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Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment

Updated on December 15, 2011

Capital Punishment. Is it worth the time and resources to put an inmate to death? There are heated arguments to whether the death penalty is unconstitutional or not. Supporters for the death penalty say it is constitutional and see it as more of “an eye for an eye.” Protesters of the death penalty say it’s unconstitutional because it’s morally wrong to put another human being to death and illegal for a state to kill a criminal. However you look at, the capital punishment policy has its problems.

The death penalty has not always been practiced in the United States. Only 13,000 people have been executed since colonial times. The Depression Era of the 1930’s seen a historic peak in executions then a dramatic drop in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Then there were no executions in the United States between 1967 and 1976. In 1972, the Supreme Court nullified the death penalty. Hundreds of inmates on death row got their sentences commuted to life in prison. But in 1976, another ruling from the Supreme Court found that capital punishment to be Constitutional. From 1976 to 2009 1,167 people were executed in the U.S. (White)

But, do we use the death penalty as a deterrent or do we use it as a form of revenge? Opposition for the death penalty says its revenge for the crime committed. Supporters for the death penalty say it’s not revenge, but a deterrent. Either way you look at it, each side has a point and need to take into consideration when dealing with capital punishment policy.


· To obtain retribution on the behalf of the victims. The view on this by supporters is the old adage “an eye for an eye”. A criminal commits a murder; the state will put you to death for killing that person. (White)

· To serve as an example to other would be criminals. To execute the worst of the murderers to send a message to other would be murderers this crime will not be tolerated and if you commit murder, you might be given the death penalty for it. (White)

· To punish the criminal for their act. No one has the right to take another human beings life. So if you murder someone, you should and will be punished for it. (White)

· Threat of death penalty, homicide rates decrease. In those states that have the death penalty, their homicide rates decreased. Is there any way to know for sure that capital punishment is a deterrent of homicide? No one can. Supporters should not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt nor should the abolitionist have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the death penalty is either a deterrent or not. No one would be able to anyway. In the Supreme Court, Justice Stewart’s opinion in Gregg vs. Georgia was that “Although some of the studies suggest that the death penalty may not function as a significantly greater deterrent than lesser penalties, there is no convincing empirical evidence supporting or refuting this view.” (Ornellas)

Cons against the death penalty

· Wrongly convicted innocent people have received death penalty sentences and tragically were killed by the State. Supporters of the death penalty claim that some cases of innocent people being executed are not enough to outlaw the death penalty. In fact they claim there is no proof of complete innocence. But with the advancement of DNA evidence and registries more and more people are being exonerated of murders they did not commit and some of these people are inmates on death row. Illinois put a moratorium on the death penalty because a lot of inmates who were put on death row were actually innocent. The governor of Illinois commuted their sentences from death to life in prison. (Ornellas)

· The death penalty has failed as a deterrent. There have been claims that when an execution is publicized, more murders occur in the weeks that follow. Publicity of executions may encourage crime instead of deter it. Defendants sometimes insist on execution. They believe the State will help participate in their suicide. In many cases they have. In the case of Ronnie Lee Gardner in Utah, he was given the choice on how he wanted to be executed. He chose to be strapped to a chair, with a hood on his head and let several people on a firing squad riddle his body with bullets until he was dead. He wanted to be executed and the State obliged him. It would have been a crueler fate to have sentenced him to life without parole in prison. (Doane, 2010)

· The death penalty is used arbitrarily and inconsistently. If one person who is convicted of a heinous murder and sentenced to die and another heinous murderer gets life in prison and another lesser charge of murder gets the death penalty, how consistent is that? Opposition for the death penalty claims that those defendants who are indigent and cannot afford outside upscale legal counsel are treated unfairly and get the death penalty. Counsel for appeals is substantial and most defendants end up broke before the end of their appeals. (Ornellas)

