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Support of Capital Punishment, Research Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1317

Research Paper

Overview

Capital punishment remains a hotly debated controversy, both in courtrooms and in social arenas. Complicating the arguments is the scope of the issue itself, in that it must merge legal and judicial rulings with profound moral conclusions, and this latter element typically fuels opposition. That it is simply wrong to take a human life under any circumstances is put forth by opponents as a definitive obstacle to any civilized society’s use of capital punishment.

Such arguments, while powerful and persuasive, ignore equally valid ethical and practical values. Supporters of capital punishment do not, as a rule, endorse it as a perfect punishment, nor as an ideal means of addressing horrific crimes as a deterrent. Rather, capital punishment serves several essential, if not especially agreeable, purposes. It provides a society with a legal response to outrageous crimes that the society can rely upon; it acknowledges the perhaps unpleasant reality that some criminals are beyond redemption and, from any moral viewpoint at all, have forfeited the right to live; and it saves a great deal of taxpayer money, which would otherwise be spent in maintaining a life even the most merciful society has decided must be forever removed from itself.

Moral Issues

Statistics on high rates of  recidivism among murderers and other perpetrators of heinous crimes do not generally sway opponents to capital punishment. They typically see such data as irrelevant to the larger issue, which is that the society must exercise the decency lacking in the criminal. If any killing or capital crime is barbaric, then so too is such a response, and it is likely that irrefutable evidence of capital punishment as a powerful deterrent would not change these viewpoints.

Morality, however, is a double-edged sword, and those who fight for the maintaining of the death penalty often do so from moral motivations just as strong. It merely becomes the virtually insoluble issue of “who is right”. In moral terms, both parties are. There is no absolute authority to whom to turn, particularly as the dominant Western religions may be interpreted to support either position; biblical scripture both denying and in full favor of what translates to capital punishment is in great supply.

Added to this is the complication that ethical values shift. “…Every age has a slowly moving perspective on ethical and moral values; we can only work within the ethical framework that is presented to us” (Wall 147). The moral stance held passionately today may be vastly different from that which generations to come will espouse, and within both fields of argument. Obviously, the capital punishment debate would be far less of a controversy if morality were not the wholly subjective, and mutating, element it is.

Ultimately, however, it must be stressed that the morality which abhors the death penalty is by no means necessarily a “finer”, or better, morality. It is simply unwilling to accept a rational and societal practice of taking life under extreme circumstances. It may be viewed as a more “humane” stance, but that is a specious and narrow view, given that irrefutable element of subjectivity within all morality. If sparing the life of a murderer is “humane”, is it not equally humane, in a broader sense, for the society to adhere to a system of self-protection and basic standards for the good of everyone?

So, too, is the opponent’s “greater morality” argument weakened by the very use of morality at all. When any individual asserts that “morality” can only be served in refuting capital punishment, that individual is claiming a high moral knowledge indeed. As, again, scripture is divided on the issue, it is both bold and reckless to assert that sparing the life is the wisest action. If the society entertains issues of morality at all in regard to capital punishment, it must be conceded that the death penalty may be, for all it knows, the better “moral” path to take.

Practical Arguments

The most easily discarded argument against capital punishment is that of its fallibility; that is, when matters go wrong and the punishment is meted out to an innocent person. The reason this argument fails is that it actually has nothing to do with the death penalty itself: “…The remote possibility of an innocent person’s execution does not invalidate the death penalty….Judicial and technological safeguards (e.g., DNA testing) could be erected so as to make this all but impossible” (Prager 144). In fact, since that 1995 statement was made, courts rely extremely heavily on DNA testing. Moreover, the severity of the death penalty virtually guarantees every possible measure taken, both from defense and prosecution, to ensure that the criminal is indeed guilty. This is not an arena wherein anyone’s interests are served by carelessness. Most importantly, the issues of proof and evidence have nothing to do with the ultimate punishment decided upon; they merely stress the urgency of thorough and responsible judicial processes.

A point not long ago on the side of capital punishment supporters was cost: as seemed obvious, keeping a prisoner healthy and alive for may years had to be a far greater expense than executing him. However, more modern studies reveal that the death penalty does not ensure savings, and opponents refer to the multimillion dollar costs of capital trials alone as eliminating that advantage.

What these arguments fail to address, however, is that capital trials typically cost three times as much as other felony cases because of the very care their severity demands. Then, the spared capital criminal, usually set in death row for years, is inevitably going to cost the society far more than the maintenance of other criminals. For one thing, the former is usually in for life. For another, “…Death row has only one person per cell, and the laws require individual  recreation and meal times, which means more supervision for death row inmates” (Ballantine, Roberts 198).

Deterrence, however, remains the single most debated point in capital punishment arguments. Statistics both nationally and globally are hurled back and forth, each offering irrefutable evidence supporting or opposing the death penalty. It is remarked upon by opponents that violent crime runs rampant in the large cities of the U.S. where the death penalty is in place, but such reasoning ignores the fact that this occurs in cities with already strikingly high crime rates. Then, in any valid investigation, one common factor remains evident: “Numerous criminals have told law enforcement officers that they specifically avoided committing capital offenses, as opposed to lesser crimes that do not carry the death penalty” (Marzilli 27). There are exceptions always, but there is an undeniable deterrent quality to the death penalty.

Most lacking in any deterrence studies is a component which can never be answered: simply, crimes not committed may not be counted. There is absolutely no way to properly assess the actual value of capital punishment as a deterrent because, in fact, it deters.

Conclusion

Opponents to capital punishment typically are motivated by admirable intentions to “rise above” the brutality levels of capital criminals, and to further their stance resort to frantic measures to produce evidence of innocent people killed by the state, and a poor showing of deterrent effects.

None of this, unfortunately, eliminates an admittedly unwelcome reality: dangerous and irredeemable people have been within society always and, even in strictly logical and non-religious terms, deliberate and atrocious acts of murder deprive the criminal of the right to carry on living. In killing, he himself denies life as a right, and the society that acknowledges this, with no misguided desire to behave in a noble fashion for its own sake, is doing what it must in enforcing capital punishment.

Works Cited

Ballantine, J. H., and Roberts, K. A. Our Social World: Introduction to Sociology. Newbury Park, CA: Pine Forge press, 2010. Print.

Marzilli, A. Capital Punishment. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2008. Print.

Prager, D. Think a Second Time. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1995. Print.

Wall, W. Forensic Science in Court: The Role of the Expert Witness. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2009. Print.

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