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Abolition Of Capital Punishment

Essay by   •  April 3, 2011  •  3,396 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,170 Views

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Abstract

This paper examines the arguments for and against capital punishment. This examination shows how capital punishment conflicts with the principals it is trying to protect. The paper explains the reasons why the practice of capital punishment should be abolished in the U.S.

Abolition of Capital Punishment

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the sentence passed in a court of law where the life of a person found guilty of a heinous crime would be legally pre-terminated by the State at a certain point in time. Whether capital punishment should be upheld or abolished has been one of the most contentious issues in the justice system, not only in America but all over the world.

On one side of the controversy are those who support capital punishment because they find the death penalty a just and effective punishment that has deterred and would continue to discourage people from committing heinous crimes (Tucker, 2003). On the other side are those that the first side calls the "abolitionists," people who are against the death penalty, and who want to see it abolished. This paper explains the reasons why capital punishment must be abolished, analyzing and explaining the opposing views in the hopes that such a position is objective, reasonably justified and supported.

Undoubtedly, the question to whether it is right and just to take away the life of a human being, no matter how wretched or criminal, is an issue that contains a high degree of intellectual and emotional content. This is an issue that affects us all, and the materials available on the topic are charged with a load of subjectivity, unavoidable because individual and collective perceptions differ on several key points of the issue, and concepts such as "justice", "punishment", "heinous", and "crime", just for starters, admit varying degrees of propriety.

Take, for example, the term "just punishment". Who determines what is just, and when is a punishment just? Why is it a just punishment to sentence to death a serial killer found guilty of murdering a dozen victims, compared to the "just punishment" of a politician who sent tens of thousands of soldiers to die in a "useless" war (think 30 plus years ago) by not getting re-elected to another term? While one might say that serial murder is an unjust crime, and that fighting a just war is not, the fact that legal concepts resting on a foundation of laws created by men and women allows a flexibility of interpretation that strikes at the core of our discussion.

Doubts about the shaky foundations on which an argument, or a part of it, rests should at the least lead one to conclude with intellectual honesty that in the face of uncertainty, would it not be best to stay on the side of caution? Such is the basic position of this writer given the complex nature of the issue at hand: that capital punishment must be abolished because the empirical evidence on which to establish intellectual certainty seems to be in favor of a cautious course of action.

Before considering the empirical evidence such as statistics and the more commonly-known public arguments presented by either side, the most logical starting point to defend this writer's intellectual position is to define the concepts that facilitate our understanding of the issue: the value of human life, justice as a concept and a system, crime and punishment, order, and society.

The core of the capital punishment issue is the value of human life. Those who support the death penalty cite it as a core of their argument for social justice to be satisfied. They argue that putting to death the person whom took away a life, or many lives would give just satisfaction to the victim, to those the victim left behind (family and friends), and also the social order, a characteristic of society whereby justice needs to be upheld for order to be established. A corollary is that if justice is not served by a like-for-like punishment where the criminal is made to suffer the same fate (death) as the victim, society would end in chaos as people would not be deterred from committing the same crime (Anderson, 2005).

The basic faults of this line of argument are the deceptive and contradictory valuation of human life, its flawed strategy for restoring and establishing social order, and a faulty view on the deterrent effect of capital punishment.

Those that support the death penalty promote the subtle deception that one life is equal to another, that they have more or less the same value; that taking away one life (the victim) can be "justly" punished by taking away the life of the criminal (Koukl, 1998). This is deceptive because there is no real objective way of putting a quantified value to a human life that would lead to the conclusion that terminating the life of a criminal, plus whatever monetary damages are paid, if any, would satisfy the demands of justice. Just think of all the potential arguments along this line given our knowledge that every human being is capable of doing good and doing bad.

It can never be just to terminate the life of someone who is capable of performing good acts in life that could outweigh in the eyes of society the evil acts already performed. Likewise it is not just for the victim's loved ones to send the message that the victim's life can be equated to a "fixed" value: millions of dollars in damages and terminating the life of someone who may have done evil things in the past, but who is capable of repenting for the crime and doing well. This core argument characterized by hope is one of the key messages of the abolitionists, who see each person as unique and capable of changing for the better.

The valuation of human life also contains a subtle contradiction because while it claims to uphold the value of every human life, it is biased in favor of the victim. Every condemnation of a criminal to suffer capital punishment puts a limit to the value of the lives of both the victim and the criminal. The message is subtle but powerful: "Life, of the victim is precious, so let's end the life of the criminal." Every single human life is precious; every human being has the potential to be good.

Passing a life sentence on a criminal keeps the equation more open-ended, hopeful and optimistic, adding more value to the life of the victim because of the potential good that can come out of the person serving the life sentence and the potential good that can be enjoyed by society, including the families of the victims and the criminal. Real life examples abound of the powerful impact on the social order of the conversion and repentance of criminals, and the emotional

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