· The 8th Amendment of the Constitution states that the States not participate in “cruel and unusual” punishment. Death constitutes cruel and unusual because it’s the taking of a human life. We are punishing a defendant with death of the very thing we made illegal with laws against murder. (White)

· A rehabilitated criminal can make a morally valuable contribution to society. Criminals can be rehabilitated with programs and counseling and be released into society to contribute as a law abiding citizen. If they can’t be released then they need to spend the rest of their lives in prison. (White)

· The motives of the death penalty are for revenge. The legal vengeance solidifies the social solidarity against law breakers and is the alternative to the private revenge of those who feel harmed or have been harmed. (Ornellas)

· Fear of Death does not reduce crime. It has never reduced crime even through most of history. Even when executions were public and brutal, crime especially heinous crime was still there and not reduced. (Ornellas)

No matter how you look at it, the way the capital punishment policy is, there is a breakdown of how the death penalty is administered. I believe that the death penalty is administered inconsistently. If we are going to have the death penalty, there needs to be a mandatory guideline to what is considered sentencing material for the death penalty. If capital punishment was more consistent across the board like in mandatory drug sentencing guidelines and the three strikes law, maybe the crime rate would be reduced dramatically.

With the advancement of DNA technology, the use of the death penalty needs to be looked at very carefully. I believe that if there is no doubt at all and proven beyond the reasonable doubt with DNA evidence that the number of appeals the inmate gets should be dramatically reduced. When those appeals are exhausted then there should be an execution immediately. Also along these lines, I believe once a defendant is sentenced to death row, the judge should set an execution date, if appeals have been exhausted and DNA says that they are guilty then an execution should be almost immediate. Let the defendant have their goodbyes with their families and have spiritual session with their minister. If we started using the DNA technology to its full potential and fast tracking executions, then the crime rates probably would drop and tax payers’ money saved because of the cost of housing inmates on death row for 25 years before they get executed is very costly.

Instead of fighting about capital punishment, we need to sit down and talk about it. We need to evaluate whether or not the death penalty is really working for us and if it is, get some better legislation on how it is handled. If it is not working for us, then we need to find other means of punishment for heinous crimes and find a way that’s not going to eat our money up. Housing inmates even not on death row is a very expensive endeavor.

Works Cited

Doane, S. (2010, June 13). The Slow Death of The Death Penalty? Retrieved February 8, 2011, from CBS Sunday Morning:

Ornellas, L. (n.d.). Death Penalty Arguments: Deterrent or Revenge (Pros and Cons). Retrieved 02 05, 2011, from

White, D. (n.d.). Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty. Retrieved 02 05, 2011, from


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      SandraCW 3 years ago

      Capital punishment is a 100% deterrent, murderers can't come back and murder anyone else, plus, CP was never to be a deterrent for other murderers, only punishment for murdering an innocent victim/s.

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      TZONE6 4 years ago

      Ok 1st lets take out the bible references, because we all don't follow EVERYTHING in the bible. 2nd, lets stop saying who's playing GOD here. 3rd stop saying if this was your family member (anyone appllies here) what would you do? How about the fact that it is happening at all? And 4th if rehabilitation and counseling does not help you while you are in jail/ prison, then you should DIE. If the case can be proven that you maliciously intended to murder or harm someone for your own personal gratification, then you DIE. If you are a repeat offender of dangerous crimes, you DIE. And if you just have no use in society except to just bring despair and harm to others, you DIE.

      We will always have this conversation in America because there is too much empathy towards the criminal's life than the life that he or she has taken. When you are executed for your wicked deeds, then you won't A: Do it again and/ or B: serve as a deterrent to others unless they have a death wish.

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      Sheila Brown 6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I believe in the death penalty. I think there are sick, sick people in this world who do not deserve to live. In saying that, I believe that the death penalty is given to frequently. I am sure there have been innocent people put to death and this is frightening. I agree that the issue needs more attention. Great Hub! Voted up.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA