The Role and Effects of Death Penalty and Why I Support it as a Just Punishment for Murder and Homicide Essay

The executions for death penalty continue to plummet every year, despite the fact that thousands of convicts wait in the death row. Several scholars explored the legal, social, economic, and moral dimensions of capital punishment. In “Miscarriage of Justice: Why the Death Penalty Doesn’t Work,” David Von Drehle asserts that the death penalty is not working because it is more unjust and inefficient than life imprisonment. Ernest Van den Haag disagrees with Von Drehle in “The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense,” where he argues that death penalty is a just punishment for criminals who killed human beings, and it is not necessarily costlier or more prejudiced than life imprisonment. In “Disaggregation in Deterrence and Death Penalty Research: The Case of Murder in Chicago,” William C. Bailey examines if death penalty deters crime, specifically murder and homicide. He does not find empirical data that support the notion that capital punishment reduces violent crimes, and instead, there is even a positive relationship between this policy and murder and homicide rates. Though not a significant crime deterrent, I support capital punishment because it serves the role of providing a just form of punishment for murder and homicide, it stops killers from killing other people, and it is a humane form of punishment for people who have degraded themselves through willfully killing innocent victims.

Von Drehle uses several cases, statistics, and law analysis to argue that the death penalty is costlier than life imprisonment because of the slow justice system processes, it is unjust because it is arbitrary and tends to be applied more to the poor and minority groups, it is unlawful because it is against the Eight and the Fourteenth Amendments, and it is inhumane because it is a brutal form of punishment. Von Drehle focuses on the case of James “Doug” McCray, who was sentenced to die in 1974 for raping and killing an elderly woman. McCray denied the criminal charges and he has been waiting for decades for his appeal to be heard. He remains on the death row alongside other criminals, who have been waiting too for several decades, some even forty years and counting. Von Drehle asserts that McCray is only one example of why the death penalty is not effective in providing justice.

Moreover, Von Drehle supports Anthony Amsterdam’s arguments against the death penalty, including those that the latter expressed in the Supreme Court during Furman v. Georgia in 1972. Amsterdam criticized the death penalty for being significantly used against the poor and minority groups and for being imposed subjectively (i.e. nearly erratically because judges and juries mete it out without clear guidelines). The death penalty is also rarely carried out that it is no longer possible to see it as a crime deterrent. Society, in addition, finds it harder and harder to accept it as a decent form of punishment. Von Drehle further examines the weaknesses of Florida’s death penalty law that seeks to respond to the arguments of justices in Furman v. Georgia. He notes that, though Florida tried to resolve the concerns of setting standards, controlling discretion, and removing caprice, its death penalty policy has several drawbacks. In particular, the use of aggravating and mitigating factors to judge the eligibility for the death penalty is still subject to discretion than facts and these factors are hard to interpret and evaluate. Von Drehle concludes that, even those justices and lawyers, who once supported the death penalty, have changed their minds throughout the decades because they became aware that it is not an effective crime deterrent, and it is hard to impose fairly, due to its subjective processes.

Van den Haag disagrees with Von Drehle that death penalty is unjust and arbitrary. He presents responses to all aspects and consequences of capital punishment that its critics usually present. Van den Haag argues that, if capital punishment is considered moral, its discriminatory distribution would not be considered immoral since it is punishing those who deserve it. Maldistribution does not affect the just nature of capital punishment. He asserts that equal justice means applying it equally to all. He also accepts that some inequality may be present in the imposition of the death penalty, but he believes that the Supreme Court has already provided sufficient requirements to guide death penalty decisions and processes.

Van den Haag further argues for the following reasons that prove that death penalty is useful and effective as a punishment for violent crimes. He underscores that, though there are a handful of people who may have been victims of the miscarriage of death penalty, the numbers are too insignificant to abolish an entire system that is useful and have moral benefits. Moreover, he argues that crime deterrence may be small, but it is more important than removing death penalty that may be preventing future crimes and deaths. Furthermore, in terms of costs, Van den Haag does not think that the death penalty is more expensive than life imprisonment, and he asserts that justice is more valuable than the costs of the death penalty system. He also disagrees that the relative suffering of those sentenced to death is greater than their victims’ because the latter did not deserve their suffering. Van den Haag adds that punishment is not meant for personal revenge, but to support the law and the social order that these crimes undermined. He further asserts that the death penalty does not promote or legitimize unlawful killing because it is lawful and a deserved form of punishment. Finally, Van den Haag argues that death penalty is just because the criminal knew the risks and took it, so his punishment is equal to his crime; death penalty is not excessive because some crimes are so heinous that these criminals deserve to die; and it is not degrading to criminals because, by murdering others, they have dehumanized themselves and are no longer fit to live in a civilized society.

