“Dead man walking!” This sound rings through each and every death row inmate a thousand times a day; but should it? Capital punishment is one of the most controversial topics among Americans today. The most severe of all sentences: that of death. Also known as the death penalty, capital punishment this is the most severe form of corporal punishment as it is requires law enforcement officers to kill the offender. It has been banned in many countries, in the United States, an earlier move to eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are resorting to capital punishment for serious offenses such as murder. An eye for and eye, a life for a life, who has never heard of the famous lex talionis? The Bible mentions it, and people have been using it regularly for centuries. We use it in reference to burglary, adultery, love and many other situations. However, some people use it on a different level, some people use it in reference to death. One steals from those who have stolen from him, one wrongs those who have wronged him, but do we really have the right to kill those who have killed? Today, there is a big controversy over capital punishment whether or not it works, or if it is morally right. We have a certain privilege on our own lives, but do the lives of others belong to us as well? Do we have the right to decide the kind of lives others can or cannot live? We find someone guilty of murder and sentence him to death, does that not make murderers out of ourselves? Those who assist in the death penalty are they not partners in crime? Society should not allow the death penalty in order to set up a more efficient justice system to prevent the execution of innocent people, to eliminate the unethical deterrent, and to abolish the society taking a life.
First, the society should not allow the death penalty in order to set up a more efficient justice system to prevent the execution of innocent people. In the past, there were many people wrongfully executed for crimes that they did not commit all in the name of justice. It has happened that after the execution of the alleged guilty party, the real murderer confessed to elevate his guilty conscience. Hugo Bedau states that “no matter how careful courts are, the possibility of perjured testimony, mistaken honest testimony, and human error remain all too real. We have no way of judging how many innocent persons have been executed, but we can be certain there were some…” (Bedau 76). The unique thing about the death penalty is that it is final and irreversible. Since 1970, seventy-seven people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. Researchers Radelet & Bedau found twenty-three cases since 1900 where innocent people were executed, and the numbers are growing. With stories of people like Rolando Cruz, released after 10 years on Illinois’s death row, despite the fact that another man had confessed to the crime shortly after his conviction. Also, Ricardo Aldape Guerra, who returned to Mexico after 15 years on Texas’s death row because of a prosecution that a federal judge called outrageous and designed to simply achieve another notch on the prosecutor’s guns (Costanzo 115). Now, there are safeguards guaranteeing protection of those facing the death penalty. These safeguards are that the defendant can not be insane, and the man’s real or criminal intent must be present. Also, minors very rarely receive the death penalty because they are not fully mature and might not know the consequences of their actions. Finally, the mentally retarded are very seldom executed. The reasons for not executing the retarded is that they often have difficulty defending themselves in court, have problems remembering details, locating witnesses, and testifying credibly on their own behalf. These safeguards are to try to insure that justice will be served without having it suffer (Costanzo 58).
Secondly, the society should not allow the death penalty in order to set up a more efficient justice system to eliminate the unethical deterrent act. A major purpose of criminal punishment is to deter future criminal conduct. The deterrence theory suggests that a rational person will avoid criminal behavior if the severity of the punishment outweigh the benefits of the illegal conduct. It is believed that fear of death deters people from committing crimes. Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives were at stake. That if attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death “exerts a positive moral influence on certain crimes like manslaughter, resulting in attitudes of disgust and horror to such acts…” (Winters 136). Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for several years, with varying results. Most of these 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 it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was partly intended to be. During highly publicized death penalty cases “the homicide rate is found to go down but it goes back up when the case is over…” (Costanzo 92). 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 were 7.1, the average murder rate among non-death penalty states was only 3.6. Neighboring death penalty and non-death penalty states show similar trends. Nancy Jacobs states that “death penalty states usually have a higher murder rate than their neighboring non-death penalty states…” (Jacobs 80).
Another reason, society should not allow the death penalty in order to set up a more efficient justice system to abolish the society of taking a life. The issue in the capital punishment debate is taking another one’s life. Supporters of the death penalty contend that the only proper response to the vilest murders is the most sever punishment possible. Therefore, society should literally interpret the “eye for an eye” principle when an individual takes a life, societies moral balance will remain upset until the killer’s life is also taken (Coughlin 72). Although death penalty opponents disagree society should be able to express its outrage with a vile crime by inflicting capital punishment. They suggest that they are showing outrage for taking a life by taking the life of another (Bedau 88). Use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders thus being used as a system of justice, not just a method of deterrence. Modern supporters of capital punishment no longer view the death penalty as a deterrent, but just as a punishment for the crime, one source said, “…in recent years the appeal of deterrence has been supplanted by a frank desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance…” (Winters 55).
On the other hand, the supporters of the death penalty have reasons to support their side of the issue. Some may argue to give the murderer the death penalty. This is the most extreme punishment to give a prisoner. A couple of their reasons to give prisoners death for their crime is it gives peace to the minds of their victims’ families and less overcrowding in prisons. Today, due to overcrowding in prisons, a lot of prisoners do not serve their full sentence. Also, Winters states that “…in today’s prisons is that the prisoners get free meals, clothes, bed, electricity, air conditioning and heating, cable and many other luxuries that make it a comfortable place to live if you get used to the people…” (Winters 123). They think that death penalty should be given the day after conviction. Many people believe that criminals live in prison off of other peoples hard earned money. Also, to give a killer the death penalty it would reassure the people close to the victim it would not happen again. Then, it gives them the feeling that the death has been avenged. The family will feel less pain if the killer dies like he should. They also think that it makes criminals think about whether committing a crime is really worth their lives. When a killer stays in prison he takes up space in already overcrowded prisons. The supporters of capital punishment believe it ensures peace of mind to the world because it ensures that murders will never kill again.
Capital punishment is a power that no man or woman deserves to make for another human being. The Constitution clearly states that everybody deserves, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” But if you kill that person how can any of this be attained? Capital punishment is just plain wrong and has no place in today’s society. Society should not allow the death penalty in order to set up a more efficient justice system to prevent the execution of innocent people, to eliminate the unethical deterrent, and to abolish the society taking a life.
There are too many flaws in the death penalty; therefore the only reasonable solution is to abolish the death penalty.