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What Is Your Position On The Death Penalty Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 4544 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Does the death penalty serve as a deterrent to crime? Naturally, supporters of the death penalty believe that capital punishment acts as the best deterrent possible for decreasing instances of crime. Abolitionists however, think that the death penalty is no more of a deterrent than life imprisonment. The bottom line is that deterrence in regards to the death penalty is the theory about the mind of a murderer involving the psychological processes that exist (Costanzo, 2004). If so, why are crime rates in the United States comparatively high? What are some other countries’ responses to the death penalty?

What is your position on the death penalty- should it be legal or should it be abolished? Why?

Should youths who have been convicted of violent crimes be subject to the death penalty? Why or why not?

Capital punishment is punishment by death for committing a crime. Capital punishment is often called the death penalty. It is most commonly used in convictions for murder. But it has also been used for such crimes as armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and treason. About 60 countries-including the United States and many African and Asian nations-use capital punishment. Canada, Australia, and most European and Latin American nations have abolished it.


Capital punishment in the United States

Throughout history, governments have executed criminals by a variety of methods. These methods have included hanging, crucifixion, stoning, beheading, and poisoning. Since the 1600’s, shooting-often by firing squads-has been a common method of execution in many countries. Some countries execute criminals using electrocution or deadly gas. The most commonly used method in the United States is lethal injection. Lethal injection involves the use of drugs that stop the person’s breathing and heartbeat.

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History of capital punishment. Governments have used capital punishment since ancient times. In 399 B.C., the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to death. He was forced to drink hemlock, a poison the people of ancient Athens used for the death penalty. Between the A.D. 400’s and 1400’s, thousands of people in Europe were executed were executed for crimes against the state and church. Most were hanged or beheaded. During the French Revolution (1789-1799), the revolutionary government executed around 40,000 people. One method of execution in France was the guillotine, a beheading machine.

The use of capital punishment in many parts of the world declined during the 1900’s. The United Kingdom suspended capital punishment for murder in 1965 and abolished it in 1969. Northern Ireland, however, which is part of the United Kingdom, kept the death penalty for several more years. By 1998, capital punishment had been banned in the entire United Kingdom for all crimes. Canada abolished the death penalty for murder in 1976 and for all crimes in 1998. By 1985, Australia had abolished capital punishment for all crimes.

About 130 nations have formally abolished capital punishment or stopped using it. Many less developed countries continue to use the death penalty. The United States is the only industrialized Western nation where executions still take place. In the United States, the death penalty may be given as a punishment under federal law, military law, or the laws of 35 states.

The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Furman v. Georgia (1972) greatly influenced the use of capital punishment in the United States. The court held that the death penalty, as it was delivered at the time, was “cruel and unusual punishment.” Therefore, the death penalty violated the 8th and 14th amendments to the Constitution. However, the court left open the possibility that the death penalty could be constitutional if it were conducted differently. The court stated that death penalty laws must be limited to certain crimes and applied according to fair standards. Following the decision, many states passed new laws to satisfy the court’s requirements.

In Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the Supreme Court upheld the use of capital punishment for people sentenced under new laws in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. The court ruled that the death penalty itself and the standards developed by the states were constitutional. Later in the 1970’s, the court struck down laws that made the death penalty mandatory (required) for certain crimes. It also abolished the death penalty as a punishment for rape.

More than 1,000 people have been executed in the United States since the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in 1976. Thousands more are imprisoned on death row. Death row is where people who have been sentenced to death await execution. Many prisoners on death row are awaiting the outcome of legal appeals.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must decide sentences in capital punishment cases in which there was a trial by jury. That same year, the court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute people who have an intellectual disability. In 2005, the court banned the use of capital punishment in cases where the offender (person who broke the law) was under 18 years of age when the crime was committed.

In the early 2000’s, some U.S. states reexamined their capital punishment systems. Evidence had shown that some prisoners on death row were actually innocent or had been tried unfairly. For example, in 2001, Illinois declared a moratorium (temporary halt) on capital punishment. During the moratorium, a commission reviewed the fairness of the system and found many flaws. Therefore, Illinois continued its moratorium. In 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted (reduced) the death sentences of all the prisoners then on death row in the state. He changed most of the sentences to life in prison without parole.

Other states halted executions, at least temporarily, to study the method of lethal injection. In 2006, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida suspended the death penalty in the state. This suspension followed an incident in which prison officials had mishandled the lethal injection of a convicted killer. Bush appointed a commission to investigate whether lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In mid-2007, Florida resumed the death penalty. In 2006, a federal judge in California declared a halt on executions to determine the constitutionality of lethal injections.

