Death Penalty: History and Rationale | Free Essay Example

Death Penalty: History and Rationale

Words: 1032
Topic: Politics & Government

Death penalty that is also referred to as capital punishment is considered as one of the most arguable problems of the modern Justice System. Today, many people keep protesting against it, and at the same time, thousands are supportive of it. Both sides have quite strong arguments. Death penalty certainly has its positive and negative aspects. In this work the positive aspects of capital punishment will be emphasized through the historical and religious perspectives, and the writing of Jeremy Bentham. The arguments in favour of capital punishment are its humane modern procedure, its capacity to disable the criminal of committing new crimes, its analogous and exemplary character and its crime deterring effect.

The early history of death penalty dates to the eighteen’s century B. C. Babylonian Kind Hammurabi established execution for twenty five various types of crimes. The practice of death penalty was very popular among the ancient Greeks and Romans. The death sentences back then were put into practice by means of such methods as crucifixion, stoning, burning alive, drowning and staking. Such radical punishments were provided with positive intentions of demonstration the power of justice, establishing the legal authority and preventing crimes in the future. In the newer history less cruel methods of execution were used, and the crimes punished by death varied quite a lot. For example, in some countries one could be sentenced to death for not worshiping the “only true god”, and in some – for stealing fruit. In 1700s in Britain the total number of crimes punished by death reached two hundred and twenty two. Death sentences at that time were intended a useful measure of providing discipline and setting order among the citizens. Punishment by death was massively abolished in some of the world’s countries in 1700’s due to the abolitionist movement among the well known European philosophers. After the Second World War death penalty was also limited through the creation of the international Human Rights Doctrines.

Today, the procedure of death punishment has become much more humane in comparison to what it used to be in the past. For example, these days a criminal sentenced to death gets to prepare for the execution, compile a will and choose the kind of means that will be used when the sentence is put into practice. The contemporary criminals are executed through lethal injection, electric chair, firing squad and hanging. Gas chamber used to be one of the execution methods, but not so long ago the experts found out that this method was much more torturous and painful than it was thought to be. The scientists carefully studied all of the ways of execution in order to identify the most humane measures. The opinion that the view of death penalty put into practice brutalises the society can no longer be used as a worthy argument against capital punishment because the execution is not provided in front of a crowd by means of the most torturous and cruel methods and the dead bodies are no longer left for a display to scare the potential criminals.

Bentham’s “The Rationale of Punishment” presents excellent arguments favouring the practice of death penalty. In the section called “Advantageous Properties of the Punishment of Death” the writer lists the positive aspects of execution. Bentham writes that one of the most efficient sides of death penalty is its capacity of taking away the criminal’s ability to do more harm (2014). Today, most of the citizens of any country are afraid to be victimised, and death penalty erases the chance of a criminal to hurt more people completely. Besides, the punishment is analogous to the crime of murder, the only different is that the punished criminal is treated in a much more human way, while the victim was murdered in a cruel manner and did not have a chance to say good bye to the relatives or write a will (Guernsey 2009). One more argument supporting death penalty is its exemplary character. Capital punishment puts a lasting impression on the publicity, and reduces the chance of more murders to occur by means of raising a price for killing a person.

The efficiency of death penalty as a crime deterrent is very difficult to measure, yet statistically, the majority of criminals sentenced to death such as Ted Bundy, for example, is afraid to die and tries to do everything to cancel their own sentences. This means that death may be a very serious factor preventing many intended murders. Bentham emphasised the exemplary aspect of death penalty, but at the same time, he mentioned that murderers are people with twisted perception of the world around and life in general, so it is also possible that the threat of a capital punishment may not be impressive enough to some of the criminals. One more important positive aspect of death penalty is that it provides emotional closure for the relatives and friends of the murdered victims. Psychologically, knowing that the murderer has been executed for killing someone speeds up the recovery process for people traumatised by the act of crime.

The issue of death penalty has a significant religious aspect. It is known that the Bible advocates the punishment of death for such crimes as murder, witchcraft and kidnapping (Radelet, Borg 2000). Besides, religious perspectives state that death penalty serves to protect the society from the criminal, provide retribution for the offender and prevention of further harm a criminal may cause to themselves by future sins (Owens, Carlson, Elshtain 2004).

The moral aspect of capital punishment explores the right to live and the right to take life of both an individual and a state. This practice can be viewed as a just procedure that has a powerful impact on the publicity and an effect on the potential murderers making them fearful of being caught and condemned to death, it helps the families and friends of victims to move on with their lives and it protects our society from more crimes committed by the sentenced and imprisoned criminals. In addition to all the positive aspects and advantages of capital punishment, the criminal Justice System experts today are working on improving it, making it more impartial, objective and fair (Pojman 2000).


Bentham, J. 2014, Rationale of Punishment.

Guernsey, J. B. 2009, Death Penalty: Fair Solution or Moral Failure? Twenty-First Century Books, Minneapolis.

Owens, E. C., Carlson, J. D., Elshtain, E. P. 2004, Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids.

Pojman, L. P. 2000, The Death Penalty: For and Against. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham.

Radelet, M. L., Borg, M. J. 2000, ‘The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates’, Annual Reviews Sociology no. 26, pp. 43-61.