• Death Penalty Essays

Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished Essay

Death penalty or capital punishment is the form of punishment, which involves execution of criminals who commit capital crimes. Execution is achieved through means such as electrocution, hanging, lethal injections etc. (Hood 36). Capital crimes vary according to various jurisdictions. Murder, rape, drug trafficking, treason, mutiny, armed robbery etc. are some of the common offenses that attract death penalty. The history of death penalty runs back to ancient civilizations such as the Romans, Greeks and the Babylonians. The Roman Empire, for example, utilized crucifixion as a way of inflicting pain and death on convicted criminals and errant slaves. The crucifixion of Jesus and some of his disciples in time of the then Roman emperor, Tiberius Caesar, represented by Pontius Pilate, is enough evidence to prove that capital punishment does not have its origins in the contemporary society (Tzaferis 45).

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The Hammurabi code of the Babylonians existed as far back as the 18th century B.C. and it is considered as one of the earliest documented histories of the application of death penalty. The Greeks, who are cited as one of the earliest world civilizations, had their Hittite code, which had death penalty as the major punishment for most of the crimes (Bedau 28). However, it is true to say that justice systems in the contemporary society have evolved especially as a result of democracy, which has allowed world citizens to shape the administration of justice through criticism. Consequently, capital punishment has become a contentious issue as the society is divided on the basis of its suitability. This paper will hold the opinion that death penalty should be maintained as a way of punishing capital offenders.

The major reason for punishing criminals is to incapacitate from committing more crimes (Cassel 42). Proponents of death penalty argue that capital punishment is the best way to achieve this goal, especially with crimes that endanger the lives of innocent citizens. Murder, for example, involves cold blooded killing of victims and it is true to say that once a life is lost, there is no way it can be replaced. However, there is no sufficient guarantee that incarceration of murderers has the capacity to incapacitate them from killing another person, whether in the prison or beyond the prison walls. It is argued that incarceration is the best way to rehabilitate criminals but no matter how logical this might sound, criminals must have an intrinsic motivation in order for them to reform. This means that there is a high possibility that letting murderers or violent rapists live is to trust them too much at the expense of innocent civilians in the society. This can only be compared to gambling, whereby the chances of losing are as high as those of winning. There is evidence of murderers who have, in the past, been jailed for life only to have their sentences cut short through parole.

Most of these criminals are aware of their constitutional rights and loopholes in the legislations that determine their prosecution and subsequent incarceration. The courts have no option but to set them free depending on the arguments presented. However, this may turn out to be a major mistake after the criminals go back into the society and continue to commit the same crimes they were incarcerated for. Kenneth McDuff, for example, is an infamous murderer who had been sentenced to death as a result of killing 3 youngsters, including a girl whom he and his accomplice raped before strangling her to death. However, his punishment was reduced to life imprisonment, and, after serving for 13 years in a Texas prison, he was paroled after which his family bribed his parole officers to release him completely in 1989. In a sign of total disregard for the law and lack of compassion towards other humans, Kenneth began his killing sprees 3 days after being released. Between the time of his release and his next arrest in 1992, he had already committed 6 murders, most of which involved women whom he kidnapped and raped before killing them (Stewart 11). This is only an example of why death penalty is important; if Kenneth had been executed after his first trial, then the six lives would have been saved. Though he was executed in 1998, it is difficult to imagine how many more lives could have been lost if death penalty was not acceptable in the society at that time. Similarly, there could be other murderers like him on death row who could be waiting for an opportune time either to escape from prison or to be paroled.

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Death penalty is sufficient enough to deter crime. Criminologists argue that in every execution of a convicted criminal, more than 7 lives are saved (Cassel 69). In this context, these experts observe that no person wants to die and, therefore, they will try their best to avoid committing crimes that have the capacity to attract death penalty. However, it is important to understand that the deterrent effect is highly dependent on the causations of crime such as murder. There are those people who commit crime as a result of lack of emotional intelligence; for example, they can kill a person without intent, due to anger or drug abuse. In addition, the effects cannot be felt if the government continues to maintain prisoners on death row without executing them. Execution should be done in a period of not more than 2 years so as to show seriousness and it is only with this that potential criminals will be deterred. Despite this, there is no other punishment, which can deter the prevalence of capital crimes other than death penalty. It does not matter how many lives are saved, and the abolitionists should understand this. A single innocent life is worth a lot and if it can be saved by executing 100 murderers, then it is worth it. Ironically, no person or organization concentrates its efforts to defend the victims of murder. Most of the abolitionists tend to value the lives of criminals, as well as their human rights, more than those of the victims and their families.

Generally, the calls to abolish death penalty are biased and, therefore, should not be considered, especially if they are dependent on the sanctity of life. It is true that human life is a God given gift and he is the only one with the authority to cause death. However, under whose authority do murderers take life? According to Leviticus, “Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury” (qtd. in The Blue Letter Bible). These are the same texts that form the basis of Christianity and are open to different interpretation but it is also important to remember that even God gave kings and individuals the strength to kill their aggressors.

Critics should also ask themselves why the death penalty should be abolished if no one complains when policemen shoot criminals on the streets. The whole of America and the world went on celebratory mood after American soldiers killed Osama bin Laden, a renowned al-Qaida terrorist, who had been credited with thousands of deaths from acts of terror throughout the globe. Surely, the purpose of doing so was to make the world a better place, free of terrorism. Osama is no different from that murderer on the streets, who tortures, rapes, and kills his victims. The society is much better and more secure without some of these criminals.

Critics should not forget that deaths as a result of gang violence continue to occur in the streets of the US and not much has been achieved to curb this menace. Prison gangs, such as the Mexican mafia, are identified as some of the highly dangerous and powerful in terms of the illegal activities they control while in prison. Majority of small street gangs are answerable to the Mexican mafia and their loyalty is rewarded through protection in case they are apprehended. This means that members of these gangs can still receive orders from the mafia to kill or commit atrocities on their behalf. The people who suffer most are the innocent citizens who are subjected to constant mugging, terror, kidnapping, and destruction of their lives as a result of drugs peddled by these gangs. As long as these criminals remain alive, the trend will never change irrespective of whether they are in prison or not (Hood 89).

The right to life is inalienable as critics of death penalty argue (Bedau 65). However, by legalizing capital punishment, every person will know that the consequence of engaging in crime is death. This means that if a person of right mind goes ahead, for example, to commit murder, he will have forfeited his right to life since he has the option to decide on whether to commit the crime and suffer death or to refrain and save his life. Every now and then, drivers are warned not to over speed or to text while driving as this has the potential to cause accidents thereby resulting in fatal injuries and deaths. If a driver decides not to heed to the warning, he puts his life on the line with full knowledge of the consequences. Similarly, death penalty serves as a warning and a consequence of committing crime, and, therefore, the death is definitely in the hands of the offender.

Works Cited

Bedau, Hugo. The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies. Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.

Blue Letter Bible. Law of Moses – Leviticus 24 – (NKJV – New King James Version). 1996-2012. Blue Letter Bible. 22 Apr 2012.

Cassel, Paul. Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Case. Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Hood, Robert. The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective. Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Stewart, Bob. No Remorse. Pinnacle, 1996. Print.

Tzaferis, Vassilios. “Crucifixion: The Archeological Evidence.” Biblical Archeological Review 9 (2001): 44-53.

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March 19, 2024

Evidence Does Not Support the Use of the Death Penalty

Capital punishment must come to an end. It does not deter crime, is not humane and has no moral or medical basis

By The Editors

A woman protesting, holding a sign showing the Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A death penalty vigil, held in 2021 outside an Indiana penitentiary.

Bryan Woolston/Reuters/Redux

It is long past time to abolish the death penalty in the U.S.

Capital punishment was halted in the U.S. in 1972 but reinstated in 1976, and since then, nearly 1,600 people have been executed. To whose gain? Study after study shows that the death penalty does not deter crime, puts innocent people to death , is racially biased , and is cruel and inhumane. It is state-sanctioned homicide, wholly ineffective, often botched, and a much more expensive punishment than life imprisonment. There is no ethical, scientifically supported, medically acceptable or morally justifiable way to carry it out.

The recent execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith demonstrates this barbarity. After a failed attempt at lethal injection by prison officials seemingly inexperienced in the placement of an IV, the state of Alabama killed Smith in January using nitrogen gas . The Alabama attorney general claimed that this method of execution was fast and humane , despite no supporting evidence. Eyewitnesses recounted that Smith thrashed during the nitrogen administration and took more than 20 minutes to die.

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Opposition to the death penalty is growing among the American public , and the Biden administration must follow through on its promise to end this horror. The Department of Justice must heed its own admission that the death penalty doesn’t stop crime, and our legislators must continue to take up the issue on the congressional floor. The few states that still condemn people to death must follow the lead of states that have considered the evidence and rejected capital punishment.

Programs such as the Innocence Project have shown, over and over, that innocent people have been sentenced to death. Since 1973 nearly 200 people on death row have been exonerated, based on appeals, the reopening of cases, and the entrance of new and sometimes previously suppressed evidence. People have recanted testimony, and supposedly airtight cases have been poked full of evidentiary holes.

Through the death penalty, the criminal justice system has killed at least 20 people now believed to have been innocent and uncounted others whose cases have not been reexamined . Too many of these victims have been Black or Hispanic. This is not justice. These are state-sanctioned hate crimes.

Using rigorous statistical and experimental control methods, both economics and criminal justice studies have consistently found that there is no evidence for deterrence of violent crimes in states that allow capital punishment. One such study, a 2009 paper by criminology researchers at the University of Dallas, outlines experimental and statistical flaws in econometrics-based death penalty studies that claim to find a correlated reduction in violent crime. The death penalty does not stop people from killing. Executions don’t make us safer.

The methods used to kill prisoners are inhumane. Electrocution fails , causing significant pain and suffering. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist who criticizes the use of medicines in carrying out the death penalty, has found (at the request of lawyers of death row inmates) that the lungs of prisoners who were killed by lethal injection were often heavy with fluid and froth that suggested they were struggling to breathe and felt like they were drowning. Nitrogen gas is used in some veterinary euthanasia, but based in part on the behavior of rats in its presence, it is “unacceptable” for mammals , according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. This means that Smith, as his lawyers claimed in efforts to stop his execution, became a human subject in an immoral experiment.

