The Arguments Against Death Penalty
The director of the W.E. Dubois Institute of Afro-American research at Harvard, Professor Henry Gates, Jr. believes that history is merely “a chronicle of formerly acceptable outrage [and] that sooner or later capital punishment, too, will turn up on that chronicle of outrages.” In American society, support for capital punishment varies widely and is a highly contentious political issue fraught with differing philosophies and emotions.
Nevertheless the pursuit of justice demands that we as a society demonstrate a respect for life by showing how strongly society reacts to the most heinous crimes, which accordingly reveals society’s respect for life. Advocates for the abolition of capital punishment support their claims through ethically outrageous philosophies and the misrepresentation of facts. The prudent use of the death penalty can emphasize, as no other penalty can, that heinous criminals are responsible for their own actions and that the deliberate, willful taking of innocent life is the most abhorrent of all crimes precisely because the right to life is the most precious of all rights.
One of the central arguments in the opposition to capital punishment is the assertion that the death penalty is an inherently cruel and unusual punishment thus being both moral unacceptable and against the Constitution. In Thomas R. Eddlem’s article “Ten Anti-Death Penalty Fallacies” he cites the American Civil Liberties Union as stating, “Capital punishment, the ultimate denial of civil liberties, is a costly, irreversible and barbaric practice, the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment” (1). The abolitionist reason that killing someone is inherently cruel and that a morally respectful and responsible society cannot justly condemn someone to a sentence that is intrinsically cruel.
In addition, anti-death penalty proponents also claim that the death penalty directly violates the Constitution that bans “cruel and unusual punishment” in the Eighth amendment. However, these conclusions are based on the assumption that capital punishment is meant to be vengeful and vindictive which is neither the basis nor the purpose of the death penalty.
Moreover, cruelty is defined as something disposed to inflict pain and suffering and inmates today are executed by lethal injection, thus effectively eliminating the pain associated with being put to death. While some may argue that the mental anguish that a criminal may face just prior to death is cruel, one must agree that the mental anguish they may suffer is justly deserved; stemming only from their guilt for their actions, for which they are being held responsible. Accordingly, one can recognize the misleading reasoning that proponents for the abolition of capital punishment use.
A significant component of the reasoning against taking a convicted murder’s life is because it violates their natural rights; however, this reasoning is clearly a perversion of philosophy. Abolitionists argue that even convicted felons are guaranteed the right to life and that taking their life is morally objectionable. Most felons lose various civil rights such as the loss of voting, purchasing of firearms, running for public office and several other rights. Therefore, when one takes the life of another, then don’t they forfeit their most precious civil liberty, their right to life?
The murder has, in effect unjustly and prematurely denied their victim their right to life, for that reason, is it not just to take from the murder what he has denied to another? Professor J. Budziszewki supports this line of reasoning in his article “Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice”, when he states that “Deserved punishment protects society morally by restoring this just order, making the wrongdoer pay a price equivalent to the harm he has done” (40). Accordingly, one can see that when a murder takes the life of an innocent person they have forfeit their right to life by denying it to another. Consequently, one can see that taking the life of a capital offender is not done unjustly, unreasonably nor with prejudice.
Abolitionists contend that taking the life of the murder does not restore the victim’s life however in spite of this, the death penalty is a necessary tool that reaffirms the sanctity of human life while assuring that convicted killers will never again prey upon others. Is it not more unjust to let another life be taken at the hands of someone who should have never been allowed to continue to live? As Jeff Jacoby from the Boston Globe reports in his article “The Abolitionists’ Cop Out” that “In one 17- month period, the US Department of Justice calculated in 1995, criminals released “under supervision” committed 13,200 murders and 200,000 other violent crimes (1).”
How many innocent deaths could have been prevented if felons already convicted of murder or other capital crimes were not released? The blame for these additional innocent victims rests upon the system that let the convicted felons continue to live and be released back into society. Subsequently, one can see that capital punishment is not only society’s way of validating life but also a punishment that further prevents violent acts.
Advocates for the elimination of capital punishment cite misleading evidence claiming that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent in addition to being more costly than life imprisonment. In his article, Mike Farrell cites “scientific” data from three different studies claiming that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to crime (1). However, this supposed evidence is based on poor data created by the ineffectiveness of the justice system to carry out a capital punishment sentence.
Cases in which a person is sentenced to death may take many years due to stall tactics and various court appeals; therefore, most years in most states no one is executed. Due to this lack of consistency and variability there is not an effective capital punishment system throughout the country. This in turn creates insufficient and unreliable data. The poor proof creates a misleading impression that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to crime.
Nonetheless, if we assume for the sake of the argument that it is not an effective deterrent it still does nothing to change the fact that the murder still deserves their just punishment. In addition, abolitionist attempt to cite figures suggesting that the cost of the death penalty is more to the taxpayer than life imprisonment. These figures are dubious at best and regardless of the price involved justice is not up for sale to the lowest bidder. Moreover, one realizes that these arguments against capital punishment are nothing more than well crafted propaganda intended to merely mislead others.
It is not the death penalty that cheapens life or makes the society that employs it barbaric. What is barbaric, as well as tragic and pitiful, is the thinking that fails to make the distinction between the lives of murders and the lives of their victims. If society fails to make the distinction without equivocation, then society is truly barbaric. Granted, it is not easy to condemn someone to death, and still less easy to carry out the sentence.
Executions are irrevocable and irreversible; to take away anyone’s life, even a brutal criminal’s, involves an assertion of moral certainty that would make many of us shudder. But shuddering or not, we have a duty to carry out. Our society has a duty to proclaim that murder is evil and will not be tolerated, and that we will punish the worst of crimes with the worst punishment, upholding our societies respect for life.
- Budziszewki, J. “Death Penalty Information Center.” “Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice” http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/. 1 September 2005
- Eddlem, Thomas R. “The New American.” www.thenewamerican.com. 1 September 2005. “Ten Anti-Death Penalty Fallacies”
- Gates, Henry Jr. “Writing Logically, Thinking Critically.” New York: Pearson, 2004 Jacoby, Jeff. “The Abolitionists’ Cop Out.” Boston globe 28 September 2003 Mike Farrell. “Death Penalty Focus.” “Mike Farrel On Capital Punishment.” 3 September 2005 http://www.deathpenalty.org/index.php?pid=main