The criminal justice system is supposed to be corrective, whereby wrongdoers are shown the error in their actions, provided with guidelines on how to live lawfully and reintegrated into the society without significant challenges. However, in some instances, the crimes are too harsh to give room for the consideration of parole. According to the law, cases such as murder, child molestation, and genocide are not worth pardoning as they go contrary to humanity. It is for such cases that the death penalty was instituted. However, since its ratification, capital punishment has evolved over the years. This form of punishment has been admonished for some time now, even outlawed in some countries. Subjecting people to capital punishment does not achieve the objective of the criminal justice system, which is to enable people to recognize their errors and provide restitute to the crime victims. Moreover, subjecting murderers to capital punishment does not compensate their victims as they are already dead. The death penalty also does not distinguish between the murderer who is to be punished and the executioner. It is thus deductible that no one, regardless of the crimes they commit, is liable for capital punishment. In fact, the death penalty violates the basic human right to live and is inhumane hence should not be used even on hardcore criminals because they are human.
Various studies conducted on the death penalty have established the legal and moral concerns about using it as a form of punishment, and different alternatives to the death penalty have been proposed. In the ensuing paper, a discussion of the death penalty, including its history and implementation is presented. The objective of the paper is to provide proof that the death penalty is indeed inhumane, therefore, should be abolished. The paper explores the death penalty from a moralist, legal, and religious perspective to achieve this objective.
The Death Penalty – History and Implementation
The death penalty has been in place since the 18th Century BC when it was initiated by King Hammurabi of Babylon. During King Hammurabi’s tenure, the penalty was codified for 25 crimes. It was also part of the Hittite code of the 14th Century BC, as well as the Draconian code of Athens in the 7th Century BC (Death Penalty Information Center, 2018). The Draconian Code made the death penalty applicable to all crimes. The Twelve Tablets law enacted in the Roman Empire in the 5th Century prescribed the death penalty to be administered using approaches such as crucifixion, burning and clubbing among others. From the 10th Century AD, capital punishment was imposed in Britain by hanging, a practice that went on until the 11th Century when William the Conqueror instructed that nobody is hanged except during war. The Death Penalty Information Center (2018), reports that more than 72,000 people were executed in the 16th Century under King Henry VIII for crimes such as treason. Quartering, beheading, burning at the stakes and hanging were some of the methods used.
The Death Penalty Information Center (2018) offers information on the history of capital punishment. The use of the death penalty in America grew from the 17th Century. Britain was the greatest influence towards America’s use of the death penalty compared to other countries as a result of the movement of the European settlers into America. Captain George Kendall was the first execution victim in the colonies in the year after being accused of being a spy. The laws on capital punishment spread from one colony to the other. The New York City colony enacted the Duke’s laws in 1665, under which offenses such as physical abuse to parents and blasphemy were considered punishable by death (Death Penalty Information Center, 2018). The severity of the death penalty and the range of crimes punishable by the death penalty increased over the years until the period of the abolition movement when the death penalty eventually declined in terms of implementation as most of the world’s population came to realize its potential challenges.
Over the years during which the death penalty has been in use, several methods have been in place, and have changed over the years because of various reasons. Each approach is associated with specific strengths and weaknesses and has both proponents and opponents. Bever and Moyer (2014) explored the progress in the types of approaches used to administer the death penalty. In every new ideology, the objective has been to present a method that would make it easier for the executioners to do their work and less painful for the sentenced people. In Bever and Moyer’s work, an anthology of the different approaches, changes that have occurred over the years and the problems of using each of the methods are explored. Each of the different methods used has been proven better than the previous one, although with additional challenges that are method-specific.
The guillotine initially appeared to be the perfect solution to administering the death penalty seamlessly. The speed with which executions could be carried out made it the most painless process among the previously used methods. The main challenge in the use of the guillotine was the frequency of error occurrence. After the guillotine, the lethal injection became the most recognized (Bever & Moyer, 2018). Initially, the intention was to have a painless death for the sentenced individuals. However, the method did not achieve its objective as the different drugs used in administering the lethal injection resulted in a lot of pain and sometimes death was prolonged. The firing squad is considered the latest execution method, and it was preferred because of its reliance on trained members of the forces, who were readily available.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (2018), the death penalty raised various concerns regarding its authenticity as an effective punishment for those who engage in serious crimes. Particularly, in the 21st Century, there has been an increasing preference for its abolition following the emergence of the abolitionist movement in the 1990s. Research conducted by the Death penalty Information Center (2018) reported that more than 48% of Americans prefer life imprisonment without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. Only 44% suggested that they preferred the death penalty to life imprisonment. Similarly, another poll indicated that there were significant religious divisions on the concept of capital punishment with Hispanic Protestants having minimum support at 24%. 25% of black Protestants registered their support for the death penalty while 26% of members of each of the two groups made clear their preference for life without parole. Non-Christian religions, Catholics and Jews had higher preferences for life without parole, while 59% of white Protestants expressed support for the death penalty. Only 40% of the members of the white protestant groups supported life imprisonment without parole (Death Penalty Information Center, 2018). Thus the opposition for the capital punishment outweighs its support.
