Term Paper: Bringing Capital Punishment Down

Pages: 4 (1437 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Philosopher Immanuel Kant, regarded as a founder of modern philosophy, argued for the retributive justification for capital punishment in a way that is peculiarly modern in terms of human dignity. Kant believed that capital punishment is not rooted in vengeance, exactly, but in the idea that each person is valuable and worthy of respect because he or she has the ability to make free choices. We would, thought Kant, show the murderer our respect for his humanity -- for his choices -- by executing him.

Feiser, who reports Kant's idea, has a problem with it. Feiser's problem is that murderers are not always rational. But who is defining rational? It might better be argued that the act of murder is always an irrational act, whether committed by a 'rational' or 'irrational' human being. We might do better to take the entire matter out of the utilitarian/retributive arena. We might do better to just decide that when a murder is committed, the person who committed it shall also be put to death, whether because it is useful to society (utilitarian) to do so, or a means of getting square (retributive), or a way of honoring the equality of each rational being. In fact, our jurisprudence has decided that we will do that, without defining on what basis the decision was made.

At the moment in the U.S., the death penalty is, by and large, the law. But it is used less than it once was -- possibly because its use has a deterrent effect? No matter why, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), "At yearend (sic) 2001, 37 States (sic) and the Federal prison system held 3,851 prisoners under sentence of death, 20 fewer than at yearend 2000. All had committed murder."

Opponents of the death penalty among the general public and politicians argue that its use, declining or not, is wildly skewed with many more minorities than others being executed for crimes.

But that's not the case, also according to statistics released by the BSJ. In 2001, of those executed in the U.S., 53 were white, and 18 were black.

If one accepts that the population of the country is about 10% black, then clearly, a disproportionate number of blacks was executed. And that allows opponents of the death penalty to chime in that the reason more blacks are executed is that they are less wealthy than whites and cannot afford legal advice adequate to the task. But everyone charged with a crime in this country has the right to free legal advice. Many would argue, and probably correctly, that when it comes to capital cases, many lawyers take the cases pro bono. They figure that the fame that results -- especially if they get an acquittal -- will more than make up for the money they lose by taking this one case for free.

However, even if one accepts that blacks do not get the same quality of legal representation as white defendants, one has to look at the fact that more blacks were arrested for capital crimes in the first place.

Again, liberal thought holds that that is because blacks are disenfranchised by society, and so they naturally act in ways that are unacceptable. But that puts them in a category somewhat below 'rational.' And if they are so irrational that they do not know that poverty does not morally or legally justify an act of murder, then they would not be on death row anyway; they would be in a mental hospital forever and ever.

Whether one takes the utilitarian and retributive arguments and finds ways to support them in favor of or in opposition to capital punishment, there is one very practical argument, on both intellectual and, if you will, spiritual grounds that cannot be ignored. That is the argument of John McAdams. All one is doing by executing murderers is killing a bunch of murderers, and, if there is a deterrent effect, saving more innocent victims as well, so much the better.

Sources Cited

Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2003. OJP Freedom of Information Act page. 9 May 2003. www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/

Feiser, James. University of Tennessee at Martin. 2001. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 May 2003. http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/c/capitalp.htm

McAdams, John. Title page. 1998. Pro-Death Penalty.com. 8 May 2003. http://www.prodeathpenalty.com [END OF PREVIEW]

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