The History of Political Violence - Is Capital Punishment Sometimes Acceptable?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

21 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)



1. Introduction

2. The Definition and Origin

3. The Approvement Of Death Penalty
3.1. The Punishment
3.2. The Effect: Deterrence
3.3. The Reparation

4. The Opponents
4.1. The Innocent
4.2. The Racism
4.3. Other Views
4.3.1. An Example: The Iran
4.3.2. An Example: The United States of America

5. Resume



Charts and Table Content

Chart 1: Prisoners on Death Row, 1953 -

Table 1: Global Development of the Death Penalty 1980 -

Table 2: Executions registered Worldwide 1984 -

Table 3: Gender and Racial Statistics of Death Row Offenders

1. Introduction

The History of violence goes along with the history of Human Kind1. If someone have invariably felt that they had been wronged in some way, it was his or her right to take vengeance on the person that had wronged them. The crimes committed needed a punishment, but this violence needed also a juridical guidance, The Law. Amendments were made to reflect the changes in the society's views on the morality of punishment, including the highest sentence of all: The Capital Punishment2.

The mental construction of the "an eye for an eye" policy exists today all around the world, but the actual use of this punishment enforced by law varies in form. It is all a question of a definition3. And it is also a point of view whose conclusions determine the destiny of a human life.

2. The Definition and Origin

Capital Punishment is a »punishment by death according to law«4. It is inflicted by a court and the accused person shall be punished for »serious crimes« which definition vary from culture to culture. This sentence origins from the beginning of legal terminology, and was conducted by the sufferer himself or his next of kin. Since this penalty is irretrievable, there have been persons bringing out arguments against this kind of punishment, due to the possibility that a court can make a mistake. This polarization is one of the most emotionally charged and controversial issues today5.

Tab. 1: Global Development of the Death Penalty 1980 - 1996

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Amnesty International: Penalties, online accessable at <> [accessed: June 14th 2002].

3. The Approvement Of Death Penalty

There has to be certainty that the convicted person is really the guilty one. The execution has the purpose to lessen potential crime, to intimidate others from committing dreadful criminal actions. For example spread terrorists with destruction and murder constant fear all over the globe, an ill mind takes a life of a passer-by and the child molester destroys the innocence of a minor soul.

Chart 1: Prisoners on Death Row, 1953 - 2000

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: U.S. Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics, online accessable at <> [accessed: June 15th 2002].

Not only near relatives could experience "justice been done" but also the cultural environment gains confidence in the system that is supposed to protect them.

3.1. The Punishment

Germany rejected the death penalty after the Second World War, other countries of the European Union followed shortly after; only Belgium kept this sentence until 19966. Serious crimes were punished or changed into lifelong sentences, which became the highest aspect of civilized penalty for the majority of the northatlantic cultures. The criticism here is that the timeline is usually bend; some of the lifelong convicted criminals leave correction institutions after a decade or two, probation gives some lifelong convicts a second chance their victims never had. The chance that they commit crimes again is present. The recidivism quota of crimes in Germany runs up to 48,3 %; rape 58,0 % and murder 57,1 %7. Supporter of the capital punishment argument that these statistics would be much lower if the dangerous ones would be executed.

Tab. 2: Executions registered Worldwide 1984 - 1995

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Amnesty International: Penalties, online accessable at <> [accessed: June 14th 2002].

3.2. The Effect: Deterrence

In order to discourage, the capital punishment states as an global warning to potential criminals. Capital punishment supporters believe that deterrence is strong enough to scare the criminal elements, an prevent the crossing of the fine line between life and death. Unfortunately, examinations have proved that this does not work always. The majority of murders are committed in affect. In a moment of rage one will not or can not reflect consequences. A Japanese psychiatrist found out that out of 145 murderers none of them thought about capital punishment in the moment they committed murder8.

3.3. The Reparation

Opponents of the death penalty state that the execution of the criminal who commited a serious crime does not make the crime rate sink. Also, it will not, for example, bring the dead ones, i.e. the murdered, back. The premise here is that this can satisfy the family and close friends of the murdered person. Their lost is incredible painful and some of them yearn for reparation. Another point is equality to the victim, who did not have the chance for an option. Next point considers the solidarity. As often visible through the media in general, if something terrible happens, the whole nation sympathizes with the victim or their closest ones. It is an emotional bounding because the idea of not being safe from harm and possibly be the next one builds a strong fear which can often be cured by the fact that the one who commited crime can never ever do it again.

