embracing the emerging paradigms of restorative and community justice programs (133). Notably, this transition is primarily influenced by the ineffectiveness of such conventional punishments as execution in deterring crime. Mori contends that criminologists and researchers are yet to establish any significant deterrent effect of the death penalty on offense over such other sanctions as life imprisonment (61). Additionally, restorative and community-oriented interventions recognize that offending is adversarial to victims and societies and that justice should encompass responses which attempt to repair harm consequential to crime. From this perspective, the ramifications of the death penalty on the offender diminishes its purpose, aggravates social harm, and demeans the objectives of a functional CJS (Maculan and Gil 133). In this regard, capital punishment should be abolished since it does not promote the aspirations and goals of criminal justice processes.
Widespread Abuse in Dysfunctional Justice Systems
Most countries imposing capital punishments are characterized by dysfunctional CJS where offenders are executed after convictions are secured in unfair trials and without adequate legal representation. Moreover, judgments are made against torture-tainted and through flawed processes. An analysis of countries which still conduct executions reveal the presence of totalitarian systems characterized by systematic and extensive human rights violation designed as a tool for sustaining political control and social order (McRae 3). For instance, executions are widely conducted in countries with oppressive and dictatorial tendencies, including China, North Korea, and Iran. According to Cho and Paik, North Korea has political prison camps where public executions of individuals deemed to have violated any of the curtailed freedoms and liberties are conducted (5). Other countries have integrated mandatory death penalties for specific offenses in their sentencing frameworks, limiting judicial discretion in considering the circumstances of the offense or the defendant before judgment. Although other penalties are still prone to abuse, the radicality, finality, and irreversibility of ending someone’s life as a punishment should be abolished.
Discriminatory Nature of the Penalty
The weight and blunt of capital punishment disproportionately fall on individuals from socioeconomically impoverished backgrounds or people of an ethnic, religious, or racial minority. For instance, Peterson highlights the distinctive pattern of racial and socioeconomic disparities in the administration of the death penalty in the United States (8). While these biases are still widespread even within the application of the other penological sanctions, the severity and irrevocability of capital punishment adversely reduce its acceptability and appropriateness. Bado et al. corroborate these views and depict an almost ubiquitous tendency of judicial officers to issue maximum penalties to convicts from low social and economic statuses (1164). From this perspective, death penalties are arguably not intended to inflict ultimate retribution to the offenders who commit the most reprehensible crimes but lawbreakers from specific racial and socioeconomic standing. For instance, in the United States, Cholbi and Madva note that death penalty abolitionists have referenced the contentiously skewed application of the punishment against racial minority defendants (517). Therefore, execution as a form of judicial sanction should be abated due to its disproportionate adversarial ramifications to racial minorities and impoverished socioeconomic statuses.
Application as a Political Weapon
The controversies surrounding capital punishment and the growing calls for its abolition are significantly attributable to its abuse and deployment against people perceived to pose threats to a regime or political disposition in some countries. Bacon and Nakamura hypothesize that across many jurisdictions, the death penalty has been politicized and applied arbitrarily to punish political opponents (1231). This perspective is reinforced by the unique exploitation of the structural flaws of the justice systems by regimes intending to silence people who are viewed to threaten the establishments by imposing such flimsy charges as treason. According to Bacon and Nakamura, countries which still impose the ultimate penalty for various categories of offenses are characterized by the extensive miscarriage of justice and judicial systems underlined by the political invasion of CJS (1231). In such jurisdictions as Sudan, Iran, and Pakistan, capital punishment is highly deployed as a political weapon to achieve such strategic aspirations as repressing civic space, stifling democracy, and strengthening the grip of the rulers. Therefore, execution should be abolished due to its inherent potential for abuse by people wielding political power.
Counter-Argument and Rebuttal
Although the application of judiciary sanctioned killing is increasingly losing popularity globally, it is a widely held view that an effective justice system should dispense punishments proportional to the offense. This implies that individuals convicted of the most reprehensible crimes should be subjected to the maximum severity of the law. For instance, Johnson argues that there is no other befitting retribution for a serial murderer, and their execution is an imperative public safety intervention (334). In this regard, death penalties should be preserved and applied appropriately within the criminal justice system to communicate society’s abhorrence to specific crime categories.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, CJS worldwide are characterized by their remarkable departure from dispensing death penalties as a form of punishment. This evolution and paradigm shift is informed by scientific evidential findings, which demonstrate that executions are inimical to the aspirations and objectives of modern CJS. Multiple research bodies reveal that despite its severity, the death penalty does not repress crime, reform convicts, provide reparations, or effectively punish the offender. This implies that this form of retribution does not attain the delicate balance that CJS ought to achieve in realizing sufficient crime denunciation and censuring criminal conduct. Additionally, capital punishment’s finality, irrevocability, and irreversibility diminish its acceptability in an era where mistakes and errors are rife in judicial processes. It has also been abused in most jurisdictions and unleashed as a political weapon, inherently discriminatory against racial minorities and people of low socioeconomic status, and is presumes that offenders are irredeemable. Therefore, modern criminal justice systems should abolish capital punishment as its failures and flaws have become more apparent.
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