The Death Penalty: Right or Wrong?

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The death penalty has been a controversial topic throughout the years and now more than ever, as we argue; Right or Wrong? Moral or Immoral? Constitutional or Unconstitutional? The death penalty also known as capital punishment is a legal process where the state justice sentences an individual to be executed as punishment for a crime committed. The death penalty sentence strongly depends on the severity of the crime, in the US there are 41 crimes that can lead to being punishable by the death penalty.

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These 41 crimes always involve murder, high protected social class human beings, or children.

There are many ways a person can be executed, in 2018 today the most commonly used way to execute a criminal is known as the lethal injection, that when injected, it immediately paralyzes all parts of the body, including the heart causing the inmate to rapidly die. As to back then, during the 19th century and way before, the most used execution method was firing squad and hanging. A firing squad is a group of soldiers who are ordered to kill an individual that has been condemned. Hanging was also common, where the inmate was hung in front of the community celebrating that a criminal’s time to pay for their crime has finally arrived. Others ways people are executed includes electrocution; electric shock passing through the body till they die. Also gas chamber, a room filled with poisonous gas to kill the criminal. The death penalty originated back in the 18th Century BC in Britain, which influenced America to do the same. America’s first execution was in Virginia in 1608; George Kendall, who executed for being a spy for Spain.

Kendall was executed by firing squad, which was one of the early methods of capital punishment. Since Kendall 1608 to present, there has been on average 15,975 executions in the US. According to the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL) only 30 states out of the 50 allow the death penalty, New Jersey has not been one of them since 1965. In addition to New Jersey, recently “New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012) and Maryland (2013) have legislatively abolished the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility for parole” (). It is said that the state with the highest execution right now is Texas. In accordance with the death penalty, there are people who are for it and people who are against it. There are many reasons that follow to people supporting the death penalty, especially when it comes to those with religious beliefs. the criminal raped and brutally murder a young girl, therefore he deserves to die as well. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-48). Meaning, for example, the criminal raped and brutally murder a young girl, therefore he deserves to die as well. People should suffer accordingly for their wrongdoings whether it means facing the consequences of death. All in all, in the bible God honors the death penalty, it overall states if one has committed a crime worthy of death then one deserves to die. In an ethical point of view, when it comes to criminal justice, those for the death penalty base it on utilitarianism. Those who believe in utilitarianism, believe this notion that action is right if it benefits the majority of the people. That is, “because the system works for most citizens, we can tolerate it when a small number of citizens are convicted.

Essentially, this is the price we are willing to pay to maintain our adversarial ‘trial by combat’ justice system” (Gabbidon & Greene, 2016, p. 232). If an offender is sentenced to death then that keeps one less criminal off the streets and from being able to potentially get out of prison on parole. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “At least 95% of all state prisoners will be released from prison at some point; nearly 80% will be released to parole supervision” (Hughes & Wilson). Studies show some people are born to be criminals, they are naturally sick, and once a criminal has served over more than half of their life in prison, they’ll realize they have nothing to lose if reoffending again. In addition to prison, many people think a prison is a terrible place, where criminals will regret their wrongdoing and pay. In reality, there are prisoners out there right now living a better life than us right now.

In states like California, criminals are allowed to pay for an upgrade to their jail cell. Offender Alan Wurtzel was one of them, where on a second date with a woman (Carole Markin) he followed her inside her house and raped her. For $100 a night, “he was permitted by the court to avoid county jail entirely. He did his time in Seal Beach’s small city jail, with amenities that included flat-screen TVs, a computer room and new beds. He served six months, at a cost of $18,250, according to jail records” (Veith 2017). Not only did Wurtzel get out in less time than his actual sentence, but he was in jail living just like a freeman would, perhaps even better. It is not fair that these people are given the chance to live and are provided with housing, meals, clothes, education, and counseling. An analysis by the Marshall Project, conducted that “more than 3,500 people who served time in Southern California’s pay-to-stay programs from 2011 through 2015 found more than 160 participants who had been convicted of serious crimes including assault, robbery, domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography” (The Marshall Project).

Now more than ever, money is buying the criminal justice system, it is not about the crime you committed, it’s about the amount of money you have to justify the crime you committed. Justice is never justice, you can be a felon and be walking out of court with no charges the next day. When it comes to the death penalty, society has a moral obligation to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens. Felons threaten this safety and welfare and only by putting murders to death can ensure that convicted killers will not kill again. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), it has been reported that “About 68 percent of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of their release from prison, and 77 percent were arrested within five years” (Slifer, 2014). Many believe “once a criminal always a criminal,’ just because a person went to prison for a period amount of time does not mean that when they come out they won’t go right back to their criminal ways.

