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Capital Punishment

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I love debating capital punishment. It's probably because I can easily argue from both sides. Capital punishment (for those who don't know) is when a convicted felon is charged with death (which is brought about by a number of ways, e.g. Electrocution, poisoning, etc.)

So is Capital Punishment necessary for a society to function properly, especially in this day and age? What are its benefits and drawbacks?

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I actually did a group debate over this subject. If you don't include the moral part, then it's easiest to defend the use of capital punishment. If you're going to talk about ethics and what's "right," then you're probably going to win using pathos.

I'll try to be realistic, but there's no way that I can say that capital punishment is essential because I don't believe that I or any human has the right to consciously take someone's life away from him/her.

Including morals:

Pros of capital punishment:

  • it's cheaper for the government. rather than spending money on food and the prisoner's health and so on, the executed prisoner is much easier to take care of. Yeah, that is pretty heartless, but it's a fact.
  • the families of the victims feel avenged.
  • it serves as a lesson for others who might commit felonies. would you be more scared to steal candy if you knew the consequences included a slap on the wrist or a public denouncement?
  • People say that killing someone by injecting him/her with a fast-acting poison isn't ruthless.
Cons of capital punishment:
  • Many say we don't have the right to kill someone, and to quote Gandhi, "An eye for an eye makes the world blind."
  • Who wants to have someone's blood on his or her list of actions?
  • Someone who is executed might later have been found innocent, but you can't do anything about it now that you've killed him/her.
  • I'm sure there are more, but I can't think of them at the moment.

Edit: My words are pretty biased. Even I can see that. I don't believe in the use of capital punishment, even though I argued the pros of capital punishment in the debate [we won, by the way.] I do have to say that I think there would be more crime if capital punishment were not in use. Society isn't perfect, and we're just trying to get a system that works for now. Perhaps when we've conquered the other great illnesses of society, we'll come back to this one. I wouldn't want to be the one to take the blame for abolishing capital punishment, but I also wouldn't want to be the one delivering death to a person.

Edited by sweetnsimple786

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I don't think you could ever argue that capital punishment is a social necessity for something to function properly. The success of a society isn't measured by the severity of its punishments!

Whether it is the right thing to do, which I think is probably a more arguable question is everything between simple and complex. Some people would say yes right off the bat, others immediately no and some people think it's an insanely difficult question.

One easy response to Capital Punishment would be evidence-based -- does Capital Punishment help to prevent crimes? Well, the evidence shows that it doesn't have any real effect at all on the levels of crime, be they serious or minor. The alternative to the death penalty (usually incarceration for life) is just as effective a deterrant as killing somebody.

So at this point you have to move on to whether it is "right" or "wrong". People who think it's right usually argue from the religiously-inspired "an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth" what-you-did-to-me-I'll-do-to-you perspective. There are a few problems with this. Firstly that if the original act was morally wrong (which is what we're saying), the second "corrective" act is also morally wrong. If this isn't the case, we have to declare that the wrongness of a particular act is nothing to do with the action-in-itself (that killing is in itself not a "wrong" act). We now have two choices - one that it is the perpetrator of the killing which makes the death wrong or right. If the state kills somebody, that is acceptable, whereas if an individual kills somebody, that is unacceptable. However we might then argue that this skips the whole point and gives far too much power to the state. The second choice is that we have to say it is the motive for killing which is suspect. If somebody is killed and the motive is that they killed somebody else (i.e. capital punishment), that is acceptable. However if somebody is killed and the motive isn't that they killed somebody else, it isn't acceptable. Obviously this isn't exactly sensible either, as then you'd have to say that somebody who murdered somebody for murdering another person is innocent. What capital punishment does is more or less simply to legalise vengeance.

You also encounter a number of other problems - for instance that it is not impossible for the innocent to be convicted of what they didn't do. Similarly that it is often difficult to gauge exactly why people did something. Murder in self-defence, because you felt threatened, because you suffer from a mental disorder, by accident etc., is different from murder in cold blood. You can never really be 100% sure that an individual is guilty unless they themselves admit to it -- and if you're going to face the death penalty for admitting guilt, perhaps you do have to have a mental disorder in order to do so!

