The death penalty is highly controversial. Some have even called it outright murder of an individual. The United States remains one of the few developed nations in the world that still employs the death penalty in some states. The following sample research paper helps researchers understand the intricacies of capital punishment, murder, and what society’s definition of justice.
The Death Penalty: A question of ethics and morals
For decades, a debate has been waged in courts and society whether or not capital punishment is ethical. Those who support the death penalty argue that people should be put to death for certain crimes since crimes violate policies and laws that govern our society. In contrast, those who are against the death penalty argue that killing a person is unethical, and flaws in the criminal justice system can lead to innocent people being executed. After assessing both sides of the issue, it is this argument that the death penalty is ethical since it is a form of retribution for the victim of the crime and their families, it deters others from not committing similar crimes, and it reduces the chances of the criminal reoffending.
History of the death penalty
The death penalty can be traced back for centuries, as death was seen as the only form of punishment for committing crimes. Sentences for death would be carried out in public, and they included hangings, decapitations, and executions. During the 1800’s, America began to impose restrictions on the death penalty, and by 1972, Mike Adams and Reed Toth explained that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Furman v. Georgia would suspend all death penalty sentences for several years. However, in 1976, a new era of the death penalty began. Eric Waltenburg found that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia resumed death penalty sentencing, and each state would be able to decide whether or not to impose this sentence for capital offenses. Fortunately, the death penalty is still implemented today, as thirty-two states still hold that the death penalty is an ethical sentence for capital crimes.
The death penalty is ethical since it is the only form of retribution when a person commits a heinous crime. Ethics govern a person’s behavior, and when a person is planning on committing a crime, they should already know that their actions will be in violation of the policies and laws that govern the state or country that they plan on committing the crime. Therefore, when a person is found guilty of committing a premeditated crime that resulted in bodily harm or death to another person, the only proper form of punishment is death to the convicted. This sentence will be retribution for the victim and their family since the guilty party deserves to be punished for their actions by the loss of their own life.
Is the death penalty justifiable retribution or vengeance?
Research has confirmed that the death penalty is ethical since this sentence is the only form of retribution for heinous crimes, and this is the main argument for it’s continued use. Seumas Miller argued that the death penalty is imposed when a person is convicted of premeditated murder and the loss of the victim can forever affect the lives of immediate families and friends. Therefore, the death penalty is not only retribution for the victim, but it is also retribution for the families and friends who need to live with the loss of the victim. If the convicted was not sentenced to death, the accused would not be properly punished for the crime that was committed.
Capital punishment as a deterrent to violent crime
Additionally, capital punishment is ethical since it is a deterrence for others to not commit a similar crime. When a defendant is found guilty of committing a heinous crime, the court case will usually receive attention from the media. This exposure informs others who think about committing a similar crime that they could be charged with death if they follow through with their plans. Therefore, by sentencing criminals to death, it will deter others to re-evaluate their premeditated actions and to not act on their thoughts.
Using deterrence to convince others to not commit a similar crime in fear of a death sentence is effective at reducing the number of crimes in our country. Research conducted by Hilary Dotson and Scott Carter has proven that most Americans view the death penalty as a deterrent. As a result, people are less likely to commit crimes and to break laws in fear of a death sentence. Therefore, the death penalty is an ethical punishment that is effective at preventing future crimes in society.
No more repeat offenders
Finally, the death penalty is ethical since it prohibits convicts from reoffending. If a person is tried for a capital crime, found guilty, and sentenced to prison, there is a chance that he/she will be let free. This is due to the fact that many guilty verdicts are appealed, as flaws can be uncovered in public policies and in criminal trials. Nonetheless, if a criminal is not sentenced to death, there is a great chance that the person will be released and commit another crime in the future. Therefore, the death penalty is ethical since a death sentence could save the lives and rights of future victims from being violated if the criminal is released from prison.
It’s up for debate whether or not if death penalty is applied to capital offenses, the lives of future victims are spared. Criminals have high recidivism rates, and there is a chance that the criminal may commit a similar or worse crime again in the future. Interestingly, research conducted by Miller confirmed that the death penalty also helps to save the life of the victim if he/she did not die during the criminal act. For instance, if a convict is released from prison, he/she may go after the victim in the case to seek retribution for having to spend time in jail. Therefore, not only does the death penalty prevent criminals from reoffending in society, but it may also protect the rights and the life of the victim of the crime in question.
Discrimination and capital punishment
Conversely, the death penalty is unjust since sentencing in capital punishment cases involves discrimination against African Americans and people with diminished mental capabilities. The discrimination of African Americans violates civil and human rights protected by laws, and these violations have led to mistakes in sentencing. For example, Adams and Toth explain the landmark case, Furman v. Georgia:
“resulted in a moratorium on the death penalty for several years because vague death penalty statutes were seen by the Court as the cause of a disturbing trend in Georgia whereby Whites who killed Blacks were seldom assigned the death penalty by jurors while Blacks who killed Whites were overwhelmingly sentenced to die” (133).
Further, most African Americans cannot afford lawyers who are experts in death penalty cases. As a result, they are sentenced to death at a higher rate than Whites. In all, the death penalty is unethical because the discrimination against African Americans during sentencing in death penalty cases proves that the life of Whites is more valued in society than the lives of African Americans.
While opponents of the death penalty argue that most death penalty sentences involve discrimination against African Americans, this is far from the case. Dotson and Carter found:
“White capital offenders receive the death penalty more frequently than nonwhite capital offenders” (5). This research disproves the claim that Whites are less frequently assigned the death penalty by jurors than Blacks. Further, Dotson and Scott confirmed that “Nonwhites are more likely than Whites to be exonerated from death row” (5).
Again, this proves that Whites are actually discriminated against in death penalty proceedings instead of Blacks. In all, regardless of color, the death penalty is an ethical punishment that is applied legally and fairly in cases despite the race of the defendant.
Reflecting on the moral attributes of capital punishment
To conclude, the death penalty is ethical since it is a form of retribution for the victim of the crime and their families, it deters others from not committing similar crimes, and it reduces the chances of the criminal reoffending. While opponents of the death penalty argue that death penalty sentences are unethical since they discriminate against African Americans, research has proven that this argument is flawed. Whites and African Americans receive equal treatment in death penalty cases, and some studies have confirmed that Whites are actually being discriminated against more than minorities. In all, to protect the lives of current and future victims, the death penalty should be imposed when a person breaks a law and commits a capital offense.
Adams, Mike S., and Reid C. Toth. “The Unanticipated Consequences of Hate Crime Legislature.” Judicature 90.3 (2006): 129-134. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.
Dotson, Hilary, and J. Scott Carter. “Changing Views Toward the Death Penalty? The Intersecting Impact of Race and Gender on Attitudes, 1974-2006.” Justice System Journal 33.1 (2012): 1-21. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.
Miller, Seamus. “Retribution, Rehabilitation, and the Rights of Prisoners.” Criminal Justice Ethics 28.2 (2009): 238-253. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.
Waltenburg, Eric N. “The Future of America’s Death Penalty: An Agenda for the Next Generation of Capital Punishment Research.” Justice System Journal 29.3 (2008): 447-X. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.
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