Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is a subject which has divergent views regarding the taking away of human life in the case of crime. The decree by the judicial system that a person should be killed for committing crime is referred to as death sentence, while the actual process of killing that person is referred to as execution. Execution of criminal offenders is being used by many societies and judicial systems both for the punishment for and determent of crime. Many people have believed this is the best solution for criminal activities, while some propose that it should be abolished. Although civil and religious authorities brought about capital punishment for many crimes, most Western industrialized nations abolished this form of penalty (Zimring and Hawkins ch. 1). However, as we go further, we will get to understand the reasons why capital punishment should be abolished.

Capital punishment is referred to as a legal act of putting someone to death by the state as a punishment for crime committed. Criminal offences that can lead to capital punishment are referred to as capital offences or capital crime. Capital punishment is being practiced in some countries, and has been abolished in others (Schabas 1). However, it is unfortunate that the international law does not prohibit this form of punishment based on the fact that most international treaties currently outlaw the capital punishment (Schabas 1). The subject of capital punishment has been a major topic of debate for human rights organizations, which initially guided the establishment of the United Nations. It has established regional organizations that comprise of the Council of Europe, the African Union, the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union. The abolition and limitation of capital punishment has been a central theme for standard monitoring by these international bodies (Schabas 2). While discussing the provision for right to life in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly contemplated calling for the abolition, but reiterated cautiously due to the fact that most of the world’s states were not ready for it (Schabas 2). However, the European Union adopted its Charter of Fundamental Rights, the article of December 2000 where two points were made clear. First of all, everyone has the right to life. Secondly, nobody should be executed or be condemned to death penalty (Schabas 2).

The support for this act remains strong, and many societies at some period of time or the other have endorsed the use of capital punishment as a way of deterring crime. The ancient Judaic and Roman cultures practiced retributive justice by abiding by the rules of “an eye for an eye” (Williams 17). Also, the United States inherited this form of criminal punishment from European settlers in the 17th century by promoting the notion that there is the need for severe punishment of heinous crimes (Williams 17). However, the respect for human life and opposition to the violence in the society has not been a factor for pro-criminal punishment individuals. Usually supporters of capital punishment believed that execution is the best way to punish those who have deliberately committed crime.

Philosophical, ethical and religious values are the bases for the on-going arguments over capital punishment (Lamperti 1). Usually, capital punishment is aimed at achieving two goals. The first goal is the deterrent of crime. Based on capital punishment, this goal is referred to as the act of reducing crime by discouraging people from carrying out criminal activities. The second goal is punishment of crime, as capital punishment is also aimed at punishing offenders. The penalty for crime is usually believed to be proportional to the offence committed, thus capital punishment is reserved for the most serious crimes.

Categories of capital punishment

In order to understand the reasons why capital punishment should be abolished, there is the need to distinguish between three main categories of crime that exist. They are discussed below:

1. The category of crime whereby both the victim and the court are allowed to use discretion in terms of forgiveness. For example, during the ancient time, when a bull kills a person, the bull is to be stoned to death and the owner is being punished, and in some cases could also be put to death (Kayser 16).

2. The category of crime where the court has no judicial discretion based on the phrase “surely he shall die”. In this case, there is automatic death sentence without any alternative and even the court cannot change it (Kayser 18).

3. This category of crime, which does not include pre-meditated murder, whereby neither the court nor the victim is allowed to show any form of leniency, and all minor penalties are not applied (Kayser 16). In this case, no ransom is taken for a person who has committed murder.

Reasons why capital punishment should be abolished

Most people believe that capital punishment is the best way to punish criminals and deter crime is wrong. However, there are the reasons why capital punishment should be abolished.

The indignity and the severity of capital punishment
Even though death is a fact of life and it is inevitable, it is important to emphasize the worth of life. Capital punishment tends to define one’s death in a specified period of time and place, by a certain mode and for a definite reason (Bedau 174). The opposition to the death penalty defines and overestimates the worth of human life; it tends to ignore the fact that human beings will eventually die someday (Bedau 174). However, the opposition of capital punishment tries to give way to the notion of an undignified and untimely death. As a result of this fact, one can better understand the concept of capital punishment and the need to abolish it.

