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Introduction

Capital punishment is receiving some renewed attention in the Philippines today,


largely as a result of questions put by several lawmakers in recent debates. Support for
capital punishment has been a traditional platform of social conservatives, but not
without some significant dissent. Specifically, those who defend the lives of the unborn,
the senescent, and the severely retarded by appeal to the sanctity of human
life sometimes take as their starting point for such positions the following moral claim: it
is always wrong intentionally to kill a human person. And from this claim, a principled
opposition to capital punishment follows.
The valued sanctity of life view is often accompanied by a set of claims about
ones ultimate and inalienable right to life and human dignity, namely, that human
beings possess essential, underived, or intrinsic dignity. That is, they possess dignity, or
excellence, in virtue of the kind of being they are; and this essential dignity can be used
summarily to express why it is impermissible, for example, intentionally to kill human
beings: to do so is to act against their dignity.
Thus, with the issues at hand, this paper will attempt to present the pros and
cons of death penalty as drawn out from different authorities and will essentially present
the collective point of view of the presenters.

Case In Point

To better dissect the background and basis of death penalty as a capital


punishment in the Philippines, we look into the case of THE PEOPLE OF THE
PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ELPIDIO MERCADO y HERNANDO and AURELIO
ACEBRON y ADORA, accused-appellants. (G.R. No. 116239. November 29, 2000)
In this case, the Supreme Court was able to enunciate several doctrines and
substantial baseline information on death penalty.

Case Digest
That on or about the 9th day of February, 1994, in the Municipality of Pasig,
Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the abovenamed accused, being them members of the PNP, conspiring and confederating

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together and mutually helping and aiding one another, did then and there wilfully,
unlawfully, and feloniously kidnap one Richard Buama, a 17 year old minor and boarded
him in a Red car bearing License plate No. CGZ 835 against his will thus depriving him
of his freedom of liberty (sic), brought him to Tanay, Rizal in a safe house and there
subjected him to extreme/brutal physical violence, and thereafter with abuse of superior
strength and evident premeditation hacked and bludgeoned/clubbed said Richard
Buama who thereby sustained mortal wounds which directly caused his death.
Trial Court Ruling:
The Regional Trial Court, Branch 156, Pasig City, finding accused-appellants
Elpidio Mercado y Hernando and Aurelio Acebron y Adora guilty beyond reasonable
doubt of the crime of kidnapping with murder and imposing upon each of them the
DEATH PENALTY, is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATIONS that the awards of
P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and P100,000.00 as moral and exemplary damages are
DELETED and accused-appellants are ORDERED to pay jointly and severally to
Lourdes Vergara the amount of P3,510.00 as reimbursement for the expenses she
incurred for the victim's wake and funeral.

Sunstantial Issues Upon Appeal:


I. CONSTITUTIONALITY OF R.A. 7659 AND R.A. 8177
Accused-appellants argue that Republic Act 7659 violates the 1987 Constitution
because;
1. There are no compelling reasons to impose the death penalty for the crimes of
treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping and
serious illegal detention, robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons,
destructive arson, rape, plunder, importation of prohibited drugs, etc.
2. R.A. No.7659 violates the constitutional ban against infliction of cruel, degrading or
inhuman punishment.
3. R.A. No. 7659 impugns the constitutional right to equality before the law.
4. R.A. No. 7659 repudiates the obligation of the Philippines under international law.
5. Death penalty is not deterrence to the commission of crimes. [16]

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SUPREME COURT RULING:


