Death Penalty Ethics and Effectiveness essay

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However, sociologists argue that the retributive justice theory suffers due to the lack of appreciation of circumstantial causes involved in the commission of crime. By counting 'free will' as the only factor involved in a crime the deontological thinking lacks in the comprehensive analysis of criminal behavior. For instance the disproportionate number of crimes by the economically disadvantaged African-Americans when compared to Caucasians is a clear instance for external factors that could influence the behavior of a person. In the words of philosopher Thomas. a. Mappes, "Pure retributive thinking seems to presuppose a radical sense of human freedom and its correlate, a radical sense of personal responsibility and accountability for one's actions." [Laurence]

Moral Evaluation

A moral community is based on the principle where each and every member of the community has equal rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." [Kenneth Cauthen] Under these circumstances if one person willfully affects the right of the other person to live it is a serious breach of the moral justice principle and undermines the moral structure of the society. Retribution is in order for such acts of violation of basic human rights. However, if we view from a purely spiritualistic standpoint that has unconditional love as its very basis the concept of 'an eye for an eye' and retributive justice does not hold. Atleast in the case of self-defense the commission of murder can be justified but since the crime has already been committed and also incarceration and total isolation from society would be effective in protecting the society from future criminal activities a moral evaluation of death penalty disapproves it. [Kenneth Cauthen]

Capital Punishment High cost and poor deterrence effect

Besides the ethical and moral standpoints of capital punishment, the financial implications of death penalty should also be briefly discussed. Audit reports indicate that capital punishment system is a huge financial burden on the states. For example, it is estimated that for every execution that takes place in the State of California the taxpayers spend roughly $250 million. The capital punishment system costs the state an overall burden of $114 million beyond the costs of keeping prisoners jailed up on a lifetime sentence. Similarly, in Texas, the state with the highest number of executions it is estimated that a capital punishment case costs an average of $2.3 million which is more than thrice the estimated cost of incarcerating a criminal in a high security setting for 40 years. [DPIC 2010]

At a time when our prisons are facing huge funding shortage it is a practical approach to rethink our stand on death penalty. A recent DPIC survey of Police Chiefs also stands to support this standpoint. The police chiefs responding to the 2009 DPIC survey rated death penalty as the least significant way to reduce violent crimes. The police Officers also opined that death penalty was the least efficient method of utilizing taxpayers money. [DPIC, 2010] Going by the violent crime rates there is a bit of an up and down trend in the last five years. The U.S. national violent crime rates stood at 1,382,012 violent crimes in 2008 which is 1.6% above the corresponding rates for 2004 and a 1.9% decrease compared to the 2007 rates. [FBI, 2008] Statistics also suggest that Canada's violent crime rates decreased by 40% since the country abolished capital punishment. [Dave] a recent survey of the presidents of the criminological Societies revealed that 88% of them did not agree that capital punishment helps to reduce crime rates. Data from the FBI survey also seems to validate this point. The northeastern states, which accounted for only 1% of all executions, also had the lowest crime rates across the country. (4.2 per 100,000) the national average rate 5.4 per 100,000[DPIC, 2010] Comparatively Canada's Homicide rate is slightly less than 2%, which is significantly lesser than that of the U.S. homicide rates. These factors clearly suggest that capital punishment is not a successful crime deterrent.


Capital punishment is an important and controversial issue in our judicial system. An analysis of the various supporting theories for capital punishment reveals that the utilitarian theory is the only one that offers enough justification. For instance, executing a terrorist would imply safety for the society at large and in such a case death penalty stands perfectly justified. (Utilitarian thinking) However, in the cases of other criminal subjects there is no conclusive evidence as to the deterrent effect of capital punishment. A serious consideration of alternative punitive measures is in order. On the contrary abolitionist countries such as Canada and Germany have shown significant drop in crime rates. Canada's success in homicide control without capital punishment clearly endorses this approach to crime control. Also, the deontological argument of retributive justice cannot be applicable in a collective social context. Thus we can conclude that capital punishment may be reserved only in cases of barbaric violence (terror acts and serial killers) that pose a serious risk to national and public safety. In all other cases there are no grounds to justify capital punishment and alternative methods of corrective behavior and recidivism control should be vigorously pursued.


1) Amnesty International (2009)' More Executions in Japan as other countries Reject the Death penalty', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, Available at,

2) Amnesty International, 'The Death Penalty in Canada: Twenty Years of Abolition', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, available at,

3) Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009), 'Executions: Key Facts at a Glance', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, Available at,

4) B.A Robinson (1995), ' Capital Punishment: Death Penalty Data', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, Updated Dec 07, 2009, Available at,

5) CBC News (Mar 17, 2009), 'Capital Punishment in Canada', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, available at,

6) Dave (2009), 'Anti Death Penalty Information', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, available at,

7) DPIC, (2009), 'Facts about Death Penalty', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, Updated Feb 17th 2010, Available at,

8) DPIC, ' the Federal Death Penalty', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, available at

9) FBI (2008), 'Violent Crime', Accessed Feb 20th 2010, available at,

10) Jeff Strayer, 'Utilitarianism and Retributivism on the Death Penalty', Accessed Feb 20th 2010,Available at,

11) Shepherd, Joanna, (June 2004), 'Murders of Passion: Execution Delays, and the Deterrence of Capital Punishment. Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2,

pp. 283-321

12) Dudley Sharp, "Death Penalty as a Deterrent," Accessed Feb 20th 2010,

Available at, -- seven-recent-studies-updated-61204.aspx

13) Jeffery Fagan (2006), 'Death and Deterrence Redux: Science Law and Casual Reasoning' OHIO State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol 4.

14) Jean Christophe Merle, (May, 2000), 'A Kantian Critique of Kant's Theory of Punishment', Law and Philosophy, Vol 19, No 3.

15) Laurence, "Capital Punishment: Can Deontologists Justify the Death Sentence?," Accessed Feb 20th 2010, Available at,[?Y]??????^?????][??[??M?HY^H??  ?X][?[H[???X][??X????Y?X? ? ? L ]?Z[X?H] ??????[?????K?X]?[?[W???W?]??[? ?B??M?H??[?][???K…[continue]

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