People argue for and against capital punishment because everybody recognises that life is the most essential and important thing we have. Taking somebody's life is more or less the worst thing you can possibly do, excepting perhaps torture or something similarly gruesome. In my opinion to take somebody's life from them in revenge is like going into the house of a convicted burglar and stealing something because they stole from you. It's committing exactly the same crime, but accepting it because, as I mentioned earlier, we find acceptable either the motive for the killing or that the perpetrator has the right to kill people. Both of these would require some degree of self-contradiction, even if combined together into a single statement (that both perpetrator and motive have to be correct) because their loopholes overlap.

*shrug* It is my opinion that the act of killing somebody is reprehensible, and that neither the person carrying out the act nor the motive for it change the fact it's wrong to take somebody's life any more than it's okay for somebody who's been burgled (or indeed for the state to take it into their own hands) to "burgle back". Killing somebody for killing somebody is to commit two equally wrong acts, even if we believe that when the state does it, circumstances suddenly become mitigating. Personally I don't think a society with the death penalty could ever be considered civilised. Part of being civilised is to live without hypocrisy by a set of rules as to what's right and what's not, and allowing those at the top to break the rules is just as bad as those at the bottom breaking them.

Probably a lot of holes in that argument (I can see them myself, ahah), but that's my personal take on it.

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I think that it's horrible.

As someone said, do we really have the right to kill another human being? Even if the felon has commited a murder, are we then to murder her/him? Then we aren't any better than him/her. Also, it doesn't only affect the felon, but also his/her family, friends etc. There's also been cases where innocent people get convicted to murder, and then we can't bring them back to life. I think that some criminals need care instead of punishment, for example he/she might not be completely mentally well.

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I agree with the previous points, but capital punishment does have its benefits.

If a criminal has been convicted of murder, doesn't the family on the person murdered deserve justice? Even if this criminal were sentenced to life in jail, they would still take up resources from the government (to feed them, cloth them etc.) when these resources could be used on people who have not committed any crimes (i.e. the elderly). Is it fair that felons receive this treatment?

Also, in the case of the felon being mentally ill, they wouldn't usually be sentenced to death, rather, they would be institutionalized so that they cannot be a threat to anyone else in the future. However, this also has disadvantages. Convicted criminals may claim that they only committed the crimes because they were mentally unwell at the time. After being institutionalized and "rehabilitated", what is to stop these criminals acting unlawfully again?

Capital Punishment not only permanently rids a society of certain unlawful individuals, but it also acts as a deterrent to keep more people form performing crimes in the future.

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I agree with the previous points, but capital punishment does have its benefits.

If a criminal has been convicted of murder, doesn't the family on the person murdered deserve justice? Even if this criminal were sentenced to life in jail, they would still take up resources from the government (to feed them, cloth them etc.) when these resources could be used on people who have not committed any crimes (i.e. the elderly). Is it fair that felons receive this treatment?

The problem with this argument (besides the fact that it skips the moral dimenson entirely) is the slippery slope. Rapists take up government money, too. As do those who're convicted of assault, and those who have stolen things and so on. At what point do you say that an individual should be euthanised rather than being imprisoned? If the theory is that society should take the most economically sensible attitude to crime, you'd have to widen the net a whole lot more in terms of who is eligible to be killed. Ultimately you'd have to say that old people don't contribute to the work force economically, so perhaps they ought to be euthanised too. It's a poor argument, in my opinion, as all it does it highlight holes in the financing of the prison service. We have prisons for a reason - for reform, to keep the public safe and because we act against crime by taking away freedoms. Similarly we have institutions for old people for a reason. Both are important parts of society, and society is responsible for sustaining the both of them.

Also, in the case of the felon being mentally ill, they wouldn't usually be sentenced to death, rather, they would be institutionalized so that they cannot be a threat to anyone else in the future. However, this also has disadvantages. Convicted criminals may claim that they only committed the crimes because they were mentally unwell at the time. After being institutionalized and "rehabilitated", what is to stop these criminals acting unlawfully again?

