Capital Punishment: Logical and Moral Arguments

Jake J. Koppenhaver

Introduction to the Criminal Justice System Dr. Jerry Griffin July 10, 2005

Capital Punishment Capital Punishment: Logical and Moral Arguments A prisoner is restrained to a table, with men standing around him and others looking in from the next room. A man injects the prisoner with Sodium thiopental, rendering the prisoner unconscious, then with Pancuronium which paralyses him. His muscles stop moving, and his lungs stop pumping air into his body, causing him to suffocate. Finally, he is injected with Potassium chloride, which stops his heart from beating. The man dies1. This is a method of


Capital Punishment, usually reserved for brutal serial killers, rapists, and similar criminals. But is this form of punishment acceptable to employ in today’s criminal justice system, and does it deter crime? Do we, as a society, have a right to determine who lives and who dies for the crimes they commit? From a critical thinking standpoint, there are many pros and cons concerning the death penalty. Obviously, if certain criminals are incapable of reformation and replacement into society, then we should not do so. The cost of housing a criminal in a typical maximum security cell for 40 years is about $680,000, yet an execution costs the state and taxpayers roughly $3.18 million. (The Geography of Execution... The Capital Punishment Quagmire in America, Keith Harries and Derral Cheatwood 1997 p.6) Imagine the costs of keeping a prisoner on Death Row for decades, then putting him to death. Although these figures are high, some believe the death penalty is crucial in our criminal justice system in order to deter violent and serious crime from happening. According to various studies, murder rates are relatively unaffected by the death penalty, with advocates arguing that most murders are unplanned and crimes of passion. On the other side of the argument, Ernest van den Haag, a professor at Fordham University, said, “What is feared most deters most.” (Stephen E. Schonebaum. "Introduction." At Issue: Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime? Ed. Stephen E. Schonebaum. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002)


Lethal injection—Wikipedia

Capital Punishment Many who agree or disagree with capital punishment do so out of emotional or religious belief. Families who want closure and religious philosophies such as “An eye for an eye,” are


both groups which make up those who favor the death penalty. Their feelings are often intensely emotional and lacking logic. This isn’t to say their feelings are unfounded, but capital punishment has been known to claim innocent lives. Roy Stewart, Jesse Tafero, and Willie Darden are just a few of the names of those who have been executed in the last 25 years who investigators found later may have been innocent. I understand the bases of both the pro and con arguments. Personally I do not believe that taking a life makes up for a murder, nor do I believe in fighting “fire with fire.” I know the feeling of needing closure, and craving revenge on those who have done wrong, but I am not comfortable deciding upon the death of another outside of self defense. Killing someone, whether it be in a gang fight, vicious rape, shooting, or controlled judiciary-regulated environment is still killing. The practice of capital punishment is, in my opinion, dwindling down: Many countries in the world have abolished the death penalty or do not use the death penalty (Table 1); many US states, while technically still being able to execute prisoners, have not done so in years (Table 2); police chiefs across the nation denounce this practice as a deterrence to crime, and in fact believe it to be the last such factor that can help the crime situation (Table 3). Sentencing someone to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole costs less and removes them from society. I believe that killing someone for killing someone is not only counterproductive, but also irreversible. With DNA and other evidentiary breakthroughs, the margin of error may be too high to successfully employ the death penalty.

Capital Punishment References


Facts About Deterrence and the Death Penalty. (2005). Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved July 10, 2005, from

Twenty-five years of Executions and Twenty-Five Executions with Reasonable Doubts: A Brief Analysis of Some post-Gregg v. Georgia Executions. Karl Keys, Capital Defense Weekly, Draft, August 2001.

Stephen E. Schonebaum. "Introduction." At Issue: Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime?. Ed. Stephen E. Schonebaum. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002. 10 July 2005 <>.

Capital Punishment


Tables Table 1 International Death Penalty Practices. Source: Amnesty International

Table 2 Death Penalty Practices in the United States. Source: Amnesty International

Table 3 Poll of Police Chiefs Views of Crime Deterrence. Source: 1995 Hart Research Associates’ Poll

Capital Punishment