Rebuttal to retribution
In most of the cases people believe that the best way to punish for a crime that has been committed is to invoke a case of capital punishment. This act of revenge is referred to as retribution. However, the emotional impulse of retribution is not a sufficient justification for the application of capital punishment (“Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty” 12). It perpetuates a cycle of violence and promotes the act of vengeance in the society. Nevertheless, there are two main principles that operate under retributive justice, which are either based on the fact that crime must be punished or on the notion that the punishment for crime ought to be proportional to the severity of the offense (Bedau 185).

1. Crime must be punished. Even though this principle is based on the fact that every crime needs to be punished, it does not call for the taking of human lives.

2. Punishment ought to be proportional to the offense. This principle of retributive judgment explains the need for the punishment of criminal offenses to be in proportion to the weight of the offense. However, how can we quantify criminal offence in relation to human life? There is no base for such comparison, which calls for the abolishment of capital punishment.

Unfair application of capital punishment
In some cases, capital punishment is not a just way of deterring crime in the society due to the fact that it is applied unfairly. Most defendants at risk of death penalty cannot afford suitable advocates, and so they are forced to rely on those assigned by the state. Some defendants could be executed even when they did not commit the crime they are charged with. Prosecutors sometimes have enormous discretion about when to apply the capital punishment or when to settle for a plea bargain (“Arguments for and Against the Death Penalty” 12).

Cost of execution
Carrying out capital punishment on persons charged with the serious crime is more expensive compared to other method of crime prevention or reduction. The money spent on carrying out execution could be used to apply other crime prevention methods. Some of the methods that could be used to prevent crime are early child education, increasing high school graduation rates, preventing gang activities, establishment or improving of mental health services, and drug and alcohol treatment services.

Irrevocable mistake
There are cases when people mistakenly commit offences and are being convicted and executed. Based on such situations, it is much better for those people who have unintentionally committed offences to receive less serious punishment, as compared to others who might be executed for their intentional offences (Feingold).

Harm to prison workers
Prison workers who participate in the execution process of criminals are usually faced with some moral implications of being involved in the act of killing. They mostly do not have the benefit of hearing and following the case. Sometimes the doubt of the condemned person’s guilt follows those who are involved in the execution process for a long period of time.

It is also believed that some innocent people are also being executed in cases when they cannot defend themselves as needed. However, there is always the possibility that the innocent will be convicted and executed, which will adversely affect their families and friends, and could lead to mental illnesses of the relatives (Meggiem).

Right to life
Also, considering the fact that all human beings have the right to life, other methods should be used for the punishment of crime instead of execution. It is considered to be the worst human rights violation, because the criminals also deserve the right to life despite their offences. Other punishments could be invoked on criminals instead of execution, such as longer period of imprisonment (Schabas 2).

Racial discrimination also plays some part in judicial systems when it comes to criminals being executed. It exists in the judicial system in situations when offenders are being charged with crimes based on race. In addition, based on the fact that most states are fighting seriously to see that racism is reduced, it should not be found in the judicial system whereby people are being sentenced to death based on their race. There are usually many proofs to the importance of race in determining who will be sentenced to death for capital crimes, and who will receive a relatively less severe punishment for the same or similar crime (Williams 65).

Curiosity in murder
Also, capital punishment develops a morbid interest and curiosity in murder which makes murder rates to increase. As a result of death penalties, people begin to develop curiosity about murder, and so it becomes prevalent in the society. The rate of murder then increases instead of reducing, leaving people with a high risk of murder.


In conclusion, death penalty is not the best way of deterring crime in the society. There have been many views regarding the abolishment of capital punishment from different people. Some individuals suggest that capital punishment should be abolished, while others are in support of this act. Most defendants facing such penalty cannot afford professional advocates, and so they are forced to depend on those assigned by the state. However, this is an outdated way of dealing with crime. Considering the fact that all human beings have the right to life, other methods should be used for the punishment of crime instead of execution; for example, longer jail terms or increased fines. The cost, time and effort used for the execution of criminal offenders should be used to work out other ways of reducing crime and punishing offenders.


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Kayser, P. G. Is the Death Penalty Just? Biblical Blueprints, 2011. Web. 3 Dec 2013.
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