Capital Punishment Argumentative Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1839 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Capital Punishment Is Barbaric

The imposition of the death penalty for political and civil crimes is not a new concept in the history of human civilization. On the contrary, the death penalty has, from time immemorial, been universally accepted as the ultimate weapon in the defense of the state and its citizens (Joyce, 1961, p. 9). However, while capital punishment may have a long historical precedence, it seems an anachronism in a world that is more enlightened today. Indeed, it is puzzling as to how any society that professes to uphold values such as the sanctity of life, equality, peace and non-violence can simultaneously endorse capital punishment as a method of justice. Thus, it is the objective of this paper to demonstrate that capital punishment is a barbaric practice that constitutes a form of social injustice especially since it does not even fulfill its purported purpose of defending the interests of society.

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Wendy Lesser once said, "Even a theater of fictional murder is not an innocent theater. The point, or one of the points, of the murder story is that there can be no innocence in circumstances that give rise to murderous impulses - even if the impulses are aroused in mere bystanders, witnesses, observers; even if the murder is not real." Lesser's observation, thus, calls into serious question the effect that capital punishment has on social perceptions. for, as Sarat points out, a state that takes life and how it takes life insinuates itself into the public imagination, even if the moment when that power is exercised is hidden from public view. Therefore, in effect, a practice such as capital punishment helps us understand who we are and what we as a society are capable of doing (Sarat, 1999, p. 226).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Capital Punishment Argumentative Assignment

Joyce (1961, p. 246) carries Sarat's point one step further and suggests that a society that seeks to protect itself through capital punishment can never really feel safe or be safe from the murderer, because such a society has identified itself with the criminal's crime. Indeed, it is precisely from this perspective that capital punishment's role and place in progressive societies that are working towards instilling the values of life, liberty, equality, and peace in its citizenry needs to be evaluated. for, it is a direct contradiction of all such professed values and, therefore, sends mixed signals about the concept of social justice.

It can also be inferred that the perspective outlined above has led to the decline in capital punishment globally. Once a virtually universal practice, executions have become rare among industrialized democracies. While a few countries do retain capital statues for dealing with extraordinary crimes such as treason, only Japan, parts of the former Soviet Union, and the United States still carry out death sentences for "ordinary" crimes of violence. Interestingly, even among those countries that still impose the death penalty, it appears that the United States stands in stark contrast to the international trend with capital punishment flourishing, accompanied by a corresponding wave of public support (Haines, 1996, p. 3).

Considering that the United States is the world's leading economy and proponent of basic human rights, it is perhaps important to understand why this country appears to be bucking a world-historical trend away from capital punishment. Haines (1996, p. 4-5) suggests that the answer may lie in America's extremely high levels of violent crime and the fact that Americans are at much greater risk of being robbed, raped, assaulted, and murdered than citizens of countries such as Germany, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. Thus, Americans have grown so angry and fearful about the situation on their streets that the death penalty is seen as the only way to deter and prevent more crime. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the pro-death penalty movement in America is characterized by arguments of deterrence and incapacitation. However, as the next sections of this paper will establish, capital punishment does not serve as an effective deterrent to crime. Nor is it necessary to prevent further heinous crimes by killing or incapacitating murders. Thus, capital punishment cannot be defended on the grounds that it is the only way to protect the interests of innocent citizens.

Capital punishment advocates argue that it is common knowledge that people are afraid of death and will do everything they can to avoid it. The threat of execution is, therefore, likely to deter criminals from committing crimes that carry the death penalty. While the logic used in the deterrence argument is impeccable, it can serve as a justification for imposing the death penalty only if it is proved that capital punishment does, in fact, act as a deterrence. Interestingly, the Subcommittee on Moral Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty has reaffirmed this view: "The only moral ground on which the State could conceivably possess the right to destroy human life would be if this were indispensable for the protection and preservation of other lives. This places the burden of proof on those who believe that capital punishment exercises a deterrent effect on the potential criminal." (Fattah, 1981, p. 292)

Capital punishment does not, however, have any deterrent effect on potential offenders. While it is true that some econometric studies have claimed to find deterrent effects, these have been widely criticized in terms of their scope and methodology. More important, the vast majority of deterrence studies have failed to support the hypothesis that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent to criminal homicides than long imprisonment. Instead, there is widespread agreement among both criminologists and law enforcement officials that capital punishment has little curbing effect on homicide rates. This fact is amply evident in a recent survey of 70 current and former presidents of three professional associations of criminologists (the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association), where 85% of the experts agreed that the empirical research on deterrence has shown that the death penalty never has been, is not, and never could be superior to long prison sentences as a deterrent to criminal violence (Borg & Radelet, 2000).

If anything, there is room to argue that long prison sentences may be more effective in meeting society's objective of instituting punishments that would deter crime. for, as Cesare Beccaria, one of the seminal figures in abolitionism, advocated, "It is not the intensity of punishment that has the greatest effect on the human spirit, but its duration.... It is not the terrible yet momentary spectacle of death...but the long and painful example of a man deprived of his liberty, who...recompenses with his labors the society he has offended, which is the strongest curb against crimes." (Haines, 1996, p.135-6)

Death penalty supporters also commonly use the incapacitation hypothesis, which suggests that heinous killers must be executed in order to prevent them from killing again. This argument is not entirely without validity since there have been incidents of criminals, released on parole, who have gone on to committing more murder and mayhem. However, research studies, which have focused on this issue, have found that the odds of repeat murder are low. For instance, James Marquart and Jonathan Sorenson, sociologists at Sam Houston State University, tracked down 558 of the 630 people on death row when the Supreme Court invalidated all death sentences in the United States in 1972. Contrary to the predictions of the incapacitation hypothesis, Marquart and Sorenson found that only about 1% of the released prisoners went on to kill again. This figure is almost identical with the number of death row prisoners later found to be innocent. Thus, Borg & Radelet (2000) suggest that these findings could be interpreted as suggesting that 100 people would need to be executed to incapacitate the one person who may repeat his or her crime. Further, they rightly point out that today's high security prisons and the virtual elimination of parole have made the incapacitation argument pretty much null and void.

The real implication in Marquart and Sorenson's work, however, is that 100 people would need to be needlessly executed to prevent one from repeating his or her crime. This issue, therefore, highlights the degree to which capital punishment can end up as a form of social injustice. This is particularly so because the nature of the punishment is so final that it rules out any possibility of rehabilitation. Whereas, there is some evidence or rather hope that the scope for rehabilitation may exist. Indeed, this fact is borne out by the work of Reverend Joseph B. Ingle, a 1988 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and one of the foremost proponents of abolitionism. Like other tireless abolitionists, Ingle presents a very different picture of Death Row inmates. As Haines (1996, p. 123-124) relates, "he knows these inmates as complicated people, frequently the product of tragic lives, who suffer hurts and fears and regrets - and who often agonize over the effect their predicament is having on their loved ones."

Besides ruling out any possibility of rehabilitation, capital punishment constitutes a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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