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Capital Punishment

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Capital Punishment A strong case can be made in principle for and against capital punishment. The argument in favor is based on justice and the nature of a moral community, which requires that each person respect the life and liberty of others. Those who commit vicious crimes destroy the basis on which a moral community rests and forfeit their rights to citizenship and even to life itself. The argument against is based on love and the nature of an ideal community in which forgiveness and the hope for redemption are guiding aims. Protection of the innocent requires that criminals be isolated, perhaps permanently. Just punishment is appropriate, but love never gives up even on those who show no love. The most compelling argument against capital punishment, however, is based on its actual administration in our society: the risk of killing an innocent person, disproportionate infliction on the poor and minorities, weakness of the deterrence argument, failure to recognize that destructive life histories of criminals may have damaged their humanity to the point that it is unfair to hold them fully accountable for their wrongdoing, and so on. Life imprisonment without parole serves the same purposes as capital punishment at less cost without the practical disadvantages and injustices of its actual practice. Churches should call for an immediate moratorium and work for the eventual end of the death penalty. ...read more.


Society may actually be pleased with, or at least content with, the value it is getting for its capital punishment dollar. Retributive Arguments Concerning Capital Punishment The retributive notion of punishment in general is that (a) as a foundational matter of justice, criminals deserve punishment, and (b) punishment should be equal to the harm done. In determining what counts as "punishment equal to harm," theorists further distinguish between two types of retributive punishment. First, lex talionis retribution involves punishment in kind and is commonly expressed in the expression "an eye for an eye." Second, lex salica retribution involves punishment through compensation, and the harm inflicted can be repaired by payment or atonement. Historically, capital punishment is most often associated lex talionis retribution. One of the most early written statements of capital punishment from the lex talionis or "eye for an eye" perspective is from the 18th century BCE Babylonian Law of Hammurabi: If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death. If it kills the son of the owner, then the son of that builder shall be put to death. Critics of classic lex talionis-oriented capital punishment point out several problems with this view. ...read more.


Dignity, humanity and love are foundational moral goods and as such are prima facie in nature. That is, they are each morally binding on face value until a stronger duty emerges with which it conflicts, thereby creating a moral dilemma. Defenders of capital punishment argue that retributive justice is one such conflicting duty. For, even though we are duty bound to acknowledge a criminal's dignity, the duty of retribution is also present and is in fact outweighs the other duties. A second direct attack on the practice of capital punishment is that, at least at present, it is virtually impossible to apply death sentences fairly. People on death row are typically poor and thus could not afford the best defense at their initial trial. They are also predominately Afro-American or Hispanic which raises larger issues of racial inequality in the US. As ethnic minorities, they are also likely to receive more strict judgments from juries than their white counterparts who commit the same crime. These considerations recently prompted a US Supreme Court Justice to change his own views on capital punishment and reject the practice. In addition to problems of class bias, the practice of capital punishment is further tainted by the tragic fact that innocent people are sometimes executed. Eliminating capital punishment not only prevents their wrongful execution, but gives them more time to to clear their names and return to society. ...read more.

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