The suggestion of this is that those who genuinely do have a mental condition ought to be killed purely because that way we know we're going to catch out anybody who fools the authorities that they're mentally ill aaaand in my opinion that is extremely, extremely unethical. It's calling everybody equally guilty for the sake of convenience, despite the fact some people aren't. People who have the capacity to murder are usually vetted by a professional psychologist (and they're usually able to catch out fakes) and shouldn't ever be released. Ultimately life imprisonment has exactly the same effect in terms of stopping the individual reoffending as the death penalty does, as neither gives any additional exposure to the public.

Capital Punishment not only permanently rids a society of certain unlawful individuals, but it also acts as a deterrent to keep more people form performing crimes in the future.

However it's no better a deterrent than life imprisonment, which has identical effects.

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Interesting stuff.

I've seen/read reputable accounts that support the fact that capital punishment is a greater deterrent than life imprisonment without parole and other reputable accounts that support the exact opposite. And now, thanks to Redstar, I've seen/read accounts that state capital punishment is more economical than life imprisonment and accounts that state the opposite. They both might be true in their circumstances. I don't know.

Sandwich, you said

It is my opinion that the act of killing somebody is reprehensible, and that neither the person carrying out the act nor the motive for it change the fact it's wrong to take somebody's life any more than it's okay for somebody who's been burgled (or indeed for the state to take it into their own hands) to "burgle back". Killing somebody for killing somebody is to commit two equally wrong acts, even if we believe that when the state does it, circumstances suddenly become mitigating. Personally I don't think a society with the death penalty could ever be considered civilised. Part of being civilised is to live without hypocrisy by a set of rules as to what's right and what's not, and allowing those at the top to break the rules is just as bad as those at the bottom breaking them.

Great points. However, I don't think that we'll ever reach your definition of "civilized." I don't mean to be a cynic, but I can't see that kind of a world. Once you eliminate hypocrisy, you've got equality. Pure equality. No double standards, no higher expectations. I think the act of striving for equality, for justice is more fruitful. Once we get there, we might just mess it all up.

What I want to ask anyone is if you were the murderer, would you rather spend your life rotting in jail or be executed? I gotta say, unless I'm being masochistic or very repentant, the execution seems better [as long as I'm not innocent!]

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The problem is that the death penalty has not been enforced long enough to draw a conclusion as to whether it truly acts as a deterrent.

Naci Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University, authored a study that looked at all 3,054 U.S. counties over two decades, and concluded that each execution saved five lives. Mocan stated, "I personally am opposed to the death penalty... But my research shows that there is a deterrent effect."

Joanna M. Shepherd, a law professor at Emory with a doctorate in economics who was involved in several studies on the death penalty, stated, "I am definitely against the death penalty on lots of different grounds... But I do believe that people respond to incentives." Shepherd found that the death penalty had a deterrent effect only in those states that executed at least nine people between 1977 and 1996. In the Michigan Law Review in 2005, Shepherd wrote, "Deterrence cannot be achieved with a half-hearted execution program."

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I agree with the previous points, but capital punishment does have its benefits.

If a criminal has been convicted of murder, doesn't the family on the person murdered deserve justice? Even if this criminal were sentenced to life in jail, they would still take up resources from the government (to feed them, cloth them etc.) when these resources could be used on people who have not committed any crimes (i.e. the elderly). Is it fair that felons receive this treatment?

I have a hard time imagining that they would feel any better if they knew that the murderer was killed as well, but it's a hard scenario to imagine. When it comes to taking up resources, I still think they have rights to such things, even though they've done horrible things. I know that resources are scarce and there's always the problem of prioritizing, but even felons have a right to food and shelter. By the way, don't they usually work in prisons?

Also, in the case of the felon being mentally ill, they wouldn't usually be sentenced to death, rather, they would be institutionalized so that they cannot be a threat to anyone else in the future. However, this also has disadvantages. Convicted criminals may claim that they only committed the crimes because they were mentally unwell at the time. After being institutionalized and "rehabilitated", what is to stop these criminals acting unlawfully again?

Well, I don't really think people kill just because they enjoy it. If their situation can be improved, then they might not have any reason to murder more people, and can be released without problems.