The constitutionality of Republic Act No. 7659 has already been settled in the
Court's 12-3 per curiam Resolution in People vs. Echegaray, [17] wherein the following
rulings were made:
1. The death penalty is not a "cruel, unjust, excessive or unusual punishment." It
is an exercise of the state's power to "secure society against the threatened and actual
evil."
2. The offenses for which Republic Act No. 7659 provides the death penalty satisfy "the
element of heinousness" by specifying the circumstances which generally qualify a
crime to be punishable by death;
3. Republic Act No. 7659 provides both procedural and substantial safeguards to insure
its correct application.
4. The Constitution does not require that "a positive manifestation in the form of a higher
incidence of crime should first be perceived and statistically proven" before the death
penalty may be prescribed. Congress is authorized under the Constitution to determine
when the elements of heinousness and compelling reasons are present, and the Court
would exceed its own authority if it questioned the exercise of such discretion.
In the subsequent case of Echegaray vs. Secretary of Justice, [18] the Court
sustained the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 8177, providing for death by lethal
injection against claims that death by lethal injection was cruel, degrading, or inhuman
punishment, and that the law violated treaty obligations. Petitioner in that case argued
that death by lethal injection constituted cruel, degrading, and inhuman punishment
because: (1) Republic Act No. 8177 failed to provide for the drugs to be used in
administering lethal injection, the dosage for the drug to be administered, and the
procedure in administering drug(s) to the convict; (2) Republic Act No. 8177 and its
implementing rules did not fix either the date of execution of the convict or the time for
notifying him, with the result that such uncertainties cause pain and suffering to the
convict, and (3) the possibility of botched executions or mistakes in administering drugs
renders lethal injection inherently cruel.
Rejecting petitioner's contention that death by lethal injection violates the
prohibition against cruel, degrading, and inhuman punishment in Section 19(1), Article
III of the Constitution, the Court said:
"Now it is well-settled in jurisprudence that the death penalty per se is not a cruel,
degrading or inhuman punishment. In the oft-cited case of Harden v. Director of Prisons,
this Court held that '[p]unishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering
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death; but the punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used
in the constitution. It implies there something inhuman and barbarous, something more
than the mere extinguishment of life.' Would the lack in particularity then as to the
details involved in the execution by lethal injection render said law 'cruel, degrading or
inhuman'? The Court believes not. For reasons hereafter discussed, the implementing
details of R.A. No. 8177 are matters which are properly left to the competence and
expertise of administrative officials." [19]
As to the contention that the re-imposition of the death penalty violates
international treaty obligations, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, the Court explained:
"Indisputably, Article 6 of the Covenant enshrines the individual's right to life.
Nevertheless, Article 6(2) of the Covenant explicitly recognizes that capital punishment
is an allowable limitation on the right to life, subject to the limitation that it be imposed
for the most serious crimes.' Pursuant to Article 28 of the Covenant, a Human Rights
Committee was established and under Article 40 of the Covenant, States Parties to the
Covenant are required to submit an initial report to the Committee on the measures they
have adopted which give effect to the rights recognized within the Covenant and on the
progress made on the enjoyment of those rights within one year of its entry into force for
the State Party concerned and thereafter, after five years. On July 27, 1982, the Human
Rights Committee issued General Comment No. 6 interpreting Article 6 of the Covenant
stating that '(while) it follows from Article 6(2) to (6) that State parties are not obliged to
abolish the death penalty totally, they are obliged to limit its use and, in particular, to
abolish it for other than the 'most serious crimes.' Accordingly, they ought to consider
reviewing their criminal laws in this light and, in any event, are obliged to restrict the
application of the death penalty to the 'most serious crimes.' The article strongly
suggests (pars. 2[2] and [6]) that abolition is desirable. x x x. The Committee is of the
opinion that the expression 'most serious crimes' must be read restrictively to mean that
the death penalty should be a quite exceptional measure. Further, The Safeguards
Guaranteeing Protection of Those Facing the Death Penalty adopted by the Economic
and Social Council of the United Nations declare that the ambit of the term 'most serious
crimes' should not go beyond intentional crimes, with lethal or other extremely grave
consequences.
"The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 16, 1966,
and signed and ratified by the Philippines on December 19, 1966 and August 22, 1989,
respectively. The Optional Protocol provides that the Human Rights Committee shall

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receive and consider communications from individuals claiming to be victims of