4. The Opponents

In the last 50 years9 48 countries abolished the death penalty and reasons for such a development are diversified. The thought of making a mistake in a process of punishment and execute an innocent person is a strong but not the only argument the opponents of the capital punishment can claw upon8. Based on the fact that nearly no one is free from prejudices and influences, a judge faced a criminal could also pass a verdict blinded by racism, for example. There are also numerous facts that can be listed just to show the negative aspects of this punishment.

4.1. The Innocent

In case of capital punishment a miscarriage of justice would be fateful. The possibilities of a lead to a false judgement are constantly present9, and just maybe this indications are not the right ones. In the period between the year 1900 and 1985 exactly 350 persons were wrongly sentenced to death by US courts. Moreover, 23 false condemns were already executed, for them the new judgement came too late10. Experts suspect that the percentage of undetected crimes is much higher, they estimate that on every discovered miscarriage of justice comes one none-discovered11.

4.2. The Racism

Before the law everyone should be equal. There should not be differences between men or women, rich or poor, whites or mestize, christians or muslims. If a court would make a distinction court decisions would be trivial and unfair. Though, examples taken from the US administration of justice show inconsistencies. Percentile the rate of poor Americans in death cells are much higher than the rate of rich ones. Moreover, Afro Americans are more often sentecened to death for the same deeds than white criminals, particularly if the victim was white12. The percentage of Afro Americans in the US population sums up to twelve percent, the percentage of Afro Americans sentecened to death accounts 40 percent13. This is three times higher.

4.3. Other Views

Furthermore, opponents declare that the capital punishment is unfair, obsolete and cruel. The state should not have the right to end someones life. The deadly punishment must fit to the crime, it has to be justified. The opinions on how to reach that level are various; normally people accuse death penalty for harsh violent crimes like murder or acts of terrorism. The difference is in the definition of a serious crime and there are numerous culturally determined reasons in different countries. In some countries even adultery could be a reason for capital punishment, like in the Iran.

4.3.1. An Example: The Iran

A "hadd delict" is a crime in Iran commited against the Will of God and for this a person will be stoned. "Hadd delicts " are par example adultery or prohibited sexual intercourse, what includes par example sex between a none Muslim and a female Muslim. Stoning is very painful and cruel, some of the convicts does not lose consciousness and their dying is slow. In general the sentence and the execution are on the same day. There is no way to call in question.


1 Eg. Müller, Frank: Streitfall Todesstrafe, Düsseldorf, 1998, p. 7 ff.

2 Eg. Buchhorn, Martin: Sie haben es nicht anders verdient, Weinheim and Basel, 1979, p. 18.

3 Eg. Ferrington, Karen: Geschichte der Folter und Todesstrafe, London, 1997.

4 Eg. Longman: Dictionary of Contemporary English, Berlin, 1987, p. 142.

5 Eg. Martschukat, Jürgen: Inszeniertes Töten, Köln, 2000, p. 12 ff.

6 Eg. Müller, Frank: Streitfall Todesstrafe, Düsseldorf, 1998, p. 19.

7 Eg. Amt für Kriminalstatistik: Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik 2001, < nalstatistik_als_PDF-Download.pdf> [accessed: June 14th 2002].

8 Eg. Amnesty International: Ein Bericht von Amnesty International: Todesstrafe contra Menschenrechte. Wenn der Staat tötet, Frankfurt/M, 1999, p. 24.

9 Eg. Müller, Frank: Streitfall Todesstrafe, Düsseldorf, 1998, p. 19 ff.

8 Eg. Abu Jamal, Mumia:...aus der Todeszelle, Bremen, 2001.

9 Eg. Janka, Renate: Lasst meine Tochter endlich frei, Bremen, 2000.

10 Eg. Müller, Frank: Streitfall Todesstrafe, Düsseldorf, 1998, p. 137.

11 Eg. Müller, Frank: Streitfall Todesstrafe, Düsseldorf, 1998, p. 137.

12 Eg. Müller, Frank: Streitfall Todesstrafe, Düsseldorf, 1998, p. 118.

13 Eg. Kniwel, Kerstin: Die Todesstrafe, <>, [accessed: July 10th 2002].

Excerpt out of 21 pages


The History of Political Violence - Is Capital Punishment Sometimes Acceptable?
RWTH Aachen University  (Economic and Social History)
The History of Political Violence
1,7 (A-)
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ISBN (eBook)
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1060 KB
History, Political, Violence, Capital, Punishment, Sometimes, Acceptable, History, Political, Violence
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Robert Mihelli (Author)Verena Kettenhofen (Author), 2003, The History of Political Violence - Is Capital Punishment Sometimes Acceptable?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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