Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the lawful infliction of death as a punishment and since ancient times has been used for a variety of offenses. The purpose of the death penalty is to provide justice and protect society. The death penalty, which was struck down in 1972 and reinstated by the United States Supreme Court in 1976, is one of the most debated topics in America. The debates are often dominated by the voice of anti-death penalty campaigners who claim the death penalty violates moral values, is an injustice to human rights, and costs taxpayers too much money. All these claims are vigorously argued against by pro-death penalty supporters who view the death penalty as an important tool and deterrent in fighting heinous crimes. Although not relevant to the legal application of the death penalty in the United States, religious issues are a significant thread within the moral debate. The numerous issues surrounding capital punishment such as religious beliefs, the fear of executing an innocent person, the need for reform, sentencing alternatives such as life without parole, violation of a person’s Eighth Amendment rights, the costs to taxpayers, and the deterrence effects, have made it one of the most sensitive and controversial topics in the United States.
Murderers make choices that drastically change lives forever. Currently, in 34 American states the death penalty is the consequence for capital crimes. This is a consequence that upsets many religious groups, especially Christians. Christians are divided on the subject of capital punishment. Some argue vigorously for the death penalty while others argue just as vigorously against it. Many Christians argue against the death penalty, believing that the death penalty violates religious beliefs. They make this argument without having a full understanding of the death penalty or religious ideology.
Some claim that the death penalty was first instituted by God Himself in Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed.” This claim is taken even futher when considering that God has given man the moral duty to execute those who choose to take the lives of others. This is stated in Romans13:4: “but if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Some fundamentalists believe that nowhere does the Bible repudiate capital punishment for murder; not only is the death penalty for deliberate killing of a fellow human being permitted, but it is approved and encouraged throughout the bible.
The bible also encourages forgiveness, and many anti-death penalty supporters use this to further their claim. They believe is that once a murderer is forgiven there is no valid reason for the death penalty. In addition, the anti-death penalty supporters who argue that we should not take human life, since we cannot create it, need to understand that not only can we not create life, but we can not destroy it. If a person accepts the premise of religion, they should understand that we can only destroy the flesh that temporarily houses the immortal soul. What happens to the soul is God’s business, no one else’s. Christians can take comfort in knowing that we are all going to die and if being on death row leads a lost soul to Christ then it is beneficial for their eternal life, which is ultimately what really matters.
Whether there is a place in a modern society for the old fashioned principal of an eye for an eye is not a matter of personal opinion. According to the bible, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 25:52). For those who go against the death penalty and promote life imprisonment, it should be noted that the sword was meant for execution, not for life imprisonment. Many anti-death penalty supporters favor life imprisonment because in the past innocent people were put to death.
The anti-death penalty supporters claim that the death penalty needs to be abolished because innocent people are being killed. Yet in today’s society the accuracy of modern forensics and DNA testing make it unlikely for an innocent person to be put on death row. Moreover, there is no proof that any innocent people have been executed in recent years (Williams, 2003). Now this does not mean that an innocent person can not be charged and convicted of a crime that they did not commit, but to be issued the death penalty is a far more involved process than being sentenced to life in prison.
Many opponents of capital punishment put forward life in prison without parole as a viable alternative to execution. Some believe that life in prison is a far more cruel punishment than death, and is mentally damaging on all involved. Death has a property that life in prison does not: finality. Finality is exactly what all involved in a murder case need. This gives victims’ families the justice they desire after having a loved one ripped away by murder. Also, it is interesting to note that some prisoners serving life sentences petition for the right to be executed (Banner, 2002). They cite life without parole as a living death where they died a little every day (Banner, 2002). One might be forgiven for asking, what is the point of locking a person up to the day that they die. Contradictory, anti-death penalty supporters promote life in prison for murderers and at the same time argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. Certainly, sitting in 6 x 9 x 9.5 feet high cell for life is cruel.
