Is capital punishment a double-edged sword?

Essay, 2012

9 Pages, Grade: 12


Throughout ancient history, Capital Punishment has been a common form of justice and continues in worldwide nations and in some states of the U.S. even today. However now that the times have changed, Capital Punishment (or often called: The Death Penalty) has become an extremely controversial topic and people are questioning whether or not the Death Penalty is a proper way of judging criminals.

The meaning of Capital Punishment is defined as a form of punishment in which a criminal is executed based upon the crime they have committed. And at certain times in history, criminals that were sentenced to execution were the ones that were guilty for acts that included: murder, rape, treason and even theft where the executioning methods would vary from time to time and nation. During the medieval times, the executions would involve the criminal be burned alive. Later on in 18th Century, the French took a more humane approach by inventing the guillotine, where the criminal would be laying down a platform and a humongous blade would come down at the pull of a lever and have the criminal be beheaded. Eventually the more common executioning method was being hanged in different countries. Finally the United States invented both the electric chair and lethal injection as methods of punishment (WiseGeek). Granted, methods of the death penalty have taken more humane approaches as time has taken its course, however there is still a huge controversy in regards to the death penalty, and the question for those that are for the death penalty will still ask “Why? After we have made so many safer ways to execute criminals”

Even after these changes, some argue that the death penalty is unethical because of the possibility of a wrongful execution; there is a fear that the condemned criminal is actually innocent. In contrast, others argue that this kind of punishment provides a good example to other criminals, and it will discourage the crime and murder rate from increasing. Yet these arguments still don’t hinder other states in the U.S. from proceeding with the executions.

Currently 34 states in the United States like: Texas, Maryland and Nebraska still enforce the death penalty while the remaining 16 states have abolished the act of capital punishment like: West Virginia, Michigan and Illinois (Recently abolished in 2011) (Death Penalty Information Center). And while some states like Rhode Island, which was one of the first states to ban the death penalty in 1852, tried to repeal the act (where it was somewhat successful over the years) it has remained banned in the state of Rhode Island since May 9, 1984 (Death Penalty Information Center). The state which people are most familiar with by being one of the biggest supporters of the death penalty is Texas and as said earlier; with the changing of times, methods of execution have changed in order to take a less horrifying approach and Texas was no different. From 1923, the Electric Chair was the way the state of Texas would execute their criminals and it was used all the way until about 1964, electrocuting a total of 361 convicted felons. Then in 1982, Texas adopted Lethal Injection and has continued to use it ever since as a better alternative, however still many people (even in the state of Texas) oppose the death penalty because of the accidental execution of an innocent individual (Texas Execution Information).

There was a quote from an episode of The Simpsons, where Homer exclaimed, “And that life was taken away from me, and the taking of a life is Murder. And the punishment for murder is, well it varies from state to state and by race.” As silly and quite droll this statement is, it does also play an important role in the Death Penalty. Statistics show that the race of defendants that were sentenced to death in the United States since 1976 were Caucasian and African Americans came in second and the same statistics were shown in regards to the race of the victims of those that were executed (Death Penalty Information Center). What was particularly strange about the statistics involved in the victim’s race was that:

"In 82% of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks"

-United States General Accounting Office, Death Penalty Sentencing, February 1990

Currently, the U.S. death row population has a combining total of over 3000 inmates being sentenced to death with the ethnicity still ranking with more Caucasian Americans being executed than African Americans but the difference between the two is by only 2%. And since the death penalty is such a huge controversy in the U.S. the annual rate of executions vary greatly as shown in the graph below:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: "Race of Death Row Inmates Executed Since 1976." Death Penalty Information Center. Web. 11 Feb. 2012. <>.

The argument still remains whether or not Capital Punishment should be enforced or not. And in order to make a proper decision, one must explore both sides of the issue.

One may believe that those who oppose the death penalty are mostly opposing it on moral grounds. However while that does play a major part in why they are against capital punishment, there must be more to their argument than simply that.

Granted, the use of capital punishment may be a more permanent method to keep criminals off the street as opposed to life in prison. However the economic cost to the tax payers may not be worth that warm feeling inside. According to an article from Dallas Morning News, “Each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers about $2.3 million. That is about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years” (Death Penalty Information Center). However this is not just a financial problem in Texas; many other states such as: Maryland, California, and Indiana agree that the states could save a lot more money by using incarceration as a result (Death Penalty Information Center).

Incarceration has also taken its effect on young adults and teenagers that are breaking the law. When an individual under the age of 18 commits a crime or a misdemeanor, they are often sentenced to a Juvenile Correctional Facility where they are tried as a minor. Yet there are cases in which the minor may commit a crime that would be intolerable to adults and as a result, are tried as an adult. And in the case of Thompson vs. Oklahoma, where a man named Charles Keene was brutally murdered by four men including his fifteen year old brother-in-law William Thompson in 1983; the argument was whether or not Thompson should be tried as an adult and be sentenced to death along with the other three members who were held responsible for the murder (Stevens). However the court ruled that Thompson not be tried as an adult because in doing so, it would violate the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution involving the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. And while the death penalty does not necessarily give an age limit,

“The basis of [having a minor suffer capital punishment] is too obvious to require extended explanation. Inexperience, less education and less intelligence make the teenager less able to evaluate the consequences of his or her conduct while at the same time he or she is much more apt to be motivated by mere emotion of peer pressure than is an adult” (Stevens).

If minors were to be sentenced to capital punishment, it would not only be a careless mistake, but it would also “offend civilized standards of decency to execute a person who was less than 16 years of age” (Stevens).

That being said, many individuals (who were not minors) were found to be wrongfully sentenced to death due to the idea of capital punishment being a more efficient way of getting rid of criminals. Unfortunately, some of these individuals were found to be wrongfully convicted after they were executed; making the death penalty not only wrong but also unfair (Rosenbaum). Things that would cause individuals to be wrongfully convicted include: Prosecutorial misconduct (involving perjury), police misconduct (to which false confessions become coerced or negligent investigations and evidence being suppressed take place), and all leading up to corruption in the court trials (Rosenbaum). An example of an unjust case would be the involvement of a man named Dwayne McKinney, who was wrongly accused and looking at the possibility of a death sentence for murdering a Burger King Manager (FCLEF). McKinney however, ended up avoiding the death penalty due to the mercy from the jury and instead was sentenced to life in prison without parole; after twenty years behind bars, his conviction “was finally cleared by new evidence” (FCLEF).

Those who argue for the death penalty from a religious perspective believe that capital punishment is permissible by God and their evidence to support that is a quote in the Old Testament which states:

“Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” Deuteronomy 19:21 (Overberg)


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Is capital punishment a double-edged sword?
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government, death penalty, research paper
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Ahmed Sharma (Author), 2012, Is capital punishment a double-edged sword?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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