Capital punishment: Encyclopedia II - Capital punishment Ethical views on capital punishment

Capital punishment - Ethical views on capital punishment
Ethical arguments for and against an issue can be divided into consequentialist, deontological and virtuebased. Some arguments cannot be clearly assigned a category. Categorisation of arguments for and against the death penalty. 1. 2. 3. 4. Consequentialist arguments: the deterrence argument, the prevention argument, economic arguments, effectiveness of the judicial and penal systems Deontological arguments: the retribution argument, discriminatory use of the death penalty, rightto-life arguments, consideration of democratic rights Virtue-based arguments: the rehabilitation argument, cruel and unusual punishments, Mixed arguments: the human fallibility argument, extreme cases and exceptional circumstances

In most surveys of people's reasons for supporting the death penalty, retribution is listed as the main reason while deterrence comes second. Capital punishment - The Deterrence Argument Proponents of the death penalty argue that it deters potential murders. Opponents of the death penalty argue that it does not in fact deter. Subarguments can be divided into a priori issues and empirical issues. Empirical issues look at statistics to find out if deterrence does or does not occur. A priori issues include the question "if the death penalty in fact deters, is it nevertheless right to use it?" - in other words, is deterrence a sufficient justification? In favour, it can be argued that a killing is justified if such an act could save another life. Against, it can be argued that the issue of punishment should look to the criminal and the victim, not the future free choices of uninvolved observers who might or might not be contemplating their own crimes. Many empirical studies have been done with disputed results and significance.[25] Some studies have shown a correlation between the death penalty and murder rates [26] - in other words, they show that where the death penalty applies, murder rates are also high. This correlation can be interpreted in at least two different ways, one of which can be used to support, the other to oppose the death penalty: either the death penalty increases murder rates by brutalising society (opposing) or higher murder rates cause the state to retain or reintroduce the death penalty (supporting). It is difficult for statistical research on murder rates to prove or disprove the deterrence theory because such studies demonstrate correlation not causation. Further arguments hold that deterrence was greater in the past, when societies had fewer resources at their disposal for the detection and punishment of crime (e.g. no police forces and no prison systems). In these societies, it was may have been justifiable to make examples of a few to discourage the rest. However today new punishments such as life imprisonment carry their own deterrent effect. It can be argued that anyone who would be deterred by the death penalty would already have been deterred by life in prison, and people that are not deterred by that would not be stopped by any punishment. A further argument is that potential criminals think that they won't be caught, so they do not care about punishment until it is too late. Capital punishment - The Prevention Argument The idea behind the prevention argument is that a killer will probably kill again and the death penalty stops them from doing it again. Like the deterrence argument, the prevention argument can be extended to all sorts of other crimes. If the criminal is dead, they cannot steal, lie, cheat or offend society in any other way. In the pre-modern period, authorities had neither the resources nor the inclination to detain someone indefinitely. For this reason, the death penalty was usually the only means to prevent a criminal from reoffending. Against the death penalty, it can be argued that today prevention is equally well served by other means, especially life imprisonment. This argument can be countered by pointing out that life imprisonment often

