Opposing Views On Capital Punishment
Capital punishment is one of the most controversial issues in United States. In every possible argument raised by different contenders either in the supporting side or opposing side, it is met with equal but different counter-argument. Supporters of death penalties, for instance, use the Old Testament to claim death penalty is justified, but the opposing side uses the Same Bible on the New Testament to attest that killing another person is wrong. This paper reviews various literature that have raised these opposing views on death penalties.
Those supporting death penalty, for instance, argue that it is an effective deterrent. Their theory claims that people will not risk committing a crime in case they know that such an action can lead to a death penalty. Supporters also disagree with opponents of the death sentence that the system as it is in the U.S is riddled with racial bias and thus unfair. They argue that opponents of death penalties tend to use statistics that are outdated, and this does not give a true picture of the modern system that is free from racial bias to a great extent. In countering the argument that the court indiscriminately sentences blacks to the death penalty as compared to white the court defended this position by citing evidence pointing out that Blacks commit a large number of crimes compared to Whites. Still supporters of death penalties defend the claim that innocent people are more likely to end up in death row by arguing that the United States has a very careful and fair appeal system to ensure this does not happen (Joann 75). Joann also explores opposing views on death penalty. For instance, he argues like the supporters of capital punishment, opponents also have strong beliefs on what should count as right or wrong. Opponents of death penalty argue that even the government would be wrong to take another person’s life. Further that capital punishment only makes a society savage, brutal, and uncivilized. Instead, they advocate for better methods of punishment (Joann 49).
The need for a death sentence
Hugo & Cassel questions the need for death sentence. They argue that when weighing the benefits and risks of death sentences it is important to consider not just states that rarely impose the sentence, but those that have executed quite a number of people. They posit that in such states a good number has gone through unfair hearing characterized by mistaken eyewitness identification, untrue confessions, biased experts who give opinions that are not based on science, prosecutor and police failure to hand over evidence of innocence, and through prisoners who are promised waiver of their own sentences to claim that accused testified innocence to them. Further, that even the guilty get capital punishment instead of life imprisonment not because the crime they committed was worse, but due to their race, or inexperience of the lawyer representing them, or due to their victim race. They cite Governor George Ryan an ardent supporter of capital punishment who admitted on close examination that the system is not fair especially in determining who is guilty and in deciding those who are guilty and deserve to die (153).
Stuart examines the arguments of those who have historically supported death sentences and how their views were countered. First, he looks at supporters of death sentence using eugenic reasons to justify their position. These proponents of death sentences suggested that it was a good measure to deter crime by ensuring that they did not reproduce. He examines W.Duncan McKim one of the eugenic proponents who advocated for capital punishment when dealing with crimes involving criminals considered imbeciles, idiots, epileptics, insane, or habitual drunkards (213). However, they note that even sympathizers of eugenic did not support such a program because these type of people never committed crimes deserving death penalty and some already had children meaning the genes were already in their descendants. According to Stuart eugenic philosophies were popular in 20th century in United Sates, but there was no connection between the death penalty and eugenics (213). He further explores the Biblical argument in favor of death penalty. He notes that this was popular in U.S in 19th century. He posits that most of those in favor of capital punishment looked for biblical evidence because the bible had many cases of death penalty. However, he notes that the Biblical arguments in support of public policies lost favor by the end of nineteenth century and this included capital punishment.
Michael takes over the spiritual and scripture argument on capital punishment. He describes how since the 4th century Christian’s position on capital punishment has been marked by ambivalence and uncertainty (102). They quote the writing of Augustine an ardent Christian, who believed that it is wrong for Christians to kill and at the same time argued that those who kill wicked men cannot be considered to violate the same Christian commandment regulating killing. They also argue that Christians tend to believe in government, which in most cases prefer to use the death penalty in contrast with Jesus teaching that emphasize forgiveness and love. They explore many other analogies to demonstrate that any attempt to use biblical argument to justify capital punishment would be met with counter verses against the same. For instance, there is the case of a Christian deacon who went into a debate with a boy and he suggested that capital punishment is supported by the scriptures on Moses’s laws, which suggests that any man who kills another shall also be killed the same way. The boy challenged the deacon to logically analyze this position on the ground that if a man who kills another is to be killed in the same way by another then this would continue to a point where only one man would be left ending on unclear circumstance because the bible does not allow a person to commit suicide.
Latzer, & David explore recent cases in the supreme court interpreting when capital punishment should be meted out. In particular, they use the case of Furman v, Georgia to advice various states that a capital punishment system should only be administered in a manner that is not whimsical or arbitrary. They suggest that capital punishment should only be administered by a state that is ready to ensure death penalty is not arbitrary or capriciously inflicted. They proceed to describe the circumstances under which a court can inflict a death penalty on a criminal, as where the offence committed is wantonly or outrageously vile, inhuman and horrible. Because these words can be subject to unfair interpretation they continue to give an account of what an offence that is wantonly or outrageously vile, inhuman and horrible means. They argue that such an offence should consist of the depravity of mind, torture, or and aggravated battery to the victim (150). Depravity of mind, in this case, refers to the mental condition of the offender that pushed him to commit the offence. They also note that the court should consider both torture and aggravated battery together, which would lead to the need of evidence to demonstrate that the victim was serious abused physically. Therefore, their argument is that death penalty should only be issued when there are adequate reasons to do so and not because of the emotions for the kind of crime an offender has committed.
Mandery counter the arbitrariness argument in favor of the abolishment of capital punishment. He argues that arbitrariness and problems affecting it like excessive severity, inequalities, and unreliability are also common to other forms of punishment. Therefore, it should be taken that arbitrariness justifies abolishment of all the other forms of punishment and not just capital punishment. This then means that an arbitrariness argument only raises a dilemma to those using it to support abolishment. He argues that one way to resolve this is to apply moral judgment that requires us to weigh different principles and values in making rational decisions. For instance, to weigh the safety of some people in case of abolition of death penalty against the possibility that many would be harmed. He argues that capital punishment is justifiable even with its associated arbitrariness because it prevents a good degree of evil. However, he also mentions that even such an argument can only be justified where it’s observed that particular punishment reduces serious evils and there are no other means to attain these goals (Mandery 353).
Indeed the debate on capital punishment is characterized by opposing views. Opponents of the death penalty claim it is unfair and criminal justice discriminates against blacks in sentencing them to hang. Opponents are of the contrary opinion claiming that Blacks commit more crime than White and that the U.S justice system is very fair and careful and constantly reverse death sentence on appeals. Claims that capital punishment should be abolished because of arbitrariness is countered by an argument that even other forms of punishment are affected by the same arbitrariness and this is not a sufficient ground to abolish death penalty.
Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: An American History. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.
Bedau, Hugo and Paul Cassel. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Case. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
Burkhead, Michael. A Life for a Life: The American Debate over the Death Penalty. New York, NY: McFarland, 2009. Print.
Guernsey, Joann. Death Penalty: Fair Solution or Moral Failure? Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2009. Print.
Latzer, Barry and David McCord. Death penalty cases: Leading U.S Supreme court cases on capital punishment. Michigan: Elsevier, 2010. Print.
Mandery, Evan. Capital Punishment in America: A balanced Examination. Maryland: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2011. Print
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