Courts have often decided, against the abundant evidence, that these killings are constitutional and do not fall under the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the 8th Amendment or, in Smith’s appeal , both the 8th Amendment and the due process protection clause of the 14th amendment.

A small number of prosecutors and judges in a few states, mostly in the South, are responsible for most of the death sentences being handed down in the U.S. today. It’s a power they should not be able to wield. Smith was sentenced to life in prison by a jury before the judge in his case overruled the jury and gave him the death sentence.

A furious urge for vengeance against those who have done wrong—or those we think have done wrong—is the biggest motivation for the death penalty. But this desire for violent retribution is the very impulse that our criminal justice system is made to check, not abet. Elected officials need to reform this aspect of our justice system at both the state and federal levels. Capital punishment does not stop crime and mocks both justice and humanity. The death penalty in the U.S. must come to an end.

This is an opinion and analysis article, and the views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American .

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Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?

In its last six months, the United States government has put 13 prisoners to death. Do you think capital punishment should end?

essay on death penalty should not be abolished

By Nicole Daniels

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

In July, the United States carried out its first federal execution in 17 years. Since then, the Trump administration has executed 13 inmates, more than three times as many as the federal government had in the previous six decades.

The death penalty has been abolished in 22 states and 106 countries, yet it is still legal at the federal level in the United States. Does your state or country allow the death penalty?

Do you believe governments should be allowed to execute people who have been convicted of crimes? Is it ever justified, such as for the most heinous crimes? Or are you universally opposed to capital punishment?

In “ ‘Expedited Spree of Executions’ Faced Little Supreme Court Scrutiny ,” Adam Liptak writes about the recent federal executions:

In 2015, a few months before he died, Justice Antonin Scalia said he w o uld not be surprised if the Supreme Court did away with the death penalty. These days, after President Trump’s appointment of three justices, liberal members of the court have lost all hope of abolishing capital punishment. In the face of an extraordinary run of federal executions over the past six months, they have been left to wonder whether the court is prepared to play any role in capital cases beyond hastening executions. Until July, there had been no federal executions in 17 years . Since then, the Trump administration has executed 13 inmates, more than three times as many as the federal government had put to death in the previous six decades.

The article goes on to explain that Justice Stephen G. Breyer issued a dissent on Friday as the Supreme Court cleared the way for the last execution of the Trump era, complaining that it had not sufficiently resolved legal questions that inmates had asked. The article continues:

If Justice Breyer sounded rueful, it was because he had just a few years ago held out hope that the court would reconsider the constitutionality of capital punishment. He had set out his arguments in a major dissent in 2015 , one that must have been on Justice Scalia’s mind when he made his comments a few months later. Justice Breyer wrote in that 46-page dissent that he considered it “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” which bars cruel and unusual punishments. He said that death row exonerations were frequent, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily and that the capital justice system was marred by racial discrimination. Justice Breyer added that there was little reason to think that the death penalty deterred crime and that long delays between sentences and executions might themselves violate the Eighth Amendment. Most of the country did not use the death penalty, he said, and the United States was an international outlier in embracing it. Justice Ginsburg, who died in September, had joined the dissent. The two other liberals — Justices Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — were undoubtedly sympathetic. And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who held the decisive vote in many closely divided cases until his retirement in 2018, had written the majority opinions in several 5-to-4 decisions that imposed limits on the death penalty, including ones barring the execution of juvenile offenders and people convicted of crimes other than murder .

In the July Opinion essay “ The Death Penalty Can Ensure ‘Justice Is Being Done,’ ” Jeffrey A. Rosen, then acting deputy attorney general, makes a legal case for capital punishment:

The death penalty is a difficult issue for many Americans on moral, religious and policy grounds. But as a legal issue, it is straightforward. The United States Constitution expressly contemplates “capital” crimes, and Congress has authorized the death penalty for serious federal offenses since President George Washington signed the Crimes Act of 1790. The American people have repeatedly ratified that decision, including through the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 signed by President Bill Clinton, the federal execution of Timothy McVeigh under President George W. Bush and the decision by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department to seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bomber and Dylann Roof.

Students, read the entire article , then tell us:

Do you support the use of capital punishment? Or do you think it should be abolished? Why?

Do you think the death penalty serves a necessary purpose, like deterring crime, providing relief for victims’ families or imparting justice? Or is capital punishment “cruel and unusual” and therefore prohibited by the Constitution? Is it morally wrong?

Are there alternatives to the death penalty that you think would be more appropriate? For example, is life in prison without the possibility of parole a sufficient sentence? Or is that still too harsh? What about restorative justice , an approach that “considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends”? What other ideas do you have?

Vast racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty have been found. For example, Black people are overrepresented on death row, and a recent study found that “defendants convicted of killing white victims were executed at a rate 17 times greater than those convicted of killing Black victims.” Does this information change or reinforce your opinion of capital punishment? How so?

The Federal Death Penalty Act prohibits the government from executing an inmate who is mentally disabled; however, in the recent executions of Corey Johnson , Alfred Bourgeois and Lisa Montgomery , their defense teams, families and others argued that they had intellectual disabilities. What role do you think disability or trauma history should play in how someone is punished, or rehabilitated, after committing a crime?

How concerned should we be about wrongfully convicted people being executed? The Innocence Project has proved the innocence of 18 people on death row who were exonerated by DNA testing. Do you have worries about the fair application of the death penalty, or about the possibility of the criminal justice system executing an innocent person?

About Student Opinion

• Find all of our Student Opinion questions in this column . • Have an idea for a Student Opinion question? Tell us about it . • Learn more about how to use our free daily writing prompts for remote learning .

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

Nicole Daniels joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2019 after working in museum education, curriculum writing and bilingual education. More about Nicole Daniels

Round Separator

Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty

Click the buttons below to view arguments and testimony on each topic.

The death penalty deters 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.

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.

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 2012 report released by the prestigious National Research Council of the National Academies and based on a review of more than three decades of research, concluded that studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates from the death penalty are fundamentally flawed. A survey of the former and present presidents of the country’s top academic criminological societies found that 84% of these experts 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.

Ernest van den Haag Professor of Jurisprudence and Public Policy, Fordham University. Excerpts from ” The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense,” (Harvard Law Review Association, 1986)

“Execution of those who have committed heinous murders may deter only one murder per year. If it does, it seems quite warranted. It is also the only fitting retribution for murder I can think of.”

“Most abolitionists acknowledge that they would continue to favor abolition even if the death penalty were shown to deter more murders than alternatives could deter. Abolitionists appear to value the life of a convicted murderer or, at least, his non-execution, more highly than they value the lives of the innocent victims who might be spared by deterring prospective murderers.

Deterrence is not altogether decisive for me either. I would favor retention of the death penalty as retribution even if it were shown that the threat of execution could not deter prospective murderers not already deterred by the threat of imprisonment. Still, I believe the death penalty, because of its finality, is more feared than imprisonment, and deters some prospective murderers not deterred by the thought of imprisonment. Sparing the lives of even a few prospective victims by deterring their murderers is more important than preserving the lives of convicted murderers because of the possibility, or even the probability, that executing them would not deter others. Whereas the life of the victims who might be saved are valuable, that of the murderer has only negative value, because of his crime. Surely the criminal law is meant to protect the lives of potential victims in preference to those of actual murderers.”

“We threaten punishments in order to deter crime. We impose them not only to make the threats credible but also as retribution (justice) for the crimes that were not deterred. Threats and punishments are necessary to deter and deterrence is a sufficient practical justification for them. Retribution is an independent moral justification. Although penalties can be unwise, repulsive, or inappropriate, and those punished can be pitiable, in a sense the infliction of legal punishment on a guilty person cannot be unjust. By committing the crime, the criminal volunteered to assume the risk of receiving a legal punishment that he could have avoided by not committing the crime. The punishment he suffers is the punishment he voluntarily risked suffering and, therefore, it is no more unjust to him than any other event for which one knowingly volunteers to assume the risk. Thus, the death penalty cannot be unjust to the guilty criminal.”

Full text can be found at PBS.org .

Hugo Adam Bedau (deceased) Austin Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University Excerpts from “The Case Against The Death Penalty” (Copyright 1997, American Civil Liberties Union)

“Persons who commit murder and other crimes of personal violence either may or may not premeditate their crimes.

When crime is planned, the criminal ordinarily concentrates on escaping detection, arrest, and conviction. The threat of even the severest punishment will not discourage those who expect to escape detection and arrest. It is impossible to imagine how the threat of any punishment could prevent a crime that is not premeditated….

Most capital crimes are committed in the heat of the moment. Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking has been suspended. In such cases, violence is inflicted by persons heedless of the consequences to themselves as well as to others….

If, however, severe punishment can deter crime, then long-term imprisonment is severe enough to deter any rational person from committing a violent crime.

The vast preponderance of the evidence shows that the death penalty is no more effective than imprisonment in deterring murder and that it may even be an incitement to criminal violence. Death-penalty states as a group do not have lower rates of criminal homicide than non-death-penalty states….

On-duty police officers do not suffer a higher rate of criminal assault and homicide in abolitionist states than they do in death-penalty states. Between l973 and l984, for example, lethal assaults against police were not significantly more, or less, frequent in abolitionist states than in death-penalty states. There is ‘no support for the view that the death penalty provides a more effective deterrent to police homicides than alternative sanctions. Not for a single year was evidence found that police are safer in jurisdictions that provide for capital punishment.’ (Bailey and Peterson, Criminology (1987))

Prisoners and prison personnel do not suffer a higher rate of criminal assault and homicide from life-term prisoners in abolition states than they do in death-penalty states. Between 1992 and 1995, 176 inmates were murdered by other prisoners; the vast majority (84%) were killed in death penalty jurisdictions. During the same period about 2% of all assaults on prison staff were committed by inmates in abolition jurisdictions. Evidently, the threat of the death penalty ‘does not even exert an incremental deterrent effect over the threat of a lesser punishment in the abolitionist states.’ (Wolfson, in Bedau, ed., The Death Penalty in America, 3rd ed. (1982))

Actual experience thus establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the death penalty does not deter murder. No comparable body of evidence contradicts that conclusion.”

