ოთხშაბათი, ივლისი 24, 2024
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The Point of No Return, the Capital Punishment

The death penalty has been a part of human society and its legal system for centuries, regarded one of the most widely-spread ways of punishing criminals.1 However, later on this type of punishment came to be regarded as a crime against humanistic ideals by many, and its validity in the legal system has been questioned2. As the time passes by, one thing becomes more evident: that capital punishment is more of an entertainment for the public, rather than effective punishment and therefore it must be abolished. While countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and almost all of the European have already abandoned capital punishment, China, the US, Iran, Belarus, and some others still maintain it.3 In most cases, death penalty is used to punish criminals for war crimes, or serious crimes associated with physical injury or drug usage and transportation. The latter one is the serious issue in countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.4 The actual history of death penalty is almost as old as the history of mankind. Though serving the same purpose, the death sentence methods have been different thorough the history.

The earliest mentions of the usage of the execution as the form of punishment, date to the Code of Hammurabi.5 The name of the term "capital punishment" is derived from the Latin "capitalis", meaning "head"6, which is self-explanatory, considering the fact that most common form of execution was beheading. However, as the history progressed, newer methods had been applied, involving burning, hanging, drowning, crucifixion, boiling to death, electrocution, firing squad, gassing – the list can be continued. The choice of a particular method in Europe in the Middle Age, for instance, depended on the social status of the condemned. Painless and respectable ways were reserved for the aristocracy; and more painful for the common people, such as hanging or breaking on the wheel. In other cases, the choice of the method was warranted by the time of crime: witches and heretics had to be burned at the stake. The French Revolution introduced a more "humane" execution method – the guillotine. Death sentence was once used on the wide variety of crime, including petty theft, even if nobody was physically hurt. As mentioned before it is death penalty is one of the controversial topics and the matter of debate.

The issues involved in the discussion of death penalty usually focuses on two main parts. First, this punishment is analysed from a purely practical perspective in an effort to find out whether application of capital punishment really helps to deter crime and reduce the risk of recidivism, when criminals commit repeated crimes. The evidence for this is sought in crime rates in regions and nations where executions are carried out. Second, supporters or opponents of death penalty need to find out whether this penalty can be acknowledged on moral grounds. In the result it helps to solve the issue of whether human beings are justified in killing other human beings. Although the arguments remain basically the same throughout history of the discussion, evidence can vary, and the findings, although controversial, can tilt the public opinion to one or the other side. Thus, the support for death penalty surges in nations where especially outrageous murders take place. Apparently there are various reasons why the death penalty must be wiped out.

The first one is the value of human life. Every human has the right to live, even those who commit murder. Sentencing a person to death and executing them violates that right. People against capital punishment believe that human life is so valuable that even the worst murderers should not be deprived of their lives. They say that the value of the offender's life cannot be destroyed by the offender's bad conduct — even if they have killed someone. One of the verses from the Bible made this point very clearly:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.(Romans 2:1)7

"Passing Judgement" in this verse refers to various punishment forms according to different variations. However the majority of theologises state that it actually refers to sentencing human to death.

The second argument is the uniqueness of the capital punishment and its connection to the idea of retribution. Many argue that the retribution in the case of the death penalty was not fair, because the anticipatory suffering of the criminal before execution would probably outweigh the anticipatory suffering of the victim of their crime. Others argue that the retribution argument is flawed because the death penalty delivers a 'double punishment'; that of the execution and the preceding wait, and this is a mismatch to the crime. Many offenders are kept 'waiting' on death row for a very long time; in the USA the average wait is 10 years.8In Japan, the accused are only informed of their execution moments before it is scheduled.9 The result of this is that each day of their life is lived as if it was their last. The majority of people who believe in the notion of retribution are against capital punishment because they feel the death penalty provides insufficient retribution. They argue that life imprisonment without possibility of parole causes much more suffering to the offender than a painless death after a short period of imprisonment. Another example is the planner of a suicide bombing — execution might make that person a martyr, and therefore would be a lesser retribution than life imprisonment.

Furthermore, it can be argued that all ways of executing people cause so much suffering to the condemned person that, eventually, they amount to torture and are wrong. Many methods of execution are quite obviously likely to cause enormous suffering, such as execution by lethal gas, electrocution or strangulation. Other methods have been abandoned because they were thought to be barbaric, or because they forced the executioner to be too 'hands-on', which includes firing squads and beheading.Many countries that use capital punishment have now adopted lethal injection, because it's thought to be less cruel for the offender and less brutalising for the executioner.10 However it must be noted that this method still has serious moral flaws and should be abandoned. The first flaw is that it requires medical personnel being directly involved in killing (rather than just checking that the execution has terminated life). This is a fundamental contravention of medical ethics.The second flaw is that research in April 2005 showed that lethal injection is not nearly as 'humane' as had been thought. Post mortem findings indicated that levels of anaesthetic found in offenders were consistent with wakefulness and the ability to experience pain.11

The third argument is that the entire process of the capital punishment can cost a great deal, as seen in the example of the USA. The cost of convicting and executing Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City Bombing was over $13 million.12In New York and New Jersey, the high costs of capital punishment were one factor in those states' decisions to abandon the death penalty. New York spent about $170 million over 9 years and had no executions. New Jersey spent $253 million over a 25-year period and also had no executions.13 Of course that would not be a problem for countries with a less costly and lengthy appeals procedure, but for countries such as US this leads to serious financial problems. Overall judicial execution seems like a more expensive option than long-term imprisonment.

The most common and most cogent argument against capital punishment is that sooner or later, innocent people will get killed, because witnesses, prosecutors and jurors can all make mistakes. When this is coupled with flaws in the system it is inevitable that innocent people will be convicted of crimes. Where capital punishment is used such mistakes cannot be put right: "The death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated".14There is ample evidence that such mistakes are possible: in the USA, more than 130  Because of that it is very much possible to send an innocent person to certain death, which will not come immediately and lead this person to years of psychological torture and mental disorder. These people usually are framed for several reasons, or just happened to be in the wrong place in the wrong time.

At this point one might ask a question: what is the alternative of the death penalty? The answer is life imprisonment. As mentioned before, it is estimated that the whole process of the capital punishment costs higher, than the life imprisonment. Other than that a prisoner who is sentenced to remain in prison for the rest of his life may even be able to realize his mistakes, or at will spend the whole time contained in a jail. Also contrary to popular belief, for many prisoners death is also a way to escape pain and suffering, which is why many of them try to commit suicide to escape being haunted by their past. Giving the prisoner death before time makes them sometimes unable to realise mistakes, only through being denied of such "escape route" will they really feel guilt for their actions. In total, this method is not only effective (and relatively cheap), but also prevents people from turning into executioners.

By listing all the arguments and statements, it becomes clear to see why indeed the capital punishment has to be abolished. Not only does is it ineffective, but also inhumane. The worst part is that it actually fuels people with even more violence and creates future executioners, who are as horrible and as ruthless as the people they execute. As stated above, the death sentence also contradicts with the doctors' reputation and ideology. Of course this debate will still continue, and there will be many people still in favour of the death sentence. They will bring up countless examples and cases of people that "would have better been executed", though, as mentioned before; capital punishment does not decrease the crime rate, or the weight of it. Finally the method of punishment that is impossible to fix in case of error, is extremely risky and needs to be dissolved.

Works Cited:

1"History of the Death Penalty", Death Penalty Information Centre, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#intro

2 "Moratorium on the death penalty", United Nations News Centre, 15 November 2007, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=24679&Cr=general&Cr1=assembly#.VmeO57grLIU

3Simon Rogers & Mona Chalabi, "Death penalty statistics, country by country",The Guardian, Dec 13 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/mar/29/death-penalty-countries-world


5 "Code of the Hammurabi", Commonlaw database, http://www.commonlaw.com/Hammurabi.html

6 "Capital Punishment", Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=capital

7"Romans 2:1", The Holy Bible, http://biblehub.com/romans/2-1.htm

8"Time on Death Row",Death Penalty InformationCenter, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/time-death-row


10Jeanne Kim, "These are the countries still using lethal injection to kill people",GlobalPost, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/140502/these-are-the-countries-where-lethal-injection-legal-death-penalty-US, May 7, 2014


12"McVeigh trial cost US .10m ",The Guardian, 30June 2001, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/jun/30/mcveigh.usa,

13"Costs of the Death Penalty",Death Penalty Information Centre,http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty.

14"The Death Penalty", Amnesty International, http://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/dp_qa.pdf

15"Executed But Possibly Innocent", Death Penalty Information Centre, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent.

16"Innocence: List of Those Freed From Death Row", Death Penalty Information Centre, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row