Capital Punishment Just or Unjust

Capital Punishment: Fair or Unfair

The most severe form of punishment of all legal sentences is that of death. This is

referred to as the death penalty, or “capital punishment”; this is the most severe form of

corporal punishment, requiring law enforcement officers to actually kill the offender. It

has been banned in numerous countries, in the United States, however an earlier move to

eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are

resorting to capital punishment for such serious offenses namely murder. “Lex talionis”,

mentioned by the Bible encourages “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” mentality,

and people have been using it regularly for centuries. We use it in reference to burglary,

adultery, and various other situations, although, some people enforce it on a different

level, some people use it in reference to death. An individual may steal from those who

have stolen from him/her, or an individual wrongs those who have wronged him/her, but

should an individual have the right to kill to seek retaliation? Four issues are on the hot

topic in the United States, stirring up America’s feelings towards this issue.

There is controversy debating capital punishment today and whether or not it

works, or if it is morally right. We have a certain privilege in our own lives, but should

the lives of others belong to us as well. Do we have the right to decide on the lives of

others, of people we may not even know? If we find someone guilty of murder, we

sentence him to death. This makes us murders ourselves, but is there possibility in

justifying these acts?

Those who assist in the death penalty are they not partners in crime? Is the death

penalty a cruel and unusual punishment or is it now just a necessary tool in the war of

crime? With today’s increase in crime and violence in our society, the death penalty

effects every American, whether interested or not, and has existed for quite some time


The use of the death penalty has actually declined throughout the industrial

Western World since the 19th century. In 1972, a movement in America to have the death

penalty declared unconstitutional arose, during the landmark case of Furman vs. Georgia,

declaring the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment, nonetheless, a Supreme

Court decision in 1975, Gregg vs. Georgia, stated capital punishment did not violate the

eighth Amendment rights, and the executions began again under state supervision. These

inconsistencies and indecisions have obviously sparked a debate. (Horwitz, 124-127)

Four major issues in capital punishment are debated, most aspects of which were

touched upon by Seton Hall’s panel discussion on the death penalty. The first issue stands

as deterrence. A major purpose of criminal punishment is to conclude future criminal

conduct. The deterrence theory suggests that a rational person will avoid criminal

behavior if the severity of the punishment outweighs the benefits of the illegal conduct. It

is believed that fear of death “deters” people from committing a crime. Most criminals

would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives were at stake.

When attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence,

placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, which results in attitudes of horror

to such acts.

Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for
several years, with varying results. Most studies have failed to produce evidence that the

death penalty deterred murders more effectively then the threat of imprisonment. The

reason for this is that few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a

satisfactory deterrent. If capital punishment were carried out more often it would prove to

be the crime deterrent it was intended to be. During highly publicized death penalty

cases, the homicide rate is found to go down but it rises back up when the case concludes.

(Bailey, 42)

When comparisons are made between states with the death penalty and states

without, the majority of death penalty states show murder rates higher than non-death

penalty states. The average murder rate per 100,000 population in 1996 among death

penalty states was 7.1, the average murder rate among non-death penalty states was only

3.6. A look