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What Are the Reasons for Supporting the Death Penalty?

Support for the death penalty often stems from a desire for retributive justice, deterrence of heinous crimes, and closure for victims' families. But is this the most effective path to justice? Explore the complexities and moral debates surrounding this contentious issue with us.
Renee Booker
Renee Booker

The death penalty, which calls for the execution of a defendant if convicted of a crime, is the ultimate penalty possible for the commission of a crime. As of 2011, almost 60 countries throughout the world practice the death penalty. The manner of execution is different from one country to the next, but, in all cases, the end result is the same. There are three basic reasons given for supporting the death penalty: retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation.

Within the nations that allow the death penalty, the crimes for which it may be imposed vary widely. Murder and other violent crimes are typical crimes for which the death penalty may be imposed; however, many countries, such as the People's Republic of China, Egypt, and Iran, also allow the death penalty for drug-related crimes. The United States does consider the death penalty to be constitutional, although some individual states have abolished the use of capital punishment for state crimes. Within the United States, capital punishment is only allowed for aggravated or felony murder.

San Quentin State Prison, which houses the only death row for male inmates in California.
San Quentin State Prison, which houses the only death row for male inmates in California.

One reason often cited for supporting the death penalty is retribution. This reason goes back to the old biblical concept of "an eye for an eye." Many people feel that execution is a natural human response to the crime of murder. The rationale is that, if the defendant has taken a life, then the defendant's life should be taken.

A more common academic reason given for supporting the death penalty is that it is a deterrent for others who may consider committing the same crime. One argument for punishment of criminals is that by punishing someone who has a committed a crime, others will be deterred from committing the same or similar crimes. Supporters of the death penalty feel that if someone knows that he or she could be executed for breaking the law, then he or she will be less likely to follow through with the commission of a crime.

An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber.
An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber.

Incapacitation is another justification for supporting the death penalty. Although similar to the retribution argument, incapacitation is more of a logical response as opposed to an emotional response. One way to be certain that a criminal will not re-offend is to take away the possibility of re-offending. Some people feel that prison still affords a person the ability to commit a crime and is the only true way to incapacitate the offender. To assure that he or she cannot commit another crime, he or she is executed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most compelling arguments in favor of the death penalty?

Some contend the death penalty is a deterrent to those who might otherwise commit serious capital crimes.
Some contend the death penalty is a deterrent to those who might otherwise commit serious capital crimes.

Death penalty supporters frequently cite two primary arguments: deterrence and retribution. The argument for deterrence asserts that the death penalty discourages potential criminals from perpetrating certain crimes, thereby reducing the overall crime rate. The retribution argument contends that the death penalty is a form of justice and retribution for the most egregious offenders.

Is capital punishment a violation of human rights?

Many people who support the death penalty idealize an "eye for an eye" mentality.
Many people who support the death penalty idealize an "eye for an eye" mentality.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not necessarily regard the death penalty as a violation of human rights, as it permits its use in certain circumstances. However, the UN also recognizes that the death penalty should only be used for the most serious offenses, and should not be used when there is a possibility of reform or rehabilitation.

What are the associated fiscal costs of the death penalty?

Some people feel that a prison sentence still gives a person the opportunity to commit a crime.
Some people feel that a prison sentence still gives a person the opportunity to commit a crime.

The pecuniary costs of the death penalty are significantly higher than those of life imprisonment. These costs include appeals, legal fees, and other expenses, as well as additional expenses incurred by victims' families, such as funeral and travel expenses.

Is the death penalty administered justly?

No, the application of the death penalty is not always equitable. According to studies, the death penalty is applied disproportionately to minorities and those from lower socioeconomic classes, and is more likely to be imposed if the defendant is impoverished. In addition, the death penalty is applied more frequently when the victim is Caucasian.

Are alternatives to the death penalty available?

Yes, alternatives to the death penalty exist. These alternatives typically entail life imprisonment without parole or life imprisonment with parole eligibility after a specified number of years. These alternatives can provide victims' families with a sense of justice and finality, as well as the possibility of rehabilitation and reform for offenders.

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Discussion Comments


To wish death upon someone is as equal to killing them yourself. The death penalty is an excuse to act as the person who committed the crime; nobody no matter how vicious the crime was, should not be executed.


I think that the death penalty is wrong. I would not want my husband dyeing in a chair or slowly dying.