Click here for the full text from the ACLU website.


A just society requires the taking of a life for 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.”

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.

Louis P. Pojman Author and Professor of Philosophy, U.S. Military Academy. Excerpt from “The Death Penalty: For and Against,” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998)

“[Opponents of the capital punishment often put forth the following argument:] Perhaps the murderer deserves to die, but what authority does the state have to execute him or her? Both the Old and New Testament says, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Prov. 25:21 and Romans 12:19). You need special authority to justify taking the life of a human being.

The objector fails to note that the New Testament passage continues with a support of the right of the state to execute criminals in the name of God: “Let every person be subjected to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment…. If you do wrong, be afraid, for [the authority] does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13: 1-4). So, according to the Bible, the authority to punish, which presumably includes the death penalty, comes from God.

But we need not appeal to a religious justification for capital punishment. We can site the state’s role in dispensing justice. Just as the state has the authority (and duty) to act justly in allocating scarce resources, in meeting minimal needs of its (deserving) citizens, in defending its citizens from violence and crime, and in not waging unjust wars; so too does it have the authority, flowing from its mission to promote justice and the good of its people, to punish the criminal. If the criminal, as one who has forfeited a right to life, deserves to be executed, especially if it will likely deter would-be murderers, the state has a duty to execute those convicted of first-degree murder.”

National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Excerpts from “To End the Death Penalty: A Report of the National Jewish/Catholic Consultation” (December, 1999)

“Some would argue that the death penalty is needed as a means of retributive justice, to balance out the crime with the punishment. This reflects a natural concern of society, and especially of victims and their families. Yet we believe that we are called to seek a higher road even while punishing the guilty, for example through long and in some cases life-long incarceration, so that the healing of all can ultimately take place.

Some would argue that the death penalty will teach society at large the seriousness of crime. Yet we say that teaching people to respond to violence with violence will, again, only breed more violence.

The strongest argument of all [in favor of the death penalty] is the deep pain and grief of the families of victims, and their quite natural desire to see punishment meted out to those who have plunged them into such agony. Yet it is the clear teaching of our traditions that this pain and suffering cannot be healed simply through the retribution of capital punishment or by vengeance. It is a difficult and long process of healing which comes about through personal growth and God’s grace. We agree that much more must be done by the religious community and by society at large to solace and care for the grieving families of the victims of violent crime.

Recent statements of the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism, and of the U.S. Catholic Conference sum up well the increasingly strong convictions shared by Jews and Catholics…:

‘Respect for all human life and opposition to the violence in our society are at the root of our long-standing opposition (as bishops) to the death penalty. We see the death penalty as perpetuating a cycle of violence and promoting a sense of vengeance in our culture. As we said in Confronting the Culture of Violence: ‘We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.’ We oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes, but for what it does to all of us as a society. Increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life. We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.’1

We affirm that we came to these conclusions because of our shared understanding of the sanctity of human life. We have committed ourselves to work together, and each within our own communities, toward ending the death penalty.” Endnote 1. Statement of the Administrative Committee of the United States Catholic Conference, March 24, 1999.

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, over 180 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged. During the same period of time, over 1,500 people have been executed. Thus, for every 8.3 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 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 another man, who confessed to the crime on videotape and was later convicted of the murder. 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.

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.

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.

Gerald Kogan, Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Excerpts from a speech given in Orlando, Florida, October 23, 1999 “[T]here is no question in my mind, and I can tell you this having seen the dynamics of our criminal justice system over the many years that I have been associated with it, [as] prosecutor, defense attorney, trial judge and Supreme Court Justice, that convinces me that we certainly have, in the past, executed those people who either didn’t fit the criteria for execution in the State of Florida or who, in fact, were, factually, not guilty of the crime for which they have been executed.

“And you can make these statements when you understand the dynamics of the criminal justice system, when you understand how the State makes deals with more culpable defendants in a capital case, offers them light sentences in exchange for their testimony against another participant or, in some cases, in fact, gives them immunity from prosecution so that they can secure their testimony; the use of jailhouse confessions, like people who say, ‘I was in the cell with so-and-so and they confessed to me,’ or using those particular confessions, the validity of which there has been great doubt. And yet, you see the uneven application of the death penalty where, in many instances, those that are the most culpable escape death and those that are the least culpable are victims of the death penalty. These things begin to weigh very heavily upon you. And under our system, this is the system we have. And that is, we are human beings administering an imperfect system.”

“And how about those people who are still sitting on death row today, who may be factually innocent but cannot prove their particular case very simply because there is no DNA evidence in their case that can be used to exonerate them? Of course, in most cases, you’re not going to have that kind of DNA evidence, so there is no way and there is no hope for them to be saved from what may be one of the biggest mistakes that our society can make.”

The entire speech by Justice Kogan is available here.

Paul G. Cassell Associate Professor of Law, University of Utah, College of Law, and former law clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. Statement before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights Concerning Claims of Innocence in Capital Cases (July 23, 1993)

“Given the fallibility of human judgments, the possibility exists that the use of capital punishment may result in the execution of an innocent person. The Senate Judiciary Committee has previously found this risk to be ‘minimal,’ a view shared by numerous scholars. As Justice Powell has noted commenting on the numerous state capital cases that have come before the Supreme Court, the ‘unprecedented safeguards’ already inherent in capital sentencing statutes ‘ensure a degree of care in the imposition of the sentence of death that can only be described as unique.’”

“Our present system of capital punishment limits the ultimate penalty to certain specifically-defined crimes and even then, permit the penalty of death only when the jury finds that the aggravating circumstances in the case outweigh all mitigating circumstances. The system further provides judicial review of capital cases. Finally, before capital sentences are carried out, the governor or other executive official will review the sentence to insure that it is a just one, a determination that undoubtedly considers the evidence of the condemned defendant’s guilt. Once all of those decisionmakers have agreed that a death sentence is appropriate, innocent lives would be lost from failure to impose the sentence.”

“Capital sentences, when carried out, save innocent lives by permanently incapacitating murderers. Some persons who commit capital homicide will slay other innocent persons if given the opportunity to do so. The death penalty is the most effective means of preventing such killers from repeating their crimes. The next most serious penalty, life imprisonment without possibility of parole, prevents murderers from committing some crimes but does not prevent them from murdering in prison.”

“The mistaken release of guilty murderers should be of far greater concern than the speculative and heretofore nonexistent risk of the mistaken execution of an innocent person.”

Full text can be found here.

Arbitrariness & Discrimination

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, 296 Black defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 31 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.

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.

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.

Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. President and Chief Executive Officer, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Inc. Excerpt from “Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice & the Death Penalty,” (Marlowe & Company, 1996)

“Who receives the death penalty has less to do with the violence of the crime than with the color of the criminal’s skin, or more often, the color of the victim’s skin. Murder — always tragic — seems to be a more heinous and despicable crime in some states than in others. Women who kill and who are killed are judged by different standards than are men who are murderers and victims.

The death penalty is essentially an arbitrary punishment. There are no objective rules or guidelines for when a prosecutor should seek the death penalty, when a jury should recommend it, and when a judge should give it. This lack of objective, measurable standards ensures that the application of the death penalty will be discriminatory against racial, gender, and ethnic groups.

The majority of Americans who support the death penalty believe, or wish to believe, that legitimate factors such as the violence and cruelty with which the crime was committed, a defendant’s culpability or history of violence, and the number of victims involved determine who is sentenced to life in prison and who receives the ultimate punishment. The numbers, however, tell a different story. They confirm the terrible truth that bias and discrimination warp our nation’s judicial system at the very time it matters most — in matters of life and death. The factors that determine who will live and who will die — race, sex, and geography — are the very same ones that blind justice was meant to ignore. This prejudicial distribution should be a moral outrage to every American.”

Justice Lewis Powell United States Supreme Court Justice excerpts from McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987) (footnotes and citations omitted)

(Mr. McCleskey, a black man, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1978 for killing a white police officer while robbing a store. Mr. McCleskey appealed his conviction and death sentence, claiming racial discrimination in the application of Georgia’s death penalty. He presented statistical analysis showing a pattern of sentencing disparities based primarily on the race of the victim. The analysis indicated that black defendants who killed white victims had the greatest likelihood of receiving the death penalty. Writing the majority opinion for the Supreme Court, Justice Powell held that statistical studies on race by themselves were an insufficient basis for overturning the death penalty.)

“[T]he claim that [t]his sentence rests on the irrelevant factor of race easily could be extended to apply to claims based on unexplained discrepancies that correlate to membership in other minority groups, and even to gender. Similarly, since [this] claim relates to the race of his victim, other claims could apply with equally logical force to statistical disparities that correlate with the race or sex of other actors in the criminal justice system, such as defense attorneys or judges. Also, there is no logical reason that such a claim need be limited to racial or sexual bias. If arbitrary and capricious punishment is the touchstone under the Eighth Amendment, such a claim could — at least in theory — be based upon any arbitrary variable, such as the defendant’s facial characteristics, or the physical attractiveness of the defendant or the victim, that some statistical study indicates may be influential in jury decision making. As these examples illustrate, there is no limiting principle to the type of challenge brought by McCleskey. The Constitution does not require that a State eliminate any demonstrable disparity that correlates with a potentially irrelevant factor in order to operate a criminal justice system that includes capital punishment. As we have stated specifically in the context of capital punishment, the Constitution does not ‘plac[e] totally unrealistic conditions on its use.’ (Gregg v. Georgia)”

The entire decision can be found here.

Why death penalty should not be abolished

essay on death penalty should not be abolished

Table of Contents


The current state of sentencing was triggered by the changes in the law where the primary goal was to apply justice but in a manner tempered by mercy. As a result, the Federal Courts suspended all executions, and decades later, in 1976, most states had changed their statutes, conforming with the Supreme Court guidelines (McFarland, 2016). For nearly five decades, the reforms that ended the death penalty have made very little change in the level of crime. It has become very challenging to impose the death penalty despite the tremendous costs associated with capital trials and appeals. At the moment, there are thirty-two states in the country alongside the U.S military that still retain the right, and rightly so, to sentence people to death (McFarland, 2016). The death penalty is a just form of retribution for capital offenses, a deterrent, and means of preserving moral order in society, and therefore should not be abolished.

