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


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