Should capital punishment be ended? Why or Why Not?Should capital punishment be ended? Why or Why Not?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Capital punishment in the United States should be abolished because it is too arbitrarily applied and it is too prone to error.

In theory, I agree with the idea that some people forfeit their right to live because they commit crimes that are so heinous that they deserve to die.  Hitler is perhaps a perfect example of such a person.  But how do we decide which crimes are heinous enough?  It is too difficult because we tend to fall into traps like wanting to execute people who kill sympathetic victims instead of focusing on the nature of the crime itself.  Is it worse (morally speaking) to kill someone who happens to be a wife and mother than it is to murder a prostitute?  Our judgement gets clouded by these and other things.

We are also not really able to be absolutely sure that a person is guilty.  There are several instances of people getting convicted and later exonerated.  We are seeing, for example, that eyewitness testimony tends to be very flawed and yet we tend to rely on it.

Capital punishment is a good idea in theory, but it's too hard to be sure we're not killing the wrong people, whether because they're innocent or because their crime is not bad enough to warrant death.

boblawrence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with most of the posts, especially the well thought-out and written post of pohnpei397.

I am somewhat surprised to see that, like me, the majority of posts are not opposed to the concept of capital plunishment...only the possibility of error or biased application of the penalty.

One idea that I have which I have not seen in the posts is the very special circumstance in which a lifer without parole kills in prison, merely to elevate his status/reputation as a "bad guy".  So long as there is no capital punishment, such a person has no motivation whatsoever to not kill.  In this case, therefor, capital punishment is the only way to ensure that this person shall never kill again.

Finally, a word about deterrence.  While it is unlikely that many criminals will not ponder capital punishment or the lack thereof in the moment of their crime.  Nevertheless, there are many, many death row prisoners that have fought tooth and nail to avoid their death date through endless appeals.  So, at least for the condemned, the death penalty is certainly something they are afraid of.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am in favor of maintaining capital punishment even though I don't believe it really serves as a deterrent to crime. I also believe that the death sentence is often administered arbitrarily, but this problem lies with the judges and juries--not with capital punishment. I believe it would serve as more of a deterrent if the sentence was administered much more quickly. I'm also in favor of using capital punishment in much the same way California administers its Three Strike Law. Repeat offenders with long records of multiple felonies should also be subject to the death sentence; convicts who leave prison and immediately commit another serious crime will never change their ways, and using taxpayers' dollars to continue to house them in maximum security prisons makes no sense to me.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The improvements in techniques for use of DNA identification could become a part of this discussion. Evidence may become more irrefutable as science becomes more important in proving involvement in crime. On the other hand, reliance on that scientific proof may make it more difficult to hand down a death penalty in cases where there isn't that type of evidence available.

Personally, I don't agree with the death penalty regardless of circumstances or evidence or severity of crime. At the same time, however, I have problems with states spending huge sums of money financing maximum security prisons to house large numbers of convicts who have been given life sentences without parole. I can't find a satisfactory way to resolve this conflict in outcome.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The death penalty should be forever abolished. As #3 mentioned, DNA evidence has freed many from Death Row.  The fundamental problem of capital punishment is that its irreversible.  With all other forms of punishment, an individual can receive compensation, but with capital punishment there's no turning back if an error's been made. "Forfeiting the Right to live," as #2 mentioned, is a contradiction in terms.  Rights can be exercised, but are never forfeited. If captured, should Hitler have been given the death penalty?  No, because everyone, no matter who, should be equal under the law, no matter how grievous the crimes.  A more fitting punishment would have been him as an orderly for life, tending to those whom he dispossessed and damaged.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I admit to mixed feelings on this issue. A part of me considers capital punishment a barbarity left from our primitive days; a feeling that is exemplified that executions are all carried out quietly and almost secretly, as if it is some solemn moment. Then again, for people such as John Wayne Gacy and Timothy McVeigh, I am not sure there is an adequate alternative. If I were forced to choose between the two, I would opt for ending it, and living with those crimes which have no adequate recompense. If, however, we are to keep capital punishment, then we should carry it out as it was intended--in public, as a lesson to the world.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree wholeheartedly with the 2nd post.  I am not philosophically or religiously opposed to the idea of capital punishment, I simply cannot conceive of a manner in which it can be either efficiently or fairly administered.  Also, as a taxpayer, I feel the process is much too cumbersome and expensive when placing such dangerous criminals in prison for life without parole is actually cheaper, and society is every bit as protected.  We already use capital punishment very rarely, so I don't see its value from a justice standpoint.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
If you look at the statistics on capital punishment, they paint a disturbing picture. There is a disparity based on race and region. You can commit the same crime in two different states and get the death penalty in one and not the other. The main reason though is this: the death penalty is irreversible. Ask yourself, has an innocent man ever been convicted? Our system is based on the idea that it is better for 19 guilty men to go free than 1 innocent man to be convicted.
lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I too am not opposed to capital punishment on moral grounds, but living in Illinois, I have heard first hand the great numbers of death-row inmates who have subsequently found not guilty of crimes because of newly emerging evidence to the contrary, most often DNA evidence.  While "unfair" incarceration is a horrible fate, at least it can be corrected. Once a prisoner is dead, there is no taking it back if better evidence is ever discovered.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that capital punishment should be ended, because in addition to the other arguments made above concerning the errors that have been made, I don't think that any human has the right to take the life of any other human, no matter how despicable and terrible the crimes that they may have committed. I don't think that we have the right to declare that somebody has done something so heinous that they no longer have the right to life.