Arguments in Favor of the Death Penalty

Death penalties can help deter crime. In essence, the death penalty is a deterrent to capital crime, whereby a harsh punishment is required to discourage people from committing similar crimes. When the death penalty is applied, it serves three primary functions: general deterrence, specific deterrence, and retribution. General deterrence is a much broader message or threat sent to the people contemplating taking part in atrocious crimes (Andre and Velasquez, 2022). It cautions them against committing similar atrocities because they fear being subjected to such a harsh punishment. On the other hand, a specific deterrence speaks directly to a defendant and means that the individual will not be allowed to live to kill other people. Lastly, the penological argument of retribution is based on the principle that society’s ideals must be upheld by doing the right thing, which means punishing the person who commits a crime. The death penalty should be made available for the worst of offenders.

The death penalty is a just retribution for capital offenses. Retribution, in a broad sense, is a punishment imposed because it is deserved. It is founded on the principle that all guilty people should be punished, only the guilty deserve punishment, and the guilty should be punished based on the severity of the crime committed. As such, murderers and others committing heinous crimes are given the death penalty because they have earned it based on the severity of the offense. Andre and Velasquez (2022) argue that it is only suitable for people to be punished based on the severity of their crimes. Many states appreciate the vital role that capital punishment in the form of the death penalty can have in creating a just society. It is unsurprising that they still allow the practice within their borders. Some extreme crimes punishable by death include first-degree murder, felony murder, murder during a rape, terrorism, and hijacking an aircraft, among other heinous crimes (Venturi, 2016). The federal laws allow for the death penalty to be applied in similar offenses, like civil rights offenses that result in the death of people, murder of foreign and domestic officials, and treason, among others. Allowing the death penalty to be applied in such extreme crimes means that the punishment fits the crime, and such retribution serves justice for the murder victims and their loved ones.

Arguments in Favor of Abolishing the Death Penalty

On the contrary, opponents of the death penalty have argued that killing persons accused of crimes is inhumane and cruel. Moreover, they state that the death penalty fails to consider the complex social and economic factors that drive crime rates (Ilyin, 2019). Another argument is that some crimes are committed spontaneously and individuals do not plan on getting caught or think through the consequences of their actions. It has also been argued that the death sentence denies people the opportunity to reform. However, such arguments fail to factor in the cost incurred by correctional centers, the appeal process, and numerous other judicial and reformative processes (McFarland, 2016). Appeal cases in a study carried out in the State of Oklahoma that relied on 15 state studies showed that capital appeal was five or six times more than non-capital appeals (Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, 2017).


The basic argument behind just laws and sentences is that natural justice is applied when people get punished for their wrongdoing. Also, it means they suffer in a way befitting their crimes. Indeed, each defendant should get what their crime deserves, and in the case of capital offenses such as murder, such crime deserve the death penalty. Also, by taking such extreme steps, the law enforcement and judicial arms could send a message that such crimes are abhorred and punishable by death and deter individuals, thus creating a safer society. Better attention must be paid to punishing offenses than putting a lot of resources into reforming individuals and using a long and expensive process to achieve the latter goal. It is only right to punish offenses and do so in proportion to the crimes.

essay on death penalty should not be abolished

  • Andre, C and Velasquez, M. (2022, Jul. 7). ‘Capital Punishment: Our Duty or Our Doom.’ Santa Clara University. https://www.scu.edu/mcae/publications/iie/v1n3/capital.html
  • Ilyin, G. (2019). 5 Reasons Some People Think The World Needs the Death Penalty. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org.au/5-reasons-some-people-think-the-world-needs-the-death-penalty/
  • McFarland, T. (2016). “The Death Penalty vs. Life Incarceration: A Financial Analysis,” Susquehanna University Political Review: Vol. 7 , Article 4. Available at: https://scholarlycommons.susqu.edu/supr/vol7/iss1/4
  • Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission (ODPRC). (2017). Appendix IB; An Analysis of the Economic Costs of Capital Punishment in Oklahoma. https://files.deathpenaltyinfo.org/legacy/files/pdf/Report-of-the-OK-Death-Penalty-Review-April-2017-a1b.pdf
  • Venturi, G.C. (2016). The Death Penalty. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313876668_The_Death_Penalty
  • Bill of Rights
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Drunk Driving
  • First Amendment
  • Forensic Science
  • Gang Violence
  • Human Rights
  • Identity Theft

essay on death penalty should not be abolished

Faculty Scholarship

‌the end of the death penalty.

‌‘Unintended consequences’ and the legacy of Furman v. Georgia

More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty was an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. With that, 629 people on death row nationwide had their capital sentences commuted, and the death penalty disappeared overnight.

“Furman was neither a tremendous success nor a terrible failure but a complicated story of unintended consequences and echoes of Furman continue to this day to have tremendous impact.” Carol Steiker

But Furman didn’t abolish capital punishment for very long. Four years later, Gregg v. Georgia and several companion cases made clear that governments could impose capital punishment under certain conditions. Those decisions were a response to the backlash sparked by Furman , which appeared to revive support for a practice that had been in sharp decline for years. Today, 27 states in the U.S., as well as the federal government, retain the death penalty, and as of April 2022, one source reported that there were 2,414 people on death row across the country. Despite what many would have predicted in 1972, when the Furman decision suggested the U.S. would become an international leader in eliminating the death penalty, today it’s the only Western democracy that still imposes it. 

Still, while the death penalty persists in the U.S., it’s not exactly thriving. Indeed, it’s once again “withering” across the country, says Carol S. Steiker ’86 , the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, who has taught Capital Punishment in America at the school since 1993. Though Furman (and its subsequent overruling) helped fuel the death penalty’s revival, it also set in motion a long series of events that may ultimately eliminate capital punishment in the United States, Steiker says.

“ Furman was neither a tremendous success nor a terrible failure but a complicated story of unintended consequences and echoes of Furman continue to this day to have tremendous impact,” says Steiker, who is co-author, with her brother, Jordan Steiker ’88, of “Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment” (Harvard University Press, 2016) and co-editor, also with him, of “Comparative Capital Punishment” (Edward Elgar, 2019).

“ Furman was a remarkable intervention,” says Jordan Steiker, a professor at the law school at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of its Capital Punishment Center. “Even though it was quite short-lived in suspending the death penalty in the U.S., it completely changed its course because it essentially inspired or required states to rethink how they were doing capital punishment. And ultimately, the practice of the death penalty changed substantially over time.”

Given the greatly heightened public attention to the power of the Supreme Court today, the 50th anniversary of Furman is an opportunity to reexamine not just the history of the death penalty but the appropriate role of the Court in American life, Carol Steiker and others believe.

“Right now a lot of people are wondering how much of a role we want the courts to play in deciding what rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, and Furman v. Georgia is a unique example of when the Court struck down a policy that was widely prevalent throughout the states for violating the Constitution,” says Gene Young Chang ’24, who has been studying the death penalty with Steiker since he was a freshman in her Harvard College course The American Death Penalty: Morality, Law, and Politics. Furman , he says, “teaches us things about the role of the courts in a democratic society, the scope of constitutional rights, and the proper method for defining those rights.” 

Categorical abolition of the death penalty across the nation is unlikely without another Furman v. Georgia , “what you might call Furman II, which is obviously not forthcoming from this Court or anytime in the foreseeable future,” Carol Steiker says. Instead, the future of the death penalty, she says, is being played out at the local level, in “a kind of guerrilla war going on county by county, state by state, with the election of progressive prosecutors who do not seek the death penalty, state legislative activity, and state constitutional litigation under state constitutions.”

The final death knell for capital punishment will likely depend on a very different Supreme Court from the one we have today, she says. “But at that point,” given other trends in the country, “it may be more like a coup de grâce rather than what it was at the time of Furman .”

History of a ‘remarkable intervention’

In the 1960s, due to a campaign by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to challenge its constitutionality in cases across the country, capital punishment was in decline. Indeed, no one was executed in the five years before Furman , as states waited to see what the high court would rule. In 1971, the Supreme Court rejected a due process challenge to capital punishment. But Furman , argued a year later, relied on the Eighth Amendment: The LDF team argued that the arbitrary application of capital punishment — jurors, often with no guidance, had complete discretion on when to impose it — was a cruel and unusual punishment.

”The Supreme Court intervention [in Furman] not only didn’t kill the death penalty but actually made it stronger when it was reinstated.” Carol Steiker

The Supreme Court agreed, 5-4, although the justices issued nine separate opinions, which was very unusual, as Carol Steiker notes. Justice Thurgood Marshall (for whom both Steikers later clerked) and Justice William J. Brennan Jr. LL.B. ’31 maintained that the death penalty was unconstitutional per se. Justice William O. Douglas was troubled by its discriminatory application, given overwhelming evidence that it was more often imposed on Black defendants, the poor, and the politically unpopular. Justices Potter Stewart and Byron White were troubled by its arbitrary application under state statutes, with Justice Stewart famously writing, “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” He concluded that the Constitution could not “permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.” 

But abolitionists’ hopes didn’t last long. Soon after Furman, 35 states rewrote their laws to try to comply with the Court’s ruling. In 1976, in a group of consolidated cases known as Gregg v. Georgia , the Supreme Court held that the death penalty was not per se unconstitutional. It ruled the punishment could be revived if state laws provided an objective process for deciding when to apply it and gave sufficient discretion to juries to determine whether it was appropriate. However, mandatory death penalties were unconstitutional, it held, even though some states believed that mandatory penalties were necessary to eliminate sentencing discretion.

Furman created an enormous backlash, the Steikers explain, so that capital punishment — which was becoming less and less popular in public opinion — resurged. It became “more of a wedge issue, part of the tough-on-crime political strategy of [President Richard] Nixon, and political entrepreneurs exploited the resentment at the Supreme Court’s intervention in the death penalty,” says Jordan Steiker, who has frequently taught at Harvard Law School, most recently in 2018 as the Touroff-Glueck Visiting Professor of Law and Psychiatry. “In the short term, the death penalty became more vigorous, there were more death sentences, and by the 1990s, there were many more executions than we were having pre- Furman .”

