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Ethical Theories Capital Punishment Essay

Essay 1


The death penalty is the most contentious legal punishment brought about by our country’s Criminal Justice System. Due to its harshness and severity, this form of punishment distinguishes itself from the rest. There is broad agreement that capital punishment is the most severe penalty a judge can punish an offender with.

The death penalty has been a source of great debate because of its harsh nature. The death penalty is considered barbaric and inhumane, therefore the government should get rid of it, according to opponents. Supporters, on the other hand, maintain that capital punishment is an important form of punishment that should be imposed on society’s worst offenders.

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For decades, a highly partisan argument on capital punishment has continued. The debate on the death penalty is one that has persisted for many years. A solution may be developed using ethical theories to this hot-button issue. In a given scenario, ethics determine the proper course of action. Scholars and philosophers have developed a variety of good ethical ideas throughout history. This paper will utilize utilitarianism, one of the most widely used ethical theory, to show that the death penalty is indeed appropriate.

Overview of the Utilitarian Theory

John Stuart Mill was the first to develop utilitarianism, which is a popular and often applied ethical theory. The moral quality of an action can be determined by subtracting all of its negative elements from all of its positive features. An ethical act, according to the utilitarian, is one that “maximizes the pleasure for the greatest number of people.” A benefit or a drawback are assigned to every activity.

Individuals should act in a manner that enhances the benefits and, if the repercussions outweigh the advantages, an action will be deemed unethical. From a utilitarian perspective, promoting the happiness of the majority in society through actions that deter this happiness should be desired, while preventing such happiness should be avoided. The utilitarian perspective may be applied to capital punishment since this punishment has both positive and negative side effects.

Analysis using the Utilitarian Approach. Net Benefits

The death penalty’s first major advantage is that it serves as a strong deterrent. The criminal justice system’s most important objective is to deter individuals from committing offenses. This is accomplished by making crimes punishable with negative consequences, so that people believe the benefits of breaking the law are outweighed by the ramifications. As a result, an ideal society would not have anyone incarcerated since fear of punishment keeps everyone from committing crime. The death penalty is the most severe form of punishment and its implementation serves as a deterrent to individuals who might not be deterred by lengthy prison sentences.

According to the data, there is a negative link between executions and murder occurrences, implying that the death penalty serves as a deterrent (Kirchgassner 448). The deterrence capacity is moral from a utilitaristic standpoint since it contributes to the general happiness of society. When criminals are scared away from engaging in crime, people’s lives are safer and they can enjoy their neighborhoods’ tranquility and security.

Another advantage of capital punishment to society is that it results in a convict’s permanent incapacitation. The death penalty, unlike other forms of punishment that merely limit the offender’s liberties, takes away his or her life. When a criminal is sentenced to death, the community may rest confident that he or she will never terrorize it again. While other types of punishment, such as life imprisonment, have an incapacitating impact as well, this effect isn’t as certain (848).

A lifer who has been imprisoned for the rest of his life may still engage in criminal activities against fellow inmates or prison personnel. The death penalty eliminates the danger of recidivism. From a utilitarian standpoint, this advantage is significant because it completely protects society from future crimes by removing the possibility of reentry for vicious offenders. The community’s sense of security is also maintained since the death penalty permanently removes violent criminals, ensuring that they cannot return to society and commit additional crimes. The death penalty provides comfort to the victims of a criminal’s crimes. The death penalty is only utilized on persons who have committed heinous acts such as murder. His family and friends are emotionally affected when a person is murdered (Stambaugh and Gary 1).

The victim’s family and friends will be relieved if the convicted individual is given a punishment that reflects his crime. The accused person is sentenced to a lengthy jail term without the death penalty. As a result of this, the family of the victims may be subjected to future emotional trauma as they would have to appear at parole hearings for the convict. The death sentence provides maximum retribution and hence gives peace to the families and supporters of the victim.

The final benefit of capital punishment is that it allows the judge to bestow adequate retribution for any crime. It is critical for the severity of the penalty to match the offense committed in order for justice to be served. If the sentence is considered too light, people will feel dissatisfied.