Prison makes an offender worst and more aggressive from the things they see while they’re in there. Prison emotionally numbs offenders, “If you are hardened in the beginning then you become even harder, you become even colder,” said an inmate himself, (Jarett 2018). Like there are many reasons to support the death penalty, there are many reasons to be against it, one primarily being, wrongful convictions. Studies show, “4.1 percent or approximately twice the number actually exonerated and set free from death row. This could mean that approximately 120 of the roughly 3,000 inmates on death row in America might not be guilty, while additional scores of wrongfully convicted inmates are serving life in prison after their death sentences were reduced over technical legal errors” (Von Drehle, 2014). If the death penalty is allowed and an innocent person is killed, then nothing can be done to make a difference.

Yes, the criminal justice system might try to help the family of the innocent person, but nothing they do would bring that person back. In addition, Death-row prisoners in the U.S. typically “spend more than a decade awaiting execution. Some prisoners have been on death row for well over 20 years” This means the victims families have to wait a significant amount of time before they can even receive closure for their loved one. David Christopher Baldus was a professor of law at the University of Iowa, who spent years of his life researching the death penalty, “looking at this dynamic nationally over a 370- year period (1608- 1978), only 30 Whites in the United States have been executed for killing African Americans” (Gabbidon & Greene, 2016, p. 214). Baldus studies also concluded that Black offenders were more likely to receive sentences if they victimized a white person. This study also from that from the 1930s to 1970s, 405 Blacks were executed for rape, while on 48 Whites were during that same time period. Racial minorities are overly represented in statistics in Georgia as it was concluded that those charged with killing Whites, “were 4.3 times more likely to receive a death sentence in Georgia as defendants charged with killing Blacks, and that Black defendants were 1.1 times as likely to receive a death sentence as other defendants” (McCleskey v. Kemp, 1987, p. 1).

These statistics were based off a very important case, (McCleskey v. Kemp), during 1987 taken to the Supreme Court that challenged that the death penalty was based on racial discrimination. This case stated this notion that, how can the death penalty exist when the 14th Amendment states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”US Const. amend. XIV, sec. 1). And statistics clearly show that the death penalty is not applied equally to United States citizens. For this same reason is that many believe the death penalty is unconstitutional and uncivil. Many people believe that humans deserve a second chance at life, with the death penalty, we are not allowing for a person to change their ways and re-enter society with a different mindset. Not only that but who are we to decide who should die and who shouldn’t. Oscar Wilde, a very famous poet, once said “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future (Branson, 2015).

No one is innocent in this world and everyone has done or will do something that is not in accordance with the law, just because we don’t get held seriously accountable for it doesn’t mean we aren’t sinners, and yet look at us still here living freely on a daily basis. So why shouldn’t offenders get a second chance when we surely do every day? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that “In a civilized society, we reject the principle of literally doing to criminals what they do to their victims: The penalty for rape cannot be rape, or for arson, the burning down of the arsonist’s house. We should not, therefore, punish the murderer with death… Capital punishment is a barbaric remnant of uncivilized society” The death penalty teaches society nothing good, meaning that because an offender killed his victim, that means we should kill him too? What if the victim’s family were to take justice in their own hands and kill the offender because they killed their loved one. Technically, they can’t be held against because society teaches them harsh crime is paid with death and either way the system was going to kill him anyway. If you think a criminal trial is expensive, you can’t even imagine a death penalty trial. “Cases without the death penalty cost $740,000, while cases, where the death penalty is sought, cost $1.26 million,” and it’s us taxpayers that pay for this.

All this money being spent on death penalty cases is money that can be spent recurring more police officers to reduce local crimes, more towards education and helping those kids with materials they can’t afford and more after-school programs to keep these young kids off the streets. This money can also go to public health since a lot of people are dying from the little resources they receive when sick because they don’t make a lot of money. “Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population” Imagine using that money to better the community and it becomes effective at reducing crime. In an ethical point of view, the death penalty, in reality, does not deter crime. If only 50 criminals out of 18,000 are executed then it wouldn’t make a difference. In order to catch the attention of others, the number would have to be bigger and they would actually have to see the execution happen. Here comes determinism, with this notion that every event has a prior cause, meaning nobody killed a person just because, there had to be a reason, so no criminal could not be held responsible. When addressing determinism, “there is only one physically possible future consistent with the past and the laws of nature. Causal determinism touches the criminal law, because it implies that it is physically impossible for an offender not to offend in the precise way and at the precise time that she does” (Moore, 2016).

We do not have free will, therefore we cannot be held morally responsible for our actions. With Determinism there is only one possible nonrandom outcome of choice, depending on where the person comes from whether environment, culture, past/ presence, what runs in the family. “Advances in technology suggest that it may someday be possible, perhaps sooner rather than later, ‘to work’ with a human person, and, without killing the human being or causing the human being pain, do away with the person the human being was make a new person for that human being” (Kelly & Schedler, 1978). All in all, with this research paper I have came to the conclusion that I am personally against the death penalty. I strongly feel that the death penalty is discriminatory and its fails to demonstrate any deterrent effect.

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The death penalty: Right or Wrong?. (2020, Feb 10). Retrieved from