Capital punishment debate

According to The Death Penalty Information Center, there are 3000 men and women on “death row” in the United States, each one of them awaiting their eventual execution. It’s unlikely that any of these executions will make the headlines, having become more or less routine in the last decade. SAS students find themselves on both sides of the issue. Questions often asked are “Is it moral?” and “Is it justified?” Ji Han Chung discusses his support for the death penalty, while Jack Albanese brings up a possible alternative.

Jihan, what is your stance on capital punishment. Is it necessary?

Jihan: Death penalty is indispensable in today’s society for the benefits of the majority. A criminal who breaks the law of the land must accept the consequences of the land. There is no guarantee that criminals who have already committed crimes before won’t do it again. We can’t afford to take chances and put the safety of others at risk.

Jack: I understand your view and agree that capital punishment can be a very effective form of punishment. However, we cannot forget the immorality that accompanies it. That’s why I feel that criminals on death row should be given the option of life imprisonment or execution. Both are equal crime deterrents. Now Jihan, what do you think are the main advantages of the death penalty? And do they outweigh the disadvantages?

Jihan: The top three advantages of the death penalty are as follows:

  1. Effective crime deterrent
  2. Justice better served
  3. Family of the victims receive closure

These are indisputable advantages of the death penalty. Opponents of the death penalty state the disadvantages as immoral for murdering the criminal and unjustified because killing the criminal doesn’t bring the victim back to life. As sound as these arguments are, the advantages of the death penalty clearly outweigh the disadvantages. Morality shouldn’t be an issue here. The criminals broke the moral code and law of society and deserve whatever the government sees as fit.

Also, the death penalty is easily justified in that it gives the criminals what they deserve. For the victim, the family of the victim and society as a whole, the death penalty is necessary, even when the disadvantages are taken into account. If the death penalty doesn’t perform justice, I don’t know what does.

Inmates jail transfer. Photo by Anonymous. CC license.
Inmates jail transfer. Photo by Anonymous. CC license.

Jack: If someone killed your brother, would you want to kill that person? Do you think that would be justice best served?

Jihan: Yes and yes. Do you have a better solution than the death penalty?

Jack: Your support for the death penalty is very clear. However, I must disagree with you. I don’t think that the pros outweigh the cons in this situation. Morality always has to be taken into account. It is completely immoral for the government to sentence someone to death. Instead, I’d like to present an alternative solution. Life imprisonment (or solitary confinement if necessary) and execution are arguably equal deterrents for committing capital crimes. This is emphasized in Anton Chekov’s story “The Bet.” In the story, a lawyer and a banker have different opinions on which they would prefer: life imprisonment or execution. The characters say that both punishments are extremely undesirable and effective in deterring capital crime. However, there are many different opinions on which one is preferable. Many people say they would choose life imprisonment and many say that they would choose execution. Those who prefer life imprisonment say that it is better to live somehow than not live at all; and those who prefer execution say that the death penalty is quick and painless as opposed to life imprisonment, which causes mental and physical deterioration over a long period of time. So, since criminals on death row deserve to be punished for the terrible crimes they have committed, why not give the guilty the option? Life imprisonment or execution? This way, we maintain our morality by giving them a choice and we continue to serve justice. After all, life imprisonment is a good punishment as well.

Do you feel that this would be an effective solution? Why or why not?

Jihan: I must agree that giving criminals the option to choose between a life sentence or the death penalty could settle the issue regarding morals. However, I do want to emphasize that this solution does not bring some of the benefits that the death penalty could provide. If the criminal was to choose life imprisonment, the family members and friends of the victim would feel a lack of closure and a sense of justice would disappear. The death penalty already provides a very efficient way of punishing crimes. Why attempt to replace that just because of a moral issue? Of course, morals are very important, but the benefits that the death penalty brings outweigh them.

Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Mike Murphy. CC License
Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Mike Murphy. CC License

Jack: I’m glad you brought this up. A “lack of closure” is always going to be an issue for families. They feel that in order for justice to be properly served in a murder case, the criminal must be executed. However, we cannot let this bias force us to make an immoral decision. Now I ask you this question: Is a family’s lack of closure an affordable cost to the government maintaining morality?

Jihan: With respect, I wouldn’t necessarily label the issue of the victim’s family wanting the criminal to be executed as a bias. I think we are losing the focus of this issue. These criminals have committed, let me restate, immoral crimes that went against the moral code of the land. This puts the criminals at a position of neither rights nor decision. The needs of the victim’s family and government for justice must be the top priority when dealing with an immoral criminal. Don’t you think that it is perfectly moral for immoral criminals to receive, perhaps, immoral punishments?

Jack: I do not. However, many people do. This is why capital punishment persists in the United States. Everyone wants complete justice, but isn’t some justice better than no justice at all? That’s what we have to think about. Punishing a murderer by murdering them is not a very effective strategy. However, if that is what the criminal wants instead of life imprisonment, they should be entitled to that decision. Giving them the option is what brings capital punishment from immoral to moral. In addition, to the morality aspect of capital punishment, what do you think of the prevalent innocence on death row? Since 1973, 140 people have been exonerated and freed from death row according to The Death Penalty Information Center. Thoughts?

Penington County Jail. Photo by Anonymous. CC License.
Penington County Jail. Photo by Anonymous. CC License.

Jihan: According to Huffington Post, around four percent of inmates sentenced to death in the US are possibly innocent. Although innocent people being put on death row is a problem, I don’t think that this problem should be associated with the death penalty. This isn’t a problem about the death penalty, but rather about the justice system in general. We should all work to more accurately incriminate people in the court, instead of simply blaming the death penalty.

Author: Jihan Chung

Jihan Chung is a senior and a video journalist for the Eye. This is his third on staff, and he says he most enjoys filming interviews. He is on the Eagles Varsity Swimming team. He can be contacted at chung30602@sas.edu.sg .

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