Capital Punishment9 Essay

This essay has a total of 1700 words and 8 pages.

Capital Punishment9

Capital Punishment: An Eye For An Eye?
In the United States, the use of the death penalty continues to be a controversial issue.
Every election year, politicians, wishing to appeal to the moral sentiments of voters,
routinely compete with each other as to who will be toughest in extending the death
penalty to those persons who have been convicted of first-degree murder. Both proponents
and opponents of capital punishment present compelling arguments to support their claims.
Often their arguments are made on different interpretations of what is moral in a just
society. In this essay, I intend to present major arguments of those who support the
death penalty and those who are opposed to state sanctioned executions. I do not pretend
to be neutral on the issue; the application of the death penalty is the ultimate and
irreversible sanction. However, I do intend to fairly and accurately represent both sides
of the argument.

Proponents of capital punishment persuasively argue that a “central principle of a
just society is that every person has an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness” (Cauthen, p 1). Within this principle, the deliberate (premeditated)
murder of an individual is viewed as a heinous act, which prevents the person from
realizing his or her right to pursue happiness. They strongly feel that persons convicted
of first-degree murder must, themselves, pay the ultimate price. They claim that the
death penalty must be imposed in order to maintain the moral standards of the community.

Proponents of capital punishment are aware that many people who oppose the death penalty
are fearful that innocent people may be wrongfully executed. They insist, however, that
numerous “safeguards” are built into the criminal justice system which insures
the protection of those facing capital punishment. Among the safeguards are:

1. Capital punishment may be imposed only for a crime for which the death
penalty is prescribe by law at the time of its commission.

2. Persons below eighteen years of age, pregnant women, new mothers or persons who have
become insane shall not be sentenced to death.

3. Capital punishment may be imposed only when guilt is determined by clear and
convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.

4. Capital punishment may be carried out only after a final judgment rendered by a
competent court allowing all possible safeguards to the defendant, including adequate
legal assistance.

5. Anyone sentenced to death shall receive the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.
6. Capital punishment shall not be carried out pending any appeal, recourse procedure
or proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentenced.

(www. 1)
In view of these safeguards, proponents of capital punishment believe that state
executions are justified sentences for those convicted of willful first-degree murder.
They do not think sentencing murderers to prison is a harsh enough sentence, especially if
there is the possibility of parole for the perpetrator. A final argument posed by
proponents of the death penalty is that execution is an effective deterrence. They are
convinced that potential murderers will likely think twice before they commit murder.

Despite the rhetoric of politicians for the increased use of the death penalty, a number
of prominent individuals and organizations have emerged to express their opposition to
capital punishment. Along with families of death row prisoners, the International Court
of The Hague, the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Texas Conference of Churches,
Pope John Paul II, Nobel Peace recipient, Bishop Tutu, numerous judges and former
prosecutors, former Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, actors, and writers are waging a
determined struggle against the death penalty. They invariably argue that capital
punishment is wrong and inhumane. Religious folk generally evoke the nature of an
“ideal spiritual community” (Cauthen, 1). Within this perspective, a moral and
ethical community does not insist on a life for a life. While a community must act to
protect law- abiding citizens, an ethical response would be to imprison persons who have
demonstrated a flagrant disrespect for life, without the possibility of parole, if
necessary. Cauthen states, “An ideal community would show mercy even to those who
had shown no mercy” (Capital Punishment 2).

Most opponents of the death penalty find fault with the supposed safeguards offered by
those in favor of state executions. Specifically, they charge that more innocent people
have been executed by the criminal court system than the two wrongful deaths that
proponents admit to. Two dramatic events illustrate that fact. In 1998, a conference,
“Wrongful Conviction and the Death Penalty” received much media coverage. The
conference brought together twenty-eight women and men who had been wrongfully convicted
and sentenced to death for murders they had not committed. Only through the efforts of
volunteers, activists, family members, and independent research, were the prisoners freed
(Guiterrez 8). Another example occurred in February, 1999. In this case, students from a
journalist class at Northwestern University, along with their professor, provided the
necessary evidence to prove the innocence of a man who had been on death row for sixteen
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