Death Penalty

Death penalty is a social justice issue and has remained one for over 4000 years. Today, some countries oppose it while others use it to deter criminal activities in the society. Whether it is a deterrent or not will be studied by the paper. This paper examines death penalty as a social justice issue. Moreover, it applies Immanuel Kants theory of ethics to explain capital punishment in the light of value judgment. It also gives a review of studies relevant to death penalty and Kants theory respectively. Finally, the paper hypothesizes that death penalty is not an effective deterrent and presents arguments for this.

Death Penalty
Death Penalty, or Capital Punishment, is the process in which a person is executed through judicial orders as punishment for a crime. Over the years, this issue has evolved to become an extremely controversial subject with people having very strong opinions on the topic. There are some pros and cons regarding the issue.

It is defined as a death penalty is the sentence of execution for murder and some other capital crimes (serious crimes, especially murder, which are punishable by death), by the US Legal Website. (US Legal)

The justifications presented by those people who are for the policy of capital punishment say that the criminals deserve it as the crimes they commit are even more heinous. According to them, death penalty helps keep society clean and prevents many felons from getting involved in dangerous criminal activities which may result in them getting a death penalty. (Montaldo).

On the other hand, the arguments against the death penalty are that no matter how harsh the punishment it will not bring back the victim. Also, the murderer is usually unaware or is not thinking about the consequences of his actions when he commits the crime. Lastly, serving somebody with the death penalty menas that the criminal will not improve and does not deserve a second chance.

Existing State of Public Policy regarding Death Penalty
In the United States the Death Penalty had been practiced from as early as 1608 (Montaldo). There was only a small time period during which this policy was put on hold, starting from 1967 till 1976. From then on till December 2008, a total of 1,136 executions have taken place (Gill).

As of 2004, China, Iran, Vietnam and United States are responsible for 97 of the total exectutions in the world (Gill). However, European Union is against death penalty and has chalked out strict policy guidelines against it.

The general American population supports capital punishment. However, according to a survey, the figures have dropped down from a peak of 80 percent in 1994, to 60 percent today.

Literature Review of Death Penalty
Historical perspective of the phenomenon
Some sort of death penalty or execution has always been practiced by almost all societies in the past. The death penalty had been used for punishment of crime, as well as for political gains. Different societies have different reasons to serve a criminal with a death penalty.  For example, most places have the policy implemented for murder, treason, military justice and so on. Some religions, such as Islam, order the death penalty for sexual acts such as rape and adultery.

Kathy Gill, in her article Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty discusses the history of the phenomenon in America. In America, capital punishments date back as early as the 18th century BC. The first execution took place when Captain George Kendall was accused of being a secret spy for Spain and was executed. By 1612, it was practiced very widely, people were being executed for minor crimes such as stealing, killing chickens, and even trading with Indians.  (Gill).

It was not until the middle of the 20th century when the public sentiment rose and people started to recognize the ethical issues arising from the policy and they developed a dislike for it. According to Gallup, in 1966, the support for capital punishment had dropped down to 42 percent. In 1968, the people observed a hint of injustice in the U.S. v. Jackson and the Witherspoon v. Illinois cases and this caused them to think about the policy from other angles. (Gill)

The change came in 1972 when the Supreme Court annulled the death penalty ruling in 40 states and 629 criminals who were awaiting death penalty were commuted. The justification for this anullment was that the death sentence ruling was very cruel for modern society and was in violation with the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (Gill)

Then again in in 1976, the court ruled that capital punishment was, indeed, constitutional, and new penalty laws in Florida, Georgia and Texas were introduced. Thus, in 1977, the ten-year break on the policy ended and Gary Gilmore was executed in Utah by a firing squad.

Many studies have been carried out on this issue. These studies have focused on many areas such as if the death penalty is actually a deterrent, and some studies actually do prove that it is, others state that racial bias is present in death penalty cases.

The studies on the financial facts of death penalty include Report of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, Report to Washington State Bar Association regarding cost and many others. A study showed that California has 670 death rows which costs it costs 63.3 million annually. Moreover, in Maryland it costs 37 million for one execution. A study in Kansas showed that death penalty cases are 70 more expensive than non-capital penalty cases. (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010)

A comprehensive study indicates that the anti-death penalty movement is a way of removing truth from the society. He focuses on issues such as the risk of executing the innocent, the effects of deterrence in regard to death penalty, racial bias and death penalty sentences, the cost of paroling in life imprisonment versus the death of cost penalty, the death penalty procedures and death penalty ad the Christianity (Sharp, 1997).

