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Thoughts on the Death Penalty

By Edited Apr 24, 2014 0 0

Is an Eye for an Eye Policy Have a Place in an Evolved Society?


On December 10th, 1948 the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which, two articles declare human rights that condemn the death penalty. Article number three states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, and article number five says “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights online; Polk-Bauman online). Despite that fact 181 people were put to death between the years of 2002 and 2004 in the United States of America. Death Penalty is a cruel and irreversible punishment. The excuses often given to justify its usage are unreasonable and inappropriate, like revenge and economical reasons.

The cruelty of the capital punishment cannot be measured. In 1983 in the US 137 convicts, twelve of them younger than twenty years old were waiting for their executions on death row. It’s an unnamable brutality the suffering of having to wait for ones turn to die watching the other prisoners being executed one by one (Bicudo 89). Albert Camus, philosopher and novelist, said about the death penalty:

Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated, can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.

If this kind of punishment is worst  than the crime itself, then it can't be justified. In addition, it’s no one’s duty to judge who is human and deserves the right to live and who stopped being human for the crimes he or she committed and thus lost his or her rights. The Nazi acted that way, taking the human status away from common criminals at first, then from political criminals, then from people considered racially inferior, and killing them all (Chavez online).

The death penalty is the only punishment without room for error. What happens if criminals are executed and there’s a turn on the case? Some death row prisoners’ cases are full of doubts and controversial evidence.

Gay Graham was executed June 22, 2000 in Huntsville, Texas. He was accused of killing a man during a supermarket robbery; there were no fingerprints or DNA on the crime scene, therefore his conviction was based on the testimonial of a single eyewitness who claimed she saw him from thirty to forty feet away in a dark parking lot. A store employee, who said he saw the shooter but was never called to testify, told the police Graham wasn’t the killer, and three other eyewitnesses couldn’t identify him (They’re on death row but should they be? online).  

August 1st, 2002 death row prisoner Larry Osborne was found innocent and released. After being arrested on December 31, 1997, he was convicted for the murder of elderly couple. The sentence was based only on the statements of fifteen year-old Joe Reid who drowned before the trial. Osborne spent 2 years in death row (online; Parkinson online).

To use a punishment irreversible like the death penalty the prosecution has to be flawless, there must be no false evidence, no forced testimonials or corruption. Because it’s fine when one is found innocent while waiting for his or her execution, but it’s a little too late when one is found innocent after he or she was put to death.

How can there be a legal death and an illegal death? If I abduct someone and confine the person in a room against his or her wills, this act is a kidnap. If I kill that someone, this act is a murder. However, if I’m a state employee and I wear a uniform, the first act is called arrest and the second one capital execution (Bicudo 90).

As children we learn, in fairy-tales, to have a polarized view of good and evil. The Big Bad Wolf tries to kill Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandma; therefore he should be killed as a punishment for his wickedness. The Huntsman then kills the Wolf but he’s not evil, he was just avenging the Wolf’s acts. The reader is led to assume that the Wolf is bad and that he won’t do any good for the common well being and therefore it’s not a bad thing to kill the Wolf. But what differentiates the two killings? What makes the Wolf killing a bad thing and the Huntsman killing a good thing? The fact that the Huntsman only responded to an action is no justification for his acts. What happens if the Wolf’s wife comes and kills the Huntsman for killing her husband? Is her killing justifiable? This whole situation can, then, become an endless cycle of violence that not only will not solve the first problem, but also create a lot more. This is a mistaken concept of justice that regulates vengeance based on the “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, and as Mahatma Gandhi said an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind (Bierrenbach 2; Ioschpe online).

