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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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.