The American history is full of debates that seemed unresolvable, but the concerted effort of the public put an end to many of these issues. The abolition of slavery, for example, nearly split the United States in half. Two hundred years ago, hardly anyone would think that women would get the right to vote or that African Americans would enjoy the same privileges as Caucasians. Nevertheless, decades of public discourse settled these debates for the betterment of society. However, despite this remarkable social progress, one issue has not been fully settled, namely the question of whether to terminate or retain the death penalty. The death penalty argumentative essay revolves around the capital punishment, which has been around since before independence. Yet, it remains not only one of the most debated matters in the United States but also one of the most divisive problems. People calling for its ban consider it a cruel punishment that increases the risk of killing the innocent. On the other hand, the supporters see it as the only just retribution for monstrous crimes. Therefore, although abolitionists have merit in their argument, state and federal governments should not take away the death penalty because, being both constitutional and popular, it deters potential capital offenders, ensures closure for the victims of wrongdoings, and upholds the principles of retributive justice.
Firstly, the government should not abolish the death penalty because the Constitution allows it. The Constitution is sovereign, at least in theory. Hence, altering the penal code to disband capital punishment would violate the wishes of the Founding Fathers who, in their wisdom, envisioned the crimes the only cure for which was the death penalty. Thus, the Supreme Court halted the verdict of execution on grounds of inconsistencies in its application. In 1972, for example, it cited the arbitrariness of the penalty to introduce it in Furham v. Georgia case (Vollum et al. 39). However, the Supreme Court has never acknowledged capital punishment as unconstitutional.
Moreover, in the 1976 landmark ruling of Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court upheld that the death penalty was constitutional as a form of punishment and that there were sufficient safeguards in law to prevent its arbitrary imposition (Vollum et al. 40). As far back as 1890, the Supreme Court, perhaps anticipating the debate, maintained that as long as executions were not “inhuman” or “barbarous,” they were not a contravention of the Eighth Amendment (Gaines and Miller 283). Besides, Vollum et al. note that as of 2014, only 18 states banned capital punishment (40). The other 32 states chose to retain the statutory right to introduce the death sentence for capital offenders following the example of the federal government (Vollum et al. 40). In light of these court proceedings and state-law preferences, no one can argue that death penalty is unconstitutional.
Secondly, the government should preserve the legalized killing because most Americans recognize it as just punishment. In 2015, a poll conducted by Gallup found that 68 percent of Caucasians and 56 percent of Hispanics were in favor of the death penalty (Bohm 448). Bohm observes that although support for the capital punishment was estimated at 39 percent among African Americans, it was higher amongst the blacks who came from middle- and upper-class backgrounds and had never been arrested (448). Therefore, people who objected to execution the most were exposed to the greatest risk of getting detained. Although ideology influenced the opinions of respondents, support was still strong across the board. In a Gallup 2012 poll, for example, 75 percent of Conservatives, 47 percent of Liberals, and 60 percent of Moderates advocated for the death penalty (Bohm 449). Therefore, given that laws and policies that function effectively tend to have the backing of public preferences, it would be in the society’s best interest to retain capital punishment.
Thirdly, death penalty should remain in place because it is the only moral and rational response to severely brutal and conscienceless crimes. Otherwise, capital offenders would be sentences to life imprisonment. Considering the monstrosity of some capital offenses, life in prison would be a severe punishment. Nonetheless, it would seem irrational, for example, to commit mass murderers and pedophiles who rape and kill infants to the comfort of maximum-security prisons for the rest of their lives. Even if it were sensible, there would be no moral reason for law-abiding citizens to pay the hefty price of keeping such predators in jails. In this regard, Bohm estimates that if the court of law sentences a convicted capital offender to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and the prisoner stays in the penitentiary for 31 year, the average annual cost of incarceration for the inmate during the first 21 years of the sentence will be about $34,140 (277). The last 10 years of detention would cost taxpayers about $70,442 per year (Bohm 277). Consequently, given the fact that handing capital offenders life imprisonment terms means under-punishing them, it is difficult to argue against the necessity of death penalty.
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Fourthly, termination of legalized killing would deny victims of horrendous crimes the closure that they find in the execution of offenders. Closure is important because it is a way for people affected by an offense to recover. Individuals find closure either through internal processes such as thinking and talking about traumatizing events with others, or external processes. The latter might include arrest, trial, and imprisonment of perpetrators. The amount or extent of closure depends on how fair the imposed punishment is as perceived by the injured party. If a child were intentionally hurt by another child, for example, she would only stop crying until she gauged that the retribution for her offender was sufficient. Similarly, one can only find closure and get a chance to move on if they feel that the punishment that a capital offender received was heavy enough. Friends and family of a victim are also likely to suffer if the person who murdered someone close to them was given a life sentence. In effect, life imprisonment—when imposed in place of the death penalty—does not serve the people affected by capital crime.