violations of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant.
"On the other hand, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty was adopted by
the General Assembly on December 15, 1989. The Philippines neither signed nor
ratified said document. Evidently, petitioner's assertion of our obligation under the
Second Optional Protocol is misplaced." [20]
Accused-appellants further argue that Republic Act No. 7659 denies equality
before the law. They cite studies here and abroad allegedly showing that "the death
penalty has most often been used against the poor." This statement is too sweeping to
merit further serious consideration. Anyone, regardless of his economic status in life,
may commit a crime. While there may be perceived imbalances in the imposition of
penalties, there are adequate safeguards in the Constitution, the law, and procedural
rules to ensure due process and equal protection of the law. As pointed out by
Representative Pablo Garcia when interpellated by Representative Joker Arroyo during
the congressional deliberation on the death penalty bill:
"x x x. (T)here is something more in the bill that protects the rights of every
accused person, be he rich or poor. I refer to the provisions under the Bill of Rights of
the Constitution. The Constitution itself protects, envelops the accused with the mantle
of protection guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Section 1 of Article III of the Constitution
provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process
of law. In other words, the accused cannot be deprived of his life without due process of
law nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws. In other words, the
laws protect the rich and the poor, the lettered and the unlettered. That is guaranteed by
the Constitution. x x x. [21]
Similarly, in People vs. Mijano, [22] this Court recently said:
"Finally, accused-appellant in his reply brief contends that the death penalty law
is violative of the equal protection clause of the 1987 Constitution because it punishes
only people like him, the poor, the uneducated, and the jobless.
"The equality the Constitution guarantees is legal equality or, as it is usually put,
the equality of all persons before the law. Under this guarantee, each individual is dealt
with as an equal person in the law, which does not treat the person differently because
of who he is or what he is or what he possesses (Bernas, The Constitution of the
Republic of the Philippines, A Commentary, 1987 ed., p. 6).
xxx

xxx

xxx
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"Apparently, as it should be, the death penalty law makes no distinction. It


applies to all persons and to all classes of persons - rich or poor, educated, or
uneducated, religious or non-religious. No particular person or classes of persons are
identified by the law against whom the death penalty shall be exclusively imposed."
Accused-appellants' claim that the death penalty does not deter the commission
of crimes is without any basis. To be sure, deterrence is not the only aim of the law. As
Representative Pablo Garcia, the principal author of the death penalty bill, explained
"more than deterrence, x x x is retributive justice." [23] In People vs. Echegaray, it was
further stated:
"The abolitionists in Congress insisted that all criminal reforms first be pursued
and implemented before the death penalty be reimposed in case such reforms prove
unsuccessful. They claimed that the only compelling reason contemplated by the
Constitution is that nothing else but the death penalty is left for the government to resort
to that could check the chaos and the destruction that is being caused by unbridled
criminality. Three of our colleagues are of the opinion that the compelling reason
required by the constitution is that there occurred a dramatic and significant change in
the socio-cultural milieu after the suspension of the death penalty on February 2, 1987
such as an unprecedented rise in the incidence of criminality. Such are, however,
interpretations only of the phrase 'compelling reasons' but not of the conjunctive phrase
'compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.' The imposition of the requirement that
there be a rise in the incidence of criminality because of the suspension of the death
penalty, moreover, is an unfair and misplaced demand, for what it amounts to, in fact, is
a requirement that the death penalty first prove itself to be a truly deterrent factor in
criminal behavior. If there was a dramatically higher incidence of criminality during the
time that the death penalty was suspended, that would have proven that the death
penalty was indeed a deterrent during the years before its suspension. Suffice it to say
that the constitution in the first place did not require that the death penalty be first
proven to be a deterrent; what it requires is that there be compelling reasons involving
heinous crimes.
"Article III, Section 19 (1) of the 1987 Constitution simply states that Congress,
for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, may re-impose the death penalty.
Nothing in the said provision imposes a requirement that for a death penalty bill to be
valid, a positive manifestation in the form of a higher incidence of crime should first be
perceived and statistically proven following the suspension of the death penalty. Neither
does the said provision require that the death penalty be resorted to as a last recourse
when all other criminal reforms have failed to abate criminality in society. It is immaterial
and irrelevant that R.A. No. 7659 cites that there has been an 'alarming upsurge of such
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crimes,' for the same was never intended by said law to be the yardstick to determine
the existence of compelling reasons involving heinous crimes. Fittingly, thus, what R.A.
No. 7659 states is that 'the Congress, in the interest of justice, public order and rule of
law, and the need to rationalize and harmonize the penal sanctions for heinous crimes,
finds compelling reasons to impose the death penalty for said crimes.'" [24]
Indeed, today, even members of the Court who originally dissented from the majority
ruling sustaining the validity of Republic Act No. 7659 agree on the imposition of the
death penalty without in the least changing their view about the constitutionality of the
penalty.
As we did in People vs. Godoy 321 Philippine 279, [25] we restate mankind's
age-old observation and experience on the penological and societal effect of capital
punishment: "If it is justified, it serves as a deterrent; if injudiciously imposed, it
generates resentment."