At least initially, then, “the Supreme Court intervention [in Furman ] not only didn’t kill the death penalty but actually made it stronger when it was reinstated,” says Carol Steiker, something she sees as an “unintended and unforeseen consequence” of the case.

Birth of the capital defense bar

But there was another unforeseen consequence of Furman , one that Jordan Steiker describes as “probably more important and long-lasting” — the birth of a large and highly skilled capital defense bar. 

With the resurrection of the death penalty, new, sophisticated institutions were created and staffed by passionate and skilled anti-capital lawyers: state offices for capital representation at the trial, appellate, and post-conviction levels; capital habeas corpus units within state and federal public defenders’ offices; and numerous non-governmental nonprofits, such as Bryan Stevenson ’85’s Equal Justice Initiative. Today, “we have a whole legion of much more focused and talented advocates working on behalf of people facing capital charges or sentenced to death,” says Jordan Steiker.

Capital litigation has become far more complex, and the costs have soared. This has helped persuade many local prosecutors to avoid seeking the death penalty.

With these developments, as well as the Supreme Court’s imposition of special procedural requirements for cases involving the death penalty, capital litigation has become far more complex, and the costs have soared. “The constitutional decisions post- Furman have not imposed the most rigorous scrutiny of capital practices,” says Jordan Steiker, “but they have produced institutional actors who have made the death penalty much less attractive as a practical matter because to do it reasonably well is just exorbitantly expensive.” This has helped persuade many local prosecutors to avoid seeking the death penalty and has led to an “extraordinary decline in capital proceedings,” he says.

The current Supreme Court has signaled greater willingness to affirm capital sentences than in the recent past, says Jordan Steiker, and some jurisdictions have embraced that signal. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had scheduled nearly one execution a month between 2022 and 2024 (although at the request of the new attorney general, the pace has now been slowed to no more than one every 60 days). In Texas, on the other hand, two death sentences were imposed in 2022, which contrasts starkly with the 1990s, when Texas juries were handing out more than 40 a year, Jordan Steiker says. “The practice on the ground is withering in part because of the institutions built in response to Furman ,” he says.

Local prosecutors and state courts take over

Other factors besides cost have decreased the public’s appetite for the death penalty, including media attention to, and public awareness of, the number of innocent people sentenced to death. Since 1973, at least 190 people who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. For that and other reasons, including declining crime rates, there has been a dramatic decline in public support for the death penalty over the past 20 years. Though the 2021 Gallup poll found that 54% of respondents continued to support it, that is the lowest number in the annual poll since 1972. 

Erica Medley LL.M. ’22 was a prosecutor in the U.S. Air Force before matriculating at HLS. When she was a schoolgirl, in Oregon, two of her friends were raped and murdered by a neighbor, Ward Weaver III. When Weaver received two life sentences, “It made no sense,” Medley recalls. “I thought he should have gotten the death penalty.” When Medley enrolled in Carol Steiker’s class on capital punishment in fall 2021, she was among the very few students who supported the death penalty, according to an informal online class poll. 

But before the first class, Medley did a complete reversal sparked by reading the course materials. “I was so overwhelmed reading everything that I did a 180. It was that fast,” says Medley, who was persuaded by the evidence of the racially disparate impact of the death penalty, its exorbitant expense compared with that of prison sentences, the number of people on death row who turn out to be innocent, and the fact that no other peer nations still impose the penalty.

The shifting demographics of urban counties are also having an effect on the use of the death penalty across the country since such counties are often the only places that can afford to prosecute many capital cases, says Jordan Steiker. As these counties become less politically conservative, they are increasingly controlled by “less zealous prosecutors,” he says. Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, and Dallas County were “longstanding conservative-controlled political entities, and now they’re not. Now many prosecutors run not on the death penalty but away from the death penalty. That’s a very significant shift.” 

“We now have this odd dynamic, where courts, especially the Supreme Court, are pushing in the direction of deregulating, but there’s not much left in terms of capital punishment to deregulate.” Jordan Steiker

And, just as the resurgence of the death penalty in the 1980s and ’90s paralleled public reaction to a crime surge, a drop in death penalty cases mirrors what has generally been a long-term decline in the homicide rate, as well as public concerns about mass incarceration and racial inequities in the criminal justice system, says Carol Steiker, faculty sponsor of the Capital Punishment Clinic, through which Harvard Law students are placed in externships at capital defense organizations around the country.

And the past 16 years have seen a growing legislative trend toward abolishing the death penalty. In 2007, 38 states retained it; today, there are only 27. In 2021, Virginia, which has executed more people than any other state, became the first Southern state to abolish capital punishment. It was preceded by legislative repeals in Colorado, New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut, among other states. In Washington state, the Supreme Court found the death penalty unconstitutional under the state constitution because it was used in an arbitrary and racially biased manner. 

“We now have this odd dynamic, where courts, especially the Supreme Court, are pushing in the direction of deregulating, but there’s not much left in terms of capital punishment to deregulate,” says Jordan Steiker. 

“I think in the short term we’ll end up having more executions because of the Supreme Court’s reluctance to impede them, even though executions have been in as much of a decline as death sentences,” he adds. But with fewer capital sentences taking place, “death row has been shrinking considerably, and at some point we’ll have a death row that seems inconsequential as part of our criminal justice system.” 

Furman’s ultimate impact?

In the end, then, was Furman a victory for those who brought the case? “That’s a good question,” says Jordan Steiker. “There’s one point of view that I’m sympathetic to, that says that Furman revived a practice that was dying on the ground, and had there been no intervention, we might not have had a revival and then a second decline.”

On the other hand, when Michael Meltsner, one of the lawyers on the LDF team who brought Furman , speaks to Carol Steiker’s capital punishment class each year, he emphasizes that there were 629 people on death row in 1972 whose lives were saved by Furman.

“So in that sense, it was a tremendous victory,” says Carol Steiker. “It was a reset moment.”

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Is the Death Penalty Justified or Should It Be Abolished?

  • is the death penalty justified or should it be abolished?

*Updated 2022

Throughout history, societies around the world have used the death penalty as a way to punish the most heinous crimes.  while capital punishment is still practiced today,  many countries  have since abolished it.  in fact, in 2019, california’s governor put a  moratorium on the death penalty , stopping it indefinitely. in early 2022, he took further steps and ordered the dismantling of the state’s death row. given the moral complexities and depth of emotions involved, the death penalty remains a controversial debate the world over., the following are three arguments in support of the death penalty and three against it., arguments supporting the death penalty.

Prevents convicted killers from killing again

The death penalty guarantees that convicted murderers will never kill again.  There have been countless cases where convicts sentenced to life in prison have  murdered other inmates  and/or prison guards. Convicts have also been known to successfully arrange murders from within prison, the most famous case being mobster  Whitey Bulger , who apparently was killed by fellow inmates while incarcerated. There are also cases where convicts who have been released for parole after serving only part of their sentences – even life sentences – have  murdered again  after returning to society. A death sentence is the only irrevocable penalty that protects innocent lives.

Maintains justice

For most people, life is sacred, and innocent lives should be valued over the lives of killers. Innocent victims who have been murdered – and in some cases, tortured beforehand – had no choice in their untimely and cruel death or any opportunity to say goodbye to friends and family, prepare wills, or enjoy their last moments of life. Meanwhile, convicted murderers sentenced to life in prison – and even those on death row – are still able to learn, read,  write , paint, find religion, watch TV, listen to music, maintain relationships, and even appeal their sentences.

To many, capital punishment symbolizes justice and is the only way to adequately express society’s revulsion of the murder of innocent lives. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center Poll, the majority of US adults ( 60% ) think that legal executions fit the crime of what convicted killers deserve. The death penalty is a way to restore society’s balance of justice – by showing that the most severe crimes are intolerable and will be punished in kind

Historically recognized

Historians and constitutional lawyers seem to agree that by the time the Founding Fathers wrote and signed the  U.S. Constitution in 1787, and when the Bill of Rights were ratified and added in 1791, the death penalty was an acceptable and permissible form of punishment for premeditated murder. The Constitution’s  8 th  and 14 th  Amendments  recognize the death penalty BUT under due process of the law. This means that certain legal requirements must first be fulfilled before any state executions can be legally carried out – even when pertaining to the  cruelest, most cold-blooded murderer . While interpretations of the amendments pertaining to the death penalty have changed over the years, the Founding Fathers intended to allow for the death penalty from the very beginning and put in place a legal system to ensure due process.

Arguments against the Death Penalty

Not proven to deter crime

There’s  no concrete evidence  showing that the death penalty actually deters crime.  Various studies comparing crime and murder rates in  U.S. states  that have the death penalty versus those that don’t found that the murder rate in non-death-penalty states has actually remained consistently lower over the years than in those states that have the death penalty. These findings suggest that capital punishment may not actually be a deterrent for crime.

The winds may be shifting regarding the public’s opinion about the death penalty. This is evident by the recent decision of a non-unanimous Florida jury to sentence the Parkland High School shooter to life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty . While the verdict shocked many, it also revealed mixed feelings about the death penalty, including among the families of the 17 Parkland victims and families of victims from other mass shootings.

More expensive than imprisonment

Contrary to popular belief, the death penalty is actually  more expensive  than keeping an inmate in prison, even for life. While the cost of the actual execution may be minimal, the overall costs surrounding a capital case (where the death penalty is a potential punishment) are enormously high.  Sources say  that defending a death penalty case can cost around four times higher than defending a case not seeking death. Even in cases where a guilty plea cancels out the need for a trial, seeking the death penalty costs almost twice as much as cases that don’t. And this is before factoring in appeals, which are more time-consuming and therefore cost more than life-sentence appeals, as well as higher prison costs for death-row inmates.

Does not bring closure

It seems logical that punishing a murderer, especially a mass murderer, or terrorist with the most severe punishment would bring closure and relief to victims’ families. However, the opposite may be true.  Studies  show that capital punishment does not bring comfort to those affected by violent and fatal crimes.  In fact, punishing the perpetrator has been shown to  make victims feel worse , as it forces them to think about the offender and the incident even more. Also, as capital cases can drag on for years due to endless court appeals, it can be difficult for victims’ families to heal, thus delaying closure.

