Should the death penalty be allowed?Should it be allowed?

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What are the purposes of criminal penalties?  Are they to exact revenge, or are they meant to deter the criminal and others from committing crimes?  (Rehabilitation is not relevant when the death penalty is imposed.)  Certainly, a criminal given the death penalty will not commit another crime.  However, it is my understanding that there is absolutely no relationship between the use of the death penalty and the deterrence otherwise of crime.  So, we get revenge, we prevent one person from committing other crimes, but we get absolutely no deterrence of other crimes.  This is not in keeping with one of our primary reasons for criminal sanctions.  I also take note that many people who support the death penalty are people who are strongly pro-life and people who claim to be very religious.  This troubles me, first, because this pro-life position is terribly inconsistent, and second, because those people seem to be disregarding that part of the Bible that states that vengeance belongs to the deity, not to man. 

Another problem is that the death penalty is applied unequally, far more often imposed on minorities, the poor, and other disenfranchised groups.  Women are seldom given the death penalty.  If we cannot impose a penalty fairly, as the fourth response points out, should we be imposing it at all?

In addition, we now know that subsequent evidence sometimes exonerates convicts who have been put to death or who are slated to be put to death.  Sometimes this is DNA evidence, sometimes a confession, and sometimes a new witness or recantation of previous testimony.  We have become increasingly aware that witness testimony, particular identification testimony, is quite unreliable.  Should we, as a society, be comfortable accepting a certain margin of error when it comes to the death penalty? I would hope not. 



carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The death penalty is a controversial topic.  In modern times, its use has covered the spectrum from shooting, hanging, gas chamber, electic chair, and lethal injection.  It seems society is always looking for a more humane way to end the criminal's life.  One wonders why that is so important if what we are doing is following the adage: an eye for an eye.  Most of the terrible crimes that are committed are so unspeakable and horrifying that why should the public care how the people that committed these crimes be put to death.  It is humane idea and the fact that there have been so many people incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit that has brought me to this conclusion: Society should not be responsible for the taking of a person's life.  That responsiblity should be up to God.

Men have made so many mistakes concerning criminals, investigations, labeling of people, fingerprints, etc.,  that it is not possible to be absolutely sure of a person's guilt even if he confesses to the crime. I would not want to be a part of a jury that sends a man to his death.  I am not sure that is my right. Often, an interrogation leads to the person confessing even when he did not commit the crime.  My father worked in the prison system for many years.  One of the things that was the best kept secret was who pulled the handle for the electricity and later who injected the poison.  Is it man's responsibility to invoke  the punishment  of the final time a man takes his breath?  I do not know that God gave society that responsiblity. 

justaguide eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The death penalty can be looked at in many ways. The main purpose of the death penalty is to ensure that the person being executed no longer poses a threat to society and his/her execution is also meant to discourage others from repeating the same crime. But this can also accomplished by life-imprisonment though this alternative involves a lot of expenditure in sustaining prisoners by the society, a large fraction of which may not want the taxes paid by them to be wasted in keeping criminals alive.

The death penalty could also be looked at as an easy way of ending a criminal's life. Many may view solitary confinement for life as a form of  punishment equivalent to dying everyday and prefer to punish criminals in this way rather than a quick death by lethal injection or the electric chair.

Finally, there is always the argument that it is not possible for those that decide whether a person should be given the death penalty or not to do so in an objective fashion and in a large numbers of cases it is criminals that cannot afford good lawyers that meet this fate.

All this makes it very difficult to say whether the death penalty should be abolished or not.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree that there are some issues with the death penalty. While part of me looks at the "eye for an eye" philosophy as being relevant, another part of me believes in forgiveness. That said, I could not tend to believe that if a person murdered one of my family members that I would be okay with them simply spending the rest of their life in prison. I guess that the death penalty has its place in our society.

I didn't mention family, as I was trying to keep it academic... but if something were to be done to a family member my philosophy would probably be overruled by my emotion.  I am a huge fan of the old drama The West Wing.  Most characters in the show had a anti-execution stance.  The president asked his aid (who's mother had been murdered in the line of duty as a police officer) if he would want his mother's assailant executed.  The aide's response was "No, Sir, I wouldn't want him executed, I'd want to do it myself."

All bets are off when family is involved.


booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a tough question, obviously. It is hard to think of taking a life. However, for some acts, I cannot understand how convicted felons are allowed in some cases to obtain their freedom, just to kill again. It is harsh to expect that someone who is insane be put to death, but the philosophical question then remains how do we care for these people, will they be institutionalized for the remainder of their lives, can they ever truly be "cured?"

For someone who has killed a child, if I were that parent, I would probably want the murdered executed. So much depends on your perspective. And what if there is any doubt? What if pertinent information is not included at the trial? What if the wrong person is punished? It's hard enough to conceptualize a man wrongly jailed for 10 or 20 years, let alone confronting the death of an innocent person.

I cannot see an easy answer on this issue.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am very much a supporter of maintaining the death penalty and believe that capital punishment should even be extended to other crimes, such as child rape. I also believe that multiple felony offenders--criminals with, for instance, 10 or more violent, serious convictions--should be considered for execution. Repeat offenders with long records of violence are obviously not going to be rehabilitated, the primary defense for imprisonment; they are not fit to socialize with law-abiding citizens in the world outside prison; they should not be allowed to practice their deviate ways on other prisoners; and I consider it a waste of taxpayers' dollars to keep such people alive for decades when there is no chance they will ever be anything but a threat to other people.

lffinj eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not believe in the death penalty.  In some respects I believe some people who commit heinous crimes should spend their lives in a 3' x 3' cell, where their lives are no longer under their control and their movements are limited.  I realize that as taxpayers, we pay for this and some times, they receive better benefits--such as healthcare--that an everyday citizen does not enjoy.  There is also the issue of our justice system and the mistakes that are made where innocent people are found guilty.  I also do not believe that the death penalty deters criminals from committing crimes so as a nation we should discuss what is the goal of the death penalty?

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a big part of me that thinks people deserve to die for committing certain atrocities.  On the other hand, I have a big problem with vengeance and killing period, coupled with the fact that sometimes the evidence may not be indisputable despite a conviction.  I think the current model of leaving execution to the states is appropriate.  If enough people in a state feel strongly about the issue one way or another, it should be up to them.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree that there are some issues with the death penalty. While part of me looks at the "eye for an eye" philosophy as being relevant, another part of me believes in forgiveness. That said, I could not tend to believe that if a person murdered one of my family members that I would be okay with them simply spending the rest of their life in prison. I guess that the death penalty has its place in our society.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In theory, yes.  In practice, no.  In theory, some people do things that are so evil that they deserve to die.  The problem is implementing this in practice in a way that is fair.  We human beings are not capable of objectively deciding who deserves to die.  We end up deciding matters of life and death based on prejudice and other such factors.  This is no way to decide whether to take someone's life.