Capital punishment, better known as the death penalty, is the act of killing or executing a person who was found guilty of a serious crime, by the government. Capital punishment became widespread during the Middle Ages and was applied throughout Western Europe for more than two thousand years. Although, the call to abolish it started in the 18th century, some of the first countries being Venezuela in 1863, San Marino in 1865, and Costa Rica in 1877. Great Britain abolished the death penalty in 1965 and was permanently outlawed in 1969.
By 2004, eighty-one countries had abolished capital punishment, but some countries in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia still use it for ordinary crimes. At present day, China and the United States apply the death penalty more frequently than other countries. Executions are considered the ultimate punishment for crime because there is no repeal from death, however; the debate whether it is justifiable is still widely disputed. First and foremost, the most significant argument against the death penalty is the risk of executing the innocent.
This is because some defendants have been convicted purely based on circumstantial evidence, false eyewitness testimony, and false confessions as a result of pressurising police interrogations. Furthermore, the courts assume that public defenders who have experience only in insurance and bank fraud type cases could handle capital cases and thus defendants on trial for murder receive poor legal council. Two Justices on the United States Supreme Court publicly admitted on the pervasive inadequacy of appointed counsel in capital cases.
Those who are unable to obtain adequate legal assistance are therefore at a disadvantage as explained by Hugo Bedau and Paul Cassel in their debate against the death penalty in 2004. The pair said, “Support for capital punishment necessarily means accepting a punishment that is applied unequally and that largely condemns poor and disfavored defendants”. Public defenders are also under paid and over worked. As a consequence, over eighty percent of inmates with a death sentence were tried, convicted and sentenced to death with a public defender whose compensation was at a mere $1,000.
Thus, public defenders tend to avoid spending the necessary amount of time on a capital case to effectively defend the defendant. Bedau and Cassel concluded “Death sentences are imposed in a criminal justice system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. ” Moreover, it is argued that capital punishment may violate Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishments. It is cruel because it is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace.
Like those barbaric practices, it can be argued executions have no place in a civilized society. It is unusual because only the United States of all the western industrialized nations engages in this punishment. It is also unusual because only a random sampling of convicted murderers in the United States receive a sentence of death. There are also a number of moral arguments against the death penalty. Abolitionists believe in the value and respect of human life.
Others believe that the state has no right to kill any of its prisoners, as the life of the criminal cannot compensate for the crime committed. Finally, some see the death penalty as an affront to human dignity and a violation of the offender’s right to live. Nevertheless, there are arguments in favor of capital punishment. When answering a survey about the justification of capital punishment in 2010, sixty-five percent of Americans responded in favour of the death penalty.
This is because many hope that it has a deterrent affect to prevent other people from committing serious crimes. However, this is a controversial argument as there have not been any noticeable decreases in homicide rates with the death penalty in use. Although, the evidence is inconclusive if the death penalty deters or fails to deter people from committing murder. Bedau and Cassel wrote in their 2004 debate, “Imagine that every time someone intentionally killed an innocent person he was immediately struck down by lightening”.
That would be a deterrent affect for murders, but is purely wishful thinking. Retribution is also in favour of capital punishment as it states when a person intentionally kills another person, that person deserves the death penalty. In their debate, Bedau and Cassel wrote “Intentionally taking the life of an innocent human being is so evil that absent mitigating circumstances, the perpetrator forfeits his own right to life”. Retribution is not revenge, but the theory that the murderer deserves punishment for the gravity of the crime they have committed.
Furthermore, it is suggested that the death penalty saves innocent lives by preventing the convicted killers from killing again. A recent study in the United States reveals out of 52,000 prison inmates serving the time for murder, 810 previously convicted of murder had killed 821 persons following their convictions. Therefore there is no question of the possibility of a killer killing again and if these killers were executed after their first conviction, over 800 lives would have been saved.