Death Penalty Dilemma
The dilemma of whether or not the Death Penalty is ethical is major problem facing society today. The death penalty is given to those who commit crimes deemed by society and government as deserving the infliction of death with crimes such as murder earning this punishment. A widely controversial subject, the death penalty is a divider among many ideologies, religions, and cultures. This essay will go over why the death penalty is ethical from the viewpoints of Immanuel Kant and Utilitarianism. Immanuel Kant believed that the death penalty was morally justifiable in certain cases. He absolutely insisted on the capital punishment for murders saying, “whoever has committed murder, must die” (Kant). He believed that a society that does not sentence someone who has killed people to death turns into an accomplice of crime. Kant criticizes the notion that nobody has a right to deprive a person of a right to live, therefore death penalty is unjust. He believed that a state should have the right to kill a murderer.
Kant believed that capital punishment is justified only regarding serious crimes such as murder or anything that causes a very large amount of damage to society. He believed it was impossible to allow any type of situation where a murderer should be entitled to any legal rights and would be able to justify his actions. He also believed that we could not replace capital punishment and didn’t know what could replace it if it was abolished. Kant thought that if a criminal is not punished then society has a controversial nature and undermines itself. Punishing an innocent man by accident was also preferable than failure to punish someone who has actually committed a crime to Kant. In Kant’s opinion a murderer sentenced to death is unallowed to appeal for pardon or lighter punishment. Authorities should have no such right to allow such a situation but if they still choose to do so, it means that legal authorities contradict themselves.
Legal authorities must not violate justice, arbitrariness regarding justice cannot be allowed. A legal system must strictly abide by the law, because observation of laws is an expression of justice. The death penalty in the United States is reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. It is not a state-run lottery that randomly chooses people at random from among all those convicted of murder. Instead, it is a system that selects the worst of the worst. If you were to sentence killers like the ones previously described to a lighter punishment, such as a long period in prison, would be disproportionate to the severity of the crime. Kant insisted on the capital punishment for murderers. Kant said that “whoever has committed murder, must die” (Kant). A society that does not sentence a murderer to death turns into an accomplice of this crime. Utilitarianism views the death penalty as being morally justifiable if it benefits society as a whole or promotes general happiness.
So, if someone committed a heinous crime like murder or rape then it would promote the general happiness of the public to have that person be punished with the death penalty. So, while even though punishing criminals might cause sadness and pain for them and the people who are close to them, these punishments will ensure the happiness of the society as a whole. It can be said that Utilitarianisms support death penalty because, violating laws causes pain for the majority of the society so preventing this pain is necessary.
However, they don’t believe it is all right to punish criminals in order to give them what they deserve or exact revenge or retribution on them. The problem with retribution, for utilitarianists, is that it promotes suffering without any gain in happiness. Utilitarianists also believe capital punishment is meant to deter many criminals from committing murder. The severity of losing one’s life is intended to cause fear and consequently prevent crime. The death penalty is also better than life imprisonment because it prevents the criminal who committed such heinous crimes from being released from prison and committing them again. From this viewpoint, the taking of the criminal’s life is justified because it prevents the taking of other, innocent lives. If decided that the permitting the criminal to live may result in consequences of more terrible crimes, then capital punishment would be considered an appropriate alternative in that case. These views show that the death penalty is an ethical solution to terrible crimes.
All of these viewpoints state that the death penalty should only be used in scenarios where the criminal in question has committed the most heinous of crimes, murder. Kant states that if a criminal has killed someone then he forfeits his rights as a human being and his punishment should be equal to the crime. Executing murderers prevents them from committing their crime again, and thus protects innocent victims. The good outweighs the bad, and the executioner is morally justified in taking the murderer’s life. It is actually more morally wrong to simply incarcerate a murderer to a life of air-conditioning, television equipped prison where they get three free meals a day, recreational time, and visits from people close to them.
Someone who murders another person can only be made to pay for their actions by forfeiting their rights and giving their life in place of the person they killed. It should be this way because a loss of freedom does not compare to loss of life. If the punishment for smaller crimes such as theft is imprisonment, then the punishment for murder must be even more severe, because human life is much more valuable than any material item. For example, if a murderer took the life of a child and the criminal was only given a life sentence then, the family of the victim will be paying taxes for his meals and his television. And if he were to take the college courses that prison might offer him, the family of the victim would be financing that as well. This goes against Kant and utilitarianism because it doesn’t strip the criminal of their rights or punish them accordingly, but it also doesn’t promote happiness to the victim’s family.
More than Revenge Many people claim that the death penalty is just a means of revenge. However, it is not while in reality, the murderer actually gets off fairly easy when they are sentenced to death. The murderer is often only injected with a lethal injection. If a person is given the lethal injection they are put to sleep and then administered potassium chloride that will stops their heart. The criminal dies from overdose and respiratory and cardiac arrest while they are unconscious. The small amount of pain the criminal goes through does not even begin to compensate for the pain of the victims and their families. The death penalty is not a deterrent against violent crime. The death penalty as a deterrent to crime is not the issue. Capital punishment is, pardon the redundancy, a punishment for crime.
As a punishment, the death penalty is 100% effective—every time it is used, the prisoner dies. Additionally, the death penalty is actually 100% effective as a deterrent to crime: the murderer will never commit another crime once he has been executed. While there is no proof that any innocents have been executed in this century, there is an abundance of evidence that prisoners who either escaped or were released early murdered innocent victims again. Professor [and former federal judge in Utah] Paul Cassell points out that Out of a sample of 164 paroled Georgia murderers, eight committed subsequent murders within seven years of release. A study of twenty Oregon murderers released on parole in 1979 found that one (i.e., five percent) had committed a subsequent homicide within five years of release. Another study found that of 11,404 persons originally convicted of “willful homicide” and released during 1965 and 1974, 34 were returned to prison for commission of a subsequent criminal homicide during the first year alone. Even those who are not released but still serve life terms murder again.
Cassell further notes that, “At least five federal prison officers have been killed since December 1982, and the inmates in at least three of the incidents were already serving life sentences for murder.” Had these prisoners been executed, innocent lives would have been saved. The death penalty is, without question, a deterrent to murder. The death penalty is not a cruel and unusual punishment. The framers of the Constitution supported the death penalty, and in fact constructed laws in order to carry it out, so it is ridiculous to claim that cruel and unusual punishment refers to the death penalty. Justice Antonin Scalia observed, “The Fifth Amendment provides that ‘[n]o persons shall be held to answer for a capital … crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury … nor be deprived of life … without the due process of law.’ This clearly permits the death penalty to be imposed, and establishes beyond doubt that the death penalty is not one of the ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.” The death penalty is moral and just.
The American draftsmen were primarily concerned with proscribing “tortures” and other “barbarous” methods of punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court noted in Gregg v. Georgia that “In the earliest cases raising Eighth Amendment claims, the Court focused on particular methods of execution to determine whether they were too cruel to pass constitutional muster. The constitutionality of the sentence of death itself was not at issue.” The Senate Judiciary Committee once noted, “Murder does not simply differ in magnitude from extortion or burglary or property destruction offenses; it differs in kind. Its punishment ought to also differ in kind. It must acknowledge the inviolability and dignity of innocent human life.
It must, in short, be proportionate.” The very notion that one could be cruel while punishing a guilty murderer for murdering an innocent victim is laughable.
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