Another researcher provides empirical support that death penalty is not a crime deterrent. Bailey examines if death penalty discourages crime, specifically murder and homicide. He conducts a time-series analysis of executions and first-degree murders in the city of Chicago, Illinois from 1915 to 1921. His control variables are population density, percent of the city budget allocated to care (food and shelter) for the homeless and other needy adults and children, season of the year, and sureness of arrest and imprisonment for murder. Findings showed that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to murder in Chicago during this time period (Bailey 855). Executions were also positively related to increases in homicides and murders (Bailey 855). Bailey argues that these findings may not be fully explained through the brutalization hypothesis. This hypothesis states that the death penalty increases killings, instead of decreasing them. He believes that it is hard to directly measure if capital punishment itself affects murders and homicides. Bailey concludes that he has no empirical evidence that capital punishment reduces violent crime rates.

William C. Bailey’s article fits the side of Von Drehle who does not support death penalty because his study proves that it is not an effective crime deterrent. Bailey supports that death penalty does not reduce murder and homicide rates. He does not find empirical data that support the contention that death penalty dissuades criminals from killing people. It may even do the opposite because, when death penalty is applied, murders and homicides increased. Bailey, however, notes that he is unsure how the relationship between death penalty and killings works, or if death penalty itself causes higher killings. He also cannot prove that death penalty by itself is a factor that causes violent killings because numerous factors impact every murder and homicide case. Nonetheless, Bailey shows that death penalty does not significantly discourage criminals from killing people.

After reading three sides on death penalty, I argue that the role of death penalty is not to overwhelmingly deter crimes, but to offer a just form of punishment for murder and homicide. I agree with Van den Haag that capital punishment is a just form of punishment for the crimes it intends to punish. It does not even matter for me if the process of death penalty is slow or marred with public conflicts because of anti-death penalty and human rights efforts that aim to thwart executions. It matters more that the society has an option to mete out the most absolute punishment to the most absolute affront on the most fundamental right of every human being, the right to human life. To willingly kill another human being must be punished with the same equal punishment of death.

Furthermore, death penalty may not deter all criminals, but it can prevent the deaths of other people that these killers would have killed if they are released, or if they escape prison. I am referring to criminals who have a thirst for blood and who, after being freed or escaping or being imprisoned, cannot stop themselves from killing other human beings. If these criminals are executed, then other future victims are saved. If capital punishment saves even one possible victim every year, then it is already enough of a deterrent for me.

Finally, I believe that death penalty is a humane form of punishment for people who have degraded themselves through deliberately killing innocent victims. I support Van de Haag who said: “This degradation is self-inflicted. By murdering, the murderer has so dehumanized himself that he cannot remain among the living. The social recognition of his self-degradation is the punitive essence of execution” (207). It is just to take an inhumane being who has taken a human life because he/she has dehumanized himself enough to deserve death. Van de Haag asserts that death punishment is brutal, while Bailey thinks that it may be brutalizing people enough to increase their propensity to kill, but they are overlooking that it is possible that death is also compassionate for the killer and society too. A killer’s death provides justice to the laws of a society that values human life, and it values the killer too because his inhumanity must be ended for justice to prevail. Hence, I support death penalty because it serves its role as a just punishment for the most violent crimes.

Works Cited

Bailey, William C. “Disaggregation in Deterrence and Death Penalty Research: The Case of Murder in Chicago.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 74.3 (1983): 827-859. Print.

Van den Haag, Ernest. “The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense.” Harvard Law Review, May 1986. Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Crime and Criminology. 10th ed. 205-208. Print.

Von Drehle, David. “Miscarriage of Justice: Why the Death Penalty Doesn’t Work.” The Washington Post, 5 Feb. 1995. Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Crime and Criminology. 10th ed. 198-204. Print.