Kants Categorical Imperative
Historical Perspective
The categorical imperative is Immanuel Kants most renowned work in moral philosophy. He was not pleased with the moral philosophy of his time. Kant being a utilitarian thought that the act of murder was wrong because it was not beneficial for the maximum number of people.

The arguments presented by Kant were that moral actions cannot be persuaded by hypothetical moral systems. The hypothetical moral systems cannot be used to pass moral judgments because there is a great deal of subjective considerations that are involved. Therefore, Kant introduced his own moral system incorporating in the categorical imperative.

Explanation of Kants theory
Kants theory revolves around Categorical Imperative. The first part of the theory suggests that one should fulfill his duty for the sake of duty itself instead of just acting in agreement with it. (Keele, 2008) This means that consequences are not directly related to morality. Even if a good act is harmful for other people, it should be done. Its the intentions that are more important than the consequences.
The categorical imperative is the process through which an individual determines his or her duty. It states Act only on that maxim whereby though canst at the same time will it should become universal law (Keele, 2008), where a maxim is defined as the principle that governs the moral element of the action. This means that when a person is trying to figure out if he should or should not do something, he or she must imagine a world where that action is practiced as universal law. If he or she is able to picture such a world and would want to be a part of it, then it is moral to act on that principle.

Kant gives three factors which can be used to judge the morality in any situation, these are act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law, act in such a way that you always treat humanity, act as though you were, through your maxims, a law making member of a kingdom of ends. (McPhee, I. 2008)

Hypothesis  Argument
The hypothesis is that Death Penalty is not a deterrent for society.
Death Penalty is believed to serve as a deterrent for the criminals for indulging into criminal activities. It is human nature to refrain from doing something that has negative effects tied to it. That is how human beings have been conditioned. Thus, when a criminal sees death penalty at the other end of the crime, he is likely to refrain from doing it. But is that really how it works
There has been no study that has proven that death penalty has been more effective than other punishments. If the argument presented by the people who support the policy is that executing the murderer will eliminate such criminal activities, then the same objective can be done through imprisonment for life. As long as the criminal is not a part of the society, he will not be able to commit crimes.

Another point to consider is that if it was such a good deterrent then years of implementation would have resulted in a crime free world, but that is not the case. We still have crimes and murders taking place, probably at higher numbers than before. However, studies show that America is still one of the leading countries for criminal activities.

From the criminals point of view, then it is easy to see why the criminal, even with the harshest punishment as a consequence, commits the crime. Most of the criminals who commit crimes are blinded by passion and emotions. These emotions over shadow their cognition and get them to commit the crimes. Some murderers are mentally impaired or have a psychological problem. They actually perceive the act of murder to be as a positive thing which, according to categorical imperative theory, is not immoral.

 It could even be said, keeping categorical imperative in mind, that some murders are actually beneficial for the society, for example freedom fighters. One nation could label them as freedom fighters while another nation would refer to them as terrorists. For the nation that considers them as freedom fighters they are national heroes and would definitely not want capital punishment to be imposed on them for the killings that they do. On the other hand, the nation that considers them as terrorists perceives their killings as an immoral act and would consider capital punishment to be implemented for them.

Capital Punishment policy can also have an opposite effect on society. If a criminal is aware of the consequences of his actions, just to avoid the death penalty he might even kill those who witnessed the action or those associated with the event.

Conclusion and Discussion of Implications
Death penalty is not reaping the benefits that its supporters say it will. It is not helping in diminishing criminal acts from society. Thus, the idea, therefore, is not to increase the severity of the punishment, but to carry out a detailed analysis of the crime and find out the real motivation of the criminal behind the act as discussed by Kants categorical imperative.

Increasing the severity of the punishment will only cause the criminal to commit more crimes in order to hide the original one. As we have all heard of the saying, a thousand lies to support one lie. The judiciary should carefully examine the case and use categorical imperative to punish the criminal morally.

The punisher should come down to the level of the criminal. The punisher should wear the criminals shoes when assessing the situation and ask himself if he would have done the same thing in the given situation.

The death penalty may act as a creator of criminals, especially in a situation when an innocent has been evicted. This is one of the most difficult and important implications because there is no way of being a hundred per cent sure that the person evicted is not innocent.


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