Executions in the United States were put on hold in September 2007 after two Kentucky death-row inmates challenged the current procedures of delivering lethal injections. The inmates argued that the method violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In April 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the current lethal injection procedures. This ruling permitted executions to resume in the United States.

A number of U.S. state legislatures in the early 2000’s considered laws to end their state’s use of the death penalty. New Jersey abolished death penalty in 2007. New Mexico did so in 2009.

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The debate over capital punishment. People often disagree about whether capital punishment is a moral and effective way of dealing with crime. Many people oppose the death penalty because they believe it is cruel. They believe it is not consistent with the ideals of modern society. Critics also warn that innocent people could be executed if they are mistakenly convicted or unfairly sentenced. Most critics favor life imprisonment as an alternative to capital punishment.

Supporters of capital punishment believe that, in certain circumstances, a person who takes a human life deserves to lose his or her own life. Supporters also argue that the threat of capital punishment deters (discourages) people from committing serious crimes. However, studies have not consistently shown that the death penalty has a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment.

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• Robert W. Taylor, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Criminal Justice, University of North Texas.

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Taylor, Robert W. “Capital punishment.” World Book Advanced. World Book, 2011. Web.  4 Feb. 2011.

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Extracts from Beccaria’s an Essay on Crimes and Punishments

BECCARIA, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments (Edinburgh, 1788), pp. 49 sqq., 70 sq., 111 sqq., 169. World History


What are in general the proper punishments for crimes? Is the punishment of death really useful or necessary for the safety or good order of society? Are tortures and torments consistent with justice, or do they answer the end proposed by the laws? Which is the best method of preventing crimes? Are the same punishments equally useful at all times? What influence have they on morals? These problems should be solved with that geometrical precision which the mist of sophistry, the seduction of eloquence, and the timidity of doubt are unable to resist.

If I have no other merit than that of having first presented to my country with a greater degree of evidence what other nations have written and are beginning to practice, I shall account myself fortunate; but if, by supporting the rights of mankind and of invincible truth, I shall contribute to save from the agonies of death one unfortunate victim of tyranny or of ignorance, equally fatal, his blessing and tears of transport will be a sufficient consolation to me for the contempt of mankind. . . .

It is evident that the intent of punishments is not to torment a sensitive being nor to undo a crime already committed. Is it possible that torments and useless cruelty, the instruments of furious fanaticism or of the impotency of tyrants, can be authorized by a political body which, so far from being influenced by passion, should be the cool moderator of the passions of individuals? Can the groans of a tortured wretch recall the time past or reverse the crime he has committed?

The end of punishment therefore is no other than to prevent others from committing the like offense. Such punishments, therefore, and such a mode of inflicting them ought to be chosen as will make strongest and most lasting impressions on the minds of others with the least torment to the body of the criminal. . . .

Use of torture

The torture of a criminal during the course of his trial is a cruelty consecrated by custom in most nations. It is used with an intent either to make him confess his crime or explain some contradictions into which he has been led during his examination; or discover his accomplices; or for some kind of metaphysical and incomprehensible purgation of infamy; or finally, in order to discover other crimes of which he is not accused, but of which he may be guilty.

No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection until it has been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of mere power can authorize the punishment of a citizen so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt? The following dilemma is a frequent one! Either he is guilty or not guilty. If guilty, he should only suffer the punishment ordained by the laws, and torture becomes useless, as his confession is unnecessary. If he be not guilty, you torture the innocent; for in the eye of the law every man is innocent whose crime has not been proved. . . .

A very strange but necessary consequence of the use of torture is that the plight of the innocent is worse than that of the guilty. With regard to the first, either he confesses the crime which he has not committed and is condemned, or he is acquitted and has suffered a punishment he did not deserve. On the contrary, the person who is really guilty has the most favorable side of the question; for if he supports the torture with firmness and resolution, he is acquitted and is the gainer, having exchanged a greater punishment for a less. . . .

Arguments against capital punishment

The punishment of death is pernicious to society from the examples of barbarity it affords. If the passions or the necessity of war have taught men to shed the blood of their fellow-creatures, the laws, which are intended to moderate the ferocity of mankind, should not increase it by examples of barbarity,-the more horrible since this punishment is usually attended with formal pageantry. Is it not absurd that the laws which detect and punish homicide should, in order to prevent murder, publicly commit murder themselves?