Several reasons have been mentioned for and against the death penalty. Each group of opponents has reasons for its preferences. References to the moral perspective of the death penalty, its religious implications, and the fact that it violates the basic human rights laws have all come into play. Specifically, the abolitionists focused on the inability of the death penalty to reduce crime. They were of the opinion that it increased crime instead. On the other hand, proponents of the death penalty held that capital punishment helped to deter crime rather than waiting for the crime to be committed and then punishing the perpetrators. The District of Pennsylvania was the first to introduce the subject of using the death penalty only as punishment for murder crimes. It was also the first district to differentiate murder crimes into degrees in terms of culpability. Only those found guilty of first-degree murder would be subjected to the death penalty. Through the years, other states have abolished the death penalty, beginning with Michigan in 1846, while others made continuous changes in the application of the death penalty (Death Penalty Information Center, 2018).
Fundamental issues in the legality of the death penalty were raised from the 1960s with arguments that it violated the fourth and fifth amendments. The concept and procedure of implementing the punishment became subjects of discussions, and from every indication, the death penalty appears unjust. Opposition to capital punishment, therefore, arises from a consideration of the phenomenon from various perspectives, including the religious, moral and legal. The legal perspective challenges the constitutionality of the concept and the process itself.
The Case against the Death Penalty
Moral Perspective to the Death Penalty
The Economist published an article on capital punishment in America, beginning from the perspective that families of murdered individuals in traditional societies preferred the death penalty to be administered to murderers in the act of revenge. However, with the increasing implementation of the death penalty, the consideration of revenge became less sweet (Anonymous (b), 2007). The decreased appeal of revenge is founded on various issues that have been raised regarding the death penalty namely, the discrimination associated with it, violation of moral and ethical values in the society, and its failure to accomplish the intended objectives. The moral perspective to the death penalty considers the punishment from two ethical views. The first is the deontological view, which considers actions wrong by virtue of the intent and the process of actions. The second viewpoint is the utilitarian theory of morals, which defines good according to its capacity to maximize pleasure for the largest number of people.
From the deontological perspective of ethics, the capital punishment should only be considered good as a punitive process if it is conducted with a positive intent and the process used is also good or morally acceptable. Considering the different approaches that have been used in administering the death penalty, it is wrong to assume that the methods have been morally acceptable (Anonymous, 2015). The proponents of using capital punishment for serious crimes may have positive or ethical intentions in this recommendation. However, the scope of application, the consideration of the accused persons and the support of appeal result in a twisted impression of their intention. For example, Sarah (2009) mentions concepts such as war, torture, and political imbalances in the context of capital punishment. Her opinions center on the wrong use of the death penalty to punish political opponents, the act of torturing the accused persons even while awaiting their death, and the use of the death penalty in times of war to counter opposition. These acts transform the intention of the death penalty from a deterrent of crime to a tool for self-gains hence making the penalty inhumane.
The methods that have been used in administering the death penalty also purpose to confirm the inadequacy of the approach from the moral perspective. Some of the methods used in administering the death penalty use professionals in other areas with the capacity to bring other benefits to the human race. For instance, the electric chair needed electricians/electrical engineers whose roles are diverse in the society. Similarly, the lethal injection required administration by doctors who are tasked with protecting lives while the firing squad uses soldiers mandated to protect the country and its citizens. Kas et al. (2012) pose a question on whether using medical practitioners who are supposed to be protecting life to execute the death penalty is within the moral scope. The same question can be asked of the other professions that are used in executing convicted criminals.
The resources that are used in administering capital punishment raise concerns about its ethical validity. Kas et al. (2012) discuss the rationality of using medications required by people who suffer from other illnesses to execute the death penalty. Some of the people who need those drugs lack them hence using them for executions is inhumane to those who need them as well as those on whom they are used. Similarly, Reilly (2011) registers concerns about the costs of taking care of those who have been sentenced to death between the sentencing time and the execution time. The costs are considerably high, especially when a case is appealed and the process is prolonged. For this reason, Reilly (2011) suggests that the authorities limit the number of appeals that accuse persons can make following the death penalty. While this may reduce costs, it also affects the legitimacy of the capital punishment in that it subjects individuals who may be innocent to the compulsion to die without giving them sufficient chance to defend themselves.
