The issue of the death penalty and capital crime has become one of the dominant issues debated in contemporary culture. The reason for this is firstly a moral questioning of the right to take a life, even when it is in retribution for extreme crimes like murder. The foundation of this contemporary attitude lie in the view that modern culture and society should be able to deal with extreme crime in a more humane and therapeutic way than is at present the case.
The issue of capital punishment also leads to hosts of pertinent issues and questions that often extend further than confines of the topic and have a direct and indirect connection to social, cultural and sociological issues. One of the most relevant issues debated today is the fallibility of the legal system. Many critics refer to statistics that prove numerous people have been executed as a result of legal or other errors. On the other hand, the reality of extreme crime is undeniable and those who are in favor of the death penalty point out that there seem to be no other alternative, except social anarchy. These and other related areas form the basis of this study, which attempts to combine these disparate arguments into a coherent whole.
Proposal: The Death Penalty
In the 21st century the death penalty is considered by most civilized nations around the world as a cruel and inhuman form of punishment. It has been abolished de jure or de facto by 106 nations; and 30 countries have abolished the death penalty since 1990. However, there are still many nations who practice this form of punishment for extreme crimes. For example, the death penalty is used extensively in countries like China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States and Iran. Many people also question the fact that the U.S. is one of six countries (including also Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen) that execute people who were under 18 years of age at the time of committing the crime.
An important fact is that even though international documents have restricted and in some cases even banned the death penalty and its application, it is still acceptable under customary International Law. In the United Sates there has been rigorous debate around the death penalty as an appropriate form of punishment for the most serious of crimes. An important aspect that will be considered in this study is the debate that has manifested itself in recent years as to the exactness and fallibility of the legal structure of the death sentence. This has in turn been "further fueled by the use of new technologies, which have shown that a large proportion of people sentenced to death are, indeed, innocent." (Derechos)
This proposal will focus on the central issues that have risen relating to the death penalty and capital punishment. The central issue of whether the death penalty is an appropriate response to violent crimes committed in the 21st Century will include the following sections and chapter headings:
1. What are the reasons for and rationale behind the death penalty and how do these compare and contrast to the increasing criticism of this form of punishment? This section will also deal with capital punishment in terms of the moral and philosophical facts that are part of this debate, 2. The recent debate on the fallibility in practice of the death penalty. Numerous reports over the years have shown evidence that there are many instances when people were executed in error. This causes one to question the very pertinent issues of the fallibility of the legal system and the potential for wrongful executions to occur.
3. The study will also investigate the alternatives to the death penalty and the various systems used in counties that do not carry out the death penalty. The success or failure of these alternate systems will also be thoroughly investigated.
The central focus of this study will however attempt to integrate the general debate centering on the moral and humanist ethics of the death penalty.
Reasons and rationale for and against the death penalty
The reason for the implementation of the death penalty is on one level rather obvious - this refers to the need of the death penalty as a deterrent to those who would commit extreme forms of crime, such as murder. There are however more complex and in-depth reasons for the implementation of the death penalty. One of these aspects that will be investigated is the Christian and Biblical rationale. For example, there are contentious Biblical references that have been used to support the moral legitimacy of the death penalty as a form of ethical judgment.
Then Christ speaks of hate and murder: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment [capital punishment].' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment [capital punishment]" (Matt. 5:21-22). It is evident that Jesus was not condemning the established law of capital punishment, but was actually saying that hate deserved capital punishment. Jesus was not advocating doing away with capital punishment but urging his followers to live above the law so that law and punishment could not touch them. To live above the law is not the same as abrogating it www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=98054652" (Bedau 126)
The different aspects in the above quotation will be analyzed as part of the 'pro death penalty' section of the study. Many question the death penalty on the basis of philosophical and ethical consideration. The foundations of this interrogation - of the moral and social validity of the death penalty - extend as far back as the late 19th Century and the early 20th Century questioning of the philosophical basis of a critique of modern society. This is an extensive area for research and the following aspect will be considered, amongst others: The affect of 20th Century movements and societal reassessment such as existential philosophy, the impact of Nietzsche and other philosophers like Lacan on the perception of the legal system, the death penalty and society. Other related aspects that will be touched on include a postmodern assessment of the role of the legal system as a means of oppression.
The trend throughout the world, particularly in developing countries, is to contest the validity of capital punishment and deny the death sentence as the most appropriate means of dealing with serious crime. There are many who are also of the opinion that an advanced stage of civilized culture should not be using harsh and 'primitive' methods to reduce crimes. They see the act of condemning someone to die as an act that is morally indefensible. There are many who are of the opinion that crime should be dealt with at its psychological and sociological roots. This aspect will be included in the debate on the pros and cons of capital punishment.
The tendency to abolish the death sentence is evident in the numerous statistics available. The list of counties that do not adhere to the death sentence has increased dramatically over recent years; this is indicative of a growing concern relating to morality, humanity and efficacy of this form of punishment. Amnesty International reports these statistics as supportive of the above,
The progress has been dramatic. When Amnesty International convened an International Conference on the Death Penalty in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1977, just 16 countries had abolished capital punishment for all crimes. Today the figure stands at over 75.
The Death Penalty)
Amnesty International's latest information shows that:
79 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes
15 countries have abolished the death penalty for all but exceptional crimes such as wartime crimes
23 countries can be considered abolitionist in practice: they retain the death penalty in law but have not carried out any executions for the past 10 years or more and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions
78 other countries retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries that actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller. (ibid)
This makes a total of 117 countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The second last point - countries that are "abolitionist in practice" - will also form an important part of the trajectory of this part of the study.
The way in which public opinion and the media relate to this debate will also be investigated. This aspect is reflected in the rapidly changing perception of the death penalty in society. While there are those who vote for and those who vote against the death sentence, there is also a sector of society that is ambiguous and undecided in their views. There are claims that public support for the death penalty seems to be waning in many countries such as the U.S. who still maintain capital punishment. However, there…