There are essentially two justifications for criminal punishment. The first is retributive.
It is the idea that criminals deserve to be punished, that it is morally right to punish wrong acts. The second justification is utilitarian. Under this theory, punishment is justified because it makes society better off in some way, perhaps by deterring potential criminals, protecting society by segregating criminals, or by reforming the criminal such that he/she can one day rejoin society.
I don’t believe either of these justifications for criminal punishment supports the use of the death penalty. To take the utilitarian view first, I would argue that capital punishment is an unsuccessful deterrent. People still commit the crimes and figures of serious crime haven’t gone down Secondly, I don’t think capital punishment is necessary to segregate offenders and thereby protect society. A prison and a life sentence can take care of that. Third, I think the prospects for rehabilitation of capital offenders are quite slim, and in any case, capital punishment certainly prevents whatever possibilities there might otherwise be, cos you know, the guy or girls dead anyway! The utilitarian theory of punishment would seem to suggest that capital punishment is a bad idea. It is more costly than lifelong confinement. It consumes valuable judicial resources. The risk of error is unacceptably high, and excessively shouldered by certain groups.
I don’t believe that the retributive justification for punishment requires the death penalty either. I don’t disagree with the retributivists—I do believe we should punish capital offenders severely, not just because it is good for society, but because what they have done is wrong. But why is the death penalty necessary to accomplish this? It seems to me that life imprisonment is sufficient punishment.
The death penalty is the taking of a life, no matter how little value society places on that life (like in Extreme measures) To justify this act, supporters of the death penalty must prove that there is a far more important good to be served by ending a life than by preserving it.