BBC: Arguments against capital punishment
(Here the text for the final exam, as agreed. Please note that this is an edited version, which means that I have made some changes. The words marked in red are probably new terms for you which you should check during your preparation for the final exam; it is important that you understand them)
Value of human life
Everyone thinks human life is valuable. Some of those against capital punishment believe that human life is so valuable that even the worst murderers should not be deprived of the value of their lives. They believe that the value of the offender's life cannot be destroyed by the offender's bad conduct - even if they have killed someone. Some abolitionists don't go that far. They say that life should be preserved unless there is a very good reason not to, and that those who are in favor of capital punishment are the ones who have to justify their position. Right to live
Everyone has an inalienable human right to life, even those who commit murder; sentencing a person to death and executing them violates that right. This is very similar to the 'value of life' argument, but approached from the perspective of human rights. The counter-argument is that a person can, by their actions, forfeit human rights, and that murderers forfeit their right to life. Another example will make this clear - a person forfeits their right to life if they start a murderous attack and the only way the victim can save their own life is by killing the attacker. Execution of the innocent
The most common and most cogent argument against capital punishment is that sooner or later, innocent people will get killed, because of mistakes or flaws in the justice system. Witnesses, (where they are part of the process), 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. There is ample evidence that such mistakes are possible: in the USA, 130 people sentenced to death have been found innocent since 1973 and released from death row. Source: Amnesty The average time on death row before these exonerations was 11 years. Source: Death Penalty Information Center Retribution is wrong
Many people believe that retribution is morally flawed and problematic in concept and practice. We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.
U.S. Catholic Conference
To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, it is not justice. Attributed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The main argument that retribution is immoral is that it is just another form of vengeance. Scenes of people attacking prison vans containing those accused of murder on their way to and from court, or chanting aggressively outside prisons when an offender is being executed, suggest that vengeance remains a major issue in the public popularity of capital punishment. But just retribution, designed to re-establish justice, can easily be distinguished from vengeance. Uniqueness of the death penalty
It's argued that retribution is used in a unique way in the case of the death penalty. Crimes other than murder do not receive a punishment that mimics the crime - for example rapists are not punished by sexual assault, and people guilty of assault are not ceremonially beaten up. Camus and Dostoevsky argued 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 worse than the crime. Many offenders are kept 'waiting' on death row for a very long time; in the USA the average wait is 10...
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