Capital Punishment: Fair or Unfair?

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The most severe form of punishment of all legal sentences is that of death. This is referred to as the death penalty, or "capital punishment"; this is the most severe form of corporal punishment, requiring law enforcement officers to actually kill the offender. It has been banned in numerous countries, in the United States, however an earlier move to eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are resorting to capital punishment for such serious offenses namely murder. "Lex talionis", mentioned by the Bible encourages "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" mentality, and people have been using it regularly for centuries. We use it in reference to burglary, adultery, and various other situations, although, some people enforce it on a different level, some people use it in reference to death. An individual may steal from those who have stolen from him/her, or an individual wrongs those who have wronged him/her, but should an individual have the right to kill to seek retaliation? Four issues are on the hot topic in the United States, stirring up America's feelings towards this issue. There is controversy debating capital punishment today and whether or not it works, or if it is morally right. We have a certain privilege in our own lives, but should the lives of others belong to us as well. Do we have the right to decide on the lives of others, of people we may not even know? If we find someone guilty of murder, we sentence him to death. This makes us murders ourselves, but is there possibility in justifying these acts?

Those who assist in the death penalty are they not partners in crime? Is the death penalty a cruel and unusual punishment or is it now just a necessary tool in the war of crime? With today's increase in crime and violence in our society, the death penalty effects every American, whether interested or not, and has existed for quite some time now.

The use of the death penalty has actually declined throughout the industrial Western World since the 19th century. In 1972, a movement in America to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional arose, during the landmark case of Furman vs. Georgia, declaring the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment, nonetheless, a Supreme Court decision in 1975, Gregg vs. Georgia, stated capital punishment did not violate the eighth Amendment rights, and the executions began again under state supervision. These inconsistencies and indecisions have obviously sparked a debate. (Horwitz, 124-127)

Four major issues in capital punishment are debated, most aspects of which were touched upon by Seton Hall's panel discussion on the death penalty. The first issue stands as deterrence. A major purpose of criminal punishment is to conclude future criminal conduct. The deterrence theory suggests that a rational person will avoid criminal behavior if the severity of the punishment outweighs the benefits of the illegal conduct. It is believed that fear of death "deters" people from committing a crime. Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives were at stake. When attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence, placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, which results in attitudes of horror to such acts.

Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for several years, with varying results. Most studies have failed to produce evidence that the death penalty deterred murders more effectively then the threat of imprisonment. The reason for this is that few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a satisfactory deterrent. If capital punishment were carried out more often it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was intended to be. During highly publicized death penalty cases, the homicide rate is found to go down but it rises back up when the case concludes. (Bailey, 42) ...
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