An Analysis of the Pros and Cons of Death Penalty in the United States

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Several problems exist in society today, and we are doing everything we could to correct these complications and to possibly diminish them. Some are as minor as traffic violations, and some are as serious as deaths. Many innocent lives are being taken due to the careless and unforgivable acts of a few people. Something has to be done to stop this from happening. In other words, we, as society, need to play our part in preventing these nightmares and tragedies from taking place. This is where capital punishment, which Webster’s School and Office Dictionary defines as “punishment by death for a crime; the death penalty,” can play a crucial role (p 125). The death penalty is a form of punishment that, when applied in the correct context, is morally and ethically justified by the philosophies that shape our society. If capital punishment was legalized in all fifty states and was carried out more frequently, our country’s problems would significantly decrease. Family and friends of the victim would feel better knowing that the punishment of the criminal would fit the crime, and less innocent lives would be taken as well (Roark 58). We are not the first civilization to invoke the death penalty. Both Biblically and historically, the death penalty was found to be an effective method to end the criminal acts of convicted offenders. For instance, in ancient Israel, it was socially acceptable to throw stones at an adulterous woman until she died from the injuries (New Oxford Annotated Bible 563-OT).

In the colonial periods of our great nation and even in more modern circumstances worldwide, treason is a crime punishable by death. In recent times, the culture of the United States has become more humane in its methods of execution. No longer will crowds of townspeople gather at the square to witness the hanging of thieves and murderers. Instead, the United States has opted to do away with any punishment viewed by the citizens and by the Supreme Court as violating the Eighth Amendment (Lowi and Ginsberg A20) This guarantees every citizens protection from what the courts perceive as “cruel and unusual punishment” (Constitution of the United States, 1791). It is important to note that the 74 men and women that were put to death in the United States in 1997 were not killed in such a way that could further detract from there, or their families dignity (U. S. Government: Bureau of Justice Statistics December 1998) The methods of execution to be used are delegated by each individual state. Of all the possible alternatives, only three are found humane in most of the United States (Bureau of Justice). These are the lethal injection, the gas chamber, and the electric chair. None of these are considered to be, by many, more painful or dehumanizing than the next. Some people still choose to oppose these methods too, citing that all form of the death penalty are “cruel and unusual”. Such was the case when the Supreme Court decided against its invocation in the case of Furman vs. Georgia in June of 1972 (Hood 47). (Due to the court’s decision in this case, many death sentences given prior to 1972 were reopened. Also, all state and federal laws prescribing the death penalty were thrown out (Knowenwetter 88).)

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Others who choose to oppose the death penalty base their arguments on the fact that they believe that life, in itself, is a commodity worth preserving despite the circumstances of the crime. This theory may be valid in a very abstract manner, but only as long as that abstraction perpetuates. Even the most devout believer in the “Sanctity of Life” is sure to consider the options when the victim of some heinous crime is a sibling, a child, or a parent. Retribution for such crimes at the hands of some monster is sure to be demanded swiftly by the public as well as the grieving family enduring the loss. Such retribution can also have a second purpose. Davis notes that the death penalty, like no other form of punishment of those humanely available, has the ability to deter potential criminals from committing such horrible acts (9-13) Any criminal, whether or not he is a reasonable man, will consider his options when the consequence of his actions may lead to his own finality. A finality within itself can be considered yet another positive bi product of the application of modern methods of capital punishment. This is ultimately the fact that a dead murderer will never be given the opportunity to kill another innocent human being. In fact, there is no case to date where a killer that has been put to death has ever committed another crime of any degree (Leiser 222-230) The death penalty, as a form of justifiable incapacitation, is met with no significant opposing argument.

For decades the philosophical debate over whether or not the death penalty is justifiable has been a controversy amongst lawyers, authors, philosophers and religious spokespeople. Numbers of books and articles have been written about the subject and its relevance to society. Movies have been made about the issue. Dead Man Walking is the most recent film concerning the issue. This was based on Sr. Prejean’s novel of the same name. The most difficult points in the debate are that both sides are strongly supported by valid philosophical and ethical claims. Even more problematic is the idea that each individual case has to be treated subjectively, without allusion to the events that have occurred outside of the case context. This makes each and every case context specific meaning that once the circumstances are brought to question, the debate begins once again from the beginning.

Capital punishment is one of the most controversial topics of the world today. Many people feel very strongly about their opinions and will express themselves any way they can in order to prove a point. Often times though, people may even change their beliefs after hearing the opposing argument. They may learn information they never were aware of, which could change their whole perspective on the topic. These controversies could really be used as valuable lessons to teach people how to listen to the opposing arguments and then make a decision on what they believe. Sometimes it just takes listening to other people’s points of view and maybe a little research to make valuable judgments and decisions that could really affect society.

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An Analysis of the Pros and Cons of Death Penalty in the United States. (2022, Jun 10). Retrieved from

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