Death Penalty and Deterrence Essay

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Capital Punishment: Does it do what we think it does?
Ever since the beginning of time man has committed crimes. Crimes were described as acts which go against the social and moral norms of society and people. People have learned to deal with these crimes in many different ways. One of the most used forms of dealing with crime is punishing those who commit crimes. There are numerous ways in which people have punished those who commit crimes throughout history from making the criminal pay fines to banishing them from the community. However, in modern times, there are fewer acceptable forms of punishment that are used. For very unserious crimes, governments may simply make a criminal pay a small fine or do service the community in some way. Offenders who commit more serious crimes may be forced to spend months or years in jail or prison. However, for the most serious crime of premeditated murder there is an even greater punishment; the punishment of death. P84According to Jacquelyn C. Black, since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated, over 821 men and women have been executed in the United States.
Capital punishment is one of the most hotly debated issues in politics and criminal justice today. The ability of the government and the judicial system to punish a criminal in the most severe way, the taking of their ability to live, is an issue that is discussed and evaluated nearly every day. Capital punishment has its roots in history though. Ever since man has formed societies he has used capital punishment as a form of punishment for criminals. The United States has also been using capital punishment for a long time. Many people think that capital punishment is a very barbaric form of punishment that should be gotten rid of. They think that no civilized nation should allow such sanctioned brutality. P61According to Ron Fridell, “capital punishment has been abolished in all of Europe and most of Latin America, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The United States remains the only Western nation in which capital punishment is still practiced.” Other people think that the death penalty is an effective and just way of punishing offenders for the most heinous of crimes. This paper will try to describe the death penalty, where it came from, and its role in the judicial system today.

The purpose of capital punishment is also a debated issue in the subject. Most people think that capital punishment is a good form of criminal punishment because it entices others to not commit crime because they will receive the same punishment. This is known as the deterrence theory. The theory of normative expressionism, however, suggests that capital punishment is simply a form of communication that serves to express a moral lesson to the criminal and others. This paper will also try to describe these two theories and how the issue of capital punishment relates to them.

Another issue related to the subject involves whether or not capital punishment actually deters criminals from committing crimes. Most people think that the death penalties primary function is to deter others in the future from committing similar crimes. There is evidence that at times capital punishment does deter. However, there are those or cite evidence or opinion that the capital punishment does not achieve its desired effect. The majority of this paper will focus on whether capital punishment actually deters crime.

The most influential text and source of many of the moral ideas of the world come from the Bible. The Bible outlines many of the crimes that are thought to be fundamentally wrong today. Also, the Bible provided ideologies and guidelines for the punishment of those who committed crimes, especially murder. The history of capital punishment can also be traced to this ancient text. Q5 The Bible says “Man was made like God, so whoever murders a man will himself be killed by his fellow man.”(my bible) This explains a lot of the history of the death penalty. Q1 p9 In fact, James Megivern says that “The single most influential factor accounting for the early and widespread Christian acceptance of the death penalty was undoubtedly the Bible.” Since the Bible is arguably the most influential text ever created, it is no surprise that a practice which was advocated and even encouraged as a form of punishment for criminals was accepted by a large number of people. The purpose of the death penalty to these early Christians was similar to the expected purposes of the death penalty today. Q2 p11 Megivern writes “One function of the juridical death threat was to get people’s attention, to lay down a solemn warning, to alert all to the extreme seriousness of certain misdeeds.” This shows that as people have evolved and changed their ideas of capital punishment and their reasons for using capital punishment have tended to stay the same.
However, it should also be noted that the texts were not to be taken completely literally. While serious crimes were should be punished with death, discretion should be used as to which cases deemed the ultimate punishment a necessity. Megivern Q3p13 again writes that the texts “articulate what the society’s top values are and what is beyond the range of acceptable behavior in the ideal order.” Q4 Carl Henry seems to support this basic concept with his statement “The Old Testament does not teach that capital punishment is always mandatory even when intentional killing is involved. Discretion is necessary in applying the mandate that the murderer is to be punished by a sentence of death; the deliberate murderer need not under all circumstances be put to death.”
Since the English began colonizing North America, the death penalty has been present. Q6p301 Megivern even points out that “By the time of the American Revolution, all of the colonies severe criminal codes. All except Rhode Island threatened capital punishment for ten or more crimes.” It should also be pointed out that even Pennsylvania, which was founded by Quakers and had much more lenient and compassionate laws, had no objection in to the principle of the death penalty. It is therefore, no surprise that the issue of capital punishment has lingered in American debate. The death penalty has been practiced and performed as an acceptable form of punishment for over 200 years.
However, as time went on opposition to the death penalty grew and the topic became a more contested issue. One of the first major opponents of the death penalty was Horace Greeley. Q7p309 An advocate of social reforms, Greeley argued that the death penalty taught and sanctioned revenge, weakened and destroyed the horror of bloodshed, insured the escape of the guilty from punishment of human law, and excites a pernicious sympathy for the convict.” Greeley is an example of the changing opinions of capital punishment in the Americas.

