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Poverty As A Social Problem

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Capital Punishment is defined as the legal infliction of the death penalty by the federal system or by the state. Also known as the death penalty, this sentencing is the most severe form of corporal punishment as it is irreversible and everlasting. We have all heard of the famous lex talionis of "an eye for an eye" in the Old Testament of the Bible. The view of proponents of the death penalty in reference to the "let the punishment fit the crime" ideal is that, in the eyes of many law officials and citizens of the United States. If a crime is so serious that it causes irreversible damage or the loss of human life, then the only penalty for such crimes would be death for the individual that committed this act. Today, there is a big controversy over capital punishment whether or not it works, or if it is morally right. We have a certain privilege on our own lives, but do the lives of others belong to us as well? Do we have the right to decide the kind of lives others can or cannot live? Anyone at anytime could be affected by capital punishment, whether it be through a family member, peer, co-worker, loved one, or even themselves.

History of the Death Penalty

Widely applied in ancient times, the death penalty can be found in the Code of Hammurabi, which was written before the birth of Christ. From the fall of Rome to the beginnings of the modern era, the death penalty was practiced throughout Western Europe. The modern movement for the abolition of capital punishment began in the eighteenth century with the writings of Montesquieu and Voltaire. It has already been abolished in 65 countries, including Venezuela and Costa Rica. The United States and China are claimed to use the death penalty most frequently. Since the 1970s almost all capital sentences in the United States have been imposed for homicide. There has been intense debate regarding the constitutionality, consequences, and humanity of capital punishment (Draper, 1985: 10-12).

Supporting and Opposing Views


A major purpose of criminal punishment is to deter future criminal conduct. The deterrence theory suggests that a rational person will avoid criminal behavior if the severity of the punishment outweighs the benefits of the illegal conduct. It has been proposed that in order to prevent or end corruption, one must scare the "daylights" out of people (Robinson, 1995: 1). Sentencing a person to death obviously would not create a negative effect on crime, but this theory has yet to be proven a fact that the want to kill will be decreased by deterrent actions taken by the criminal court system. Some may say that if capital punishment is even a potential deterrent, that is a considerable enough social reason to implement it (Anderson, 1992: 3). Most criminals would think twice before committing murder if they knew their own lives was at stake. That if attached to certain crimes, the penalty of death exerts a positive moral influence by placing a stigma on certain crimes like manslaughter, resulting in attitudes of disgust and horror to such acts (Anderson, 1992: 5).

Studies of the deterrent effect of the death penalty have been conducted for several years, with varying results. Most of these studies have failed to produce evidence that the death penalty deterred murders more effectively then the threat of imprisonment. The reason for this is that few people are executed and so the death penalty is not a satisfactory deterrent. If capital punishment were carried out more it would prove to be the crime deterrent it was partly intended to be. During highly publicized death penalty cases the homicide rate is found to go down but it goes back up when the case is over (Smith, 1999: 43-45).


Another issue in the capital punishment debate is retribution. This is the need for society to express sufficient condemnation for heinous murders. Supporters of the death penalty contend that the only proper response to the vilest murders is the most sever punishment possible. Therefore, society should literally interpret the "eye for an eye" principle when an individual takes a life, society's moral balance will remain upset until the killer's life is also taken (Smith, 1999: 27-28).

Although death penalty opponents disagree society should be able to express its outrage with a vile crime by inflicting capital punishment. They suggest that they are showing outrage for taking a life by talking the life of another. Use of the death penalty as intended by law could actually reduce the number of violent murders by eliminating some of the repeat offenders thus being used as a system of justice, not just a method of deterrence. Modern supporters of capital punishment no longer view the death penalty as a deterrent, but just as a punishment for the crime, one source said, " recent years the appeal of deterrence has been supplanted by a frank desire for what large majorities see as just vengeance (Smith, 1999: 28-30)."

The Bible

The Old Testament's principle of "an eye for an eye" that allows one to the right of private vengeance is also an arguable idea for those approving of the death penalty. Certain crimes seem so heinous that an execution is the only reasonable response (Draper, 1985: 9). Killing a convicted murderer is said to satisfy the need for justice or vengeance in the eyes of numerous persons (Robinson, 1995: 1).

One of the biggest elements used to encourage the death penalty is that God himself put capital punishment into practice. In Genesis 6-8, God destroyed all animal and human life except the contents of the ark. In Genesis 18-19, God destroyed two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, because of the horrid sins of its citizens. In Exodus 11, during the time of Moses, Egyptians' first-born sons were put to death (Anderson, 1992: 1). Capital punishment is based upon and Old Testament law code in Genesis 9:6, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He is man" (Koukl, 1994: 1).

Individuals who oppose capital punishment also have strong arguments to support their case. Those contrasting the idea for the death penalty also use the Bible in their arguments. There are several Christians that are more contemporary now and believe that the Hebrew Scriptures no longer apply. Humans became more tolerant as time progressed, and the death penalty was done away with in the dealings of pre-marital sex, homosexuality, etc. In the John 8:7, Jesus showed mercy upon the adulteress (Robinson, 1995: 1).




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