The Death Penalty has existed long before 2500 BC, when Hammurabi was the first to create written law. Before that time, it’s likely that if a person committed a capital crime, such as murder or theft, they were executed to maintain harmony in the community and to bring solace to those who knew the victim. What defines a capital punishment offense varies per culture, such as horse-stealing being a capital offense in the 1800’s American West, and some of these offenses even define the culture itself.
However, in the 2009 world, killing a criminal is more and more being considered a barbaric, even evil practice with revenge instead of retribution being the sole motivating factor. The idea that revenge alone is the only reason the worst criminals are executed is ludicrous, as the sustaining belief of “eye for an eye” has had many valid supporting arguments throughout history along with valid, tangible results. Let’s explore ten of the most preeminent and credible arguments that justify what should be the most difficult thing any human being can do: cutting another’s life short.
10. More Humane than other Forms of Punishment
Compared to “incapacitation”, which is a kinder phrase for lobotomy, or sentencing a criminal to solitary confinement for the next 25-50 years, executing a criminal may seem like a more humane option. A criminal sentenced to life without parole will never again see daylight, and will have to consider the consequences of their crime until the day they die. From an emotional standpoint, ending this elongated, intense level of suffering for a prisoner could be considered a mercy.
9. Life Imprisonment Changes
Surprisingly, life in prison without the possibility of parole does not always mean a criminal will truly remain in prison until the day they die. Stacey Lannert, convicted for the 1990 murder of her sexually-abusive father, served 18 years of a life without parole sentence before receiving a full pardon by outbound Missouri governor Matt Blunt in January 2009. Lisa Connelly, one of the seven responsible for the 1993 Florida murder of Bobby Kent, was able to reduce her sentence of life in prison to 22 years upon appeal. In 2004, Connelly was released, despite being one of the primary planners of the Bobby Kent slaying. Through time, law changes, political authority figures change, and points of view on the death penalty change. Given enough time, yesterday’s child-killer may become today’s “lifer”, then tomorrow’s parolee.
A common, even credible argument amidst anti-death penalty proponents regards the financial implications of executing a prisoner, which is far more expensive than simply imprisoning them for life. Statistically, this is true. Deathpenaltyinfo.org reports that in the state of Maryland, it can cost up to $37 million to execute a death row inmate rather than keeping them alive and imprisoned annually at around $1 million per year. However, while the execution figures factor in costs of an inmate’s numerous appeals, the figures representing the cost to keep a prisoner alive per year do not. “Lifers” are equally likely to pursue the same avenues as death row inmates to overturn their fate, which can be equally expensive. Given that those sentenced to life without parole have an indefinite period of time to appeal, unlike a death row inmate, in the long run the financial cost of housing a lifer will easily surpass the cost of housing a death row inmate.
Under the law of most militaries throughout history, the crimes of murder, mutiny, treason, and desertion during a war time warrant a mandatory, (and even on the spot) death sentence. However, during a time of war, where survival of an army and even the civilization that army is represents is at stake, death may be the only reasonable punitive tactic to employ. Under full abolition of the death penalty, some of the criminals who would see lives lost through their lawlessness or cowardice would have to waste the time of those fighting the war through the lengthy judicial process, and in war, time and manpower makes all the difference.
6. The Fairness of the Death Row Process
In the United States, the process of convicting and executing a criminal is an exhaustive and lengthy one which definitely lends a little validity to the fairness of the process. The vast majority of criminals sentenced to death have several avenues available to contest their condemnation, from their state’s governor, their states court of appeals, Amnesty International, and even the United States Supreme Court.
Even after a criminal has been condemned to die, some have been known to appeal the decision for up to three decades before finally receiving a date of execution. Even then, the smallest technicality can result in a stay of execution, a commutation of the sentence, or as in Glen Chapman’s case, a full release from prison. While attitudes of the death penalty naturally vary from legal system to legal system worldwide, all legal systems generally acknowledge the value of a person’s life, and take the decision to end a human’s life very seriously. Errors will occur in any justice system, but the through due process of executions, above the process of any other punitive measure, may make the margin for error in capital punishment cases that much smaller. It’s far more likely that those facing death are actually guilty of their crime as a result.
5. Removal of a Threat to Society
Even though Saddam Hussein was captured and tried via an Iraqi tribunal in 2005, he still remained a threat; one of his tribunal judges was assassinated before the trial even began. Charles “Lucky” Luciano, possibly the most successful organized crime leader in history, didn’t retire after being deported to Italy for the remainder of his life; he continued to control American organized crime long after his exile. Pablo Escobar, a criminal so ruthless he allegedly mailed witnesses invitations to their own funerals, was not only able to control his criminal empire from a luxurious prison, but he was also able to escape with a disturbing level of ease. Some criminals are truly above the law, in that their influence can reach the outside world even if they are behind bars. For this reason, some criminals are simply too dangerous to live at all.
