Capital Punishment essay

Capital Punishment

Punishment is defined as a deliberate infliction of harm as a moral sanction against offenders. Punishment may be understood, designed, and applied according to any of the three major varieties of normative theory: retribution and reparation focus on satisfaction of duties, deterrence and prevention on securing desirable outcomes, and reform and rehabilitation on improving moral character.  There are different types of punishment, one of these include Capital Punishment, which will be examined at in more detail.  

Capital Punishment or “state sanctioned killing” said by Wilcockson is the taking of a person's life by the state as the legal penalty for criminal offence. Over the years, capital punishment has become an extremely controversial issue.  Many important questions have arisen regarding this issue and some of these include, “how should a criminal be punished?”  Also, “do criminals really deserve to be punished harshly using the death penalty?” People disagree about whether capital punishment is moral or if it is effective in discouraging crime. Many oppose the death penalty because they consider it cruel. Critics also believe that there is a risk of executing mistakenly convicted people. Supporters of the death penalty believe that in some instances, people who take another human life deserve to forfeit their own lives. Many supporters also argue that the threat of death discourages crime.  In the UK, capital punishment is illegal unless a person has committed high treason, however other countries such as the United States allow for the death penalty to be carried out as a form of punishment. On average 75 executions occur each year throughout the United States.  As you may be aware by now, there are many philosophical and ethical problems regarding this issue.  In order for us to understand the concept of the dilemma, we need to examine it by using two ethical theories, which will enable us to deliver an evaluation of the dilemma.

However, to enable us to evaluate the dilemma we need to look at the justification for killing as punishment.  In order to do this, the aims of punishment must be analysed.  The three aims of punishment are: retribution, reformation and deterrence.   A useful distinction between different aims of punishment is whether a punishment is isolated only with regard to the crime itself or does it consider the long term, beneficial effects to society as a whole.  These considerations make a considerable difference when deciding on the kinds of punishment implemented in the particular.  Retribution, out of all the aims of punishment most clearly expresses what many people most instinctively feel is the basis of punishment.  It is often referred to by latin, lex talionis “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.  Therefore, in other words, grievance caused requires satisfaction on the part of the victim to which he or she (or society) is entitled.  Entitlement is for no other reason than that criminal is owed their just deserts.  Because retribution in its classic formula is backward looking it should be noted punishment is justified because the criminal deserves it-all other considerations are contingent.  So, for instance, the application of the punishment is often seen to be important because it reinforces the moral and legal law, which has been infringed (i.e.: vindication or the application of the due process of law).  Deterrence has a forward-looking view of punishment because it views punishment essentially as a means of enabling society to function fully in the future.  The retributivist as an aim of punishment does not rule out this view, but the difference is that the deterrent view does not punish the offence for its own sake.  The deterrent argument is classically the lynchpin of utilitarianism and especially its founding Jeremy Bentham.  In his Principles of Penal Law Bentham argued that: Punishment is unnecessary if the offence will not recur, also punishment is only appropriate to dissuade others from behaving in the same way and punishment is therefore to protect society for the future.  The utilitarian principle is bound to regard punishment itself as undesirable.  According to the utilitarian maxim of maximising happiness and avoiding pain, any deliberate infliction of pain could only be justified utilitarianly provided it resulted in greater happiness or satisfactions.  Reform- reformative punishment is forward looking and shares many of the characteristics of deterrence.  Where it differs is in its consideration of the status of the offender.  It sees punishment as both the means and opportunity to return the offender back into society as a useful member.  It shares some of the retributivist’s desires to allow an offender to feel that they have paid off or atoned for their guilt, but goes further in seeing this as a positive process for the future.  Some of the aims of reform are less extravagant and hope at least to make the offender more law abiding (even if this is just a fear of being caught and punished again).  Other reform aims might include a more compassionate or benevolent understanding of the motives or factors, which led to the offence.  The reformer looks in particular at the mental and physical state of the offender.  These factors not only mitigate the crime but also suggest that society is obliged to help the offender overcome his or her difficulties.

The case study I have chosen to look at is The Green Mile.  Here, the director takes us back in time to a Louisiana death row penitentiary. The title “The Green Mile” was given to the film because the floor leading to the execution room is of a pale green colour. Tom Hanks, who was once a prison guard there, is telling the story as an old man living in a nursing home who still is haunted by the incidents that took place while he was in charge of “The Mile”. Many of his experiences are remembered because of his guilty feelings toward carrying out and overseeing the activities that took place, as well as the incidents that happened that were out of his control. These incidents that occurred and left a lasting impression upon Hanks are examples of how capital punishment is an inhuman and unjustified punishment.

The arguments for Capital Punishment focus mainly on retribution and deterrence.   The retributive argument has the notion of punishment in general 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:

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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. First, as a practical matter, lex talionis retribution cannot be uniformly applied to every harm committed. The second sentence in the above quote from the Law of Hammurabi shows the inherent absurdity of consistent ...

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