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Arguments for and Against Death Penalty

As can be gleaned from the above case, the contention which favors the death
penalty is grounded on two main premises, (1) Deterrence and (2) Retribution. These
premises however do not remain to be undisputed.
The following discussions will show the various arguments and counter
arguments on death penalty as culled out from local1 and international2 literatures.

The Pros
ARGUMENT 1: DETERRENCE
The death penalty prevents future murders.
Society has always used punishment to discourage would-be criminals from
unlawful action. Since society has the highest interest in preventing murder, it should
use the strongest punishment available to deter murder, and that is the death penalty. If
murderers are sentenced to death and executed, potential murderers will think twice
before killing for fear of losing their own life.
This is the very same contention of a Philippine Senator. Senate Deputy Minority
Leader Vicente Sotto III disputed the claim of critics that the death penalty will not
prevent or reduce the commission of heinous crimes, and that its revival favors the rich.
The influx of heinous crimes committed poses an alarming situation in the
country nowadays, he said in his explanatory note in the bill.
The indiscriminate and horrendous brutality happening everywhere rightfully and
justifiably compels the government to resort to the ultimate criminal penalty provided for
by no less than our constitution- the death penalty. The imposition of life imprisonment
proves to be a non-deterrent against criminality, said Sotto.
This was consistent , he said, with the rationale of R.A. 7659 or the Death
Penalty Law, which provides that death penalty is appropriately necessary due to the

1
2

http://www.mb.com.ph/sotto-insists-on-death-penalty-reimposition/
http://deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu/

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alarming upsurge of such crimes which has resulted not only in the loss of human lives
and wanton destruction of property but also affected the nations efforts towards
sustainable economic development and prosperity while at the same time has
undermined the peoples faith in the Government and the latters ability to maintain
peace and order in the country.
In the international arena, for years, criminologists analyzed murder rates to see
if they fluctuated with the likelihood of convicted murderers being executed, but the
results were inconclusive. Then in 1973 Isaac Ehrlich employed a new kind of analysis
which produced results showing that for every inmate who was executed, 7 lives were
spared because others were deterred from committing murder. Similar results have
been produced by disciples of Ehrlich in follow-up studies.
Moreover, even if some studies regarding deterrence are inconclusive, that is
only because the death penalty is rarely used and takes years before an execution is
actually carried out. Punishments which are swift and sure are the best deterrent. The
fact that some states or countries which do not use the death penalty have lower
murder rates than jurisdictions which do is not evidence of the failure of deterrence.
States with high murder rates would have even higher rates if they did not use the death
penalty.
Ernest van den Haag, a Professor of Jurisprudence at Fordham University who
has studied the question of deterrence closely, wrote: "Even though statistical
demonstrations are not conclusive, and perhaps cannot be, capital punishment is likely
to deter more than other punishments because people fear death more than anything
else. They fear most death deliberately inflicted by law and scheduled by the courts.
Whatever people fear most is likely to deter most. Hence, the threat of the death penalty
may deter some murderers who otherwise might not have been deterred. And surely the
death penalty is the only penalty that could deter prisoners already serving a life
sentence and tempted to kill a guard, or offenders about to be arrested and facing a life
sentence. Perhaps they will not be deterred. But they would certainly not be deterred by
anything else. We owe all the protection we can give to law enforcers exposed to
special risks."
Finally, the death penalty certainly "deters" the murderer who is executed. Strictly
speaking, this is a form of incapacitation, similar to the way a robber put in prison is
prevented from robbing on the streets. Vicious murderers must be killed to prevent them
from murdering again, either in prison, or in society if they should get out. Both as a
deterrent and as a form of permanent incapacitation, the death penalty helps to prevent
future crime.