Economic Arguments Economic arguments are consequentialist or utilitarian arguments. Arguments have been produced from both opponents and supporters of the death penalty based on economics. arguing that cheaper punishments are better to society. On the one hand it can be argued that the death penalty denies any possibility of rehabilitation and is therefore wrong.e. One might even hold. Examples of the latter include death row inmates turning to religion. Some argue that the death penalty is a violation of human rights primarily Article 3 and Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. most murderers are not executed. proponents may claim that.The Rehabilitation Argument Rehabilitation. Capital punishment . deterrence and retribution. While those against capital punishment might claim this as an irrevocable right. Supporters of the death penalty can also use right-to-life arguments. The court only imposes the death penalty in case of multiple homicides or unusually horrendous murder. Pope John Paul II was a renowned supporter of the principle of the sanctity of life. For opponents of the death penalty. proponents of the death penalty argue that people who have committed the most heinous crimes (typically murder) have no right to life and the abolition of the death penalty is a violation of the victim's rights. In most Western nations. It brutalizes society by sending out the message that killing people is the right thing to do in some circumstances and it denies the possibility of rehabilitation.The right to life / sanctity of life Arguments based on the right to life or the sanctity of life are a variety of deontological argument usually used to oppose the death penalty. inviolable rights and it provides "closure" for victims' families. along with prevention. with Kant. In such cases. so too the vicious deserve punishment proportionate to their bad deeds. Capital punishment . is one of the main justifications for punishment of any kind. It can also be argued that people who have committed the most heinous crimes (typically murder) have no right to life. murderers deserve the death penalty. The argument focuses on the rights and duties owed between the criminal. On the other hand. and especially the victim's. the proponents argue that it is the closest and arguably the only acceptable form of justice whilst the opponents argue that vengeance is not justice. Society has a duty to inflict a punishment that fits the crime. retribution. Failure to enforce the death penalty could be seen as a failure to honour those rights. The death penalty shows the greatest respect for the ordinary man's.The Retribution Argument The retribution argument is the classic deontological argument in favour of the death penalty. as protection from abuse is the basis of such rights. it can be argued that criminals may be led to rethink and reconcile their lives by the pressing expectation of death.only amounts to 10 years or so and that parole boards tend to prefer prisoner's rehabilitation hopes over the protection of society. They focus instead on the right to life of the past victims and potential future victims. The American Declaration of Independence also includes the "right to life" as the first listed of the natural rights. In the case of murder. This argument supports the lex talionis . or any benefit to the victim. a life must be paid for with a life. Some assert that it violates the "natural rights" laid out by 17thcentury English philosopher John Locke who set out many of the foundations of American law. inviolable value. They revolve around the costs associated with different types of punishment. In modern democracies. and especially the victim's. Capital punishment . Rehabilitation arguments both for and against the death penalty exist. Rehabilitation advocates hold that the primary purpose of a judicial system should be to educate and reform criminals. the victim and society. Capital punishment . The victim has a right to be avenged. as well as witches confessing their sins before being burnt. is not stated as a purpose of the criminal justice system. The death penalty shows the greatest respect for the ordinary man's. that the right was forfeit by the seriousness of the crimes.i. Similarly. that respect is shown to the criminal as someone who has chosen a particular path in life by visiting the appropriate punishment on the criminal. execution itself is a violation of human rights. but smaller criminals must be spared. . Just as the virtuous deserve reward proportionate to their good deeds. Rehabilitation arguments focus on the perpetrator of a crime (as distinct from the victim or society at large) and ask how the perpetrator can be turned into a normal member of society.

Death-penalty proponents counter this by pointing out that most murders where the killer and victim are of the same race tend to be "crimes of passion" while inter-racial murders are usually "felony murders". individuals can be encouraged to plead guilty. Some argue that.[29] Capital punishment has also been used politically to silence dissidents. When some death row inmates are freed on appeal or their sentence is reduced. Proponents of the death penalty. it is argued that: . and criminals can be encouraged to lead investigators to the bodies of victims. Capital punishment . Furthermore. Erroneous convictions potentially are due to the fact that 95% of defendants cannot afford legal representation and the claim that public defenders do not vigourously defend these cases. accomplices can be encouraged to testify against other defendants. For example. Furthermore.The Human Fallibility Argument The human fallibility argument is an argument against the death penalty. the accused is allowed to plead guilty so as to avoid the death penalty. The human fallibility argument can be viewed as deontological (based on the rights of innocent convicts) or as consequentialist. In order to protect oppressed groups from the state. the use of a plea bargain is banned in many countries because it can encourage the innocent to plead guilty and the guilty to testify against the innocent hence increasing the likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. proponents counter than there is a distinction between "legal innocence" and "actual innocence. However. by waiving the threat of the death penalty. minority religions and activists.Opponents of the death penalty point out that capital cases usually cost more than life imprisonment due to the extra costs of the courts such as appeals and extra supervisions [27]. opponents state that there have been 122 death penalty convictions that have been overturned and that this is an indication of innocence. opponents of the death penalty state that the legal system is difficult to reverse once a miscarraige of justice has taken place. The opponents argue that such reversal is proof that the system doesn't work. A major example of this is the People's Republic of China from which there are many reports of the death penalty being used for politically motivated ends.S. In favour of the death penalty. therefore. Proponents counter this argument by stating that the severity and finality of death as punishment demands that the extra resources be expended. the development of DNA testing has placed addition concerns about potentially exonerating evidence of inmateas already condemmed to the death penalty.Discrimatory misuse of the death penalty This is primarily a deontological argument: the death penalty may be abused in violation of the rights of oppressed groups. argue that the death penalty significantly reduces the cost of the judicial process and criminal investigation. Its fundamental premise is that criminal proceedings are fallible and that if errors are made then the potential exists that an innocent person may be executed. Opponents argue that socety should abolish the death penalty to prevent the execution of innocent people. Proponents of the death penalty state that there is no defninitive evidence that a wrongful execution has occured since the reinstitution of the death penalty. in the US. This plea requires the accused to forfeit any appeal arguing innocence on material or procedural grounds. death penalty opponents have claimed that innocent people have been executed." Proponents argue that death penalty convictions that were overturned. Capital punishment . that is. the race of the person to be executed can affect the likelihood that they receive a death sentence. that is a demonstration that the system works thanks to the extra expense of the judicial appeal system.Effectiveness of the judicial and penal systems A variety of consequentialist arguments have been advanced regarding the effective functioning of the judicial and penal systems. Recently. especially at the initial trial. In addition. and therefore argue that only in convictions where the evidence is overwhelming should the death penalty be instituted. in the U. the vast majority were do to "legla innocence" and not "actual innocence. Furthermore. Capital punishment ..A. the point being that juries are more likely to impose the death penalty in cases where the offender has killed a total stranger than in those where some deep-seated. murders which were perpetrated during the commission of some other felony (most commonly either armed robbery or rape). the state's ability to use the death penalty must be removed. A recent study showed that just 44% of Black Americans support the death penalty. Since the reinstitution of the death penalty. personal revenge motive may be present.[30] See also: Falun Gong." Proponents point to cases where the criminal trial resulted in a "not guilty" verdict yet in civil courts the same person was found liable.[28] Most proponents recognize that the potential for an innocent person to be senteced to death.

