Death is considered the most extreme form of punishment that a criminal can be subjected to. Executing of transgressors is referred to as capital punishment. The use capital punishment has been a center for debate in the society. Some people support capital punishment while others are opposed to it. Opposers of capital punishment feel that it degrades human dignity due to its barbaric nature. Others argue that capital punishment poses great risk of killing an innocent person. In the United States, opposers of capital punishment feel that authorities do not apply the death penalty. They claim that more African Americans are subjected to capital punishment as opposed to whites who commit similar offenses (Iveren, 2011).
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Conversely, supporters of capital punishment claim that it is a unique and the most effective form of punishment for people who commit violent crimes. Some argue that capital punishment is the best for those who kill because it is the only fitting form of vengeance for a person who takes another’s life. Some people support capital punishment on grounds that it is the only method of punishment that will prevent others from committing similar offences (Iveren, 2011).
Personally, I feel that capital punishment should be abolished. According to Iveren (2011), some people support capital punishment claiming that it is the best way to prevent others from committing similar crimes. Forensic psychologists explain that certain crimes occur in a fit of anger, rage or mental health problems. These factors are difficult to change among individuals because people are unique. Executing such a criminal will not help the society in the any way as far as crime reduction is concerned. Capital punishment will not serve any purpose because such a criminal is no longer capable of making rational calculations about the outcome of his actions at the time of the commission of crime (Guillaume, 2002).
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The second reason why capital punishment should be abolished is that, it prevents alleged offenders from getting justice considering the fact that judges’ decisions are not always final. The person on death row might turn out to be innocent if the presenting case is critically analyzed. The judge acts as a passive intermediary who is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that everything is in order. The judge makes the final decision based on the issues presented to him or her. Historically, many judges have rushed to convict the accused without taking their time to find the truth. Capital punishment will deter such a person from obtaining justice in a case. Any alternative form of punishment will give him an opportunity to appeal and receive justice (Guillaume, 2002).
No matter how careful and fair the judicial system may be, the possibility of false testimony and human error always remains too real a threat to be brushed aside. If a member of the jury makes a mistake, a person can be falsely accused of a crime. If the capital punishment is applied to a person who did not commit the crime, then the sentence cannot be rescinded.
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The third reason why capital punishment should be abolished is its association with racial and economic disparities in the society. In the current criminal justice system, only those who can afford the best lawyers can be adequately represented or defended in court. For this reason, the accused is at the mercy of the public prosecutor. Therefore, it is not strange that most people who are languishing in jail are those living below the poverty line, and who have no means to pay for a competent lawyer to defend themselves in a court of law. On the contrary, the rich can hire skilled lawyers who can assist and defend them. The poor are continuously denied access to adequately trained and funded judges. This causes variation in the number of poor offenders and rich offenders being subjected to capital punishment (Guillaume, 2002).
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As Hodgkinson and Schabas (2004) point out, capital punishment should be abolished because it is unfairly applied by the relevant authorities. The best example of racial disparity in application of capital punishment is observed in the United States of America, where more African Americans are subjected to capital punishment that white offenders (Iveren, 2011). Since the declaration of capital punishment in1976, about 80 black defendants have been executed for killing white victims yet only four whites have been executed for killing black victims (Cole, 1996). An alternative form of punishment that will ensure equity for Whites and African Americans should therefore be considered.
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Capital punishment should be abolished because it is an irreversible process. Once it is imposed it can no longer be taken back by the state. In the past, there have always been cases where a convict was perceived by the public to have been arbitrarily imposed the capital punishment (Cole, 1996). It is stressful to learn that when a person is sentenced to death, he can no longer benefit from any amendments in laws. Similarly, he can no longer be benefited by the possibility that new evidence will be discovered that will exonerate him. It is also painful to realize that no less than scientific evidence has in the past been used to reverse past convictions. This means that even if the exact truth is revealed after execution, an individual cannot be brought back to life (Schabas, 2003).
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An argument to support that capital punishment should be abolished concerns respect for human rights and dignity. Every human being has the right to life. Right to life is a phrase that describes the belief that a human being has an essential right to live, specifically that a human being has the right not to be killed by another human being. By intentionally killing a criminal his right to life is violated and he is denied the opportunity to defend himself (Hodgkinson and Schabas, 2004). Still on the rights issue, capital punishment violates the rights to dignity of the human person. According to Schabas (2003), every human being is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, where nobody will be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment. The right to dignity of a person also states that no person shall be held on slavery or be required to perform forced labor. By subjecting a criminal to capital punishment, he or she is deprived of the right to life and the right to dignity (Iveren, 2011).
