Debating the Death Penalty Essay

This paper presents some of the views both for and against capital punishment as it exists currently as a form of punishment throughout the world. By examining the arguments on both sides and working to refute those arguments against it, the author is able to present a coherent and compelling set of arguments for continuing the practice; albeit with a few key adjustments.

The question of whether or not a person supports or opposes the death penalty is an issue that attracts a great deal of attention currently throughout the world. Political campaigns, religious leaders, and foreign press make quite a spectacle of how the Throughout the world legal systems regularly sentences people to die for the crimes they have committed. As such, many nations around the globe view the death penalty as something of a novelty (Debrevnik, 2004).

From a purely economic standpoint, capital punishment is an extraordinarily expensive form of punishment. As compared with life in prison, the average cost of execution is approximately the same cost to keep a prisoner housed and fed for over 100 years (Petersen & Lynch, 2012). Currently, the average cost of execution in California exceeds 4 million dollars per criminal executed. Comparatively, the average cost to keep a prisoner housed and fed as well as ensuring proper health care and medicine usually does not exceed $35,000 per year (Semeshenko et al, 2012). At such an exorbitantly high expense, it is clear that choosing capital punishment on the grounds that killing the criminal will somehow save the state money over time is entirely illogical.

As such, the argument for execution does not hinge on economic savings; instead, it hinges upon the Judeo-Christian belief of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. In this way, the major supporters of the death penalty believe that certain crimes are so heinous that rehabilitation is not possible. As such, one’s life is forfeit for certain crimes if convicted. This further raises the tangential issue of the purpose of prison; whether it is it to rehabilitate or to punish. According to death penalty activists, prison’s primary objective is to punish with rehabilitation being a very distant second.

A secondary issue with the death penalty in its current form is that they death penalty has been proven not to be a significant deterrent against the crimes it punishes. It is obvious that murder rates throughout the world are comparably higher than almost any other nation that currently does not have the death penalty as a legal option for a convicted criminal. Accordingly, the death penalty cannot be seen as adequate deterrent to dissuade would-be criminals from committing crime; however, it can be seen as a barometer of a society’s overall tolerance for violent crime and the clear and obvious repercussions that exist for not regarding the law.

Thirdly, death penalty opponents would be quick to point out the fact that the death penalty is historically proven to be arbitrary in nature. Although this may to an extent be true, all criminal justice is arbitrary as human nature is imperfect to necessarily ascribe punishment to the true culprit. As such, this oversight is lamentable and horrid in the strongest of ways; however, it is indicative of a larger problem that underlies the criminal justice system and humanity as a whole, not merely the death penalty as such. Accordingly, our legal system has a very long and involved appeals process that helps to mitigate the risk of wrongful execution (Proffitt, 2011). As previously mentioned, this process can take years and costs millions of dollars. As such, both of these drawbacks, both the economic cost and the risk of wrongful execution, work together to impede the likelihood that a convicted criminal will be wrongfully executed.

Lastly, many death penalty opponents argue that the death penalty employs cruel and unusual punishment to put the convict to death (Bessler, 2012). Death in and of itself is never a beautiful or easy process; instead, it is gruesome and horrid by nature and something to be detested. However, the fact remains that as opposed to many countries that continue to practice hanging, beheading, and a host of other unsavory means to execute convicted criminals, throughout the world takes great pains to ensure that the process is as painless and humane as feasible. As a result, almost every state that employs the death penalty in the throughout the world operates under a set of options. Oftentimes, criminals have the chance to choose the manner in which they die. Although this in and of itself is a morbid thought, if one is utterly terrified of the effects of a certain form of execution he/she may chose another.

Additionally, more and more states are employing death by lethal injection as their primary means of execution. This form of execution is arguably the least painful and most humane currently in existence due to the fact that pain killers and sedatives are delivered into the convicted individual’s blood stream prior to the final life-ending cocktail being delivered. Additionally, prior to death, the convicted is induced into a coma-like sleep so that they will not feel any of the effects of the life-ending drugs that have been introduced intravenously into their system. As such, it is the belief of this author that if execution is to exist as an option within the criminal justice system, it must necessarily be swift and terminal.