In relation to the argument provided above, the government should maintain legalized killing because it ensures retributive justice. The retributive justice theory holds that for justice to be administered, the severity of the punishment must match the magnitude of the offense (Gaines and Miller 253). In this respect, murderers can only atone for their guilt by paying with their lives. It is important to highlight that retribution is not the same as revenge. Elaborating on the difference, Vollum et al. observe that revenge tends to be emotional; thus, the aggrieved person exerts punishment arbitrarily and derives pleasure from the suffering of his or her target (324). Retribution, on the other hand, is rational. It limits penalty to the amount of harm inflicted by the offender, and satisfaction is not a goal (Vollum et al. 324). The retributive objectives of capital punishment reflect the society’s desire to punish people who engage in harmful and offensive behaviors as well as limit the emergence and spread of anarchy as a result. As long as the crimes for which juries introduce the death penalty are serious, capital punishment is evidently an appropriate and necessary measure.
Additionally, legalized killing should remain a viable punishment for capital offenders to stop the wrongdoer and deter other potential delinquents. If the state executes a perpetrator convicted of murder, everyone can rest easy knowing that this person will never have the chance to repeat the offense. As for deterrence, statistics revela a positive correlation between executions and reduced rates of homicides. In one of the first scientific studies that examine the deterrent effect of capital punishment, Professor of Economics Isaac Ehrlich conducted a multiple regression analysis to examine the effects of execution risk on homicide rates between 1933 and 1969 in line with several other variables (Bohm 242). According to Bohm, Ehrlich discovered that an additional execution per year in the period of research resulted in seven or eight fewer murders (242). More recently in 2008, the Journal of Criminal Justice published a meta-analysis of 104 surveys that explored the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Out of the 95 studies that incorporates adequate data to report a correlation, 60 found that death penalty had a deterrent effect, and only 35 of them concluded that it had a brutalization effect (Bohm 243). Hence, given its potential to deter capital offenders, death penalty is a powerful weapon in the government’s public-peace-keeping arsenal.
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Finally, capital punishment is appropriate because even religious texts sanction it. State and federal laws hinge on religious customs, and the Constitution itself makes reference to God in some parts. If the religious tradition favors capital punishment, there is no reason for the state not to follow suit. The Mosaic Code of the Old Testament, which established the retributive doctrine of “an eye for an eye”, imposed death penalty for several offenses, including murder (Vollum 2). Quoting Genesis 9:6, Recinella observes that religious texts prescribe that whoever sheds another man’s blood pay with his own blood (52). Essentially, if a punishment is valid on religious grounds, it should be valid on both moral and legal grounds.
Notwithstanding, one of the main arguments presented by people who oppose capital punishment is that it violates the primary right to life. Abolitionists assert that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the right to life, regardless of the nature of the offense for which a jury convicts a person (Bohm 180). However, one would be remiss to ignore the fact that offenders forgo the right to life when they deny their victims the same right. Justice involves trade-offs, as it is the only way to make those affected by a crime feel complete. If someone were to deprive someone of the freedom of movement by holding them against their will, it would only be appropriate when the state strips the criminal of the same freedom by locking him or her up. In the same vein, capital offenders lose the right to life among other rights when they perpetuate abrasive crimes.
People who demand to abolish the penalty of dealth also disparage it as a cruel and unusual form of punishment. However, executions are not necessarily cruel, and the use of sedatives means that they are usually not painful. In its 2008 ruling of Baze v. Rees, the Supreme Court held that the mere possibility of pain in legalized killing did not make them an inhumane and fierce punishment, which the Constitution forbids (Gaines and Miller 283). The Court maintained that the penalty is cruel only if it is too harsh considering the nature of the crime. Moreover, the courts have the discretion to decide if the punishment is unnecessarily violent with regard to the level of physical or psychological pain it inflicts, and they exercise this decision regularly (Gaines and Miller 283). Essentially, capital punishment is not cruel or unusual as juries impose it only as a response to a serious crime.
Additionally, abolitionists call for the ban on executions because, according to them, it poses a significant risk of killing the innocent. Obviously, this is a valid concern, but advances in the process and science have substantially alleviated the risk of executing guiltless people. Hence, fingerprints, DNA evidence, and other forensics can place suspects at the scene of the crime with little to no margin of error (Gaines and Miller 137). Furthermore, the two-stage bifurcated process that juries exercise during the trial of capital offenses cases reduces the risk of wrongful execution. Gaines and Miller observe that at the first stage of this process, a jury convenes to establish innocence or guilt of a person accused of a capital offense (284). If the jury finds the defendant guilty, it reconvenes and considers all mitigating factors in the case to determine if death penalty is the only just punishment it can prescribe. Even though the jury may find a defendant guilty of murder and agree that a capital crime should be punishable by death, they may decide that circumstances of the felony only justify life in prison (Gaines and Miller 285). Essentially, effective mechanisms have been implemented to ensure the minimal risk of executing the innocent, that is why this factor should not be considered as a persuasive evidence against death penalty.
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In conclusion, although abolitionists deploy some valid arguments, the government should not take away capital punishment because this kind of retribution is not only constitutional and popular, it also deters potential capital offenders as much as it offers closure to those affected by capital crimes. People who call for the ban of legalized killing assert that it is a cruel and unusual form of punishment that violates the guaranteed right to life and increases the risk of murdering the innocent. However, as the Supreme Court maintained, death penalty is neither cruel nor unusual, and states have implemented sufficient safeguards to prevent its misuse. It seems that those who support capital punishment have more facts as well as greater public and judicial support to back their claims. Therefore, if deterrence, retributive justice and the need to offer closure to the victims of traumatizing crimes count for anything, the government should maintain death penalty as a viable retribution for capital offenders.