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Essay on the Death Penalty

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The death penalty, described in this sample argumentative essay, is a highly controversial practice in modern times. While many countries have outlawed it, some (like the United States) practice capital punishment on the state level. As argued by an Ultius essay writer, the death penalty should be abolished for a number of tangible reasons.

Opposing the death penalty

Within the world of justice there is perhaps no area as highly contested as that of capital punishment.  In the modern era, the question has again and again been raised:  should we continue to use the death penalty as a punishment for some crime?  Although the use of capital punishment is never taken lightly, our society is moving towards a time and place where it is no longer an acceptable form of punishment.  

The use of the death penalty should be abolished from the justice system for three major reasons.  

  • First, from a moral point of view, it is not a humane punishment (despite arguments that is is indeed ethical because of the original crime).
  • Second, from an empirical view, the death penalty is not working to deter certain forms of crime.  
  • Finally, the death penalty is economically an unsound practice, which costs the taxpayers a great deal of money.  

For these reasons, the death penalty should be abolished.  The United States, as one of the most developed nations in the world, should follow the trend that has been set by many other developed nations of the world and put to rest this uncivilized, childish punishment that follows the mentality of an eye for an eye.  

Why capital punishment should be abolished

When one takes a look at whether or not the death penalty should be permissible from a moral standpoint, the answer is clearly to abolish it.  What purpose does a punishment that takes another person’s life teache or prove?  All that this shows is that the mindset of ‘an eye for an eye’ still exists in the world.  Humanity must show that it has moved past this primitive way of thinking and be willing to act in a civilized manner when it comes to criminal sentencing even if the accused is an individual that has be linked to truly heinous crimes.  

The rationale behind the death penalty does not ever fit a crime.  Even if an individual is not capable of being rehabilitated, no one should have the right to sentence someone else to death.  Under the current system of justice, the state can set, as a punishment, an action that has been considered to the worst sort of crime that a person can commit.  This seems to be completely illogical and contradictory.  How can anyone possibly justify carrying out an action that is unanimously agreed upon being wrong?  The answer is no one; therefore the death penalty does not morally seem permissible.

From a moral standpoint, the types of people that receive the death penalty are usually not physically or mentally fit to receive the punishment. One such group that has suffered from their mental disabilities are the mentally retarded. Making up only a small percentage of the entire US population (less than 3%), the mentally retarded make up almost 12% of those that are on death row (Tabak & Lane).  One of the reasons behind this high percentage is linked to the idea that people that are mentally retarded have a high desire to please figures of authority.

It has been hypothesized that, “more often or not, when a retarded person answers ‘yes’ to a question, the answer is based solely on a desire to pleas the interrogator,” (Tabak & Lane). Taking that into consideration, it seems that one cannot in good judgment state that individuals that are in this group can reasonably be able to receive the death penalty considering their mental states. 

The problem of flawed executions

One of the other most controversial aspects of the death penalty comes in the form of flawed executions.  Over the course of the death penalty’s history, there have been a variety of ways that it has been carried out in order to execute the condemned in the most humane way possible.  However, for each method that has been used as a means to attempt to execute criminals, there have been flawed attempts that have caused severe pain and suffering for those that have had to endure the process.  For the process of hangings, a common means of execution in the 19th century, the general public was outraged and appalled to see the condemned “struggle for five minutes at the end of the rope,” (Haines).  

The electric chair has reported several instances where multiple attempts were made to execute a criminal before the act was actually carried out such as with the execution of John Louis Evans III (Haines).  Even the more modern means of execution have their flawed attempts such as with lethal injection.  The execution of Stephen McCoy in May of 1989 is a prime example of this.  According to witnesses, McCoy reacted violently to the drugs administered to him and was seen gagging, violently coughing, and undergoing body contortions (Haines).  Examples like this show that the systems that we have in place have serious flaws in them.  From a moral standpoint, one cannot willing and with a clear conscious sentence an individual to an execution that may be cruel and unusual as that violates the Bill of Rights, which the judicial branch is charged with ensuring is never violated.

