The Case For:
Firstly we have to look at what we are expecting as a society in a way of punishment for criminal behaviour. Are we looking for the opportunity to punish the crime of death caused by murder with death itself?
The arguments for the death penalty are very clear. The imposition of appropriate punishment is the manner in which the courts respond for societies’ call for justice against the criminals. If you murder someone then you deserve to die.
Much of this argument has its basis in many religions and therefore has the deep seated belief that an ‘eye for an eye’ is not only righteous but just and straightforward. After all if you take a life you should expect to sacrifice your own. There is a natural balance to this belief.
A strong argument is that if you kill a group of murderers then they cannot kill again. This will therefore act as a deterrent. Besides, the costs of looking after these people for many decades is immense and could and should be used to compensate and help relatives of the victims.
It allows closure for the victim’s family knowing that justice has been served. Often the pain of losing a loved one only begins with the murder but is constantly stoked with the knowledge that the murderer is alive and well. It is the depravation of the family and loved ones of the victim that the death penalty is for.
All criminals would fight not to be killed by the state. Ted Bundy, for example, one of America’s most notorious serial killers spent nine years with his legal team blaming pornography for the things that he did and tried in vain to get his sentence commuted to life without parole. He did not want to die. So this would indicate that even confessed murderers do not want to die but still, in fact, gave no such choice to their victims.
Whatever the reasoning and the legal and humanitarian arguments the death penalty is a natural law that gives justice and closure.
The Case Against:
One of the things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is supposedly the inherent knowledge, if not acceptance, of our own mortality. We know that we are going to die.
Therefore, most people would say that to choose to take another life is just wrong under the majority of circumstances, others would say it is wrong under any circumstances.
For a state to take the life of a citizen it assumes that right over another human being. State sanctioned murder, for that is what it is, comes with massive issues both moral and practical. If life is sacrosanct, then that should apply to all life. How hypocritical is it to put one life’s value above another?
The death penalty practice takes the precept of justice and turns it into revenge and retribution or a judicial lynch mob that is fuelled by emotion and anger.
The quote ‘ an eye for an eye ‘ is often misused and Matthew in the New Testament 5:38 talks about turning the other cheek, in fact it is only the Old Testament that says otherwise.
The crime is not belittled or the victim less valued because of the lack of capital punishment, but the restraint of society not to exact revenge is a mark of humanity. This humanity is not shown by the perpetrator of the crime and for society to restrain from capital punishment holds a light to civilised thinking – the very thing that the perpetrator lacked. Let’s not sink to the lowest common denominator.
After many studies there has been no proof that the threat of capital punishment is in any way a deterrent. In 2012 the USA had almost 15,000 murders and this is where capital punishment is still prevalent at a rate of 4.7 per 100,000.00 or Yeman at 4.8 and the UAE 2.6. Good old liberal UK only 1.0 per 100,000.00. There are of course many other factors but it is clear that the threat of death has little or no impact.
The moral vacuum that the death penalty ensures has no positive outcome except revenge on behalf of the state of those emotionally involved. It is repugnant and reminiscent of the worst humanity can do to itself – at home with despots and extremists.