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The death penalty: can it ever be justified? Research Paper


The controversy, surrounding the practice of sentencing criminals to the death penalty, continues to remain an important part of public discourses in Western countries. Partially, this explains why, as of today, this practice is being commonly regarded inappropriate by those politicians/public figures, who strive to gain the reputation of being particularly progressive individuals.

Nevertheless, the majority of those who argue in favor of banning the death penalty, while referring to this type of a criminal punishment as being utterly inhumane, do not seem to realize the sheer wrongness of their stance on the subject matter.

In this paper, I will aim to explore the validity of this statement at length, while promoting the idea that the practice of sentencing socially dangerous criminals to death simply cannot be disposed of, because it serves the function of maintaining the society’s innate integrity.

The most common misconception of the death penalty is that it is being applied for essentially retributive purposes. That is, many people continue to believe that this form of a criminal punishment should be discussed in terms of an ‘ultimate revenge’, carried out by the state. Such point of view, however, does not appear thoroughly justified.

The validity of this suggestion can be well explored in regards to the statistical data, concerned with the instances of the death penalty being carried out in the US for the duration of fifty years. According to this data, 95% of the executed criminals consisted of those who committed particularly gruesome crimes, such as premeditated homicides and gang-rapes/child-molestations, which resulted in the victims’ deaths (Jiang, Lambert, Wang, Saito and Pilot 2010).

In its turn, this implies that there was in fact very little humanness in these criminals, as the sheer horrendousness of their crimes suggest the concerned individuals’ savagery. In other words, the specifics of these people’s upbringing had very little to do with their decision to commit the earlier mentioned crimes, but rather the specifics of their genetically predetermined ‘brain wiring’.

Apparently, the majority of executed individuals in the US appears to have consisted of the so-called ‘born criminals’, incapable of feeling even a slightest remorse for what they have done. This simply could not be otherwise, because the very physical appearance of the overwhelming majority of ‘born criminals’ suggests that their affiliation with humanity is being purely formal.

As the founding father of the Positive Criminology Lombroso noted, “Many of the characteristics of primitive man (savage) are also commonly found in the born criminal, including low, sloping foreheads, overdeveloped sinuses, overdevelopment of jaws and cheekbones, prognathism, oblique and large eye sockets” (22).

What it means is that, contrary to the assumption that by executing this kind of criminals, the state simply strives to appease the victims’ relatives, the actual aim of the application of the death penalty, in this respect, is different.

Apparently, the capital criminal punishment serves the purpose of defending the society against individuals that are being ‘programmed’ to defy the very principles of the society’s normal functioning. This is exactly the reason why in the former Soviet Union, the death penalty used to be defined as the ‘ultimate instrument of the society’s defense against criminals’.

Thus, it will not be much of an exaggeration to say that the very theoretical premises, upon which the opponents of the death penalty base their line of argumentation, appear fallacious. For example, these opponents (abolitionists) suggest that the continuous socio-economic progress in Western countries implies the sheer outdatedness of the practice of sentencing convicted criminals to death, as such that is being inconsistent with the process of more and more people growing increasingly tolerant (Bedau 2002).

Nevertheless, those who come up with such a claim do not realize the simple fact that the people’s tendency to choose in favor of a tolerant mode of living does not come out of nowhere – it simply reflects the process of their living-standards becoming continually improved. Yet, it is only in the society where the majority of its members consist of psychologically adequate individuals, where the continuation of the earlier mentioned economic progress is possible, in the first place.

Unfortunately, currently deployed domestic policies in Western countries, which rest upon the assumption that people’s behavior cannot be discussed outside of what accounted for the particulars of their upbringing, make it increasingly harder to maintain such a situation. This is because they deny the very possibility for people’s act to be reflective of their biological constitution.

In its turn, this delegitimizes the suggestion that it is indeed fully appropriate to strive to improve people biologically, by the mean exercising a control over their baby-making activities. As a result, the number of mentally inadequate ‘born criminals’, potentially capable of perpetrating the earlier mentioned horrendous crimes, continues to increase rather rapidly. The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to the characteristics of crime-rates in today’s Western countries.

However, it is not only that the society, in which ‘born criminals’ appear to account for the population’s growing segment, is being less capable of advancing economically, due to the continually reduced number of socially-productive citizens. Apparently, the functional effectiveness of such a society also suffers from the fact that it needs to sustain the pointless existence of ‘born criminals’, incarcerated for life.

Thus, the very assumption that in civilized societies hardened criminals should not be put to death, promoted by ‘progressive’ citizens, is being potentially capable of setting Western societies on the path of becoming less civilized – pure and simple. Therefore, it makes so much more sense executing the most dangerous criminals then allowing their critical mass to grow to the point when the state-officials would realize themselves quite helpless, while trying to improve the criminological situation within the society.

Another commonly used argument against the death penalty is based upon people’s idealistic belief in the ‘sanctity’ of one’s life. The origins of this belief can be traced back to the Christian cultural legacy, concerned with the assumption that every individual is being endowed with the unique ‘soul’ of its own.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary breakthroughs in the fields of biology, psychology and physics, which had taken place during the course of recent decades, effectively expose the sheer fallaciousness of this assumption. Apparently, the value of every individual’s life can no longer be discussed in terms of an independent but rather dependent variable. In plain words – the more a particular person is being capable of contributing to the society’s well-being, the higher is his or her objective worth.

Given the fact that viciously-minded ‘born criminals’, who account for the majority of executed evildoers, did not only benefit the society, but tried to cause as much damage to their co-citizens, as possible, suggesting that their lives may have represented a certain ‘value’ is nothing but yet another moralistic illusion.