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REBUTTAL TO DETERRENCE:
The death penalty is not a proven deterrent to future murders.
The death penalty does not deter crime effectively. The death penalty lacks the
deterrent effect which is commonly referred to by its advocates. As recently stated by
the General Assembly of the United Nations, there is no conclusive evidence of the
deterrent value of the death penalty (UNGA Resolution 65/206). It is noteworthy that in
many retentionist states, the effectiveness of the death penalty in order to prevent crime
is being seriously questioned by a continuously increasing number of law enforcement
professionals.
Those who believe that deterrence justifies the execution of certain offenders
bear the burden of proving that the death penalty is a deterrent. The overwhelming
conclusion from years of deterrence studies is that the death penalty is, at best, no
more of a deterrent than a sentence of life in prison. The Ehrlich studies have been
widely discredited. In fact, some criminologists, such as William Bowers of Northeastern
University, maintain that the death penalty has the opposite effect: that is, society is
brutalized by the use of the death penalty, and this increases the likelihood of more
murder. Even most supporters of the death penalty now place little or no weight on
deterrence as a serious justification for its continued use.
States in the United States that do not employ the death penalty generally have
lower murder rates than states that do. The same is true when the U.S. is compared to
countries similar to it. The U.S., with the death penalty, has a higher murder rate than
the countries of Europe or Canada, which do not use the death penalty.
The death penalty is not a deterrent because most people who commit murders
either do not expect to be caught or do not carefully weigh the differences between a
possible execution and life in prison before they act. Frequently, murders are committed
in moments of passion or anger, or by criminals who are substance abusers and acted
impulsively. As someone who presided over many of Texas's executions, former Texas
Attorney General Jim Mattox has remarked, "It is my own experience that those
executed in Texas were not deterred by the existence of the death penalty law. I think in
most cases you'll find that the murder was committed under severe drug and alcohol
abuse."
There is no conclusive proof that the death penalty acts as a better deterrent
than the threat of life imprisonment. A survey of the former and present presidents of
the country's top academic criminological societies found that 84% of these experts
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rejected the notion that research had demonstrated any deterrent effect from the death
penalty.
Once in prison, those serving life sentences often settle into a routine and are
less of a threat to commit violence than other prisoners. Moreover, most states now
have a sentence of life without parole. Prisoners who are given this sentence will never
be released. Thus, the safety of society can be assured without using the death penalty.

ARGUMENT 2: RETRIBUTION
A just society requires the death penalty for the taking of a life.
When someone takes a life, the balance of justice is disturbed. Unless that
balance is restored, society succumbs to a rule of violence. Only the taking of the
murderer's life restores the balance and allows society to show convincingly that murder
is an intolerable crime which will be punished in kind.
Retribution has its basis in religious values, which have historically maintained
that it is proper to take an "eye for an eye" and a life for a life.
Although the victim and the victim's family cannot be restored to the status which
preceded the murder, at least an execution brings closure to the murderer's crime (and
closure to the ordeal for the victim's family) and ensures that the murderer will create no
more victims.
For the most cruel and heinous crimes, the ones for which the death penalty is
applied, offenders deserve the worst punishment under our system of law, and that is
the death penalty. Any lesser punishment would undermine the value society places on
protecting lives.
Robert Macy, District Attorney of Oklahoma City, described his concept of the
need for retribution in one case: "In 1991, a young mother was rendered helpless and
made to watch as her baby was executed. The mother was then mutilated and killed.
The killer should not lie in some prison with three meals a day, clean sheets, cable TV,
family visits and endless appeals. For justice to prevail, some killers just need to die."

REBUTTAL TO RETRIBUTION:
The death penalty is not a just response for the taking of a life.

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Retribution is another word for revenge. Although our first instinct may be to
inflict immediate pain on someone who wrongs us, the standards of a mature society
demand a more measured response.
The emotional impulse for revenge is not a sufficient justification for invoking a
system of capital punishment, with all its accompanying problems and risks. Our laws
and criminal justice system should lead us to higher principles that demonstrate a
complete respect for life, even the life of a murderer. Encouraging our basest motives of
revenge, which ends in another killing, extends the chain of violence. Allowing
executions sanctions killing as a form of 'pay-back.'
Many victims' families denounce the use of the death penalty. Using an execution
to try to right the wrong of their loss is an affront to them and only causes more pain.
For example, Bud Welch's daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in
1995. Although his first reaction was to wish that those who committed this terrible
crime be killed, he ultimately realized that such killing "is simply vengeance; and it was
vengeance that killed Julie.... Vengeance is a strong and natural emotion. But it has no
place in our justice system."
The notion of an eye for an eye, or a life for a life, is a simplistic one which our
society has never endorsed. We do not allow torturing the torturer, or raping the rapist.
Taking the life of a murderer is a similarly disproportionate punishment, especially in
light of the fact that the U.S. executes only a small percentage of those convicted of
murder, and these defendants are typically not the worst offenders but merely the ones
with the fewest resources to defend themselves.