The Bottom Line: The death penalty has been used to maintain the balance of justice throughout history, punishing violent criminals in the severest way to ensure they won’t kill again.  On the other hand, with inconclusive evidence as to its deterrence of crime, the higher costs involved in pursuing capital cases, and the lack of relief and closure it brings to victims’ families, the death penalty is not justified. Where do you stand on this controversial issue?


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Why The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished Essay Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Death Penalty , Capital Punishment , Social Issues , Death , Finance , Crime , Criminal Justice , Punishment

Words: 1800

Published: 01/08/2020


The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished

It comes to no surprise that the issue of the death penalty continues to remain in social forums and even in legislative debates as the punishment continues to reign in several parts of the globe. Debates would often range from the alternative punishments that would not constitute to killing to the idea that criminals do not deserve such death. Of course, supporters to pushing for the death penalty refuted these debates as the mentality goes that if criminals of high profile are punished to their death; others would not try to commit acts to protect their life. However, criminals are becoming crafty and opponents see the continuation of capital punishment has lost its purpose. While this indeed may be the case nowadays, capital punishment through the death penalty should not be abolished as it serves as a powerful deterrent in circumventing the increase chances of capital crimes on being committed, as well as the assurance to victims and their families that they would feel safe upon administering such punishment to criminals found guilty of their crimes.

According to Walker and Bix (2008) capital punishment has undertaken various forms since the early civilizations – torture, burnt in the stake, guillotine or thrown overboard at sea –. However, some thoughts of removing capital punishment, especially death penalty, had also taken some. Capital punishment is mostly done to criminals who have committed severe crimes or capital crimes. It is most often that crimes such as rape, murder, treason, drug and human trafficking and denouncement of religion are already acts that can constitute to the death penalty. In the United States, death penalty had been enforced until 1960 when the US Supreme Court started revising the Constitution’s Fifth, Eight and Fourteenth Amendments. Opponents to capital punishment have often cited that it is unconstitutional, given the decisions done to defendants in terms of their physical, mental, and social status. In the United States, for example, the three known cases in 1972- Furman v. Georgia, Jackson v. Georgia and Branch v. Texas – showcased the irregularities in deciding if a defendant is to be punished through the death penalty. When the Supreme Court reviewed all three cases, each case referred to defendants accused of capital crimes. The Furman v. Georgia case’s defendant is charged with murder while the two other cases involved rape charges. In the first case, it had been seen that Furman was indeed responsible for the death of one of the Georgian residents he intentionally or unintentionally killed. In all three cases, all defendants were charged to death and ironically enough, all of them were black, illiterate, and poor. For the Branch v. Texas case, the defendant had been declared mentally deficient. These three examples, supporters to abolishment concur, showcases that judges tend to showcase bias over putting up the charges to the death penalty.

Supporters to abolish the death penalty or capital punishment also see it as an ineffective way to stop and deter crime. Supporters of abolishment have expressed concern with the fact that judges could be biased with their decision in carrying out their decisions. They suggest that there are better means to punish criminals and offenders and at the same time, protect the society. . Kronenwetter (2001) argued that there is little evidence to showcase that death penalty does deter crime and convince criminals to forgo their activities. In 1804, Sir James Stephen noted that death penalty’s capacity to deter crime is questionable as it is difficult to prove. It is also argued by abolitionist to death penalty that murderers or criminals do not think rationally enough that would stop themselves from their crime despite the penalty. Most crimes nowadays are also done through the bout of emotions or feelings such as passion, rage, frustration, or fear. This prevents criminals from understanding the gravity of their crime. In recent studies, US states who use death penalty – Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia – all have high cases of murder rates despite the punishment. Texas alone had executed murderers for every 6,385 residents. Florida has one per 9,952, Georgia had one per 8,997, and 11,249 residents per one murder in Virginia . Siegel (2009) noted that death penalty is also considered morally wrong by religions and ethics as opponents to death penalty have argued that “social vengeance by death is a primitive way of revenge, which stands in the way of moral progress”. The Catholic Church had condemned capital punishment despite the other religious leaders acceptance to the policy.

However, supporters to continuing capital punishment or the death penalty have stressed out that capital punishment can benefit society and at the same time, foster safety for the people. Siegel (2009) noted that death penalty is actually morally correct. In the United States, for example, while the Constitution stated that “cruel and unusual punishments” is forbidden, that does not constitute also to death penalty. Capital punishment was widely used by the time the Constitution was drafted by the founding fathers. The founding fathers themselves intended to allow states the power to use death penalty. Although it may be cruel enough for those who will be facing it, it was not an unusual recourse for punishment. Supporters of death penalty also see that death penalty is just punishment as it is proportional to the crime committed by the criminals. Since the criminal justice system enables justices and law enforcers to justify the punishments that could be given to every criminal, it should be seen fair that the most serious punishments would be sanctioned to those who have committed the gravest crimes. While some would argue that it is morally inappropriate to sentence someone to death despite the crimes he has committed, it can be refuted that one should not forget the treatment done to the victim before claiming the punishment was done out of pretense.

Another argument used by supporters to vouch for death penalty is the fact that it showcases the will of the people regarding how punishments must be done to society’s worst offenders. Studies have been done, such as that of Alexis Durham, that majority of the public or 95% would call for death penalty for the criminal if the said criminal had committed the most heinous crime in the book. The public, according to the Durham study, also note that if criminals take the lives of innocent people, they forfeit their lives once they are taken by law enforcers. It is also believed by the majority of the public that death penalty is capable of administering control and less costly than life imprisonment. Some would even support death penalty given the crime that the criminal has committed. There is also the unlikely chance of error when death penalty is administered. Supporters firmly argue that the law itself assures criminals that they will not be easily executed upon given just trial and the fact that they cannot be judged based with bias. While there have been chances that capital punishment had been given to innocent people in the past, the current system now makes it impossible to execute the innocent. In the United States, federal courts have the just order to scrutinize all death penalty charges to ensure that the defendant is truly guilty and deserves the punishment given.

Finally, capital punishment through the death penalty is capable of deterring criminals and also providing victims the sense of justice and retribution, fostering the feeling of safety. According to Clear, Cole and Reisig (2008) proponents to the death penalty ensures that the punishment becomes a powerful deterrent to stop criminals from committing violent crimes. In addition to this, death penalty’s retention in any given country is crucial to ensuring safety as levels of committed capital crimes continues to increase each month. They also argue that giving a criminal just a life sentence for their capital crimes, especially if the criminal committed murder or rape, this diminishes the victim’s self-worth. Families would argue that their family or friend died or got harassed without reason. Live victims can also foster feelings of isolation, fear and even self-pity as they may see themselves tarnished and violated. The arguments have also been supported by the argument that there is still a possibility that the offender could still instill fear to the victim even while in incarceration and once he is out through parole. Siegel adds that victims and families tend to experience justice and alleviation from the psychological trauma induced by crimes done to their families especially when the criminal is sentenced to death . It is also noted by scholars such as Walter Berns and Joseph Bessette that the death penalty itself is done in an arbitrary and capricious manner since the time of the Furman case, allowing the criminal justice system of any nation to filter criminals and reserve the punishment to the worst criminals . Abolishment of the death penalty or capital punishment entirely may indeed stress moral sentiments regarding life and the controversies as to how it is given to criminals and effectiveness. It may also be true that there are instances that the death penalty’s methods of killing can be unethical, or unacceptable to the conservatives. However, one must stop and think: why would others see it right to continue with the death penalty given the arguments presented by opponents? Is it just because of the constitution? A moral obligation stated by religion? In a personal perspective, death penalty may have its flaws, especially in how it is done and the arguments that contradict its use. Once one looks further, however, it could be seen that people call for death penalty because it would make them feel safe from the people who have done such morally inacceptable crimes to others. It is also a given that if a person hears a criminal commit something heinous to another, may it be a family member, friend or others, the person can call for the return or the administering of death penalty to the criminal to reinforce justice.

Clear, T., Cole, G., & Reisig, M. (2008). American Corrections. Belmont: Thomson Higher Education. Kronenwetter, M. (2001). Capital Punishment: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. Siegel, L. (2009). Introduction to Criminal Justice. Belmont: Cengage Learning. Walker, I., & Bix, B. (2008). The Death Penalty. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company.


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The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished By Bruce Fein

According to a recent poll made by Pew Research Center and CBS News, approximately 56% of Americans support the death penalty. Bruce Fein, an author and constitutional law expert, is one of the many constitutional law experts in favor of capital punishment. In his article “The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished,” Fein states: “The death penalty is an awesome punishment. It should be applied sparingly to the most egregious and shocking crimes committed by the most unrepentant and callous offenders." The main essence of Fein’s argument embodies ideals that strongly advocate the death penalty. He blatantly suggests that the death penalty should only be used towards offenders who have committed the most inhumane crimes, however, regardless of what the crime is, I believe capital punishment is just as morally heinous as the crime committed itself. …show more content…

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Today, the death penalty is constantly debated about on whether it should be used or not. The death penalty is usually issued to those commit “terrorism, treason, hijacking resulting in the death of a hostage, or the killing of a police[officer] or prison guard acting in the line of duty” (Source D). As source B indicates, opinions on the death penalty are mixed as the percentages of those in favour and of those opposed fluctuate. The death penalty is unjust as a form of punishment for committing a major felony. The death penalty is permanent and is morally wrong.

Marquis Death Penalty

More than two centuries ago, the death penalty was commonplace in the United States, but today it is becoming increasingly rare. In the article “Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?”, Diann Rust-Tierney argues that it should be abolished, and Joshua Marquis argues that it should not be abolished. Although the death penalty is prone to error and discrimination, the death penalty should not be abolished because several studies show that the death penalty has a clear deterrent effect, and we need capital punishment for those certain cases in which a killer is beyond redemption.