What are the true and most useful laws? Those compacts and conditions which all would propose and observe in those moments when private interest is silent or combined with that of the public. What are the natural sentiments of every person concerning the punishment of death? We may read them in the contempt and indignation with which every one looks on the executioner, who is nevertheless an innocent executor of the public will, a good citizen who contributes to the advantage of society, the instrument of the general security within as good soldiers are without. What, then, is the origin of this contradiction? Why is this sentiment of mankind indelible, however one may reason? It is because in a secret corner of the mind, in which the original impressions of nature are still preserved, men discover a sentiment which tells them that their lives are not lawfully in the power of any one, but of that necessity only which with its iron scepter rules the universe. . . .

The past full of mistakes

If it be objected that almost all nations in all ages have punished certain crimes with death, I answer that the force of these examples vanishes when opposed to truth against which prescription is urged in vain. The history of mankind is an immense sea of errors in which a few obscure truths may here and there be found. . . . That some societies only, either few in number or for a very short time, have abstained from the punishment of death is rather favorable to my argument, for such is the fate of great truths that their duration is only as a flash of lightning in the long dark night of error. The happy time has not yet arrived when truth, as falsehood has been hitherto, shall be the portion of the greatest number.

I am sensible that the voice of one philosopher is too weak to be heard amidst the clamors of a multitude blindly influenced by custom; but there is a small number of sages scattered on the face of the earth who will echo me from the bottom of their hearts; and if these truths should happily force their way to the thrones of princes, be it known to them that they come attended with the secret wishes of all mankind; and tell the sovereign that deigns them a gracious reception that his fame shall outshine the glory of conquerors, and that equitable posterity will exalt his peaceful trophies above those of a Titus, an Antoninus, or a Trajan.

The benevolent despots

How happy were mankind if laws were now to be first formed, now that we see on the thrones of Europe benevolent monarchs, friends to the virtues of peace, to the arts and sciences, fathers of their people, though crowned, yet citizens; the increase of whose authority augments the happiness of their subjects by destroying that intermediate despotism which intercepts the prayers of the people to the throne. If these humane princes have suffered the old laws to subsist, it is doubtless because they are disturbed by the numberless obstacles which oppose the subversion of errors by the sanction of many ages; and therefore every wise citizen will wish for the increase of their authority. . . .

Would you prevent crimes? Let the laws be clear and simple; let the entire force of the nation be united in their defense; let them be intended rather to favor every individual than any particular classes of men; let the laws be feared and the laws only. . . .

From what I have written, results the following general theorem of considerable utility, though not conformable to Custom, the common legislator of nations: That a punishment may not be an act of violence, of one or of many, against a private member of society; it should be public, immediate, and necessary; the least possible in the case given; proportioned to the crime, and determined by the laws.

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To cite this document, World Book recommends the following format:

di Beccaria, Marchese . “Extracts from Beccaria’s An Essay on Crimes and Punishments.” Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century: The French Re. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908. World Book Advanced. Web. 4 Feb. 2011.

ANOTHER VIEW: Do not expand New Hampshire’s death penalty

Anonymous. The Union Leader. Manchester, N.H.: Feb 2, 2011. pg. A.7

Abstract (Summary)

[…] the abolition of the death penalty does not jeopardize our state’s ability to protect people from dangerous criminals, as we have available to us the sentence of life without the possibility of parole (which the minority report of the Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire referred to as “death by incarceration”). […] in the midst of all our discussion on legislation, let us never fail to express our support for the families and friends of victims of terrible crimes.

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Copyright Union Leader Corporation Feb 2, 2011

THE NEW HAMPSHIRE House of Representatives soon will consider two bills, HB 147 and HB 162, which seek to expand the death penalty in our state. As Catholic bishops, and as citizens of New Hampshire, we urge the members of the House to vote against these bills.

Like other citizens of our state, our hearts are broken by the inconceivable and monstrous crimes that prompted these bills. We pray for the victims and their families; we honor the bravery and nobility of the police officers; and we, too, seek a just punishment for the guilty. However, we believe that just punishment should not involve the taking of yet another life.

It was surely no accident that “life” was the first of the inalienable rights affirmed by our nation’s Declaration of Independence. The right to life is the foundation of all the human rights we possess. Unfortunately, in our time, the value of human life and human dignity is constantly under attack. During the century we just concluded, we saw war and bloodshed on a scale never before witnessed in human history. We live in a culture where the taking of the most innocent of lives — those of unborn children in the womb — is tolerated, made legal, and even encouraged, and a world where the elderly and infirm are subtly encouraged not to be a drain on their families or society.

In the face of all this, it is evident that to restore what Pope John Paul II called a “culture of life,” our society ought to employ the strongest measures available. One of the measures available is the restriction and eventual abolition of the death penalty.