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The Cons

COUNTER ARGUMENT 1: INNOCENCE


The risk of executing the innocent precludes the use of the death penalty.
The death penalty alone imposes an irrevocable sentence. Once an inmate is
executed, nothing can be done to make amends if a mistake has been made. There is
considerable evidence that many mistakes have been made in sentencing people to
death. Since 1973, at least 88 people have been released from death row after
evidence of their innocence emerged. During the same period of time, over 650 people
have been executed. Thus, for every seven people executed, we have found one
person on death row who never should have been convicted. These statistics represent
an intolerable risk of executing the innocent. If an automobile manufacturer operated
with similar failure rates, it would be run out of business.
Our capital punishment system is unreliable.

A recent study by Columbia

University Law School found that two thirds of all capital trials contained serious errors.
When the cases were retried, over 80% of the defendants were not sentenced to death
and 7% were completely acquitted.
Many of the releases of innocent defendants from death row came about as a
result of factors outside of the justice system. Recently, journalism students in Illinois
were assigned to investigate the case of a man who was scheduled to be executed,
after the system of appeals had rejected his legal claims. The students discovered that
one witness had lied at the original trial, and they were able to find the true killer, who
confessed to the crime on videotape. The innocent man who was released was very
fortunate, but he was spared because of the informal efforts of concerned citizens, not
because of the justice system.

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In other cases, DNA testing has exonerated death row inmates. Here, too, the
justice system had concluded that these defendants were guilty and deserving of the
death penalty. DNA testing became available only in the early 1990s, due to
advancements in science. If this testing had not been discovered until ten years later,
many of these inmates would have been executed. And if DNA testing had been applied
to earlier cases where inmates were executed in the 1970s and 80s, the odds are high
that it would have proven that some of them were innocent as well.
Society takes many risks in which innocent lives can be lost. We build bridges,
knowing that statistically some workers will be killed during construction; we take great
precautions to reduce the number of unintended fatalities. But wrongful executions are a
preventable risk. By substituting a sentence of life without parole, we meet society's
needs of punishment and protection without running the risk of an erroneous and
irrevocable punishment.

REBUTTAL TO INNOCENCE
Executing the innocent is a rare but acceptable risk of the death penalty.
There is no proof that any innocent person has actually been executed since
increased safeguards and appeals were added to our death penalty system in the
1970s. Even if such executions have occurred, they are very rare. Imprisoning innocent
people is also wrong, but we cannot empty the prisons because of that minimal risk. If
improvements are needed in the system of representation, or in the use of scientific
evidence such as DNA testing, then those reforms should be instituted. However, the
need for reform is not a reason to abolish the death penalty.
Besides, many of the claims of innocence by those who have been released from
death row are actually based on legal technicalities. Just because someone's conviction
is overturned years later and the prosecutor decides not to retry him, does not mean he
is actually innocent.
If it can be shown that someone is innocent, surely a governor would grant
clemency and spare the person. Hypothetical claims of innocence are usually just
delaying tactics to put off the execution as long as possible. Given our thorough system
of appeals through numerous state and federal courts, the execution of an innocent
individual today is almost impossible. Even the theoretical execution of an innocent
person can be justified because the death penalty saves lives by deterring other killings.

COUNTER ARGUMENT 2: ARBITRARINESS AND DISCRIMINATION


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The death penalty is applied unfairly and should not be used.


In practice, the death penalty does not single out the worst offenders. Rather, it
selects an arbitrary group based on such irrational factors as the quality of the defense
counsel, the county in which the crime was committed, or the race of the defendant or
victim.
Almost all defendants facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney.
Hence, they are dependent on the quality of the lawyers assigned by the state, many of
whom lack experience in capital cases or are so underpaid that they fail to investigate
the case properly. A poorly represented defendant is much more likely to be convicted
and given a death sentence.
With respect to race, studies have repeatedly shown that a death sentence is far
more likely where a white person is murdered than where a black person is murdered.
The death penalty is racially divisive because it appears to count white lives as more
valuable than black lives. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 158 black
defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 11 white
defendants have been executed for the murder of a black victim. Such racial disparities
have existed over the history of the death penalty and appear to be largely intractable.
It is arbitrary when someone in one county or state receives the death penalty,
but someone who commits a comparable crime in another county or state is given a life
sentence. Prosecutors have enormous discretion about when to seek the death penalty
and when to settle for a plea bargain. Often those who can only afford a minimal
defense are selected for the death penalty. Until race and other arbitrary factors, like
economics and geography, can be eliminated as a determinant of who lives and who
dies, the death penalty must not be used.

