As this argumentative essay in favor of capital punishment will explore, capital punishment is absolutely necessary because it deters instances of murder and because it offers the only just punishment for a crime that is without parallel. The existence of capital punishment and the threat that is it is a possibility is enough to deter crime and as a result, this practice should be continued. If future criminals feel that they can easily get off with a light sentence for one of the most horrible possible crimes, it seems only natural that instances of murder would increase. “Some argue that executing murderers may actually cause more murders by desensitizing society at large to killing. But over the years, several studies have shown that killing convicted murderers does deter future murders” (Sage 77). In addition to the more statistical aspect of the benefits of keeping capital punishment, there is a more ethereal issue to contend with; the pain and suffering of both the victim and his or her family.
It is not difficult to maintain the position of being in favor of capital punishment when one takes a close look at the pain and suffering caused when someone’s loved one is murdered. The act of murdering someone is one of the most heinous acts and must be dealt with accordingly so that the families and victims of the crime have some sort of retribution. One finds in the Bible the popular expression, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and this almost seems a perfect statement for capital punishment. One must ask how, if not through capital punishment, is one supposed to be punished for the crime of taking another human being’s life? By examining the benefits of capital punishment in deterring crime and looking at the more philosophical issues of general punishment for murder it will be demonstrated how important it is for the nation to retain capital punishment.
There are many statistics that point to the success of capital punishment. Several studies indicate a strong correlation between execution and the determent of crimes, especially murder. Such studies “suggest that capital punishment has a strong deterrent effect, each execution results, on average, in 18 fewer murders—with a margin of error of plus or minus ten. Tests show that results are not driven by tougher sentencing laws.” (Ellsworth 116). While this data is highly subjective and considers the national average (as opposed to a region or city) it does show that violence is reduced. Although tough sentences that are imposed for serious non-capital crimes are generally extremely high, it is interesting that the thought of life in prison is not as much of a determent as the prospect of death. When people are trying to make a decision about capital punishment, many are inclined to think that it is not fair to punish one murder with another and others tend to suggest that there is too much of a possibility of executing the wrong person.
While there may be some legitimacy to these claims, it seems much more pressing for us to consider what a beneficial solution capital punishment has been. Although it would be impossible to support in any real argument for capital punishment, it seems fair, based on the data that is already available, to suggest that murder rates would be far higher in this country if we did not have capital punishment in many states. Those who would question this might remind us that the murder rates are lower in Europe than in the United States (Ellsworth 119) and they do not have capital punishment. The counter-argument, however, is that they do not face some of the same societal problems that we do in the United States and thus what works for them might not apply in the case of our society. In general, keeping capital punishment has been proven to work in deterring some instances of murder and thus we should not try to fix what is not broken and should keep capital punishment.
For further proof as to the usefulness of capital punishment in deterring crime, it is necessary to consider how it deters crime when its existence directly confronts people. It should be noted as well that many studies reveal that this particularly the case if the execution has been highly publicized. Consider, for example that, “On the average, homicides decrease by 35.7% immediately following a publicized execution. The more publicity devoted to the execution, the more homicides decrease thereafter. This decrease apparently occurs because capital punishment has a short-term deterrent effect on homicides” (Phillips 139). Although this study only examines the short-term decreases in homicides following an execution, there is plenty of evidence that suggests that capital punishment brings overall rates of murder down—simply because it exists and is a possibility. When people are confronted with the realities of capital punishment as opposed to thinking about it in more abstract terms, they are more likely to understand and internalize its message. With the data above it is conceivable to think how a potential murderer could witness an execution and then really get the message that it is a real and effective punishment. Whether or not this study only looks at the short term effects after one witnesses an execution, it is still proof that this mode of punishment is directly connected with lower rates of violent crime.
