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Capital Punishment is a Just Action

A strong case can be made in principle for and against capital punishment. The argument in favor of capital punishment should be based on justice and the nature of a moral community; this is the definition of just action. People who commit the act of first-degree murder should be brought to justice. Being brought to justice requires that each person respect the life and liberty of others. Respecting the life and liberty of others means that we as United States citizens have freedom of thought and expression and equality before others. Those who commit vicious crimes can destroy the basis on which a moral community rests, and should have the fear of forfeiting their rights to citizenship and even live itself. Capital punishment in the United States is a just action in our criminal justice system. Many people who support capital punishment believe that the general public should be urged for capital punishment to be used more frequently.

Michael Tonry explains a brief history of capital punishment in the United States of America. Approximately 20,000 executions have taken place since the settlement of the Europeans in the United States and American colonies, and more than 7,000 people have been executed in the United States since the year 1900. Between the years 1967 and 1976 capital punishment was used not only for first-degree murder but also rape. It was modified in 1976 that a criminal who committed rape would not receive capital punishment. At this time there are more than three thousand people on death row in the United States (Tonry 744). First-degree murder is the killing of an individual without lawful justification, in which the person intends to do great bodily harm to the individual, knows that such acts will cause death, or is committing a felony at the time of the murder. The other types of murders are second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless homicide.

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These types of murder may have been performed by an accident or under sudden or intense passion. This is the reason why the death penalty is only issued for first-degree murder. There are several different methods or ideas behind the use of capital punishment. One of Tonry’s excellent examples of why capital punishment is a just action is the deterrence factor. 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. Many criminals that commit crimes often weigh the alternatives before committing a crime. 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 first-degree murder, which results in attitudes of horror to such acts.

Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for several years. Most studies have failed to produce evidence that the death penalty deterred murderers more effectively than the threat of imprisonment. The reason for this is that few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a satisfactory deterrent. Criminals believe that the odds of them being put on death row are very low so they do not weigh in that factor when committing a murder. If capital punishment were carried out more often it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was intended to be. It was also found in studies that during highly publicized death penalty cases, the homicide rate is found to go down but it rises back up when the case concludes (Tonry 757-763). I believe along with James Fieser that retribution is relevant in the capital punishment debate. Retribution is the need for society to express sufficient condemnation for violent murderers.

Supporters of the death penalty contend that the only proper response to the vilest murderers is the most severe punishment possible. Therefore, society should interpret the “an eye for an eye” principle literally (Fieser 3). Many agrarian societies believed this principle in the nineteenth century. When an individual takes a life, society will remain upset until the killer’s life is also taken (Mathers). Although the death penalty opponents disagree that society should be able to express its outrage of a vile crime by inflicting capital punishment. The use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of violent murderers by eliminating some of the repeat offenders. After reducing the number of violent murderers this means it would be used as a system of justice, not just a method of deterrence. In the retribution argument, it is more dangerous to keep these repeat offenders alive than to have them executed (Fieser 3).

Jeff Jacoby points out that for many years, individuals against capital punishment have brought up the idea that innocent people have been on death row or have been put to death. They believe that if the United States executes guilty prisoners, they will surely along the way execute an innocent person, although Jacoby states that this has never happened, “and yet there is still no documented case – not one – of an innocent person being executed in the United States in modern times.” There was a study in 1987 that was published in the Stanford Law Review by Michael Radelet and Hugo Bedau, which stated that they had apparently found 23 instances when innocent prisoners were put to death. After being viewed by legal scholars, they reported that this study contained several parts that were not completely finished or documented correctly (Jacoby 2).

As stated by an article in the Corrections Digest, another issue surrounding capital punishment is the fact that people who are sentenced to the death penalty are discriminated against. Attorney General John Ashcroft released a study on this current issue. According to the study, four out of every five death row inmates are African American. This study was launched by the Justice Department under former Attorney General Janet Reno. The real reason that African Americans are on death row more often has to do with the fact that they commit more capital crimes than others on death row. The fact that people on death row are discriminated against is a widely believed myth (Anonymous 3). Many individuals may still not agree with the use of capital punishment. They may think it is inhumane or not acceptable in some way. John Gibeaut from the American Bar Association Journal quotes “There was Richard Ramirez, Southern California’s ‘Night Stalker,’ convicted of 13 satanic-laced murders in which the victims were strangled, shot or had their throats slashed.

Ramirez vowed in a packed Los Angeles courtroom as he was sentenced to die in 1989. There was [also] William George Bonin, the notorious ‘Freeway Killer,’ convicted of raping, torturing and murdering 14 boys and young men” (Gibeaut 42). This is the murdering of 27 different human beings. If any person believes these murderers should not receive the death penalty, they are severely wrong. Anybody who has committed these notorious acts of first-degree murder should be punished substantially. The capital punishment argument will always be a very controversial issue. There have been recent issues in the news involving capital punishment. Governor George Ryan of Illinois recently vetoed legislation that would have made it easier to send more people to death row. Many new admirers of Governor Ryan want to get rid of Capital Punishment altogether. This would be neither decent nor rational. When murderers aren’t killed, more innocent people die. In the debate over the death penalty, those are unchanging stakes.

Works Cited

  • Anonymous. “Ashcroft Sees No Bias in Capital Penalties.” Corrections Digest 32.23 (2001): 3.
  • Mathers, Richard. “Agrarian Societies.” Macomb. 29 Oct. 2001.
  • Fieser, James. “Utilitarian Arguments Concerning Capital Punishment.” The Internet
  • Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Jun. 2001. 19 Oct. 2001 <http://www.utm.edu/
  • Research/icp/c/capitalp.htm#retributive%20Arguments%20Concerning%capital% 20Punishment>.
  • Gebeaut, John. “An Open Door on Death.” American Bar Association Journal 87 (2001): 42 – 44.
  • Jacoby, Jeff. “Supporters of Capital Punishment Can Cheer Gov. Ryan’s Decision.”
  • Boston Globe. 28 Feb. 2000: A15
  • Tonry, Michael. The Handbook of Crime and Punishment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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Capital Punishment is a Just Action. (2021, Mar 21). Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://essayscollector.com/essays/capital-punishment-is-a-just-action/