REBUTTAL TO ARBITRARINESS AND DISCRIMINATION


The death penalty is applied fairly and may be used.
Discretion has always been an essential part of our system of justice. No one
expects the prosecutor to pursue every possible offense or punishment, nor do we
expect the same sentence to be imposed just because two crimes appear similar. Each
crime is unique, both because the circumstances of each victim are different and
because each defendant is different. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a
mandatory death penalty which applied to everyone convicted of first degree murder
would be unconstitutional. Hence, we must give prosecutors and juries some discretion.

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In fact, more white people are executed in this country than black people. And
even if blacks are disproportionately represented on death row, proportionately blacks
commit more murders than whites. Moreover, the Supreme Court has rejected the use
of statistical studies which claim racial bias as the sole reason for overturning a death
sentence.
Even if the death penalty punishes some while sparing others, it does not follow
that everyone should be spared. The guilty should still be punished appropriately, even
if some do escape proper punishment unfairly. The death penalty should apply to killers
of black people as well as to killers of whites. High paid, skillful lawyers should not be
able to get some defendants off on technicalities. The existence of some systemic
problems is no reason to abandon the whole death penalty system.

Conclusion

Despite all the seemingly valid arguments and counter arguments presented
above, the presenters collectively stand against death penalty. We so agree wholly to
the various counter arguments and rebuttals culled out from different authorities
/sources against death penalty.
In our efforts to pursue and develop a culture of life, it seems that the death
penalty is one more practice, which is contrary to the sanctity of human life. Everyone
has an inalienable human right to life, even those who commit murder; sentencing a
person to death and executing them violates that right. Human life is valuable. Human
life is so valuable that even the worst murderers should not be deprived of the value of
their lives. The value of the offender's life cannot be destroyed by the offender's bad
conduct - even if they have killed someone.
Capital punishment is an action where death is used to resolve the moral
problems of crime and violence. It is a vehicle of violence, which adds to the already
staggering violence which permeates our world. The death penalty communicates the
disvalue that there is no place for love, compassion and pardon.
The death penalty compromises this profound value: the inviolable dignity of the
human person. Proponents of capital punishment seek to escape this principle. In truth,
the death penalty does not provide for the ending of the culture of violence and culture
of death. It affirms the message that it is morally correct to kill a criminal because

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he/she killed another person. Indeed, capital punishment is part of a dynamic process,
which dehumanizes. Actions that dehumanize lead to more actions of dehumanization.3
In the words of Pope John Paul II, The history of our time has shown in a tragic
way the danger which results from forgetting the truth about the human person. The
death penalty does not respect human rights. It is an action of the State which denies
the value that all persons, without exception, are equal in dignity and worth. Modern
sensibilities point to an urgent desire for a more civilized society. Subjective thinking
and feeling cannot be used for judging what is good or bad. This cannot be the criteria
for the progress of a society. There is a higher order and law which all persons must
obey: We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)4
The right to life is not a choice. We must embrace the totality of human life, which
includes the protection of people wounded by sin and who need the compassion and
forgiveness of God. God is merciful even when he punishes, put a mark on Cain, lest
any who came upon him should kill him. (Genesis 4:15) He thus gave him a distinctive
sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from
those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abels death. Not even a
murderer loses his personal dignity and God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is
precisely here that the paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth.
(Evangelium Vitae (EV), #9)5
While punishment is necessary under just law, taking a life for a life only
perpetuates the cycle of violence. Rehabilitation and humane unconditional lifeimprisonment are moral alternatives, which will help protect society from violent
offenders of human life and the public order. They are instruments, which conform to
the moral order for a culture of life. They lessen the fuel for revenge and aversion.
Those who thirst for revenge may experience the illusion of satisfaction, but this
never lasts long. The short-term effects of the death penalty may satisfy the human
impulse to seek revenge, but its long-term effects add to the suffering of the loved ones,
of offenders and victims alike.
Therefore,
if non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect peoples safety from the
aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the

http://www.misacor-usa.org/index.php/social-justice-articles/1043-the-death-penalty-an-act-against-thesanctity-of-human-life
4
http://www.misacor-usa.org/index.php/social-justice-articles/1043-the-death-penalty-an-act-against-thesanctity-of-human-life
5
Ibid

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concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the
human person. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2267.)6

Ibid

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