Capital Punishment not only permanently rids a society of certain unlawful individuals, but it also acts as a deterrent to keep more people form performing crimes in the future.

Really? According to what I've heard, it doesn't (know it's bad to say such things without sources, but I can't bother to find any right now). America doesn't really seem to have less crimes than other countries, does it?

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Tilia, I think that many families seek vengeance, at least at first. They want to see the murderer brought to justice, and many think that a life in jail isn't fair enough. They do want "an eye for an eye." Not that I'm arguing for or against it in this instance. This statement is supposed to be unbiased. =)

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Tilia, comparing the crime rate of America to other countries would not prove whether or not the death penalty deters people from acting unlawfully. Part of my argument is that the penalty hasn't been in play long enough to properly analyze its effects. Once it has been established, and only then, can we decided whether it actually deters crime or not. We would also do that by comparing with previous crime rates of a country too see if the rates have decrease. Comparing murder rates with another country proves nothing.

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Tilia, comparing the crime rate of America to other countries would not prove whether or not the death penalty deters people from acting unlawfully. Part of my argument is that the penalty hasn't been in play long enough to properly analyze its effects. Once it has been established, and only then, can we decided whether it actually deters crime or not. We would also do that by comparing with previous crime rates of a country too see if the rates have decrease. Comparing murder rates with another country proves nothing.

When it comes to crimes being punishable by death, what makes American people different from everybody else in terms of their reactions to it, and their tendency to commit murder? You can look at innumerable examples of countries in which the death penalty has been replaced (for a long period of time) by life imprisonment - for instance in the United Kingdom there was a death penalty for almost any crime you can name (at one point you could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread) at some point or another. People have been killed by the state since at least the 1300's. Gradually people decided it was uncivilised, and gradually it became a punishment for less and less until in the 1960s or so it disappeared completely, and now there is no single crime remaining which is punishable by death. That gives you at least 50 years to look at murder statistics, and other serious offences, as compared with how it used to be -- and in a culture not hugely dissimilar to that of the USA. Same basic principles, on the whole. Loads of countries across the world can tell similar stories in terms of looking back through their records and seeing what effect the abolition of the death penalty had - you can even compare american states between each other and see whether those with the death penalty have better or worse statistics for offending. There are plenty of other social issues which are dealt with differently by the law for which it is possible to make decent comparisons, and there's nothing unique about the death penalty in that respect.

The death penalty is an instant thing, and it's been around for aaaages. You can't say that its effects on society would be slow. I'm not entirely convinced there's a lack of evidence at all (and even then I don't think a lack of evidence for it is in any way an argument to support implementing the death penalty) -- at the end of the day it has the same value as a deterrent as life imprisonment. Nobody wants to go through either, and I don't think that experimenting with it to see if it's a better or worse deterrent is worthwhile because of the huge number of issues it raises morally. To be worthwhile it would have to be a powerful deterrent which caused a significant decrease in the number of offences, and that sort of effect would be obvious very quickly.

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I just debated Capital Punishment in MUN today and I yielded the floor. (Aren't I cool). Out of pure randomeness they assigned me Sweden for MUN. I am strictly against Capital Punishment. Although I do take into account the cultural differences in between the countries and their views on crime but there is no need to take a life. The idea of Punishment is to repent your sins. France used to have capital punishment in the 1970s and the 1980s under the presidency of Mitterand but then realised it was immoral and abolished it. Life is precious, even athiests would agree on that unless they don't value a human's life which is highly unlikely. I believe countries who have Capital Punishment do it because they don't have a very effective judiciary system and try to avoid paperwork and labour involved (law).

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Read this in the paper today.

The American way of death

17th September http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article6837546.ece

A botched execution in Ohio should quicken the end of capital punishment

America is the only big democracy — apart, occasionally, from Japan — that still carries out capital punishment. The botched attempted execution in Ohio this week of a murderer should prompt America to join the rest of the developed world in consigning judicial killing to history. There is inadequate evidence that it acts as a deterrent, it ignores the risk of miscarriages of justice and allows no room for repentance or correction. But above all it is a barbarity that stains civilised society.