Deterring crime with capital punishment 

A second argument that is given against the use of the death penalty is that it does not actually deter anyone from committing the crimes that result in receiving the punishment.  The basic argument that is made by individuals that support this form of punishment is that it makes an example out of those that commit these types of crimes and, therefore, will strike fear into the hearts of those that are thinking about attempting to commit the same sort of crime resulting in them rethinking their actions.

Unfortunately, this rationale is based on flawed logic.  Those that receive the death penalty have usually committed the most gruesome, violent sorts of crimes that usually include one or more murders.  Further, those that commit these sorts of crimes are usually mentally unstable.  These are the types of individuals that have no regard for the safety of themselves or that of others, and will act out their plans of actions regardless of what has happened in the past or present.  The hope of deterring these sorts of individuals by making an example out of a criminal will not really make a difference in their final actions. Both of these arguments can be further explored when you buy an essay from Ultius, whichever side you agree with.

Does the death penalty work?

Empirically, one of the major rationales behind allowing the death penalty to remain is that the punishment will deter others from wanting to commit a crime.  Though ruling from a standpoint of fear is already morally questionable, the question remains: does it work?  It would appear that it does not hold.  In 2003, there were 16,503 murders in the United States, and of those murders, only 144 of the perpetrators were sentenced to death (Donohue & Wolfers).  Further, of the 3374 inmates that were on death row, only 65 of them were executed that year.  This staggering discrepancy of condemned to execution ratio can appear anything but frightening to the individual.  

As, Donohue and Wolfers conclude from this statistic, “it is hard to believe that in modern American the fear of execution would be a diving force in a rational criminal’s calculus,” (Donohue & Wolfers).  The analysis that these two present appears to have a definite rational component to it, and the evidence suggests that the death penalty is not a deterrent to commit this type of crime. In another sample essay on the death penalty, we wrote that the death penalty was a modern tragedy because the deterrence argument does not hold up.

The cost to taxpayers

The price of execution

Another argument against the use of the death penalty is the high cost that this process has on the taxpayers.  One would imagine that a life sentence in prison would be the most expensive punishment that an individual can receive, however the cost of execution is very expensive.  

A recent study that was released by the Urban Institute found that the cost of the death penalty is alarmingly high.  The study found, “a case resulting in a death sentence costs $3 (million), almost $2 (million) more than when the death penalty was not sought,” (Economist).  Further, the study found that the use of the death penalty has taken a great amount of financial resources from the taxpayers over the course of two decades in the sate of Maryland.  The study found that Maryland had spent around 186 million dollars in the cost of utilizing the death penalty as a means of punishment (Economist).  

How resources are wasted

The amount of resources wasted throughout the sentencing process must also be considered when thinking about the continuation of the use of capital punishment.  Through the lengthy appeals process, a person that will ultimately be sentenced to execution can spend years and millions on appealing and refighting their charges to, ultimately, no avail.  This problem does not only appear in the death penalty scenarios, but when the stakes are raised and more money is on the table, this issue becomes something to seriously consider.  

The wasted money could have easily been spent elsewhere if the death penalty was not still a punishment option for the state, which is especially significant considering the harsh economic time that our nation finds itself in. Though the data speaks for itself, there is a wealth of material here for many more essays on this subject.

Death penalty in the US - Legal status by stateSource: DPIC
The death penalty remains legal in over half of US states. Though four states have gubernatorial moratoria preventing the use of capital punishment, only 19 states have abolished the death penalty.
State Status Year Abolished
Alabama Legal N/A
Alaska Abolished 1957
Arizona Legal N/A
Arkansas Legal N/A
California Legal N/A
Colorado Gubernatorial moratoria 2013
Connecticut Abolished 2012
Delaware Abolished 2016
District of Columbia Abolished 1981
Florida Legal N/A
Georgia Legal N/A
Hawaii Abolished 1957
Idaho Legal N/A
Illinois Abolished 2011
Indiana Legal N/A
Iowa Abolished 1965
Kansas Legal N/A
Kentucky Legal N/A
Louisiana Legal N/A
Maine Abolished 1887
Maryland Abolished 2013
Massachusetts Abolished 2013
Michigan Abolished 1846
Minnesota Abolished 1911
Mississippi Legal N/A
Missouri Legal N/A
Montana Legal N/A
Nebraska Legal N/A
Nevada Legal N/A
New Hampshire Legal N/A
New Jersey Abolished 2007
New Mexico Abolished 2009
New York Abolished 2007
North Carolina Legal N/A
North Dakota Abolished 1973
Ohio Legal N/A
Oklahoma Legal N/A
Oregon Gubernatorial moratoria 2011
Pennsylvania Gubernatorial moratoria 2015
Rhode Island Abolished 1984
South Carolina Legal N/A
South Dakota Legal N/A
Tennessee Legal N/A
Texas Legal N/A
Utah Legal N/A
Vermont Abolished 1964
Virginia Legal N/A
Washington Gubernatorial moratoria 2014
West Virginia Abolished 1965
Wisconsin Abolished 1953
Wyoming Legal N/A

