Capital Punishment: Arguments For Against

by Barrister Harun ur Rashid | December 13, 2013 10:54 am

There has been on-going debate on whether death penalty or capital punishment should be retained or abolished. Both sides advance compelling arguments and the following paragraphs will describe their arguments.


Those who support capital punishment argue the following:

all guilty people deserve to be punished

guilty people deserve to be punished in proportion to the severity of their crime

This argument states that real justice requires people to suffer for their wrongdoing, and to suffer in a way appropriate for the crime. Each criminal should get what their crime deserves and in the case of a murderer what their crime deserves is death. It is argued that the death penalty provides closure for victims’ families.

Many people find that this argument fits with their inherent sense of justice. It’s often supported with the argument “An eye for an eye”.

Capital punishment is often justified with the argument that by executing convicted murderers, we will deter would-be murderers from killing people. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders.

Some proponents of capital punishment argue that capital punishment is beneficial for society. It is undeniable that those who are executed cannot commit further crimes. Some people don’t believe that life imprisonment without parole protects society adequately. The offender may no longer be a danger to the public, but he remains a danger to prison staff and other inmates. Execution would remove that danger.

A unique justification for keeping capital punishment has been reportedly put forward by some Japanese psychologists who argue that it has an important psychological part to play in the life of the Japanese, who live under severe stress and pressure in the workplace.

The argument goes that the death penalty reinforces the belief that bad things happen to those who deserve it. This reinforces the contrary belief; that good things will happen to those who are ‘good’.

In this way, the existence of capital punishment provides a psychological release from conformity and overwork by reinforcing the hope that there will be a reward in due time.


Everyone thinks human life is valuable. Everyone has an inalienable human right to life, even those who commit murder; sentencing a person to death and executing them violates that righ

Those against capital punishment believe that human life is so valuable that even the worst murderers should not be deprived of the value of their lives. They believe that the value of the offender’s life (soul) cannot be destroyed by the offender’s bad conduct – even if they have killed someone. Here they argue the difference between mind (brain) and soul. If the brain is dead of a person they argue is that person’s soul dead?

Those who are against capital punishment argue the death penalty is wrong because it lowers dignity of human beings; it is a surrender to the worst that is in human beings (animality attribute) ; it uses a power – the official power to kill by execution – that has never elevated a society, never brought back a life, never inspired anything but hate.

The most common and most cogent argument against capital punishment is that sooner or later, innocent people will get killed, because of mistakes or flaws in the justice system.

Witnesses, (where they are part of the process), prosecutors and jurors can all make mistakes. When this is coupled with flaws in the system it is inevitable that innocent people will be convicted of crimes. Where capital punishment is used such mistakes cannot be put right.

The main argument that retribution is immoral is that it is just a sanitised form of vengeance. Some lawyers argue that capital punishment is not really used as retribution for murder, or even consistently for a particular kind of murder.

The general consensus among social scientists is that the deterrent effect of the death penalty is at best unproven. In 1988 a survey was conducted for the UN to determine the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates. The research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis.

While some societies have operated their legal systems on the basis of evidence and confessions extracted by torture, the ethical objections to such a system are sufficient to render capital punishment pointless. One US Supreme Court Justice (who had originally supported the death penalty) eventually came to the conclusion that capital punishment was bound to damage the cause of justice.

Statistics show that the death penalty leads to a brutalisation of society and an increase in murder rate. In the USA, more murders take place in states where capital punishment is allowed.

In 2010, the murder rate in US states where the death penalty has been abolished was 4.01 per cent per 100,000 people. In states where the death penalty is used, the figure was 5.00 per cent.

These calculations are based on figures from the FBI. The gap between death penalty states and non-death penalty states rose considerably from 4 per cent difference in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2010. (Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report, from Death Penalty Information Center)

Capital punishment ‘lowers the tone’ of society. Civilised societies do not tolerate torture, even if it can be shown that torture may deter, or produce other good effects. In the same way many people feel that the death penalty is an inappropriate for a modern civilised society to respond to even the most dreadful crimes.

Regardless of the moral status of capital punishment, some argue that all ways of executing people cause so much suffering to the condemned person that they amount to torture and are wrong. Many methods of execution are quite obviously likely to cause enormous suffering, such as execution by lethal gas, electrocution or strangulation.

Other methods have been abandoned in most countries because they were thought to be barbaric, or because they forced the executioner to be too ‘hands-on’. These include firing squads and beheading.

Concluding remarks:

The 28-European Union countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and some US states as well as many others have abolished capital punishment. The UN opposes the imposition of death penalty under any circumstance, even for the most serious international crimes.

However 33 countries including India, Pakistan , Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Russia have retained capital punishment but in some of these countries capital punishment has not been used in the last 10 years

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