Murder rates rise and fall at different rates but there has never been a state that did not see several per year. This has caused the public to grow more concerned about the crime and as a result more people have come to support capital punishment. We live in an increasingly complex and violent society and must keep capital punishment in place to deter future rising murder rates nationwide. Although rates have fallen slightly in recent years, “in 1994, public support for capital punishment peaked at around 80%” (Soss 398). With still well over half of the nation supporting capital punishment, the anxieties about crime are apparent. It is necessary for people to realize how important it is to retain capital punishment and to consider the data above, especially that about rates dropping after executions, in mind when forming an opinion about the highly controversial issue. In addition to this, there are other considerations to be made when denying capital punishment a place in society. Many opponents, especially those who question the rights of prisoners facing execution may argue that, “there are too many mistakes for a such a permanent solution; there are too many racial, IQ and class inequities” (Morgan 30) and while this may be true on some levels, these concerns could be alleviated if our society put more effort into the legal process. Also, these concerns seem like detractions from the real issue—that we must punish violent criminals with according punishment.
Many who are not in favor of capital punishment might suggest that capital punishment is “cruel and unusual” and thus is not constitutional, but this argument is virtually meaningless when we consider that we are not a society that draws and quarters criminals or tortures them before finally killing them. Most states that do favor the act of capital punishment have lethal injection; a virtually painless punishment, thus making it far more ethical than other forms practiced elsewhere. Aside from this, those who would use the “cruel and unusual” argument are not taking into account the vast amount of pain caused to the families and friends of the person who was slain and certainly have not thought about whether or not (and to what extent) the victim suffered before death. Murder is a horrible crime and no matter how justified the murderer might have thought the reasons for the act were, he or she still committed the most grave crime of taking another person’s life. To highlight my point about pain and suffering, let me pose a hypothetical situation. A serial murderer kidnapped and tortured 15 people, all for his own gratification. He chose these people at random and they were reported missing for many days before their bodies finally found in awful condition. Is it even possible for anyone to rationalize a good reason for someone doing this? Can we even imagine, if we have not gone through something like this personally, what the families and loved ones of the victims suffered when their loved one was missing suddenly and then they find that they were dead—the victims of senseless, selfish, and completely random crime? These are tough questions to even consider but the hardest yet is asking how we as a society can best mete out punishment for something so awful. Keeping someone if prison for the rest of his life seems too easy, especially considering the fact that the United States has relatively cozy prisons compared to those in lesser developed countries. Furthermore, these types of violent criminals are a drain on taxpayer dollars as they waste away in prison. The only real viable and just-seeming action is to dole out the same treatment that they did to their victims, except the criminal is going to be spared any physical pain under lethal injection.
Ethical questions are at the forefront of the debate about the permissibility of capital punishment as both a way of deterring crime and making criminals “pay” for their violent acts against individuals and society. While this is certainly not a new question, it still has not been resolved and instead, there are some states that exercise their ability to punish the harshest criminals while others, generally for moral reasons, do not. In examining the questions behind this issue, it is useful to consider public opinion and rhetoric behind this debate to determine for what reasons it is considered right or wrong to have such a criminal penalty. To best examine the questions behind the debate, objectivity is important as is a keen mind for the differences between mere rhetoric and solid empirical fact. Although there is plenty of empirical evidence to support the continuation of capital punishment in the United States, there are other more complex issues that also must be examined. We must really think hard about pain and suffering—not that of the criminal or murderer, but that which the victim and his or her family suffered as well. Murder is the most awful crime that exists and the one that our society deems heinous enough to punish with the most extreme form of punishment. We must continue supporting capital punishment so that due justice is given to those who violate society’s rules in such a drastic way and to ensure that future murders do not occur.
Ellsworth. Public opinion and capital punishment: A close examination of the views of abolitionists and retentionists. Crime & Delinquency, 29.1 (2003), 116.
Morgan, Elizabeth. “Crime and punishment.” Christian Century 123.20 (2006), 30-33.
Phillips. The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: New Evidence on an Old Controversy. American Journal of Sociology, 86.1 (2000), 139.
Sage, B. “Does the Death Penalty Deter?.” Wilson Quarterly 30.3 (2006), 77-78.
Soss, Joe. “Why Do White Americans Support the Death Penalty?.” Journal of Politics 65.2 (2003), 397-421.