The limitation of appeal touches on the utilitarian ethical perspective in that the death penalty, without being appealed, results in the least benefits for the least number of people. For the federal systems and individuals, seeking revenge for a crime committed against one of their own brings about a temporary sense of relief. However, it cannot be deduced that the death penalty results in any changes, for instance where murder is involved. Killing the perpetrator does not necessarily result in a reduction of grief for the murdered person’s family. Similarly, the process of conducting the death penalty results in more harm for the family of the criminal (assuming he or she is guilty of the crime), and can result in the desire for revenge. The use of painful methods, using resources that are required elsewhere, and taking another person’s life are contrary to the common good hence the death penalty is inhumane.
Morisi (2014) best describes the death penalty from the moral perspective based on Camus’s arguments. According to Morisi, the death penalty is a human’s way of legalizing the urge to kill. The author argues that capital punishment is against all laws of nature thus is against the moral and ethical foundations of criminal punishment. The experience of the death penalty is in itself disturbing enough for any decent man, and countries that support execution violate the basic moral and ethical principles. From these arguments and the general moral considerations, it is clear that the death penalty is inhumane. A consideration of the penalty from other perspectives, such as the religious and based on the implementation issues, also shows that the penalty is inhumane.
Religious Consideration of the Death Penalty
Haines (1999) reports on the level of support for the death penalty across the world, with the suggestion that only America is still in constant support of capital punishment. He mentions the arguments that have been pointed out by other nations against the practice and puts America on the spot for its support for capital punishment at a time when other countries have reneged in their support. While Haines’ focus is on the differential support for capital punishment across countries, the differential support from the religious perspective is minimally discussed. Religious books from the traditional times consider the death penalty suitable for some crimes, such as murder and prostitution. In Christianity, for instance, According to the teachings from the Old Testament, the Israelites were o stone people who committed specific serious crimes. Similarly, Islam has teachings on the use of the death penalty, especially against those who do not ascribe to the faith. Judaism also entails teachings regarding the use of the death penalty. However, the New Testament of the Bible prohibits murder as a mode of punishment, on the basis that no sin is greater than another and that only those who are holy should pass judgment.
While re-examining the nature of the death penalty, an evaluation of the different laws of nature, besides religious laws is necessary. Many states and nations recognize the relevance of the death penalty, with the argument that it helps in bringing order where other laws would be inapplicable. For instance, crimes such as child molestation that result in death and murder are violations of religious teachings on the protection of life that an innocent person should not be killed as death is immoral and violates the sanctity of life (Dellapiana, 2011). However, the question to be asked is whether killing a murderer should be treated as less of a sin than the crime. For the executioner, there is no argument other than the application of law as the basis of fulfilling the human urge to kill. Similarly, the states do not have other arguments that justify murder except that the law permits it. Death Penalty Information Center (2018) describes the reluctance of jurors to subject criminals to the death penalty. This unwillingness can only be attributed to their convictions about the wrongness of capital punishment, its religious implications, and moral impressions. In summation, the jurors, as well as several public opinions, indicate that the death penalty should have an alternative due to its inhumane nature.
Implementation Issues in the Death Penalty
Besides the moral and religious implications, the death penalty has been marred by several implementation issues, which indicate that it is subject to the wrong use. Several issues have been associated with the phenomenon of capital punishment itself. For instance, differences in the methods of execution, as well as state laws regarding the punishment, are indications that every execution method is subject to certain issues. The National Conference of State Legislatures (2018) provides an overview of the changes that have occurred in the death penalty over the years across many states. These include requiring the accused to file claims of ineffective assistance when awaiting execution, which gives the impression that the legislative system has a degree of humanity in spite of its support for the death penalty. Furthermore, eliminating juvenile offenders, and the developmentally disabled shows a commitment to making the death penalty as relevant as possible to its subjects.
Various issues have been associated with the death penalty, and have been used as the rationale for the argument against it. For example, its discriminative application, erroneous processes, and administration to innocent people have raised concerns about the rationality of capital punishment. The inhumane nature of the penalty is best depicted in the case of an innocent woman described by Anonymous (2015), in which an individual who is physically absent from the scene of the crime is subjected to the lethal injection based on the indictment of the actual murderer. Other studies have also provided evidence against the erroneous execution of innocent persons following a set up by others.
