the problem of death penalty is certainly vital not only for government or juridical system, this is an important social issue, and there are certainly a lot of presentations of it from different sides and points of view. There are of course a lot of arguments for and against death penalty, but here we are going to stop at the most weighty and convincing ones. The first thesis to discuss in this relation will be “whether death is more human than life imprisonment” (Carrington, 1988). People, supporting this point of view, state that the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishment”, was wrong (Carrington, 1988). They are sure, that murder for example is the same cruel, inhumane and degrading and not less barbarous than punishment. Moreover they think, that making a person suffer in a jail for the rest of his life is even crueler, than releasing him rather quickly through this type of execution. Besides imprisonment can not be a sufficient guarantee, that the murderer in the past would not find the way to return to society, either having escaped or having been released on parole and that he would not start doing the same, what he already did. But on the other hand the statistic researches, made in the countries like Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and Belgium, where death executions were not carried out for a long period of time already, showed that there was no increase in the number of murders after that.
Supporters of death penalty often underline the argument, that it can not be compared to murder, although it is physically, but it is the just retribution for particularly awful criminal actions. They are sure, that as long as this practice is applied, there is another reason for criminals or people, inclined to committing a serious crime, to stop and to consider if doing this, is worth their own life or not. Finally, if a person takes the risk, and he is caught afterwards, he has no other chance to “risk” in this way and kill anybody.
“Support for the death penalty in the U.S. has risen to an average of 80%” according to the article written by Richard Worsnop, entitled
“Death penalty debate centers on Retribution”, this figure is slightly lower in Canada where support for the death penalty is at 72% of the population over 18 years of age, as stated in the article by Kirk Makir, in the March 26, 1987 edition of the Globe and Mail, titled “B.C. MPs split on Death Penalty” (Pitman, 1979). Isaac Ehrlich conducted a profound study of the death penalty matters, which he published in 1976. He, as the supporter of this practice, stated, that if at least one innocent life can be saved thanks to depriving the criminal of his life, then this type of punishment is worth it and is fully justified. Ehrlich didn’t ascribe death penalty to a kind of social killing either, only to execution. For him, as for many other supporters of death penalty, innocent life and life of a murderer can not be equal if “put” on justice scale.
Some people are against death penalty as they consider the chance of the wrong convicted person to be executed. The problem of bringing the innocent people to Death Row is the most sophisticated and delicate. There are really few chances for the convicted person to be released, some unusual situations do take place, there was one famous case, when a person was supposed to be executed, as all the evidences were against him, but suddenly the real murderer was caught, as he killed another person and the case was reconsidered, finally the first convicted person was able to avoid death penalty, but this was a rare case and even after he was set free, he could not go on living as he did before, it certainly influenced him and his attitude to the society (Carrington, 1988).
In order to support the inhumanity of the death punishment, we should underline the length of stay on death row. Usually, a convicted person is not punished quickly, there are a lot of delays, appeals and so on. Very often a criminal has to wait for several years for capital punishment. There is an important question then – do other people have the right to judge him and are they competent enough to draw the correct conclusion? A person is often rather harsh in judgments of others and can remain blind to the mitigating circumstances for those, who committed crimes. Whereas most of them in reality “suffered from neglect, emotional trauma, violence, cruelty, abandonment, lack of love, and a host of destructive social conditions” (Schabas, 2005).
This is evident, that death penalty has played a vitally important role not only for social control in many countries, but also as means of political control. Actually the decisions concerning abolishing or keeping the death penalty belonged to political discussions. In America and Europe, this issue got the political interpretation starting from 1764, after the book On Crimes and Punishment, written by young Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria, appeared in print. “Beccaria’s criticism of torture and the death penalty typified the Enlightenment zeal for rational reform of prevailing social practices” (Pitman, 1979).
The alternative to death penalty, suggested by the author, was supposed to become life imprisonment, along with hard work for the sake of society. Soon the influence of this book reached Russia, where the queen Catherine issued the decree for abolishing death penalty in the country. Subsequently, the Emperor of Tuscany in Austro Hungarian Empire put the end of death penalty, also the issue was strongly criticized by the well known leader of the French revolution – Maximilien Robespierre and so on. “In England, by the end of the eighteenth century, Parliament was being petitioned to reduce the number of capital felonies, which numbered in the hundreds; complete abolition was never a serious prospect” (Pitman, 1979). There are cases, when political leaders are true supporters or opponents of death penalty practice, however sometimes, abolition of death penalty might be put in use as part of political propaganda during any kind of elections for example. A political leader, who would like to base his approach on creating an image of humane individual, would use all the arguments against death penalty. Some politicians even unite the problems of death penalty with racial problems, especially in multinational countries, which is probably not quite correct, because the issue of racism is a separate standing problem, needing separate approach and consideration.
Overall, the problem of death penalty is rather old and controversial, it is hard to judge it only from one point of view, there are a lot of arguments for and against, there are a lot of different points of view and a lot of details and specifications. The major arguments, we pointed out above, are already worth abolishment of capital punishment, as inhumane means of punishment, at the same time bringing less positive results, than negative. On the other hand, death penalty might be seen as means of social protection and retribution, so much desired by the innocent people, who suffered.
Carrington, F. (1988). Neither Cruel nor Unusual: The Case for Capital Punishment. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington
Haag E. (1989). “On Deterrence and the Death Penalty” by Ernest van den Haag, Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science no. 2
Keys, K. (2001). “Thirty Years of Executions with Reasonable Doubts: A Brief Analysis of Some Modern Executions”. Capital Defense Weeky
Pitman, C. (1979). Take notice of death penalty. N.Y.
Schabas, W. (2005). The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law. Cambridge University Press