The Death Penalty: A Necessary Evil Essay

Though the thought of our government being given the authority to kill one of its citizens is distasteful, it is, unfortunately, necessary whenever those citizens take the life of others. Those opposed to the death penalty say that killing, no matter the rationale, devalues life and is a barbaric practice. However, it is less barbaric than the act of murder. The killer placed little value on their victim’s life so life to them is hardly sacred. Society as a whole puts more value on the killer’s life than the killer did on their victim because the perpetrator is given a trial and multiple appeals which is more consideration than the victim received. Allowing a murderer to enjoy free housing, medical care and three meals per day all paid for by taxpayers is more distasteful than the act of employing the death penalty.

Premeditated murder is the most inhuman and malicious crime there is because the act violates their victim’s right to live, the most precious of all aspects of being human. When the thief commits a crime the stolen items are usually replaceable but when life is taken, it’s gone forever. The excruciating pain of loss also forever lingers in the hearts of those left behind. In a perfect world the death penalty would not be necessary. It’s the killers who, essentially, force society to resort to the practice in an ongoing effort to safeguard against the most destructive crime against humanity. The death penalty should be perceived as one tool among others in the effort to make the world a better place to live, work and love. The two concepts often used to support the death penalty are the respect for human life and justice for all. These phrases also represent the very foundation of two other concepts this society holds dear, civilization and democracy. The stability of these principles is dependent on the equitability of the justice system which historically and properly condones the death penalty. (Cassell, 2004).

If the death penalty were to be abolished, the crime of murder would be diminished to other types of offenses that earn the perpetrator only jail time. This would trivialize the horrific crime of murder as well as the value society places on human life. It would mean society, in effect, does not really care about the victim or their family. “You lost your loved one? That’s a shame but we really don’t care” would be the message sent loud and clear. The death penalty must always be available, if for no other reason, to demonstrate that this society does care about the value of human life and demands that everyone who does not is taken from society. The death penalty is essential if to show that the laws we all live by respects human life. The opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the verdict following the Gregg v. Georgia death penalty case demonstrated sound reasoning. “Indeed, the decision that capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases is an expression of the community’s belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death.” (“Gregg v. Georgia,” 1976)

If murderers are allowed to keep their own life it means society deems their life more valuable than the victim. Most Americans agree with this sentiment. In addition, most would like to think that if someone killed them, their fellow citizens would ensure the killer lost their own life as well. An October 2007 poll by Gallup found that nearly 70 percent of Americans were in favor of retaining the death penalty but only about a quarter want it abolished. In 1994, the all-time high mark for death penalty support, 80 percent of all Americans wanted to keep the death penalty. (Jones, 2003).

Death penalty opponents claim that it is not a deterrent to crime, that it ultimately doesn’t save lives. That often recited and obviously misleading information is easily refuted. The serial killer who has been caught, tried and executed has no more victims. It’s open to speculation how many more innocent people would have been brutally, mindlessly murdered. The reason killers attempt to avoid capture is fear of retribution, prison time and the death penalty. This fear makes people think and when they do, at least occasionally prevents them from acting as intended. Everyone can relate a minor example of fear-based inactions from their own experiences, such as the fear of being caught stealing kept them from taking the candy bar as a child. Deterrence measures are effective, to what extent is and always be an unknown but it does work. Whether threat of punishment saves one life or a thousand, the ends justify the means. (Sharp, 1997).

Opponents of the death penalty contend that innocent people have been put in prison and to death due to mistakes inherent in the justice system. For this reason, it should be abolished. This is their most compelling argument but it is very weak. Although the justice system is not perfect, it is among, if not the, most equitable in the world. The wheels of American justice go to extraordinary lengths to provide defendants due process of law including an appeals process that takes years to complete. Death row inmates have been exonerated in the past but no convincing evidence exists proving innocent people have been put to death. Of course it’s possible but until it can be conclusively shown this country is systematically applying the sentence unjustly then allowing it to continue is the only just course of action. (Stewart, 2006).

Though the use of the death penalty has been said to devalue human life, the practice actually demonstrates how much this society actually does value life, by assigning the most extreme punishment to the most extreme crime. The death penalty is a deterrent as well. No person who was put to death killed again and for those who might, the idea of death is a sobering thought even to those who aren’t the most compassionate or intelligent among us. The death penalty is not something we want to do but it’s what we need to do to protect the stability of society itself.

Works Cited

Cassell, Paul. “Debating the Death Penalty” Oxford University Press. pp. 183–217. 2004. Web. April 10, 2012

“Gregg vs., Georgia.” Cornell University Law School March, 1976. Web. April 10, 2012

Jones, Jeffery. “Plurality of Americans Believe Death Penalty Not Imposed Often Enough.” Gallup News Service Mar. 12, 2003. Web. April 10, 2012

Sharp, Dudley. “Death Penalty and Sentencing Information in the United States.” Justice for All October 1, 1997. Web. April 10, 2012

Stewart, Steven D. “A Message from the Prosecuting Attorney.” The Death Penalty. Clark County, IN: Office of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney. (2006).