Anonymous (b) (2017) provides other rationales for the abolition of the death penalty, including its racial discrimination and subjectivity to poverty. According to Galliher (2015), only people who feel exempt from its implications support the death penalty even though it is marred by discrimination against racial dispositions and poverty and is characterized by irrational judgments. Arguments suggesting that capital punishment is meted discriminately have been countered by supporters who argue that no genetic evidence has been found to confirm the discriminative nature of the penalty. Urbina (2012) however describes cases that confirm that courts are more likely to sentence black criminals to death compared to other races. The Death Penalty Information Center (2018) also reports that Blacks are three times more likely to be sentenced to death than being part of the general population. Haines (1999) suggests that any recommendation for the application of the death penalty should be examined objectively since support for the method is irreversible. In most cases, individuals who have been subjected to capital punishment cannot be brought back to life if proven innocent after their execution. As such, the punishment leaves no room for undoing or compensating for the harm done by wrongful convictions.
As mentioned, an issue that has been the subject of discussion over the years is the methodology of execution. Methods such as lethal injection have been used on the grounds that they make the death process easier to bear. However, such processes have been noted sometimes to be erratic, resulting in untold pain for the subjects and some cases even prolonged death. Some concerns have been mentioned in reference to the lethal injection by Kas et al. (2012). For instance, the drugs used in delivering the lethal injections have to be formulated in pharmacies, in which they can easily be confused and administered to non-targets. Frequency of drug administration errors, limited expertise in administration and the non-ethical use of medical practitioners to administer the death penalty, all constitute additional challenges to the lethal injection. These issues increase the pain felt by the subjects, resulting in significant suffering, which is inhumane. Reilly (2011) mentions the limitations on appeal, which contravenes the U.S, constitution. Additionally, Cunningham and Reidy (1999) described various issues surrounding psychiatric roles in the administration of the death sentences. Concerns on psychiatric reliance on case facts and DSM-IV alone as the basis for deciding whether a culprit is a threat to self and others are raised as potential threats to the efficacy of the death penalty and contribution to its cruelty.
The death penalty is a violation of various national and international laws. Dleter (1993) point out that the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments had been interpreted wrongly and there had been no issues with the constitutionality of the death penalty. With the revised interpretations, the constitutionality of this approach to punishment has been questioned with reference to the international bill of rights and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to of the U.S. Constitution. While capital punishment still exists as part of the law in over 31 states, it is subject to constant reviews and has not been implemented over the past few years (Penal Reform International, 2015).
Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Sufficient evidence has shown that the death penalty is inhumane. Issues surrounding its implementation show that the challenges that it has caused can be addressed through alternative measures. The sentence is being abolished in different states, and replaced with laws that subject to impose longer incarceration terms with limited options for parole (Penal Reform International, 2015). A life sentence without parole is commonly used for perpetrators of crimes that were previously punished by the death sentence based on the perception that having a murderer out on the streets could lead to him or her to re-offend or be harmed by the public. In other cases, states recommend the use of long-term incarceration with restricted parole, especially in cases that do not involve first-degree murder. In such cases, the perpetrators would be subjected to incarceration for a given minimum period without parole. After the elapse of the stated minimum number of years, they can be granted parole.
The effectiveness of both life and long-term incarceration in reducing crime and correcting criminals is high as long as the two are used as intended. However, there has been concern about the release of hardened criminals after a short time, such as six years. In the State of Texas, the concern has been based on the argument that if an offender can be released after only six years in prison following a capital murder offense, then anyone else is worthy of parole. The main challenge in effectively implementing the long-term incarceration processes the lack of clarity on the exact approach to be taken. For example, the Death Penalty Information Center (2018) suggests that the state of Texas has confusing laws whereby the jurors have no clarity on whether long-term life sentencing should be open to hardened criminals. They, therefore, choose between the death penalty, which is still available for them, and releasing the criminals after six years. In most cases, the latter wins to the disappointment of the populace. For those released after six years, recidivism is a common occurrence.
For the states without the death sentence, life sentence has been confirmed to be effective. According to the Dleter (1993), jurors who have served in states where the death penalty is still in use as well as the states where the death penalty has been substituted with life imprisonment, always prefer life imprisonment to the death penalty. Those who are under life imprisonment can get a shorter term following executive clemency or commutation. Executive clemency may at times seem improbable, in which case the governor or an appropriate board member has the power to commute a life sentence to a shorter term. However, that only happens due to overcrowding in prisons.
The death penalty is inhumane in all its aspects. A consideration of the different methods used in executing the punishment as well as their implications shows the inhumanity in its application. Concerns such as the irreversibility of the death sentence, inefficiency in achieving the correction and deterrence objective, propensity for error, and ethical issues are indications of the need to devise an alternative approach to punishing hard criminals. Public opinions, as well as advancements in legislative processes, provide sufficient evidence for the abolition of the death penalty. Alternative measures for the penalty, including life imprisonment and restricted parole have been suggested. These are effective only as long as they are implemented in the right way. The clarity of law is also of great importance in benefitting from longer incarceration laws.
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