Capital Punishment


Value Paper





Comm. Skills II


Capital punishment has been a mainstay of many cultures throughout the world


dating back several hundred years because it is an effective punishment and deterrent.


Every individual must be accountable and every attempt at dissuading reoccurrences of


violent crimes must be taken. When we have the means to incapacitate violent offenders


and deter future murders, to not avail ourselves of the option to do so would be negligent.


Incapacitation is the most clear cut advantage to capital punishment. Certainly,


when a criminal is executed he poses no further threat to society, including other inmates


and correction officials. Execution of death row inmates also alleviates burdens to the


taxpayers in the forms of food, housing, and frivolous lawsuits that plague the justice


system.


Less clear are the benefits of deterrence on future murders and violent crimes.


Statistics from the Bureau of Justice show that while fewer inmates were executed in


2003 than in the last seven years, violent crimes in states with capital punishment versus


states without are relatively the same. (Bureau) The poet Hyman Barshay said “The


death penalty is a warning, just like a lighthouse throwing its beams out to sea. We hear


about the shipwrecks, but we do not hear about the ships the lighthouse guides safely on


their way. We do not have proof of the number of ships it saves, but we do not tear the


lighthouse down.” (Barshay)


Without a way to collect verifiable data we cannot address the ‘what ifs’ that go


along with major decisions like executing criminals, but the general public consensus is


to err on the side of caution and prevention, that the potential benefit of even one life


saved out weights executing one convicted killer. These sentiments are echoed by Ernest


van den Haag, Professor of Jurisprudence and Public Policy at Fordham University,


“Executions of those who have committed heinous murders may deter only one murder


per year. If it does, then it seems quite warranted. It is also the only fitting retribution for


murder I can think of.” (Haag)


Professor van den Haag’s statement leads to a very interesting point. You


cannot assign a statistical variable to the closure that comes to family and friends of


victims of violent crimes, upon the demise of the one who created the tragedy. Some


may consider it retribution, vindication, or justice, but the highest courts in the land have


debated it and ruled that it is in fact punishment, as illustrated by the Violent Crime


Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It “establishes constitutional procedures for


the imposition of the death penalty for federal crimes. It applies to federal statutes that


previously carried the death penalty and creates many new capital offenses. As a result


of the Act, the death penalty may now be imposed for nearly sixty federal crimes. New


capital offenses include the murder of a federal prisoner serving a life sentence, and drive


by shootings in the course of certain drug offenses”. (Justice) The true importance of this


law doesn’t lie within the specific points of what constitutes a crime worthy of the death


penalty, but in the fact that they are defined as federal offenses and therefore even states


without capital punishment laws cannot be a haven for violent offense.


Any discussion of a topic of such a volatile nature surely has as many opponents as


proponents, the most common being the moral and religious aspects of killing another


human being, regardless of the offense. Countless religious icons have spoken out on


capital punishment, mostly against, but even some of the most highly regarded saints and


scholars through out the ages have aligned themselves with penalties for murder. Taken


from the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas noted that “if a man be dangerous and


infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous


that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good” and that “punishment may be


considered as a medicine, not only healing the past sin, but also preserving from future


sin.” (Aquinas)


Assuredly, there can be little room for doubt that there are specific quantifiable


benefits to capital punishment, as well as intangible benefits to the emotional well being