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There are certain offenses for which the death penalty is necessary. People convicted of these offenses would be sentenced to the maximum term of life imprisonment if the death penalty was not used. As a result, this would contribute to a lack of legitimacy in the legal system and weaken public trust in it.

It is also possible that this will lead to extrajudicial killings (Steiker and Jordan 649). A utilitarian viewpoint might advocate for a penalty that provides people with a feeling of justice, which fosters the legitimacy of the legal system. Capital punishment fulfills this function and generates the sense of justice, preventing law and order from breaking down if individuals seek out their own remedy.


The death penalty has a significant financial cost in comparison to the alternatives. The cost of executing prisoners is shouldered by the tax payers. Traditionally, the death penalty was considered to be a less expensive punishment compared to life imprisonment. However, this is no longer the case when it comes to capital crimes because more severe protocols have been implemented in response.

The prosecutor and defender must be thorough in defending these cases, and they must call expert witnesses. After the judgment is rendered, the offender can file numerous appeals, stretching out the process for many years. While it’s feasible to cut down on capital punishment expenses, doing so would come at a cost in terms of some of the procedural safeguards designed to reduce the chance of wrongful conviction.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, the enormous financial expenditure is a negative impact to society. Opponents of capital punishment argue that money spent on executing criminals could be used to fund rehabilitation centers or hire more cops to deter crime in the community (Dieter par. 15).

A major drawback of capital punishment is that it may result in a miscarriage of justice. An innocent person might be put to death by the criminal justice system if this happens. While miscarriages of justice happen in non-capital cases, there is the hope that the innocent individual can be exonerated through appeals in the future.

However, the death penalty is irreversible, and once it has been carried out, there is no opportunity for the wrongfully convicted person to appeal and be released. According to Aronson and Cole, the risk of a miscarriage of justice continues to be the most important concern in capital punishment debates (604).

This incident might lead to a crisis of confidence in capital punishment since the intentional death of an innocent person is abhorrent. A utilitarian may see the killing of an innocent person as a significant loss to society because he is no longer able establish a beneficial impact on his community. In addition, incorrect execution may cause emotional trauma for those who were involved in the trial. As a result, it has a detrimental influence and lowers society’s happiness.

Ethical Analysis

Utilitarianism uses a benefit-versus-consequence approach to determine if an action is ethical. In this example, deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, and the maintenance of law and order are all considered positive benefits of capital punishment. On the other hand, there are several negative outcomes that come from it: increased fiscal cost and the potential demise of innocent people.

The advantages of executing criminals exceed the costs, as can be seen. As a result, it may be claimed that the death penalty is ethical from a utilitarian standpoint since it has a net beneficial effect and leads to the greatest number of people’s happiness being maximized.


This paper attempted to show that the death penalty is ethical using the utilitarian theory. The issue of the death penalty is very contentious, with people split on its efficacy. The paper then showed how the utilitarian idea, which aims to maximize overall happiness, might be used to determine whether capital punishment is ethical.

The death penalty has many benefits for society, including deterrence, incapacitation, and an increase in the credibility of the criminal justice system. The death penalty also has significant drawbacks.

The drawbacks are, however, more apparent; and when implemented, the death penalty reasserts the significance of following the law, which benefits society as a whole. From the points made in this essay it is clear that for the greater part of society, capital punishment results in significant advantages. Because it is both ethically acceptable and beneficial to society as a whole, this penalty should be applied more frequently throughout our nation.

Essay 2

Is it acceptable for one person to have the authority to put an end to another person’s life? When it comes to capital punishment, most individuals know how they should respond. Capital punishment is considered a harsh form of penalty by many people. Some people feel that executing someone does not make things better; rather, it serves as retribution for the crime committed. Others think giving a criminal the death sentence is payback for their actions.

Since the colonial period, there have been 13,000 individuals put to death, with 139 innocent people sentenced to death and only 23 of them actually executed. In 1967, a lack of public support and legal problems brought the execution rate to zero, ending the practice permanently by 1972.

Executing our criminals creates the same suffering for their families as does executing theirs. One of the most well-known and significant cases was decided by the Supreme Court in 1972, known as Furman v. Georgia. While attempting to flee, William Henry Furman tripped and his weapon fired, killing one of the residents. This case is notorious for being unjustified because some jurors voted for him to be put to death while others wanted him sentenced to life imprisonment.