Out Of The 50 States, 26 Of Them Have Had At Least One

Out of the 50 states, 26 of them have had at least one death row execution. American people (approximately 65%) say that they are still strong supporters in the Death Penalty. That is over half of the American population, for the Death Penalty. One may argue that it is a horrible way of giving people what they deserve; however, those people may not see the mistakes these people have made, making them not agree with this act. As this may be a contradiction, capital punishments is one of the life learning punishments known. It is legal in many states, but that doesn’t make it fair to all because its blameful, the cost is outrageous, and it’s time that needs to be spent helping, instead of killing.

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A study by Professor Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock of the University of Colorado recently made, found that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective way to stop crime. The study by Lacock

America 's Strategy Of Capital Punishment Essay

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People Sitting On Death Row Tonight

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The Death Penalty In The United States

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According to a Gallup News poll in 2003, around %70 of Americans support the death penalty. More than half of the people that answered in favor for capital punishment are supporting because of revenge. The answers leaned towards reasonings such as, “an eye for an eye,” and the convict deserved death. Other Americans for death penalty believe that getting rid of people that murder in our nation is beneficial.

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Related Topics

  • Capital punishment
  • Death penalty

Death Penalty: Why the Death Penalty Should be Abolished Essay

(yes) nicole smith ­– an argument in favor of capital punishment, (no) stephen nathanson – why we should put the death penalty to rest, my evaluation, my opinions of the arguments, works cited.

The death penalty involves condemning a criminal to death due to a horrendous crime (Roberts-Cady 185). Its existence in the criminal justice system remains is a subject of contention. Stephen Nathanson advances an argument against the death penalty in his article, Why We Should Put the Death Penalty to Rest, by refuting the moral and legal grounds upon which its proponents base their arguments. In a separate article, An Argument in Favor of Capital Punishment, Nicole Smith shows that despite the mounting opposition towards the death penalty, there is reason to keep it in the penal code. These two articles form the core of this essay since its main concern is to determine which one of the two arguments is stronger.

The gist of Nicole Smith’s (Smith par. 1-8) argument is that the death penalty or capital punishment is necessary because it deters murder, thereby saving the victims’ families and friends the pain of losing loved ones. She further argues that in cases where a murder has occurred, the death penalty serves justice to the victim’s loved ones.

Smith’s position on the killing of innocent individuals is apparent. She esteems human life and strongly argues against the killing of innocent individuals. She argues that since victims die and are oblivious of what transpires afterwards, the point of concern is the agony that their loved ones undergo. According to Smith, these people deserve nothing less than retribution. Smith quotes a famous biblical expression, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, to support her argument (par. 2). Since the criminal takes away human life, the only punishment that is commensurate with such an act is to take their life as well. Although she recognizes that the criminal justice system may sometimes err and convict innocent people, she downplays such possibilities on grounds that the error margin is negligible.

Nathanson for his part presents two major arguments in support of his position. Firstly, he argues that the death penalty violates the same values it is supposed to promote (Nathanson 124). For instance, if a criminal receives a death sentence, the only circumstance under which the conviction can be justified, is when the justice system determines beyond any doubt that the convicted individual is the perpetrator of the said crime. Unfortunately, sometimes the system captures and convicts innocent individuals. According to Nathanson (124), the execution of just one innocent individual due to lapses within the justice system contradicts the value of justice.

Secondly, Nathanson refutes the claims that the death penalty preserves human life. Murderers are guilty of killing and so is the justice system when it sentences an individual to death (124). The ideal of respect for human life denies anyone authority over another person’s life under whatever circumstances. Therefore, even if one is guilty of murder, their life is equally important because they are also human. Executing such a person over claims of respect for the life of the victim is inconsistent with the principle of respect for human life.

I esteem ethics and I believe that matters of life and death, such as those presented in these arguments can only be evaluated adequately by the use of relevant ethical theories. The ethical theories that can best evaluate this issue include utilitarianism and Kantian ethics. In utilitarianism, the merit of an action is evaluated by its consequences. From this perspective, Smith’s argument seems plausible because she places emphasis on the effects of murder on the victim’s loved ones. To strengthen the argument further, she adds that it serves the greater good to execute a criminal to avoid the recurrence of murder cases by the same individual. Therefore, if a single individual is executed to save an entire society from pain, suffering, and mayhem such as that caused by serial killers; it is understandable (Berns and Bessette 1).

However, according to Kantian ethics, although it is wrong to kill, executing one person in an attempt to pay for the death of another is not plausible. Executing a criminal to pay for another death is tantamount to assuming that two wrongs can make a right (Gray 257). This assumption does not make sense at all. This position is consistent with Nathanson’s argument that executing a criminal for whatever reason is inconsistent with the belief in the sanctity of life. It is therefore hypocritical to assume that the criminal’s life is of less value in comparison to the victim’s life.

Additionally, the criminal justice system is notorious for some unforgivable lapses that often lead to the incarceration of innocent people (Nathanson 124). Even if only one out of every a thousand convicts is innocent, the system cannot claim to serve justice. The life of that single innocent individual is precious. Moreover, even the 999 who are rightfully convicted do not deserve to die. Their lives are equally important and should be protected by the same system.

While Smith’s argument seems plausible at the superficial level, it is not entirely ethical. It is equally unethical for a criminal to kill an innocent victim, but the idea of punishing murder by death is certainly outdated and has no place in modern society. Human society has advanced in many ways and has abandoned the wisdom of its ancient ancestors, which did not seem to make sense. It would, therefore, be plausible to apply the same standard to the death penalty debate. Even the bible, which is the source of the principle, cautions against it in the second testament. Therefore, using such a principle as the basis for dispensing capital punishment cannot be right by any standards.

Nathanson’s argument is, therefore, more endearing because it shows that no matter the angle of perception, the death penalty remains unreasonable. He points out an important issue in the debate about the death penalty by arguing that both sides cite justice and respect for human life as the values they seek to promote in their arguments. Then he proceeds to show that the death penalty does not serve justice in all cases and is therefore wrong.

He also shows beyond doubt that the death penalty undermines the sanctity of life. Therefore, it’s being part of the penal code allows some unscrupulous individuals to use it for their selfish gain. As such, it should be abolished altogether. Countries that do not have the death penalty, such as Britain have much lower murder cases compared to the U.S. Therefore, proponents of the death penalty, such as Smith, who claims that its removal will cause a rise in murder cases have no ground to make such claims.

In conclusion, both arguments seem to appeal to the sense of reason. However, based on one underlying belief, the distinction can be made as to which argument is more plausible. Although there are circumstances, under which I believe in utilitarianism, in this case, Kantian ethics carry the day. Nathanson’s arguments sound more reasonable to me because I believe that no human being has authority over the life of another whatsoever. Since no element of bias is identifiable in both arguments, my position is that the death penalty should be abolished.

Berns, Walter and Joseph Bessette. “Why the Death Penalty is Fair.” Wall Street Journal , Eastern edition ed.: 1. 1998. ProQuest. Web.

Gray, James P. “Essay: Facing Facts on the Death Penalty.” Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 44.3 (2011): 255-264. Academic Search Complete . Web.

Nathanson, Stephen. “Why We Should Put the Death Penalty to Rest.” Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics 15 (2005): 124.

Roberts-Cady, Sarah. “Against Retributive Justifications of the Death Penalty.” Journal of Social Philosophy 41.2 (2010): 185-193. Academic Search Complete . Web.

Smith, Nicole. An Argument in Favor of Capital Punishment. Article Myriad. 2011. Web.

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Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished

essay on death penalty should not be abolished

Show More Capital Punishments role in America plays a huge part in how America handles offenders and repeat offenders. Staticbrain.com reports that Time magazine says,” An estimated 2,000,000 people have been victims of crimes, from assault to murder. With insufficient laws to address these issues, criminals become careless and bolder. For this reason, there is a need for a death penalty.” Capital punishment, should not be abolished because, it takes committing a heinous act to receive the death penalty. Not to mention it offers closure to the families involved, along with being a deterrent to crime. Committing a heinous crime, whether premeditated or not; such a treason, terrorism, or murder, are just a few crimes that will be given the death …show more content… “Emory University researchers, including Paul Rubin, said, “The national sorting of crime rates each execution prevented 18 deaths.” That is 18 lives saved due to capital punishment. However, there are several why reasons the death penalty could be abolished. Comparatively, the death penalty is considered an unjust act towards humanity. That “an eye for an eye” isn’t necessarily the right way to handle such heinous crimes. Whereas most of the United States feel as though life without parole would be the best option for these criminals. An article from the ACLU website states, “No one sentenced to life without parole has ever been released on parole. Prisoners sentenced to LWOP actually stay in prison until they die.” Statics show that one of the biggest reasons the death penalty should be abolished is because of the amount of money spent to execute a person. An article written in the Denver post states that “Between 1977-2002, 250 million dollars was spent to carry out the sentences of 11 prisoners executed in California.” Additionally, this is such a substantial amount of money that could have been spent on government jail programs or put towards other safety …show more content… As statistics, have shown, it does cost an obscene amount of money to execute a person, however it can help save innocent lives, and there isn’t a price that can be put on that. In closing, if someone has committed a heinous crime and is given the death penalty it should be required for them to see it through. As mentioned earlier, this will allow the family to have closure and potentially deter future offenders. Capital punishment very well could solve more problems than originally

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Home — Essay Samples — Social Issues — Death Penalty — Should the Death Penalty be Abolished


Should The Death Penalty Be Abolished

  • Categories: Corporal Punishment Death Penalty

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Words: 967 |

Updated: 13 November, 2023

Words: 967 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

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Capital punishment,Prison,Lethal injection,Crime,Murder,Death penalty