 Going a step further, that point of view is now inserted in movies too, continuing the belief that a person loses his or her humanness due to his or her acts and thus it’s not a bad thing to kill that person. An obvious example of how flimsy this belief is, can be found in the movie “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”. During a sequence where there is a motocross type race the character Thin Man kills by stabbing the character Randy Emmers, a Mafia guy who was chasing the character Max. Right at the crime scene the Charlie’s Angels freak-out, because the Thin Man is supposedly a bad character, but latter when the Angels find out that he was only protecting Max, the killing is not a big deal any more and even Dylan falls in love with the Thin Man in the end. The knowledge that the Thin Man was only trying to take care of Max, who attended the same orphanage as him, completely changed the view toward the crime he committed, but how does it change the crime itself? It doesn’t, so why should the Angels and the spectator look at it as a innocent act? Acting this way one puts human beings in the lowest level possible, where they are not worth their human rights turning them into non-human creatures who don’t deserve our forgiveness or a chance to redeem themselves.

 One would imagine that in a country where the Death Penalty is used, a criminal would think twice before committing a crime. In the eighteenth century,  the Marquis Cesare Beccaria, through his studies, declared that the threatening and dissuading characteristics of a punishment is not due to its rigor or strength, but to the sureness of its usage. The effectiveness of a penalty is in the combat to the impunity and in the guaranty of punishment of the criminal, not in its rate of cruelty (Bierrenbach 1; Machado online). Also, capital punishment doesn’t impress the terrorists or other political delinquents that are motivated by ideology and are ready to sacrifice themselves on behalf of their cause. Instead these executions can create martyrs that could motivate other terrorist acts (Dhnet online).

A National Academy of Sciences study proved that of the 250 criminals that were hanged in the twentieth century in England, 170 confessed they had watched a capital execution before (Bicudo 88). In Canada the rate of 3.09 murders per 100,000 inhabitants of 1975 - the year the capital punishment was abolished - fell to 2.74 in 1993. On the other hand in the United States, where the capital punishment is used in 39 states, you can’t say that the criminal rates have gone down even though the number of executions grows higher every year. In 1960 the rate of murders per 100,000 inhabitants was 4.7. In 1983 that rate went up to 9.7 and to 9.8 in 1993 (Andersen online). In 1991 the number of murders in California, Texas and Florida, states that have capital punishment, were respectively 3550, 2690 and 1140. In North Dakota and Vermont, states that don’t have capital punishment, the rates were 8 and 22 in the same year (Andersen online; Bierrenbach 2).

Perhaps, the most used and most absurd argument in favor of capital punishment is the economical reason. Most people say the cost of killing a dangerous criminal is smaller than to keep him or her in jail; however studies prove that belief wrong. This argument first of all is unethical; you can’t evaluate life by economic patterns. Society is already transforming people into products; people shouldn’t then exacerbate this act by labeling people and putting them to death because it’s cheaper. Second of all, in the United States of America the cost of life imprisonment is about $500,000. On the other hand, the price of a death conviction trial ranges from one to five million. The high cost comes from the permanence of the death penalty. A trial that might take someone’s life must be full of guarantees to reduce the possibility of error; the professionals involved in the investigation of the crime have to be highly specialized; defendants must have a dual trial, one to establish guilt or innocence and if guilty a second trial to determine whether or not they would get the death penalty; and everyone who’s sentenced to death is granted oversight protection with an automatic appeal to the state supreme court (Bicudo 91; The cost of the death penalty in California online)

The chart above shows the difference of cost between a capital punishment trial and a common trial in the state of California.




Defense Attorney

Defense Investigation

Prosecution Attorney

Prosecution Investigation


LA Jail


Total Cost to LA County



















a study made by the Sacramento Bee concluded that the state of California would save ninety million dollars per year if it were to abolish capital punishment. (online)

In conclusion, capital punishment has a  concept where the “good ones” judge themselves to have the right to administer punishment to the “evil ones”, and the “evil ones” are given the opportunity to explain their faults, but not to save their lives.  Real life is not like algebraic equations, where two negative signs make a positive one; two wrongs don’t make a right. Instead of killing criminals, the State should stop producing them by creating jobs, legislating decent wages, health care, housing, and better public education.


“How many deaths will it take till they know that too many people have died?”

- Bob Dylan




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