The real opposition to the death penalty came in the early twentieth century. Q7p309 Between 1907 and 1917, the death penalty was repealed in Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington. However, after a change in public sentiment over the next 30 years all but two of these two states brought back capital punishment. Q8p329 “Capital punishment reached an all-time high in 1935 when 199 people were put to death.” Clearly capital punishment had once again found favor in the minds and ideologies of Americans as an acceptable form of punishment.

In 1972, the Supreme Court (Furman v. Georgia) abolished the death penalty citing that it was not applied fairly. By 1976, thirty-five states had put standards in place in the judicial process which allowed the death penalty to be reinstated. The Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia as an acceptable form of punishment.

One of the theories related to the death penalty and punishment is that of the expressive theory of punishment. R.A. Duff, Jean Hampton, Sanford Kadish, Herbert Morris, and Andrew von Hirsch are among the leading theorists who have proposed expressive theory. P169 Davis says “these theorists have explicitly endorsed the view that punishment is primarily a form of communication rather than a mere deprivation or penalty.” Though each of these theorists different in the way the present the theory they all have the same basic concept. P169 Davis writes that “all theorists hold that punishment is justified (when it is) not because (or not primarily because) the penalty as such deters, reforms, restores a just balance of benefits and burdens, or otherwise satisfies some traditional theory of punishment, but primarily because punishment is a moral lesson, an appropriate rebuke to the criminal, a sufficiently emphatic denunciation of the crime.” An example would be that a mass murderer should be put to death because society would not be able to justly and fairly condemn the criminal by any other lesser penalty.

Another theorist adds to different levels to the theory of normative expressionism- extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic expressionism is an outward expression of punishment or communication by the government. P170 Davis explains that “extrinsic expressionism requires both a convention and a purpose the convention is to serve.” He also states that “punishment must be valuable primarily because of its effect on society.” This theory of extrinsic normative expressionism therefore offers punishment on two levels. The first level is that of penalty for the crime that is committed or moral condemnation of the act. P171 Davis says that “it capital punishment also offers moral rebuke for agent.” In this theory, capital punishment would serve the purpose of not only punishing the act itself but also moral retribution upon the person who committed the crime.
Intrinsic expressionism is a little different. Q173 Davis writes that “intrinsic expressionism requires an internal connection between the crime to be punished and the punitive response.” Qp173 In this case, a particular punishment cannot vindicate the law that has been broken, reaffirm the right that has been violated, or demonstrate that a certain deed was a crime unless the punishment is a just response to what was in fact done.

This is where capital punishment really fits in. Punishment from the government must communicate information to all. Since the punishment comes from a legal body of laws and a system of dealing with those who violate those laws, the message of punishment forms that punishment is deserved when an act violates such laws. The sentence must be proportionate to the crime that was committed to gain the desire effect. P175 Davis states “A just penalty, quite literally entails the moral, as well as legal, condemnation of both the criminal and crime.