Human beings kept alive in degrading conditions to face a hopeless future qualify as cruel and unusual punishment, and death is clearly the better option. Death penalty opponents argue that the death penalty is barbaric and in violation of a person’s Eighth Amendment right, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. However, there is nothing unusual about the death penalty; all nations have had the death penalty throughout recorded history. The death penalty was going on when the Eighth Amendment of Constitution was written and adopted. It is far more unusual to have no death penalty than to have a death penalty. Furthermore, when the Eight Amendment was written executions were executed by hangings. Today, lethal injection is the more widely used form of execution. It is said to be a painless, inexpensive, and a more humane form of execution (Elster, 2005).
Anti-death penalty supporters often cite the higher cost of executing someone over life in prison as a reason to eliminate the death penalty. They often base their claims on studies showing that death penalty cases cost at least $1.25 million more than a regular murder case or a sentence of life without parole (Turow, 2003). Yet, what they need to understand is that these high costs come from endless appeals and delays in carrying out death sentences that are allowed under the American legal system. In other countries, the average time in a condemned cell is two years, while in America the average time on death row is twelve years (Lowe, 2011). Surely, if the American courts were not clogged up with legal filings from murderers, a tremendous amount of time and money could be saved. Furthermore, while the figures given by anti-death penalty supporters are dubious at best, an argument on this point deserves no response. No response, because justice is not up for sale to the lowest bidder!
A common argument surrounding the death penalty is that statistics do not show that the death penalty deters crime when comparing death penalty states with non-death penalty states. Less than 50 executions out of 18,000 murders are not going to accomplish much (Lowe, 2011). Undoubtedly, a swifter death penalty would be an effective deterrent, since those executed will no longer be around to commit more murders. It is unfortunate that anti-death penalty supporters do not understand the importance of the death penalty and are pushing government officials to ban it.
On March 9, 2011, Governor Quinn of Illinois signed a bill into law ending the death penalty in Illinois. He obviously believed that the death penalty was causing more harm than good, and did not deter crime. Well, one month after eliminating the death penalty in Illinois, a young man named Demetry Smirnov, from British Columbia drove to Illinois and murdered his ex-girlfriend. According to Dupage County State’s Attorney, he shot his ex-girlfriend eleven times, meaning that he stopped firing at one point to reload the gun and then continued shooting the victim (Schering, 2011). Before performing this gut wrenching, senseless crime, Smirnov first verified the death penalty laws in Illinois. After verifying that he would not face the death penalty, he drove to Illinois with the sole purpose of murder (Schering, 2011). I do believe if Illinois still had the death penalty Smirnov might not have gone through with his plan.
The topic of capital punishment brings up deep emotional reactions for those on both sides of the. Capital punishment is a system set up to protect society and provide justice. The killing of one person as punishment for killing another seems so unjust when written on paper. Yet, when stepping in a victim’s shoes and viewing the subject of capital punishment from an exegetical perspective, it has become clear that capital punishment is a necessity. The death penalty honors the victim and ensures that the perpetrators of heinous crimes never have an opportunity to cause future tragedy. Although capital punishment is more expensive in the short run, that is a price I am willing to pay for added justice. A fact that is conveniently overlooked by anti-death penalty campaigners is that we are all ultimately going to die. It is easy to condemn capital punishment as barbaric, but is spending the rest of one's life in prison so much less cruel or is it merely a way of salving society's conscience. Capital punishment is not only the desirable choice; it is the right choice for our society, victims, criminals, and the country’s finances.
Banner, S. (2002). The death penalty. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA
Elster, J.A. (2005). The death penalty. Greenhaven Press: Farmington Hills, MI.
Fisanick, N. (2005). The ethics of capital punishment. Greenhaven Press: Farmington Hills, MI.
Lowe, W. (January 17, 2011). Death penalty information center. http://www.wesleylowe.com/cp.html. Retrieved: April 22, 2011
Schering, S. (April 15, 2011). Man accused of stalking woman before killing her in Oak Brook. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved from http://www.suntimes.com/4828757-573/man-accused-of-stalking-woman-before-killing-her-in-oak-brook.html.
Turow, S. (2003). Ultimate punishment: A lawyer’s reflections on dealing with the death penalty.
Williams, M.E. (2003). Is the death penalty fair? Greenhaven Press: Farmington Hills, MI.