Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Capital punishment [...] both sides of the controversy and provide some conclusions as to what should be done regarding capital punishment in America today. Capital punishment is a controversial issue in the United States, with both sides making emotional and viable arguments for and against the use of capital punishment in crime. There are other alternatives to capital punishment, but in the end, are they as effective as the death penalty? This is one of the issues facing this important topic today.

The Cons of Capital Punishment

Those who oppose capital punishment do so for a variety of reasons, from religious to moral, from human rights to an aversion to murder of any kind. Whatever their reasoning, opponents of capital punishment actually form a minority in the United States. Studies continually show that most Americans approve of capital punishment, especially for violent crimes such as murder. However, the United States is one of a very few nations that still utilize the death penalty for other than murder, as this expert notes. "A few retain capital statutes dealing with extraordinary crimes such as treason, but only Japan, parts of the former Soviet Union, and the United States still carry out death sentences for 'ordinary' crimes of violence" (Haines, 1996, p. 3). Thus, most civilized nations do not utilize capital punishment, and our continued reliance on this archaic method only points to the failure of our criminal justice system. For example, the Criminal Justice Bureau reports, "Among inmates under sentence of death and with available criminal histories: -- nearly 2 in 3 had a prior felony conviction -- about 1 in 12 had a prior homicide conviction" (Editors, 2003). Clearly, our criminal justice system is not rehabilitating hardened criminals for release back into society, and thus, capital punishment is a lasting testament to this fact.

The moral issues of capital punishment are many. Some opponents contest capital punishment for religious reasons. (The Catholic Church, for example, does not support the death penalty, and many contend the Bible has distinct references against capital punishment.) Others cite the moral issues of the government taking a life, and contend this gives the government too much power. In addition, opponents believe capital punishment is overly cruel, and deprives victims of their basic human right to life. Some opponents to capital punishment feel that keeping the executions out of the public eye is a mistake, and if the public could actually see an execution, they might feel differently about capital punishment. One scholar notes, "The restrictions on filming executions are neither content- nor viewpoint-neutral. For this reason, the public maintains a right to see an execution because the state may not prohibit public debate by suppressing a particular side or viewpoint on an issue" (Levi, 2002).

Aside from the moral arguments against capital punishment, many who oppose the practice cite the outrageous costs to the justice system that capital punishment creates. One expert writes, "Estimates of the cost per case to taxpayers have ranged from $1.8 million in New York and $3.2 million in Florida to $15 million for California's earlier post-Gregg cases (Haines, 1996, p. 169). Clearly, these costs will only increase as the cost of lawyers, courts, and prison systems continue to skyrocket. Thus, the cost of capital punishment is crippling to taxpayers, and the more prisoners are sentenced to death, the more the costs will continue to spiral out of control. Keeping a person in prison for life costs far less than keeping someone on death row and the cost issue is a viable argument to the capital punishment controversy. Clearly, the controversy is emotionally charged, with both sides feeling they have the right solutions to the capital punishment dilemma.

The Pros of Capital Punishment

Capital punishment has endured in our country since the first colonists arrived in Virginia in the early 1600s (Haines, 1996, p. 7). Just as there are wide varieties of reasons people oppose capital punishment, there are also a number of compelling reasons that people support capital punishment.

One of the most common arguments for capital punishment is for the deterrent affect it has on violent crime. Some statistics seem to point to the fact that the death penalty does deter some criminals from committing a violent act such as murder, while other studies find no recurring deterrent affect. While some experts feel capital punishment is not common enough to discover a deterrent affect, other experts have found correlations between capital punishment and a deterrent to some violent crimes. In fact, several studies using information and data from the United States and Great Britain have confirmed the deterrent affect of capital punishment (Bryan Vila & Morris, 1997, p. 181). Thus, some criminals may see capital punishment as so frightening an aspect of crime, that they will not commit violent crimes to avoid the death penalty.

Many opponents to capital punishment would rather see violent criminals incarcerated for life, but in many cases, this does not guarantee an inmate will remain in custody. Even life sentences are often commuted for good behavior, and even if a violent prisoner does remain behind bars, he or she can commit murder in prison, murdering other prisoners or guards. Thus, life in prison could actually equate to more violence from a violent prisoner, while capital punishment would ensure that especially violent and dangerous convicts harm no one else.

Perhaps most compelling is the argument that most Americans support capital punishment. Indeed, recent studies have shown that nearly 80% of Americans are in favor of the death penalty.

When questioned only about their support or opposition to capital punishment for murder, an all-time high of 80% of Americans said that they were in favor of the death penalty in a 1994 Gallup Poll. Sixty percent even supported the death penalty for convicted teenaged murderers. Thus, most researchers, political leaders, and commentators accepted as fact that there was a strong public consensus in favor of the death penalty (Vila and Morris 251).

Public opinion favors the death penalty, and this creates political support that is difficult to break. In fact, the death penalty seems to have become even more popular after the September 11 terrorist attacks, especially in cases of mass murder or political terrorism. Even the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in 1976, and so it looks as if the death penalty is a tradition in America that will continue, despite protests from the anti-death penalty community.

Most proponents of capital punishment do recognize the increased criminal justice costs associated with the death penalties, and support laws that will make it more difficult to appeal death penalty cases, and limit the number of appeals a convict can utilize, too. This would help lower the costs of capital punishment, and keep the cases from clogging our already overcrowded courts. Cutting costs is of major importance when discussing the death penalty, and since the American taxpayers are coving the costs of capital punishment, it seems likely that most would support some sort of fiscal limitations on capital punishment cases.

Some Alternate Solutions

Statistics show that capital punishment may be on the decline. The Bureau of Justice states, "In 2003, 65 inmates were executed, 6 fewer than in 2002" (Editors, 2003). Therefore, capital punishment may be acting as a deterrent to violent crime, and less violent crimes are being committed and/or prosecuted. Many advocates of capital punishment reform advocate life in prison without the possibility of parole for violent crimes, and this might work, as long as the prisoner was segregated to keep them from committing crimes in prison, and their possibility of parole was non-existent.

Other solutions include limiting the number of appeals a death row inmate can have, which would cut down costs in the court system, and ensure more timely administration of capital…

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