Death Penalty Essay: Hook Examples

  • A Startling Statistic: Did you know that in the last decade, over 170 countries have abolished the death penalty or no longer practice it? It’s time for us to question why we haven’t joined this global trend.
  • A Personal Story: As I stood witness to an execution, I couldn’t help but wonder if this act of state-sanctioned killing truly serves justice. Let me share my experience that led me to believe the death penalty should be abolished.
  • An Ethical Dilemma: When we look into the eyes of a society that condemns murder but practices it in return, we confront a moral paradox. Is it time for us to reevaluate our stance on the death penalty?
  • A Historical Perspective: Throughout history, societies have evolved, discarding practices that no longer align with their values. Is it not time for us to evolve beyond the death penalty, which has roots in a less enlightened era?
  • An Expert Opinion: Renowned legal scholar Bryan Stevenson once said, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; it’s justice.” Let’s explore why abolishing the death penalty is a crucial step toward achieving true justice in our society.
  • Radelet, M. L., & Borg, M. J. (2000). The changing nature of death penalty debates. Annual Review of Sociology, 26(1), 43-61. (https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.43)
  • Hood, R. (2009). Abolition of the death penalty: China in world perspective. City UHKL Rev., 1, 1. (https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/ciunhok1&div=3&id=&page=)
  • Bedau, H. A., & Cassell, P. G. (Eds.). (2005). Debating the death penalty: Should America have capital punishment? The experts on both sides make their case. Oxford University Press. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/14624745070090030505)
  • Koenig, T. H., & Rustad, M. L. (2011). Deciding Whether the Death Penalty Should Be Abolished. Suffolk University Law Review, 44, 193. (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1673468)
  • Mathias, M. D. (2013). The sacralization of the individual: Human rights and the abolition of the death penalty. American Journal of Sociology, 118(5), 1246-1283 (https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/669507)

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essay on death penalty should not be abolished

Why the Death Penalty should be Abolished

This essay about the death penalty argues for its abolition based on several compelling reasons. It highlights the irreversible and fallible nature of capital punishment, its disproportionate impact on minority and economically disadvantaged groups, and the lack of evidence supporting its deterrence effect. Additionally, the essay critiques the moral and financial costs associated with the death penalty. It advocates for a justice system focused on rehabilitation and human dignity rather than retributive measures.

How it works

The death penalty, a contentious and deeply ingrained aspect of legal systems around the world, has been the subject of fierce debate for centuries. Advocates argue that it serves as a deterrent against heinous crimes and offers justice to victims and their families. However, despite these arguments, the death penalty remains a flawed and morally questionable practice that should be abolished for several reasons.

First and foremost, the irreversible nature of the death penalty is inherently problematic. Once a person is executed, there is no way to reverse the decision if new evidence emerges that proves their innocence.

The fallibility of the justice system means that wrongful convictions occur more often than we would like to admit. According to the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing, over 370 people in the United States alone have been exonerated after serving time on death row since 1973. These cases highlight the terrifying reality that innocent people can and have been sentenced to death. The irreversible nature of the death penalty makes it an unacceptable risk in a justice system that is prone to error.

Furthermore, the death penalty is often applied disproportionately along racial and socioeconomic lines. Numerous studies have shown that race plays a significant role in determining who receives the death penalty, with African Americans disproportionately represented on death row. This racial bias reflects broader systemic inequalities within the criminal justice system, where minority communities are disproportionately targeted and disadvantaged at every stage, from arrest to sentencing. Additionally, individuals from marginalized backgrounds who cannot afford competent legal representation are more likely to receive the death penalty than those who can. This unequal application of justice undermines the principles of fairness and equality that are supposed to underpin our legal system.

Moreover, the death penalty fails to serve its purported purpose as a deterrent to crime. Despite the severity of the punishment, there is little evidence to suggest that it has a significant impact on crime rates. In fact, studies have shown that states without the death penalty often have lower murder rates than those that retain it. This suggests that factors such as socioeconomic conditions, access to education and healthcare, and effective law enforcement play a far more significant role in deterring crime than the threat of capital punishment. By focusing on the death penalty as a solution to crime, we divert attention and resources away from addressing the root causes of criminal behavior.

Additionally, the death penalty is morally indefensible in a society that values human rights and dignity. The intentional taking of a human life, even in the name of justice, is fundamentally at odds with the principle that every individual has inherent worth and deserves the opportunity for rehabilitation and redemption. By executing individuals, we perpetuate a cycle of violence and vengeance that does nothing to heal the wounds of victims or society as a whole. Instead, we should focus on promoting alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative justice programs, that prioritize rehabilitation, accountability, and reconciliation over punishment and retribution.

Furthermore, the financial cost of maintaining the death penalty is staggering. Contrary to popular belief, the death penalty is often more expensive than life imprisonment due to the lengthy and complex legal processes involved in capital cases. These costs include not only the expenses associated with trials and appeals but also the long-term costs of housing death row inmates and maintaining the infrastructure necessary for executions. In a time when governments are facing increasing pressure to allocate resources efficiently and effectively, the exorbitant cost of the death penalty is simply unjustifiable.

In conclusion, the death penalty is a deeply flawed and morally bankrupt practice that has no place in a just and humane society. Its irreversible nature, disproportionate application, lack of deterrent effect, moral implications, and financial costs all serve as compelling reasons for its abolition. Instead of clinging to outdated and barbaric forms of punishment, we should work towards creating a justice system that prioritizes rehabilitation, fairness, and human dignity for all. Abolishing the death penalty is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a necessary step towards building a more just and equitable society for future generations.


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    Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished Essay. Death penalty or capital punishment is the form of punishment, which involves execution of criminals who commit capital crimes. Execution is achieved through means such as electrocution, hanging, lethal injections etc. (Hood 36). Capital crimes vary according to various jurisdictions.

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  7. Capital punishment

    By the mid-1960s some 25 countries had abolished the death penalty for murder, though only about half of them also had abolished it for offenses against the state or the military code. For example, Britain abolished capital punishment for murder in 1965, but treason, piracy, and military crimes remained capital offenses until 1998.

  8. ‌The End of the Death Penalty?

    Feb 14, 2023. By Elaine McArdle. More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty was an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. With that, 629 people on death row nationwide had their capital sentences commuted, and the death penalty disappeared ...

  9. PDF The Death Penalty V. Human Rights: Why Abolish the Death Penalty?

    The death penalty is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. The state can exercise no greater power over a person than that of deliberately depriving him or her of life. At the heart of the case for abolition, therefore, is the question of whether the state has the right to do so.

  10. Sould the Death Penalty be Abolished?

    Definition. Death penalty refers to the termination of criminals' lives after facing criminal charges to prove that they committed capital offenses (Goodheart 2011). Many nations had adopted this policy but they are now reconsidering to abolish it because of the controversies surrounding its application.

  11. Is the Death Penalty Justified or Should It Be Abolished?

    *Updated 2022 Throughout history, societies around the world have used the death penalty as a way to punish the most heinous crimes. While capital punishment is still practiced today, many countries have since abolished it. In fact, in 2019, California's governor put a moratorium on the death penalty, stopping it indefinitely.In early 2022, he took further steps and ordered the dismantling ...

  12. The Death Penalty should not be Abolished by Bruce Fein

    Essay Example: The debate over the death penalty is one that stirs deep emotions and sparks intense discussions across societies. Advocates on both sides passionately argue their positions, with proponents of abolition highlighting concerns about human rights, justice, and the fallibility of ... The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished By ...

  13. Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished Because Innocent People May Be

    "A majority of Americans have concerns about the fairness of the death penalty and whether it serves as a deterrent against serious crime. More than half of U.S. adults (56%) say Black people are more likely than White people to be sentenced to death for committing similar crimes.

  14. Rethinking Justice: why the Death Penalty should be Abolished

    Essay Example: The death penalty has always been a hot-button issue, sparking debates that cut deep into our moral and ethical fibers. But as society evolves, so too should our justice system. ... The Death Penalty should not be Abolished by Bruce Fein Pages: (620 words) Pros and Cons of Death Penalty: Reasons, Arguments and Case Studies Pages ...

  15. Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished

    461 Words. 2 Pages. Open Document. The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished, written by Bruce Fein, is about Fein's viewpoints and arguments that death penalty abolitionists are unpersuasive and do not stand up to close scrutiny. He also points out that some crimes are so morally abhorrent and despicable that only the death penalty is ...

  16. Abolishing The Death Penalty: a Persuasive Call for Justice

    Many states have abolished the death penalty and have resorted to life sentences, which would be more humanely correct. What other reasons would it take to completely prove with facts that taking someone's life is completely unacceptable, especially by a governing body. There are many examples stated in the reading of why the death penalty has ...

  17. Why The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished Essay Examples

    The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished. It comes to no surprise that the issue of the death penalty continues to remain in social forums and even in legislative debates as the punishment continues to reign in several parts of the globe. Debates would often range from the alternative punishments that would not constitute to killing to the ...

  18. The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished By Bruce Fein

    In his article "The Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished," Fein states: "The death penalty is an awesome punishment. It should be applied sparingly to the most egregious and shocking crimes committed by the most unrepentant and callous offenders." The main essence of Fein's argument embodies ideals that strongly advocate the death penalty.

  19. Death Penalty: Why the Death Penalty Should be Abolished Essay

    The gist of Nicole Smith's (Smith par. 1-8) argument is that the death penalty or capital punishment is necessary because it deters murder, thereby saving the victims' families and friends the pain of losing loved ones. She further argues that in cases where a murder has occurred, the death penalty serves justice to the victim's loved ones.

  20. Death Penalty Should Not Be Abolished

    Statics show that one of the biggest reasons the death penalty should be abolished is because of the amount of money spent to execute a person. An article written in the Denver post states that "Between 1977-2002, 250 million dollars was spent to carry out the sentences of 11 prisoners executed in California.".

  21. Should The Death Penalty Be Abolished

    Death penalty should be abolished. This essay shows many arguments against death penalty and concludes that abolishing the death penalty is the right choice because it will send a deeper meaning telling people that death is not a way to resolve the issue. There is always another way to save someone's life. Terminating the death penalty is one ...

  22. Death penalty should be abolished : an ongoing debate

    In 2007, the United Nations proposed to all of its member countries that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes.India, as well as a number of other countries, including the United States, have rejected this plan. In 2003, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty declared October 10th to be International Day Against the Death Penalty.The European Union, the United Nations, and ...

  23. Why the Death Penalty should be Abolished

    Essay Example: The death penalty, a contentious and deeply ingrained aspect of legal systems around the world, has been the subject of fierce debate for centuries. Advocates argue that it serves as a deterrent against heinous crimes and offers justice to victims and their families. ... The Death Penalty should not be Abolished by Bruce Fein ...