By no means does this assertion of the respect for the life of criminals minimize the requirement that justice be done to them through proportionate punishment, nor does it dissolve the distinction between innocence and guilt. Indeed, the abolition of the death penalty does not jeopardize our state’s ability to protect people from dangerous criminals, as we have available to us the sentence of life without the possibility of parole (which the minority report of the Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire referred to as “death by incarceration”). Instead, our state’s refusal to kill capital offenders would be a sign of the state’s confident moral integrity, not of its weakness to govern and protect.

When the state ends a human life although a non-lethal alternative exists, it suggests that society can end violence with more violence. We know that this is not the case. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, killing the guilty one is not the way to rebuild justice and reconcile society. On the contrary, there is the risk that the spirit of revenge is fueled and that the seeds of new violence are sown.

We therefore should end the use of the death penalty, not only for what it does to those who are executed, but for what it does to all of society.

By having the courage and rectitude to spare the lives of those who are demonstrably guilty and, instead, imprison them for life, we develop and support a culture appreciative and protective of the value of every human person. By refusing to expand the death penalty in this state, we proclaim a moral goodness that moves beyond the influence of reaction to chilling crimes and toward a civil ethic that respects the intrinsic value of every human person from conception to natural death. For these reasons, HB 147 and HB 162 should not become law.

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Finally, in the midst of all our discussion on legislation, let us never fail to express our support for the families and friends of victims of terrible crimes. Let us show our gratitude and appreciation for members of law enforcement who bring criminals to justice. Let us all as Pope John Paul II challenged, commit to live as “people of life and for life.”


John B. McCormack is bishop of Manchester. Francis J. Christian is auxiliary bishop of Manchester.

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Capital punishment,  Violence



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The Union Leader. Manchester, N.H.: Feb 2, 2011.  pg. A.7

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ANOTHER VIEW: Do not expand New Hampshire’s death penalty. (2011, February 2). The Union Leader,A.7.  Retrieved February 4, 2011, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 2256312851).

ethal Injection and the F.D.A.; [Editorial]

New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Jan 28, 2011. pg. A.30

Abstract (Summary)

When it reaffirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment three years ago, a splintered Supreme Court said it believed lethal injection carried neither “substantial” nor “objectively intolerable” risk of inflicting serious harm.

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Copyright New York Times Company Jan 28, 2011

Capital punishment means lethal injection. The administration of a barbiturate as part of a fatal dose of drugs is meant to render a convict unconscious before other drugs stop his or her breathing and heart so the execution can somehow be construed by a judge as being neither cruel nor unusual.

Sodium thiopental is at the heart of this story. A fast- and short-acting general anesthetic, it has been used to put convicts under and make executions methodical. For more than a year, however, a shortage of the drug has widened the gap between the reality of carrying out executions and support for them in American law. In October, a majority of the Supreme Court wrongly insisted there was no evidence that the shortage had any bearing on whether an execution can be done constitutionally. Now the evidence is impossible to ignore.

We strongly oppose capital punishment on many grounds. Even with judicial blessing, the conduct of executions in this country is a shambles. In Arizona and Georgia, the sodium thiopental used in executions has possibly been ineffective and almost certainly been illegal. It came from Dream Pharma, an unlicensed British supplier, run from a driving school. The batches carried a date of 2006. They were likely made by a company in Austria that went out of business. The drug is said to be effective for only a year. As a foreign-made drug without approval by the Food and Drug Administration, it is prohibited by federal statute.

The F.D.A. initially suspected the drug from Dream Pharma of being adulterated or mislabeled and refused to let it be imported. Then it let the drug enter the country — but with the warning that the agency hadn’t reviewed the drug’s “identity, safety, effectiveness, purity or any other characteristics.”

This month, the F.D.A. stated: “Reviewing substances imported or used for the purpose of state-authorized lethal injection clearly falls outside of F.D.A.’s explicit public health role.”

In the meantime, the only American manufacturer of sodium thiopental — formerly described as F.D.A.-approved — has announced it will no longer make the drug. It planned to produce the drug in Italy, but the Italian government has said it won’t permit the drug’s export for use in executions.

When it reaffirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment three years ago, a splintered Supreme Court said it believed lethal injection carried neither “substantial” nor “objectively intolerable” risk of inflicting serious harm. How can the justices be confident in that conclusion now?

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Capital punishment,  Anesthesia,  Supreme Court decisions,  Editorials — Capital punishment


Food & Drug Administration–FDA

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New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Jan 28, 2011.  pg. A.30

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Lethal Injection and the F.D.A :[Editorial]. (2011, January 28). New York Times  (Late Edition (east Coast)),  p. A.30.  Retrieved February 4, 2011, from Banking Information Source. (Document ID: 2250674721).


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