Whereas it may be simple to point to any one of a handful of cases where a wrongful death occurred as the result of an overzealous criminal justice system bent on conviction and applying the death penalty, this particular paper will briefly reference the case of Carlos de Luna. Carlos was accused of stabbing a store clerk to death (Shatz & Dalton, 2013). Police within Corpus Christi, Texas quickly investigated and fingered Carlos de Luna as the culprit regardless of the fact that another suspect had actually bragged to friends about the killing. One does not need to have much of an imagination to see how the criminal justice system is categorically biased in favor of the prosecution at nearly each and every turn. As a result of such a factor de Luna was sentenced to death and the sentence was carried out. Subsequent investigations into the case have revealed the prosecution failed to follow up on a litany of different clues that could have cued them into the fact that Hernandez, not Carlos was ultimately responsible for the killing. This serves as proof of but one wrongful conviction.

Thus far, this analysis has discussed capital punishment as it relates to the state (overall costs) and the convicted criminal (means of execution and humanity with which it is employed). However, these two factors are both secondary as compared to the sense of justice and the sense of closure that the death penalty provides to the family members of those that have been so callously slain by the accused (Zivot, 2012). It is easy to have an opinion on the death penalty; however, having to live every day knowing that the man or woman who so coldly murdered your loved one(s) is enjoying three hot meals, television, free medical treatment, a job, and daily exercise would likely be enough to drive a victim’s family member to the brink of insanity.

As such, the death penalty provides a much needed sense of closure to the friends and family members of those that have been deeply affected by the crime. It is true that no manner of punishment will bring back the loved ones that they miss and love; however, a sense of closure and finality that the death penalty brings unquestionably aids the healing process and helps those affected friends and family members to put the situation in the past and move on with their lives in the best way they can. Additionally, the sense that the justice system has worked further adds to share holder belief and trust in the finality, fairness, and diligence that the current criminal justice system upholds.

This analysis has briefly mentioned but a handful of reasons why the death penalty at its core continues to be a useful and powerful tool of the criminal justice system. Although not without its drawbacks, the closure, finality, humaneness, and absolutism that it provides is without comparison. Although the death penalty in and of itself does not deter the overall level of violent crime, does not bring the victim of the crime back to life, and costs considerably more than the alternative of life imprisonment, the overall faith and trust that it instills in the criminal justice system combined with the closure it provides to friends and family members makes it a viable penalty for the most heinous of crimes. Regardless of one’s personal views with relation to capital punishment, it would behoove all involved to thoughtfully examine, with as little bias as humanly possible, their own thoughts with regards to this form of punishment.


Bessler, J. (2012). Cruel & unusual : the American death penalty and the founders' Eighth Amendment. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Debrevnik, S. (2004). Debating the Death Penalty : Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Best Case. New York: Oxford University Press.

Iglesias, J. R., Semeshenko, V. V., Schneider, E. M., & Gordon, M. B. (2012). Crime and punishment: Does it pay to punish?. Physica A, 391(15), 3942-3950. doi:10.1016/j.physa.2012.03.001

PETERSEN, N., & LYNCH, M. (2012). PROSECUTORIAL DISCRETION, HIDDEN COSTS, AND THE DEATH PENALTY. Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology, 102(4), 1233-1274.

Proffitt, Emily. “Whitworth University News: Innocent man released after 17 years on death row to speak at Whitworth Sept. 25.” Whitworth University News. N.p., 19 Sept. 2011. Web. 19 July 2012.


Zivot, J. (2012). The absence of cruelty is not the presence of humanness: physicians and the death penalty in throughout the world. Philosophy, Ethics & Humanities In Medicine, 7(1), 1-4. doi:10.1186/1747-5341-7-13