The biggest problem with the death penalty is that there is a risk of killing the wrong person. So many factors need to be considered when putting someone to death, and getting just one of these wrong either through incompetence, bigotry, or corruption, can result in putting the wrong person down.

Time and time again, we see cases where the wrong person is convicted. Usually that person is male and black, but not always. Many reports and studies have proven that the people responsible for implementing our laws are themselves flawed and therefore the Judicial system itself is flawed. If there were a way to be 1000 percent certain that the right person is being tried and convicted, and we could know that those who sit in judgment of that person are fair and unbiased in their views, then perhaps a death penalty could be used.

In this country in the year 2014, the race or sex of the criminal plays a big role in how that person is treated and ultimately sentenced, and there are people in positions of authority who put their bigotry and hatred ahead of the true search for justice. In this country, where the justice system itself also has such a big ego that it is often unwilling to admit that it has made a mistake, even when it is proven wrong and is forced to set the wrongly convicted free, then we have a system of justice that is both naïve and prejudicial, often believing lying witnesses because they "appear" honest.

In short, in order to support the death penalty you have to have a system that, despite the flaws of the individuals trusted to uphold and enforce justice, that somehow the real truth could be uncovered in every case, always.

Ask yourself this question, if you were somehow tried and convicted of a crime that warranted the death Penalty, but you hadn't actually committed that crime, how would you feel about the death penalty then?

This question seems far-fetched, but Texas has mistakenly put 12 people on death row who were later proven innocent. There is also strong evidence that four people who were executed in Texas were not actually guilty of the crimes they were accused of.

The death penalty is a good theory, but putting it into practice in a system that has problems with incompetence, corruption and bigotry is a crime in and of itself.


I believe strongly in the death penalty. There is actually statistics showing it deters crimes, it say in the constitution you can take a life with the due process in the Fifth Amendment, and a capital crime deserves a capital punishment. I learned a lot by doing a debate on it.


You've got to be a bit careful about the Bible verse quoting. As people noted, one liners can be perverted to the writer's agenda. Shakespeare has even noted "The Devil can cite Scripture for his own purposes!" (as in Jesus' temptation).

That being said, the reason why there is such a dichotomy in Biblical death penalty is that there is a separation between judicial and extra-judicial killing. In Exodus, the crimes punished by death are by law and due process, while the other references are personal, very important distinctions.

If the government kills for lawbreaking, it is governing and justice. If I kill out of personal rage/self-profit, it is murder/revenge killing.

P.S.: If you are Christian and God supports the death penalty, shouldn't you then bring your line of thinking more in tune with your boss's? Or when they say to be transformed, it is God who should toe your line?

Or even better, if I like what the Bible says, it is written by God, if I don't like what it says, it is obviously corrupted by man? In that case, why bother with a God who you can sit in judgment on? He's obviously so pathetic that man sits on judgment over him instead of him over man. So obviously the man is more powerful! Corrupt thinking? Definitely. But remember, if that is what is concluded from your behavior, doesn't that imply corrupted behavior?


Let's say you support life without parole instead of the death penalty. This is the 21st century. We love human rights. Your tax dollars are paying for the aging inmates' medical expenses, dental care and making sure they are healthy because it is their right.

A law abiding citizen in the real world might die because they have no medical insurance, while a child murderer/rapist will receive a liver transplant on your tax dollars because it is his right while in prison. I don't buy that it costs less to put someone in prison for life. It might have been the case in 1950s, but not now.


Say a person escapes from the prison where they are being held. Where do they go and what do they do?

My first guess would have to be that they would be out for blood again, and going after the people who testified against them. Parole gives them another chance to kill and if they don't get parole, then if they escape, they also get another chance to kill.


As a young student, I personally believe in the death penalty. Being a Christian, I should be opposed it as many others are because the aim of Christianity is to promote love and peace. But when I think about the pain of the relatives of the victims, the only solution I find to compensate for it is the execution of the murderer.


@feruze - I agree. I’m a great believer in the death penalty as a deterrent to serious crimes. Some people assert that deterrence is one of the weakest arguments to support the death penalty.

They claim that it doesn’t work. My only response to them is that if it doesn’t work, it’s because we’ve allowed it fail. Most criminals nowadays know that, with good lawyers, they have a great probability of avoiding death row even if they commit murder. Deterrence has lost its edge, not because it doesn’t work, but because nobody believes that the death penalty will be implemented anymore.

However, you better believe that there are countries around the world that still practice the death penalty consistently. I flew to Singapore once, and when I landed, I remember reading the disembarkation card they gave me. In bright red letters it said, “Death to all drug traffickers in Singapore.” They meant it, too.