In relation to intrinsic expressionism, the death penalty must achieve certain things to be effective and just. First, the punishment must be legally recognized by the government to be acceptable punishment for the crime. Since capital punishment is only given to those who commit intentional murder, it seems to fit. The most serious capital punishment must reflect to the criminal and those in general the message that the taking of human life is the worst crime a person can commit. Following this reasoning, the most serious crimes should deserve the most serious punishment, that being capital punishment.

Obviously the death penalty has a history in the ideologies of human beings from the near beginning of their existence. However, the theories behind the death penalty should be described. The major theory and purpose behind the use of capital punishment is that of deterrence. Q3Brown p7 Deterrence is a theory is based on the idea that the threat of punishment must be severe enough to counter the benefits or pleasures that the criminal would receive from the crime. In addition, the punishment must be administered swiftly so that potential criminals will see a clear cause-and-effect relationship between crime and punishment. It must also be recognized that there are two types of deterrence that keeps people from committing crimes. General deterrence is when a punishment commits other potential criminals from committing crimes. Specific deterrence on the other hand, deters someone who has already committed a crime from doing it again.

The theory of deterrence also that says that punishment should be quick and severe to entice others not to commit crimes. Q1p61 Ron Fridell states that “The basic principles of deterrence are that punishments are necessary to deter crime and to encourage law abiding behavior. Those punishments must also be administered the state through due process of law rather than by individuals through vigilante action. Punishment must also fit the crime, with more serious crimes requiring more serious punishments.”
From these statements many things can be inferred. First, capital punishment serves as a device to discourage certain forms of behavior by making the consequences of such actions unpleasant. Also, the fact that a government must be able to by law extend that punishment to criminals is a major factor. With the governments ability to invoke this punishment comes a certain amount of legality and legitimacy. It ensures that the government recognizes that punishment as acceptable and also necessary to the betterment of the society. Lastly, it must be assumed that capital punishment as the most serious form of punishment also be extended to those who commit only the most serious crimes, that being murder. In this way the government recognizes that the sanctity of life is at an utmost importance and that the taking of this life is the most serious offense a person can commit.

The way in which capital punishment deters criminals is also very important. Qp63 In 1790, minister James Dana told his New Haven, Connecticut, congregation that the purpose of capital punishment was to strike terror into the minds of undetected criminals, youth and all persons watching.'” “Another man, John Whitley, was quoted as saying, It’s capital punishment a good, quick, violent death, and if you do it as soon as possible after the capital crime the message is clear: If you do that, you’ll get this.'” Both of these things refer to the same basic idea. The application of capital punishment is supposed to strike fear and doubt into the minds of potential criminals. By realized the possible consequences of their actions, they are expected to be much less willing to commit such a crime.
Now that deterrence has been described and understood, it should be examined as to whether the death penalty actually succeeds in its attempts to deter crime. Again deterrence needs to be broken down into two parts to effectively to answer this question. First, is the issue of specific deterrence. Capital punishment undoubtedly is perfectly effective in deterring crime in a specific sense. When a person is put to death, there is absolutely no chance of that person committing murder or any other crime, for that matter, again. It would be safe to say that in at least half of the deterrence issue the death penalty is effective. However, how accurate is that statement? Does it really deter people from committing simply murder? If execution were the punishment for every crime would not the specific deterrence of that crime be just as effective? Therefore, it cannot be said that the death penalty is effective solely on the issue of capital crimes.
When it comes to the issue of general deterrence, capital punishment and its desired effects comes under much more scrutiny. Q18 Michael Kronenwetter writes that “No other punishment deters men so effectuallyas the punishment of death.” Opponents of the idea offer many valid arguments. Murder is not a casual crime such as littering or speeding. Murder is committed by those who are not acting in a conventional or rational way. The argument is therefore made that while capital punishment deters those who think rationally, it is not those who typically think rationally that commit murder which warrants the death penalty.
P19 Kronenwetter says “Most murdersthe ones who cold-bloodedly plan and carry out their crimesthink they are too clever to be caught. The death penalty cannot be a deterrent to them either, because they are convinced they will escape punishment of any kind.” In this, argument though it appears that the capital punishment is an ineffective deterrent unless it deters every single person from committing murder.

