In criminal law, the death penalty entails executing a person convicted of a serious crime. As a capital punishment, the death penalty has caused and continues to generate intense controversy. On the one hand, such punishment measures might maximize justice, ensuring closure for victims’ families and discouraging criminals from committing further serious offenses. On the other hand, the death penalty is a very costly procedure. There is always a possibility that innocent people will be put to death due to factors such as biases of the jury or judge and the mental illnesses of the criminals.
The first argument for the death penalty is that this measure protects society from recurrent offenses. Such an approach to punishment is called incapacitation, an act of taking away the freedom or life of the felon so that they do not commit more crimes (Musick & Gunsaulus-Musick, 2017). There are many cases when a felon committed a crime, and after doing their time, they proceeded with the same activity, but on a bigger scale. In addition, a criminal who was given a life sentence has nothing to lose, resulting in an attempt to escape and potential murders thereof (Ichinose, 2017). Thus, the death penalty not only punishes felons for their crimes accordingly but prevents possible deaths in the future.
However, the death penalty helps not only vulnerable citizens but potential felons as well. Such punishment deters criminals and others from committing serious crimes since the biggest fear of every person is losing their life (Bohm, 2017). For example, in China, the death penalty applies not only to brutal murders but also to bribes or drug trafficking. That is why the level of such crimes there is extremely low since no one wants to lose their lives for the sake of an extra few thousand dollars.
Another argument for the death penalty includes revenge and retribution experienced by society or individuals. Many family members of the murder victims seek closure, which can be done with the death penalty since it can act in a “therapeutic manner” (Duff & McGuire, 2018). Vengeance is a human emotion experienced by an individual, and it can be one of the stages of grief, along with denial, isolation, anger, depression, and acceptance (Bohm, 2017). On the other hand, retribution is a collective feeling that serves as a rational response by society to any wrongdoing. Hence, the death penalty can serve both as a closure and a reinforcement of social norms.
However, there are arguments against the death penalty, which take the imperfections of the justice system into consideration. The justice system can make a mistake, as in wrongly convicting a person of a crime and, as a result, innocent men and women will be put to death. There are several examples, along with DNA proofs, that confirm the wrongful conviction of people by the government. In addition to this, there are cases of wrongly convicted people from poor strata of society and racial minorities, meaning that these representatives are susceptible to the biases of society and can be sentenced to the death penalty only based on their features (Musick & Gunsaulus-Musick, 2017). There may be different reasons for wrongful conviction, such as poor legal assistance of defendants, which an incompetent legal practitioner or biases can cause.
What is more, mentally ill people may also be put to death, which can be debatable since mental health disorders affect the mood, thinking, and behavior of people. People who struggle with mental disorders are usually born this way, and there is little chance of changing their condition. For this reason, putting mentally unstable individuals on death row seems unethical, and even though it is constitutionally illegal to do this, there is a chance of a different outcome in a court of law (Bohm, 2017). Regardless of medication, behavioral courses, or rehabilitation, people who struggle with mental disorders cannot be reshaped, which should be taken into consideration.
Another argument against the death penalty is that this procedure is extremely costly. Carrying out the penalty might cost many times more rather than just keeping criminals in prison for the rest of their lives (Sarat, 2017). This idea is rational since appeals and different legal procedures can continue for a long time, all of which require financial support. As a result, even such strong reasons for the death penalty as described above can seem unwise. This could be a potential reason for the fact that only a few criminals end up with the death penalty as the punishment.
Hence, there are many sides to the death penalty, which can be advantageous to society and individuals prone to wrongdoing. The death penalty can deter potential felons from committing crimes and assure that criminals commit no more aggravated offenses. However, the death penalty not only sends a wrong message, implying “eye for an eye” can be acceptable, which defies logic, but it is also costly for governments to implement such kind of punishment. As a result, being such a controversial topic, the death penalty deserves more attention since it can prevent many wrongful convictions and help find other punitive measures for crimes.
Bohm, R.M. (Ed.). (2017). The Death Penalty Today. United States: Taylor & Francis.
Duff, S. & McGuire, J. (2018). Forensic psychology. Macmillan International Higher Education.
Ichinose, M. (2017). The Death Penalty Debate: Four Problems and New Philosophical Perspectives. Journal of Practical Ethics, 5(1), 53-79.
Musick, D. & Gunsaulus-Musick, K. (2017). American Prisons: Their Past, Present and Future. Taylor & Francis.
Sarat, A. (Ed.). (2017). Final Judgments: The Death Penalty in American Law and Culture. Cambridge University Press.