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Furman was also regarded as being extremely unethical, having left school in the sixth grade. Furman tested at the very bottom of the mental capacity test scale, and he was subsequently diagnosed with low intellect and psychotic episodes. This shows that capital punishment does not enhance a person’s sense of integrity. Despite owning a weapon, Furman panicked and ran away, implying he had no intention of using it.

The death penalty is also considered racist, it is said that a black person will be sentenced to death before a white person. Which isn’t fair when you consider that both blacks and whites commit the same amount of offenses. The death penalty, on the other hand, may be costly because life in prison might mean spending your whole life in jail. According to a 1992 New York study, litigating a capital case costs 1.8 million dollars while maintaining 40 years of existence costs 602,000 dollars. Is it now worth wasting all this money on the death penalty to kill someone?

Essay 3

Capital punishment is a moral issue that is frequently questioned due to the taking of someone’s life. This is primarily due to people’s attitudes toward the rule of law or their acceptance of the current situation. It is critical to assess any preconceptions related to capital punishment from an ethical standpoint in order to get a full picture of it. Selecting the most viable theory allows you to make a strong argument for capital punishment by looking at it through several theories of retribution. The logic that criminals deserve pain seems reasonable. There are several justifications for a criminal legal system to argue that the unique relationship between the state and its general population does not lend itself to or allow for the application of the death penalty.

The utility theory is based in nature. Its aim is to promote society’s well-being. Crime and punishment are at odds with happiness, ironically. The utilitarian viewpoint is that a crime-free world would be preferable to one where offenders are severely punished in order to promote happiness, but they recognize this goal is unattainable. Instead, they aim to inflict as much pain on a perpetrator as necessary in order for crimes not to occur again. Any penal statute passed under the utilitarian framework should be implemented in such a way as to limit future criminal conduct.

This form of deterrence is required for the greater good of society, and it serves as a warning to other criminals that if they choose to commit a crime, they will be dealt with justly. Rehabilitation is another utilitarian notion. The objective of this is to reduce future criminal conduct. Treatment for drug addiction and continuous violent behaviors are examples of inclusion in practice. After they are successfully educated, the criminals will be steered to crime-free employment programs.

It’s easy to believe that, especially in the case of particularly heinous crimes, murderers deserve nothing less than death. A utilitarian perspective is that if the criminal is sentenced to death, it would be better for the majority of people. “They determined that capital punishment does not and will not have higher deterrent effects than lifelong imprisonment,” Iqrak Sulhin writes in his article “Busting the Myths of the Death Penalty.”

He’s talking about people who have done extensive research on the consequences of execution before and after, as well as the impact of spending one’s whole life in jail. While it may appear that his statement is correct at first, the utilitarian viewpoint would be inclined to agree with him and remain with their prior viewpoint that capital punishment is necessary if it provides the most amount of pleasure.

Another intriguing case is found in a Wesley Smith essay titled “Reject Peter Singer’s Utilitarianism as a Justification for the Death Penalty.” According to Smith, “if someone produced compelling evidence that the death penalty was a particularly successful deterrent-for example, if each murderer who was put to death decreased the number of murders by ten-as a utilitarian I would have to accept capital punishment.” The problem for Singer is that there isn’t any substantial data to back up his claim.

The facts, on the other hand, seem to suggest otherwise. Smith is attempting to justify his opposition to utilitarian logic by arguing that he rejects it in favor of natural law thinking. This is essentially saying that any crime (murder) has its own penalty and that no one, as a result of their humanity, deserves death. One cannot dismiss the humanity of a criminal while participating in the debate about capital punishment as an impartial spectator. They must set aside their inclinations to disregard someone entirely and give this person their full attention, as well as the true significance of deciding to take one’s life.

It is conceivable to evaluate an argument on its own terms rather than in the context; it’s also feasible that many great theorists’ ideas have been influenced by certain death penalty traditions. The death penalty is frequently justified as a need, yet it is a relic of some of the most unjust periods in history. Because capital punishment violates all of these norms, successfully opposing capital punishment necessitates upholding these principles such as freedom, equality, rights, justice, and the worth of human life.