P19 Kronenwetter argues that “the threat of capital punishment obviously hasn’t deterred hose criminals who have committed capital crimes. No one expects the death penalty to deter every criminal and to prevent every terrible crime.” Proponents argue that is effective enough if it deters some criminals and prevents some crimes.

Another argument of the opponents goes along with the previous one. P21 Kronenwetter says that abolitionists of capital punishment argue that “if the death penalty really does deter murderers, then societies that execute murderers should be relatively free of murderers. Even today, the four states that use the death penalty the most are most consistently among those with the highest murder rates.

P21 Kronenwetter again cites the proponent’s point of view. Kronenwetter writes “none of this statistical evidence proves that capital punishment never deters potential criminals. They retentionists point out that the murder rate in any given state depends on many things besides whether or not the state has capital punishment. They cite such factors as the proportion of urban residents in the state, the level of economic prosperity, and the social and racial makeup of the population.” Some states even make the argument that the murder rate would be even higher if they did not have capital punishment to deter part of the population.

Two specific accounts of the death penalty and its actual deterrence effects should be taken into account. (purple book) p104 The first account comes from George Pataki, who is a former governor of New York. Pataki says “Since I took office in 1995, violent crime has dropped 23%, assaults are down 22% and murders have dropped by 33%.” It should also be added that Pataki was the proponent of laws that gave out harsher penalties and punishments to criminals who committed these crimes. Deterrence obviously worked in relation to these crimes. Why cannot the issue of capital punishment be related? Since Pataki also changed policy which promoted a more extended use of the death penalty, crime went down to. This seems to be a direct relationship between the deterrence effects of capital punishment. As capital punishment was used more, the occurrence of murder dropped significantly.

However, another set of studies seems to indicate that capital punishment does not deter in the way that its proponents advocate. P98 Mark Costan cites a study in which the average murder rate in states with the death penalty was 8.64 per 100,000 people. However, in states without the death penalty the rate was 5.35. This is an obvious discrepancy between the theory of deterrence and what is actually happening. If the deterrence theory were working as it is supposed to be, the murder rate in states with the death penalty would be lower than in states without it. The idea would be that the possibility of receiving the death penalty as punishment would deter murders. It would be expected that the number would be less than even the normal rate even if it was assumed that there were going to be a minimum numbers of murders in each state. However, this is exactly the opposite of what is actually happening.

P99 Costan also cites another study in which Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner measured the murder rate in twelve countries and two foreign cities before and after abolition of the death penalty. Eight of the fourteen cases showed a decreased murder rate in the year following abolition, while only 5 showed an increase. It can be clearly inferred from this study that the possibility of receiving the death penalty did not deter murders in these states. It is also very possible to infer that the death penalty actually increased the murder rate.

The issue of deterrence may never be solved. There is factual evidence that seems to support either side of the argument. However, it is helpful to point out the other factors that seem to increase and decrease murder rates. Constan p102 says that “other factors that influence murder rates are unemployment, probability of arrest and conviction, percent of the population between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, per capita financial expenditures on the police force, and other factors.” He also states that none of these factors seem to affect the crime rate though none is major enough to completely cause major changes.

End Notes
Davis, Michael. Justice in the Shadow of Death: Rethinking Capital and Lesser
Punishments. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 1996
Kronenwetter, Michael. Capital Punishment. Santa Barbara: ABC-
CLIO, Inc, 1993.

Bedau, Hugo Adam., and Pierce, Chester M. Capital Punishment in the
United States. New York: AMS Press, Inc, 1975.

Megivern, James J. The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey.

New York: Paulist Press, 1997.

Fridell, Ron. Capital Punishment. New York: Benchmark Books, 2004.

Costanzo, Mark. Just Revenge: Costs and Consequences of the Death Penalty.
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Goldberg, Steven. “So What if the Death Penalty Deters?” World Wide

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