I can see both pros and cons for the death penalty. I hope I'm never responsible for deciding the fate of someone who is at risk of this, because I don't want to cause someone to die. However, I understand the views of both sides.

The biggest death penalty pro is that the person will never have the chance to escape from prison or get out on parole and kill again. Many murderers are so mentally twisted that they cannot resist the urge to take a life, even if they know the consequences firsthand.

The hugest death penalty con is the guilt that either the jurors or the family of the victim might feel over it. Granted, most families are so angry that they desire his death, but even if they feel this way, after seeing him put down and knowing that they were responsible for the life leaving his body, they might be haunted by nightmares or their conscience. This is probably even more true for jurors who decide the verdict, because they are not personally invested in seeing justice.


@alisha-- Yes, the Bible does say that some crimes are worthy of stoning, which is basically a death penalty. And I know many Christians support the death penalty for this reason, because the Bible is supportive of it.

At the same time though, I've also heard those who are against the death penalty invoke the Bible to support their views. The Bible also says that only God can take life and some people believe that this is a reason to oppose the death penalty.

So even though there is a religious basis to support the death penalty in Christianity. It still is a bit vague in my opinion.


@shell4life – The Bible also says, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” If you go by the Bible, then you leave justice and revenge up to God. You don't take someone else's life and put their blood on your hands.

Life is a precious gift that isn't ours to take away. Granted, a murderer violates that fact. However, I don' t believe that we humans have the right to take his life just because he took someone else's.

I believe that life is part of a master plan. If we start picking who should live and die, then we overstep our bounds. I say put the murderer in prison and leave him there to die when his time comes.


I suppose I can understand how people whose loved ones have been murdered would want the murderer to die. Their special person is no longer alive, so they think that their killer should not have the privilege of living, either.

I guess if someone had a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the only thing that execution could do for the family is give them a sense of vengeance. They might feel that justice had been done.

However, if that person is confined to prison for the remainder of their life, they could not have the chance to kill again, anyway. If they did have the possibility of parole later on, then the family would want them dead so they would not have the opportunity to come after them or anyone else.


@alisha – People tend to pull out scriptures that benefit their purposes. The Old Testament does mention “an eye for an eye,” but it also states in the Ten Commandments that “thou shalt not kill.”

However, if one pays close attention to the Bible, they will know that the New Testament is all about forgiveness and loving your enemy. It is not right for people to use the Bible as an excuse to kill, because Jesus would not advocate it.

Personally, I believe that life imprisonment is a worse punishment than death for murderers. Death would set them free from their shackles, but imprisonment would give them misery for decades.


@feruze-- I've seen some death penalty statistics and many Americans who support the death penalty do so for some crimes, especially murder, like you do.

What I'm most curious about is Americans who support the death penalty out of religious beliefs and biblical teachings. What is the basis of this support? I know about the "eye for an eye" concept but aside from this, does the Bible actually say that certain crimes should be punished with death?

And what about other religions like Judaism and Islam? Are there teachings in these religions as well that might cause people to support the death penalty?


I'm pro death penalty because I think it is a necessary punishment to deter people from certain crimes.

I don't think that the death penalty is necessary except in very violent crimes that cannot be deterred by the longest prison sentence. The reason I feel this way is because I believe that punishment for crimes should be a deterrent for other people in the society who might commit the same crime. If a punishment does not deter someone, then, it is not a punishment at all.

Unfortunately, there are some crimes, like murder, where even a life-sentence is not enough to deter criminals. If a murderer is punished with the death penalty though, I highly doubt that other people would be willing to commit the same crime. This is the whole reason for why I support the death penalty.

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    • San Quentin State Prison, which houses the only death row for male inmates in California.
      By: Eric BVD
      San Quentin State Prison, which houses the only death row for male inmates in California.
    • An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber.
      An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber.
    • Some contend the death penalty is a deterrent to those who might otherwise commit serious capital crimes.
      By: Rufoto
      Some contend the death penalty is a deterrent to those who might otherwise commit serious capital crimes.
    • Many people who support the death penalty idealize an "eye for an eye" mentality.
      By: kilukilu
      Many people who support the death penalty idealize an "eye for an eye" mentality.
    • Some people feel that a prison sentence still gives a person the opportunity to commit a crime.
      By: Marc Roche
      Some people feel that a prison sentence still gives a person the opportunity to commit a crime.