We need to understand that it is only natural resources, which may represent a universally recognized value, simply because the amount of these resources is limited. ‘Human resources’, on the other hand, are fully self-renewable.

Moreover, as the realities of today’s living indicate, it is because many citizens in the ‘developing’ countries appear fully preoccupied with baby-making, while being encouraged to do so by Catholic priests (who deny contraceptives, as such that are being inconsistent with the concept of the human life’s ‘sanctity’), which prevents these countries from being able to get out of poverty.

Therefore, it indeed makes very little sense justifying the abolishment of the death penalty on the ground that the lives of those who commit most despicable crimes should be considered ‘untouchable’.

The only reasonable argument, to which the proponents of the death penalty’s banning refer to, while trying to substantiate the validity of their stance on the issue, is the fact that there have been a number of cases of wrongly convicted people sentenced to death, especially in countries known for rather ineffective functioning of their justice-systems.

For example, it is now believed that at least one individual has been wrongly executed in Russia, due to his ‘confession’ (extracted under torture) of being the famous ‘Chicatilo’ serial-killer, who murdered and cannibalized fifty-three innocent children (Evans 2001). To this, we can put forward two counterarguments. First, the error-margin in judicial decisions in Western countries can be best defined as being rather negligible.

For example, in the U.S. the annual average rate of wrongfully passed criminal sentences (in all felony cases) accounts for only 0.5% (Huff 2004). The rate of wrongful convictions that resulted in the passing of death sentences in America cannot even be calculated, as there have been only a few mistakenly convicted and consequently executed ‘criminals’, throughout the history of American jurisprudence.

Second, the fact that the enactment of the death penalty is potentially capable of resulting in wrongfully convicted citizens being executed does not outweigh the capital punishment’s benefits to the society’s overall well-being. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated in regards to a number of famous legal cases, concerned with one’s private interests vs. the society’s interests, which have been arbitrated in favor of the latter.

The proponents of the death penalty’s banning may suggest that, even though it is specifically ‘born criminals’ who are being usually sentenced to death, there are also many instances of the death sentence having been passed to thoroughly adequate individuals. For example, in today’s China, it represents a commonplace practice to execute high-ranking governmental officials, convicted of bribery.

In fact, Western civil rights activists never cease whining about this practice, as such that in their view is being inconsistent with the principles of a civilized living (Kielsgard 2011). What they fail to understand, however, is that it is specifically the proper functioning of the economy, which allows people to be able to enjoy a civilized living, in the first place.

Given the fact that this country’s economic development continues to be observant of essentially socialist principles; it naturally causes the Chinese economy to be particularly prone to corruption. And, as the Chinese experience indicates, nothing can be more effective, as the mean of prompting governmental officials to think twice, before they decide to accept bribes, then exposing them to the sight of other corrupted officials being executed by a firing squad in public.

This once again points out to the sheer erroneousness of suggestions that the death penalty is being morally inappropriate. Whatever ironic it may sound – just as the possession of nuclear weapons by the US and the USSR prevented these countries from declaring war on each other, the immoral practice of having the death penalty legally enacted, strengthened the extent of the affected societies’ association with the very notion of morality.

As it was shown earlier, even though there are a number of seemingly reasonable objections to the death penalty, the closer analysis of the issue in question reveals the fact that many publicly prominent individuals, known for their stance against the continuous enactment of the capital punishment, do not think of the subject matter logically but rather emotionally.

As a result, their line of an abolitionist reasoning suffers a great deal of damage. Yet, once we adopt a thoroughly logical approach towards evaluating the appropriateness of the death penalty’s legal status, it will appear that there is indeed only a very few sound argument against this ultimate form of a criminal punishment.

What it means is that, contrary to what civil rights activists want us to believe; the continuous legal enactment of the death penalty in such countries as China and the US is being fully justified. This is because it helps these countries to maintain their societal integrity. I believe that the earlier provided line of argumentation, in defense of the death penalty, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.

Works Cited

Bedau, Hugo. “The Minimal Invasion Argument Against the Death Penalty.” Criminal Justice Ethics 21.2 (2002): 3-8. Print.

Evans, Julian. “It’s All Just Meat.” New Statesman 14.650 (2001): 52-54. Print.

Huff, Ronald. “Wrongful Convictions: The American Experience.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 46. 2 (2004): 107-120. Print.

Jiang, Shanhe, Eric Lambert, Jin Wang, Toyoji Saito and Rebecca Pilot. “Death Penalty Views in China, Japan and the U.S.: An Empirical Comparison.” Journal of Criminal Justice 38.5 (2010): 862-869. Print.

Kielsgard, Mark. “Universalism and Human Rights in the 21st Century.” Asia Pacific Law Review 19.2 (2011): 155-176.Print.

Lombroso, Cesare. Criminal Man, Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2018, December 17). The death penalty: can it ever be justified? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-can-it-ever-be-justified-2/

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"The death penalty: can it ever be justified?" IvyPanda, 17 Dec. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-can-it-ever-be-justified-2/.

1. IvyPanda. "The death penalty: can it ever be justified?" December 17, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-can-it-ever-be-justified-2/.


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IvyPanda. "The death penalty: can it ever be justified?" December 17, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-can-it-ever-be-justified-2/.

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IvyPanda. 2018. "The death penalty: can it ever be justified?" December 17, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-death-penalty-can-it-ever-be-justified-2/.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'The death penalty: can it ever be justified'. 17 December.

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