Should capital punishment be legal?

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Reserved for only the most heinous crimes, capital punishment has been used for as long as there have been justice systems for retribution as well as deterrence. But does it actually work? What happens if we make a mistake about an execution? Do some crimes warrant this ultimate punishment or could alternatives be more just?

By capital punishment we mean government sanctioned punishment by death. Crimes that can result in capital punishment are called capital crimes.

Arguments for[edit]

  • For the family and friends of a murder victim, the suffering of losing a loved one may never end. However, for some, the execution of the murderer provides a kind of closure that allows them to move on. For them, justice will never be served until the murderer is put to death.
    • There are a lot of people who would want the death penalty for a lot of other crimes (e.g. for child molesters) for similar reasons. There is probably someone who feels the same way about a (relatively) trivial crime. Let's say someone burns the car of another person and that person really liked that car. The suffering of losing the car may never end. However, for him, the execution of the arsonist provides a kind of closure that allows him to move on. For him, justice will never be served until the arsonist is put to death. Should then the arsonist be punished by death? Justice is not about just following the victims' wishes whatever they are.
    • This is a false assumption. Research shows that it isn't death penalty, but more likely the efficiency of the legal process, that provides closure to the victims loved ones.[1]
  • The justice system attempts to punish proportionally to the crime. If death penalty is not an option, then murder will probably be met with life prison. But there are other crimes that are met with life prison, like severely hurting someone. So if the punishment can't get any worse, what would stop criminals from delivering that final blow and killing it's victim? If only to prevent that final blow, death penalty should be an option.
    • There can be worse crimes than killing someone, for example killing more than one person, or torturing before killing. If the punishment can't get any worse, what would stop criminals from killing other victims after the first one, or torturing before killing?
  • Death penalty is the ultimate warning. If citizens know that premeditated murder can lead them to death, they are much less likely to commit it.
    • Death penalty has been with us for almost as long as murder. If its goal is to dissuade people from premeditated murder, then it isn't working. Some countries with capital punishment have a high murder rate, while other countries without it have a low murder rate. If anything helps to prevent murders, it isn't the fear of capital punishment.
    • Death penalty isn't the ultimate warning. Torture followed by death would be a much stronger warning. Should we torture criminals before killing them, then?

Arguments against[edit]

  • If punishment is meant to rehabilitate criminals, then death penalty can never be an option, simply because dead people can't learn.
    • And why should the goal of punishment always be to rehabilitate criminals? It may be the goal for some punishments, even most, but not necessarily all. Premeditated murder is one of the most severe crimes one can commit, the motivations for its punishment need not be the same as for petty theft or other less severe crimes.
      • What other valid goals are there? The death penalty does not work as a deterrent, and the goal ought not be to simply indulge the feelings of a victim's loved ones.
  • The right to life is a fundamental human right (Article 3 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Defending this right by executing murderers is hypocritical and even contradictory.
    • This is a moral debate, not a legal one. Your argument is akin to saying that premeditated murder should be punished by death in Texas because their constitution says so. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, like every other legal document, is based on moral arguments. If arguing shows that premeditated murder should be punished by death, then the declaration may need amendment. The fact that some people at some point in history reached the conclusion that the right to life is inalienable, doesn't imply that they couldn't have been mistaken, just like so many other authors of legal documents have been throughout history.
  • Life in prison is sufficient punishment for any crime. Death is unnecessary and excessive. Death may even be a relief for many murderers who lived a terrible life outside prison, and an even worse one inside prison.

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