The death penalty is a judicial process of putting criminals to death. The death penalty is also referred to as capital punishment and is interpreted as a legal process of dealing with capital offenses (Nagin & Pepper 2012). The death penalty has emerged as a contentious issue in the modern justice system due to the ethical, moral, and legal issues involved. Death penalties started in the eighteenth century B.C in Babylon, after King Hammurabi classified twenty-five crimes as capital offenses, and hence punishable by death. After the Babylonian king initiated the death penalty on the twenty-five crimes, Rome and Greece adopted execution as a solution to capital offenses.
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Some of the historical execution practices included crucifixion, stoning, burning criminals alive, and drowning. The reasons provided by the executioners and kings of these kingdoms was that the process demonstrated the power of justice and legal authority over capital crimes. Proponents of the death penalty focus on the main elements of deterrence, which are certainty, celerity, and severity. Historical and religious groups use the elements of deterrence to justify the benefits of the death penalty since they reduce the likelihood of engaging in criminal activities by creating certainty of punishment with every criminal activity.
Modern supporters of the death penalty argue that capital punishments have revolutionized the punishment by introducing humane procedures that subject criminals to minimize suffering and pain. Scholars in support of the death penalty argue that the procedure increases the certainty of death among capital criminals, hence reducing the likelihood of committing crimes. Additionally, crimes with severe punishments reduce the likelihood of criminal activities due to the fear of associated consequences. The death penalty eliminates a criminal’s capacity to cause harm or repeat the same offense (Nagin & Pepper 2012).
Some religions, for example, Islam and Christianity, advocate for the adoption of punishments analogous to the offense committed. The paper evaluates the benefits of the death penalty from a modern, religious, and historical perspective.
Benefits of the Death Penalty
- The death penalty is important because it demonstrates the legal authority and power of justice systems. The historical justification of the death penalty was to demonstrate the power of the legal institutions and authority of the judiciary over criminals (Radelet & Borg 2000). The extremity of capital punishment demonstrates that the judiciary is not lenient, hence increasing confidence among citizens of a strong and reliable justice system. Criminals are motivated by the absence of strong judicial responses to serious crimes.
- The other benefit of the death penalty is its effect on deterring crime. Capital punishments are considered as crime deterrents due to their severity, celerity, and certainty. According to Guernsey (2009), the death penalty offers the certainty of death on any heinous crime. Criminals fear to break laws if they are certain of harsh punishments. The element of certainty reduces the likelihood of engaging in capital offenses by instilling fear among potential criminals. The celerity element focuses on the duration between the commission of a crime and the delivery of a death sentence. The urge to commit crimes depends on the effectiveness of justice systems (Pojman 2000). Effective justice systems discourage criminals from engaging in capital offenses while ineffective systems demonstrate leniency. The severity of death penalties creates irreversible effects on criminals to prevent them from causing further harm to others. Death puts an end to human activities and capacities. Therefore, it is justified to incapacitate criminals in order to discourage potential criminals from engaging in capital offenses.
- The religious justification of the death penalty is based on the severity of capital offenses. Most of the popular religions consider capital crimes as undeserving mercy and forgiveness. Capital offenses deserve severe punishments since they interfere with the spirits of victims (Radelet & Borg 2000). When criminals receive lenient sentences, they continue to sin. However, severe punishments prevent criminals from engaging in more sins.
- The modern justification of the death penalty is in the revolutionized procedure that reduces suffering and prepares criminals to face death diligently. The modern procedures use non-painful injections that kill criminals without any form of suffering. The humane nature of modern executions fulfills the ethical concerns raised by the opponents of death penalties (Pojman 2000). Similarly, criminals are given opportunities to finalize all legal procedures involving wills and farewells to friends and families. The contemporary execution procedure focuses on the irreversibility of death, rather than on the torturous processes applied in history.
- The moral justification of the death penalty focuses on the rights of victims. When criminals kill, victims are deprived of their rights to live. People should have autonomy over their lives. Capital crimes threaten or terminate victims’ autonomy and subject the victims’ families and friends to an emotional, financial, and psychological breakdown. If the death penalty is abolished, the victims’ families find alternative sentences unrealistic as long as the criminal remains alive. However, if a criminal is sentenced to death, the victims’ families and friends find the punishment analogous to the actual crime committed.
The death penalty benefits justice systems by demonstrating power and authority over criminal activities. The severity of the sentence deters potential crimes by discouraging potential criminals from engaging in any form of a capital offense. The contemporary process is humane and follows ethical standards to reduce suffering and pain.
Guernsey, J 2009, Death Penalty: Fair Solution or Moral Failure?, Twenty-First Century Books, Minneapolis.
Nagin, D & Pepper, J 2012, Deterrence and the death penalty, National Academies Press, Washington.
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Pojman, L 2000, The Death Penalty: For and Against, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham.
Radelet, L & Borg, M 2000, ‘The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates’, Annual Reviews Sociology, vol. 26, pp. 43-61.