In Kansas, the savings from not seeking the death penalty have saved an estimated 500,000 dollars per case, and in Colorado, a proposed task force could be created from the saved money to attempt to solve the murders that have gone unsolved (around 1,400) over the last several years (courtesy of The Economist).  These are just some examples of how the outlawing of the death penalty can be quite beneficial to a state and the nation as a whole.  As one can plainly see, the benefits financially to a state that outlaws the death penalty seem to far outweigh the reasons for keeping this outdated, extreme form of punishment.  

Leading by example on the world stage

There is one last item to consider in the case of allowing or disbanding the death penalty, and that is the trend that the rest of the world is following.  As a world leader, the United States has an obligation to set a standard that the rest of the world can aspire towards.  As reported by the Huffington post, the United States is one of only one tenth of the countries of the world that still carries out state executions, and further, the United States is the only Western democracy to still keep this form of punishment (Huffington Post).  Some of the other nations that still practice the death penalty includes: China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria.  These are nations that, for the greater part, the United States would not like to be associated with. However, the United States has drawn lots of criticism over the use of the death penalty.

Many of these nations are ruled by a powerful and brutal dictatorship, and the United States would like to really create separation between their form of government and that of our own. By abolishing the death penalty, the United States will join the ranks of the greater part of the civilized world that does not allow the use of this form of punishment.  As a leader of the free world, it is the responsibility of this nation to take a standpoint that shows the rest of the world that this nation has taken a committed stance against the use of one of the most savage form of punishment. This obligation remains to be one of the most important moral issues that faces the nation on a global stage, especially given that capital punishment is included in the constitution for crimes such as treason.

The bottom line

Taking a look at the major reasons for abolishing the death penalty should leave no rational individual in a position where they feel that this type of punishment is still a viable option for the American Justice System.  Modern society has moved away from the days of childish revenge and retaliation tactics and our judicial system should reflect that.  The concept of capital punishment is a prime example of such a punishment.  Society no longer needs to keep a practice that still operates under the premise of an eye for an eye, even if the person cannot commit any more crimes after the fact.  Moreover, the arguments laid out show that the death penalty is not viable by addressing three major areas: morality, deterrence, and economics.  

Additionally, the attention that the United States receives for allowing this barbaric form of punishment on a world stage is not desirable.  The nation is grouped with some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world in terms of allowing and continuing to permit the use of capital punishment on criminals.  Based on these rationales, the United States of America should move to abolish the use of the death penalty from the justice system thereby reinforcing the ideology that humanity has risen to a point where the use of murder to punish murder is not only ill conceived but that it no longer has any place in the world.

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Works Cited

"Death Penalty by Country." Huffington Post. 09 2012: n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/death-penalty-by-country_n_1760603.html

Donohue, John, and Justin Wolfers. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate." Stanford Law Review. 58.3 (2005): 791-845. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40040281>. 

Haines, Herb. "Flawed Executions, the Anti-Death Penalty Movement, and the Politics of Capital Punishment." Social Problems. 39.2 (1992): 125-138. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3097033>. 

Tabak, Ronald, and Mark J. Lane. "The Execution of Injustice: A Cost and Lack-of-Benefit Analysis of the Death Penalty." Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. 23.1 (1989): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/llr/vol23/iss1/5>. 

"The Death Penalty: Saving Lives and Money." Economist. 12 2009: n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/13279051>.

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