4. Religious Doctrine
The doctrines of the world’s majority religions, which is to say the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran, have occurrences where the death penalty is not only supported, but staunchly endorsed. If the Bible and Torah are any indication, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:23-25) makes it very clear what a religious conservative’s opinion on the death penalty should be. In seeing a religious conservative’s point of view, who are they to argue with the word of God? As a result, the death penalty has and will continue to be one of the strongest arguments for death penalty, especially in countries where religious doctrine has a strong influence on legal doctrine, such as countries within the Middle East, Israel, and even the United States.
3. Deterrent to Crime
The film “The Usual Suspects” suggests that criminals fear the enigmatic “Keyser Soze” more than anything in the world, but that’s just a movie. In reality, the words “Singapore Justice” can make even the most hardened criminal cry like a baby, and it has. In Singapore, drug and gun running, weapons infractions, and murder can all carry a mandatory death sentence, and the Singapore legal system will hardly blink while passing it down. Singaporean law isn’t just tough on capital punishment; smoking a cigarette in a no-smoking area can easily net an offender a $1,000 fine.
We could easily pass this attitude off as barbaric and unnecessary…if it didn’t actually work. The crime rate gap between Singapore and the United States is rather vast; in fact Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. In a country where smuggling over 50 grams of heroin is certain to result in the same punishment as slaughtering another human being, obviously, a criminal has to decide if breaking the law at all is really worth their life. The United States justice system does not guarantee death to a criminal in the same way Singapore’s justice system guarantees it. For a murderer with strong evidence against them, chances are there is no plea bargain to commute the offense, no twenty years of appeals, no governors who will swoop in at the 11th hour to grant clemency for the condemned. As evidenced by Singapore’s low crime rate, simply having a “law-bide or die” stance, backed up through examples, may be the most efficient and cheapest known way to prevent capital crimes.
Forget the financial cost of executing a criminal; forget the legal obligations to rid society of an incorrigible, violent lawbreaker. Forget all arguments against and for death penalty, and the people who wage this war of beliefs on the internet, in print, and in courtrooms. Forget the rights of the criminal, forget the judge, forget the legal aspect of trying and punishing a criminal completely.
As long as you remember the victims.
While what constitutes an offense punishable by death differs around the globe, there is still one constant between these offenses: someone is harmed. With murder being the worst of all offenses, the victim is far from the only one to suffer. The family and friends of a victim will have to live with not only the pain of losing a loved one, but they must recognize that the person responsible for their loss still lives while the victim does not. Long after a death row sentence has been handed down, a criminal still eats, breathes, and in the case of criminals such as notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, even father children. If it’s infuriating for the average person to know that serial rapist and murderer Ted Bundy was actually privileged enough to procreate, imagine how infuriating it would be for the family of one of Bundy’s victims to know the same thing.
Victims of murder cannot avenge themselves, only the law and those closest to the victim can do this. A victim’s family feels, rightfully so, that they are obligated to attain justice for the victim. This isn’t justice in the traditional sense, but retribution. If you’ve (hopefully) never lost a loved one to violence, consider for a moment the person you love most is taken away from you because a criminal wanted their money, or just wanted to know what it felt like to take a life. Maybe you’d want to see such a person dead, maybe you wouldn’t, but regardless of race, color, or creed, the thing you’d probably want most is a little payback. I don’t imagine there’d be anyway you could truly have your mind at ease without some level of retribution.
It isn’t possible to bring back a loved one lost to violence, but bringing peace of mind, a remarkably priceless thing, may be the only true consolation a legal system can provide.
“May the punishment fit the crime.” At the risk of being biased, this is definitely the best definition of justice that has ever existed or ever will exist.
A desire for justice is one of the inherent qualities of most humans, and it prevents society from falling into a despotic chaos where the average, peaceful person would be subject to the anger, violence, and madness of criminals. A society’s law, and the justice that is dispensed by its hands, is ultimately what keeps the citizenry of that society safe at night if anything does.
In places where the death penalty is an option, it is one of the cornerstones of justice.
For the sake of society’s stability, fair and swift justice must always exist, and the complete removal of people who would destroy that society through crime is absolutely necessary. The death penalty serves this purpose better than any other form of punishment, as it ultimately ensures that a criminal can never harm another person again. From the perspective of justice, the death penalty serves any given populace by erasing its worst element: the criminal one.