Should capital punishment be legal?

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Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a government-sanctioned practice whereby a person is killed by the state as a punishment for a crime. The sentence that someone be punished in such a manner is referred to as a death sentence, whereas the act of carrying out the sentence is known as an execution. Crimes that are punishable by death are known as capital crimes, capital offences or capital felonies.

Currently, the legal status of capital punishment varies by region. Should it be legal? Under what circumstances?

Capital punishment should be legal in case of murder[edit | edit source]

Arguments for[edit | edit source]

  • Argument for Life in prison is arguably no more humane, but harder and more expensive to implement.
  • Argument for 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.
    • Objection There are a lot of people who would want the death penalty for a lot of other crimes, even (relatively) trivial crimes. Justice is not about just following the victims' wishes.
    • Objection This is a false assumption. It isn't the death penalty, but more likely the efficiency of the legal process, that provides closure to the victims loved ones.[1]
  • Argument for The justice system attempts to punish proportionally to the crime. If the 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 its victim? If only to prevent that final blow, the death penalty should be an option.
    • Objection 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?
    • Objection Murder is often committed in the heat of the moment, so having the penalty be death or life in prison won't make a difference.
  • Argument for 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.
    • Objection The 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.
      • Objection The causal relationship is not clear just by what you've written. Perhaps those nations believe capital punishment is necessary because they have a high murder rate.
    • Objection The 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?
  • Argument for Keeping murderers in prison for life is very expensive. It isn't fair that citizens are forced to pay for their maintenance if they aren't providing any useful service.
    • Objection Prisoners can provide useful services from prison and thus pay for themselves.

Arguments against[edit | edit source]

  • Argument against If punishment is meant to rehabilitate criminals, then the death penalty can't be an option, simply because dead people can't learn!
    • Objection They can't murder anyone in cold blood either.
    • Objection 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.
      • Objection What other valid goals are there? The death penalty doesn't work as a deterrent, and the goal ought not to be to simply indulge the feelings of a victim's loved ones.
  • Argument against 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.
    • Objection 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.
  • Argument against 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 the prison.
  • Argument against Capital punishment is expensive and thus a huge financial burden to the taxpayers due to the extensive legal process required. In the US it currently costs more to execute someone that to put it in jail for life.[2]
    • Objection This is issue is not inherent to capital punishment per se.
  • Argument against Capital punishment is irreversible. Both judge and jury are people, and it's inevitable for people to make mistakes. If someone is wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison and later found innocent, he or she could still be released and properly compensated.
    • Objection It is impossible to compensate people for time lost and other hardships they experienced from the legal process. People do make mistakes, but this should not undermine pragmatic means of addressing intractable anti-social behavior like premeditated homicide. Someone guilty of premeditated murder (especially more than one instance) may be a danger to other prisoners being kept for less serious offenses. Putting them in long-term solitary confinement is inhumane and unlikely to improve their disposition.
  • Argument against Even accepting that capital punishment is morally and / or ethically appropriate, the government is prone to errors and fallible and we shouldn't let it decide who lives and who dies.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  2. "GDP Growth & Recessions". The Balance. Retrieved 2022-08-16.