it is argued that the death penalty in the armed forces usually has the opposite effect than desired. Capital punishment . . for example). Therefore the death penalty might theoretically even increase the rate of violent crime.Consideration of democratic rights An argument used both in support of and against the death penalty is that one should follow the majority opinion in the country concerned. is especially cruel and therefore wrong. For example. Arguments turning on the cruel and unusual nature of the death penalty are virtue-based arguments. individuals can be encouraged to plead guilty. in whatever form. or by arguing that the alternatives are even more cruel. it is argued that: • If criminals believe they will face the death penalty. Relativist arguments hold that specific forms of the death penalty are excessively cruel. child murderers. Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the army command has the death penalty in its arsenal. serial killers. but should be kept for some or all of these exceptions. which allows representatives a degree of freedom to vary from the direct wishes of their constituents if they believe it is in society's better interests to do so (otherwise we would have no taxes. and striking a wedge between the commissioned and enlisted servicemen as the latter are likely to consider shooting their own as murder. If the state fails to punish effectively and properly. The death penalty alleviates the need for vigilantism on the part of the victim's family or friends (in the form of lynching or retaliatory murder). There are two possible objections to this argument. that modern democracy is not direct democracy but representative democracy." Capital punishment .Cruel and unusual punishments The term cruel and unusual refers to the Eighth Ammendment to the United States Constitution where any form of punishment that is deemed cruel and unusual is unconstitutional. The threat of the death penalty can be a powerful mechanism for greasing the wheels of justice. The United States Supreme Court has never held a specific capital punishment method as being "cruel and unusual. (See "plea bargain"). Absolutist arguments hold that the death penalty. as regards special arguments for the maintenance of discipline in the armed forces. • • Against the death penalty.i. eroding the morale of the troops rather than improving it. They include: murderers of law enforcement officials (police.Extreme cases and exceptional circumstances A particularly contentious and difficult area of the death penalty debate concerns a variety of cases and circumstances regarded as exceptional. vendettas or blood feuds can arise. If a criminal has already committed a lesser crime which carries a life sentence.[31] Capital punishment . a person already serving a life sentence may have no reason not to kill in prison. Firstly. if a majority of Americans support the death penalty. an argument in favour is proposed by Leon Trotsky: "An army cannot be built without reprisals. Some may take the view that the death penalty is normally wrong. Proponents argue that the current application of the death penalty is humane. they are more likely to use violence or murder to avoid capture. such as by killing witnesses. the absence of the death penalty would mean that the criminal has nothing to lose by escalating the level of his wrongdoing. then democracy deems this to be the "right" view for that country." Against this. ethical arguments should not be decided on the basis of uninformed voting. Secondly. and criminals can be encouraged to lead investigators to the bodies of victims. For example. time of war and military discipline.• • • The death penalty provides extra leverage for the prosecutor to deal for important testimony and information. that voters make up their minds on the basis of ethical arguments offered to them and not the other way round .e. the command will always be obliged to place the soldiers between the possible death in the front and the inevitable one in the rear. By waiving the threat of a death penalty. So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their technical achievements — the animals that we call men — will build armies and wage wars. judges). Relativist arguments can be countered by developing new methods of execution. Without the death penalty. in turn further threatening the stability of society. accomplices can be encouraged to testify against their co-conspirators. In extreme cases the death penalty can lead to fragging incidents.

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