In the book “An Eye for an Eye? The Morality of Punishment” by Christopher Townsend, he discusses this problem when he says, “A stringent utilitarian must consider the punishment of an innocent person as a legitimate moral choice.” The execution of an innocent scapegoat may be considered necessary to maintain the law’s deterrent effect after a heinous crime has been committed. To advocate capital punishment, you must first establish a theory of justice that emphasizes the usefulness of executions over breaches of basic rights.

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The debate about the means is a disagreement over how to achieve an end. The utilitarian justification of capital punishment may be founded on past events. It’s easier to see this in the case of greater than it is in the case of less. What this implies is that we can all agree that no one should be punished beyond their deserts, regardless of how beneficial it is to society. In his essay “On the Utilitarian and Retributive Justifications of Punishment,” Smith offers a succinct overview.

The punishment is “unjust” according to the maxim, since it is too severe for the crime, even if it could be proven that this penalty results in a decreased incidence of theft. This saying concludes: “It is wrong to punish a thief by amputating his hand because the punishment is excessive for the offense, even if it can be proved that this penalty lowers theft rates.” While retributive severity judgments are used, utilitarians may take deterrent factors into account before relying on this form of punishment. They would also consider rehabilitation strategies to ensure that the offender would never want to steal again.

Another explanation to think about is incapacitation. In both theory and practice, the use of incapacitation as a rationale for punishment may be inherently problematic. The implementation of the three-strike rule implies that criminals will be punished three times over. Because some persons who are defined as threats to society wouldn’t have gone on to commit additional crimes, there is an inherent danger with incapacitation.

“Capital Punishment from the Standpoint of Ernest Van Den Haag,” by Leslie Torres, was published in The State. This essay claims that “It would be a superior alternative to keep the convict alive through life imprisonment rather than keeping them incarcerated for life.” Considering that while someone is imprisoned in a jail cell, there is always a chance they may change their ways and become rehabilitated.

There’s the issue of someone sentenced to life without parole, which eliminates any prospect of rehabilitation. Consideration of whether to pursue a capital charge or life imprisonment may be straightforward when assessing the difference between capital punishment and life imprisonment.

Now that we’ve established the circumstances, let’s look at them from a different perspective: how much time should be served as long as the death penalty isn’t an option? Because rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation are all considered in order to avoid future crimes, determining the length of the sentence has proven to be challenging. There are federal rules that can help with this decision; however, because every scenario is unique and different at the same time, comprehending variables is where the problem arises.

According to the narrative, this is precisely what happened when a couple of criminals escaped from jail. In “Theories of Punishment and Mandatory Minimum Sentences” by David Muhlhausen, he states, “The objective of individualizing treatment to offenders’ features resulted in varied sentences that created a sense of injustice among the general public.” Remember: utilitarianism is focused on achieving the greatest good for the greatest number. If the people are angry about it, then judges must modify their decisions in order to satisfy these criteria.

Consider it like this: A just sentence is a proportionate sentence. What this means is that a sentence is appropriate to the crime while taking into account variables such as a person’s life circumstances. Judges issue sentences, and each case has its own set of unique circumstances and situations. To achieve proportionality, one must strike the right balance based on opposing sentencing theories: utilitarianism vs retributivism. As we’ve seen before, retribution may be discussed in greater detail.

Consider the term “retribution,” and the first thing that springs to mind is typically vengeance, especially for a bad or unlawful act. Retribution in the case of criminal offenders has a distinct meaning. This is referred to as “just deserts.” The idea of retribution is unneeded because correcting an injustice isn’t the goal; rather, it’s preventing future crimes. Here’s something else that adds more weight; society (the good) deserves to be happy, whereas criminals (the bad) deserve to be unhappy.

The revengeful side believes in proportionality. “It should not be at the expense of proportionality,” says Gershel, “particularly since the offense is especially egregious.” The voices of victims and the influence a particular crime might have had on public safety are frequently lost in debate, according to Alan Gershel.

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Ethical Theories Capital Punishment Essay. (2021, Nov 16). Retrieved March 24, 2023, from