It would have been wise if capital punishment was abolished in order to save the huge amounts of money being spent while listening to cases involving terrible offences. The cost is another major concern of why capital punishment should be abolished. The current process allows capital cases to bounce back and forth between state and federal courts. This may continue for years before any action is taken with fear that wrong judgments may be made. Capital cases are very complicated and the stakes are so high that there are rarely enough lawyers to handle them (The Economist, 1995). These cases are often put on hold or proceed to clog up the court system. While the case is bouncing from court to court and appeals are being made, the cost is very extravagant. Every study undertaken so far has found it far more expensive to put someone to death than to jail him for life (The Economist, 1995). Taxpayers pay approximately $2.2 million per execution due to the extra costs of litigation and of housing and guarding the inmates as they wait on death row. These huge amounts of funds can be allocated to other programs that can help improve the status of the criminal justice system.
There are those who believe the best way to correct this obscenely high bill is to “accelerate the pace of executions, together with the elimination of death-penalty resource centers and restrictions on federal court review” (Cole 1996, p. 21). It is at this point the United States will see many more mistakes in the administration of death as a punishment. Many people have been executed and were later proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be innocent. While on death row, other people have been able to prove their innocence (Frame, 1995). Acceleration of capital punishment cases is likely to result in the death of innocent people. This is not a proper fix for the high cost of an execution.
It is true that crimes of a serious nature deserve severe punishment. But taking a person’s life in return is equivalent to taking revenge or ‘an eye for an eye’. Two wrongs do not make a right. Hence, when criminals are put on death row, the criminal justice system is stooping to their level. Instead, if a serious crime is committed, the criminal should be sentenced to life imprisonment. By spending the rest of their lives in prison, these criminals would have time to reflect on their misdeeds and repent. Capital punishment denies criminals a chance of reflecting their misdeeds and should be abolished (Schabas, 2003).
The fact that capital punishment majorly affects the poor, is applied on racial basis, may be subjected to innocent individuals, exposes victims to harsh realities and violates people’s rights, is a good indication that it is unethical. The concrete realities show conclusively that the death penalty as administered in countries these days is inconsistent with any reasonable view of justice and morality. Examining actual death penalty cases provides insight into the harsh realities of the death penalty. The death penalty mistakenly condemns some innocent defendants, it is applied unequally on the basis of race, and it is arbitrary in the sense that it is secured almost exclusively against people who are very poor. When these facts are balanced against the purported values of capital punishment, it is clear that then inevitable defects of the system far outweigh any of its theoretical benefits (Iveren, 2011).
The society today approves of violent behavior and that includes capital punishment. When people punish with violence, they are sending out a positive message to the public. In essence, they are preaching the golden rule and do not live it. Since the initiation of capital punishment in 1976, the murder rate in America has not decreased. The killing continues both illegally and legally. The society is held responsible for this statistic and yet it has done nothing to stop the killing, legally or illegally.
Death by execution is a violent cycle and people should aim at breaking the cycle not to help it escalate (Frame, 1995). Many members of victims’ families also believe in helping to break the violent cycle. Their belief is that society places an expectation on families to seek vengeance when instead people should move past the hate and learn to love unconditionally just as Jesus did. Preventing crimes from happening is the most effective way to deter crime. Increased surveillance or police patrols, an increase in the number of police officers and a strict control on the availability of weapons are more practical alternatives in the practice of crime prevention (Frame, 1995).
I would therefore like to make the following recommendations; First, capital punishment should be abolished and replaced with life imprisonment. It has been established that with the use of capital punishment, there is usually a great possibility of executing innocent defendants, but if life imprisonment is substituted for death penalty, innocent people will no longer stand a chance of being executed for offences or crimes they did not commit.
Second, the criminal justice system should consider rehabilitation of offenders. Contemporary criminal punishment ought to seek the correction and transformation of criminal behaviors rather than merely penalizing wrongdoers. But this concept seems as a mirage as the goal of rehabilitation is increasingly receiving lower priority in correction. Today, the primary emphasis of punishment is to ensure that offenders receive punishment commensurate with the seriousness of their offence. I strongly feel that rehabilitative measures should be put in place for wrong-doers to transform their behaviors and make them useful to themselves and the society. The rehabilitation should comprise of basic education skills and vocational training as this will keep the prisoners busy and make it possible for them to earn a decent living after their jail term.
Third, offenders who have been punished or pardoned should no longer be treated as aliens or discriminated against in the society but should rather be accepted and thought societal ethics. Fourth, the topic of capital punishment should be further researched for the improvement in the criminal justice system and the society at large.
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