There is no question but that the crime committed by Romell Broom was vile. He was sentenced to die for the rape and murder in 1984 of a 14-year-old girl. But his execution on Tuesday was halted when technicians failed, after a two-hour-long search, to find a vein sturdy enough to deliver the three-drug lethal injection.

A one-week reprieve granted by the Governor of Ohio may well be extended indefinitely, partly because it is half a century since any inmate was subjected to more than one execution, and partly because some justices of the US Supreme Court have now begun to wonder if botched lethal injections might not violate the eighth amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishment”. Last year the court upheld the use of lethal injections. But Justice John Paul Stevens, while concurring, said that imposing the death penalty represented “the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes”. Other justices are believed to share this view.

When Texas became the first US state to introduce lethal injections in 1982, they were thought more humane than the electric chair, gas or hanging. It is time that they went the same way.

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I can't bother to read all that ^

But , whats the point of Capital Punishment , when you can make him/her suffer by putting him away for life? Some might feel death is better than Life Imprisonment.

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Everyone has a right to life.

Why? Just intrinsically human beings owe other humans the right to live? Did Hitler deserve to live after his crimes? Do braindead hospital patients who are a burden on their families and the state deserve to live? Are you against abortions?

IMO people don't automatically get the right to live.

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Everyone has a right to life.

Why? Just intrinsically human beings owe other humans the right to live? Did Hitler deserve to live after his crimes? Do braindead hospital patients who are a burden on their families and the state deserve to live? Are you against abortions?

IMO people don't automatically get the right to live.

Is the implication of this that saying "yes" to any of those is incorrect?

At least 2 of those examples overlook some very important additional issues -- like when does life become "life" and when does it stop being "life"? (The abortion and braindead examples respectively). As for the Hitler one, that's basically just whether you believe execution is justifiable "punishment"... and indeed whether eliminating somebody is equivalent to punishing them.

I personally don't see how any of these examples would necessarily persuade anybody to say that we don't all have a right to let each other live. I mean you could equally say: what makes you better than Hitler that you kill people to punish them or get them out the way? Is all of the justification in the motivation or is it also in the action? If you say it's also in the action, which I would personally concur with, I don't see any difference between killing somebody because they're Jewish etc. and killing somebody because they're any form of [X]. If you work on the assumption that the 'killing' is the wrong bit, none of it is ever justifiable. Not for Hitler and not for us.

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Ah well I guess I was too hasty in my egotism there. I guess it's not logically incoherent for someone to think life is intrinsically worthwhile.

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Everyone has a right to life.

Why? Just intrinsically human beings owe other humans the right to live? Did Hitler deserve to live after his crimes? Do braindead hospital patients who are a burden on their families and the state deserve to live? Are you against abortions?

IMO people don't automatically get the right to live.

Is the implication of this that saying "yes" to any of those is incorrect?

At least 2 of those examples overlook some very important additional issues -- like when does life become "life" and when does it stop being "life"? (The abortion and braindead examples respectively). As for the Hitler one, that's basically just whether you believe execution is justifiable "punishment"... and indeed whether eliminating somebody is equivalent to punishing them.

I personally don't see how any of these examples would necessarily persuade anybody to say that we don't all have a right to let each other live. I mean you could equally say: what makes you better than Hitler that you kill people to punish them or get them out the way? Is all of the justification in the motivation or is it also in the action? If you say it's also in the action, which I would personally concur with, I don't see any difference between killing somebody because they're Jewish etc. and killing somebody because they're any form of [X]. If you work on the assumption that the 'killing' is the wrong bit, none of it is ever justifiable. Not for Hitler and not for us.

I don't think it's relevant to say "everybody has a right to life" and "killing is unjustifiable, no matter what" and use these broad assumptions to base everything else on. Unless you have underlying religious beliefs, what meaning do such assertions hold?

On the other hand, I think it's barbaric that the way we treat people who are obviously mentally deranged is to inject them with lethal drugs. Even to admit the desire to kill other humans is evidence of some deeply seated psychological issue. Sickness needs to be cured, not eliminated!

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