Exploring the Controversies of the Death Penalty: Ethics and Consequences

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Introduction to the Death Penalty

The justice system is a system that is based upon the evidence given in court, where a jury or a judge then makes a verdict. The most heinous verdict of all is to be sentenced to death. The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is issued by the government, where the convicted are killed by the state through execution. We as human beings have no right to decide, based on evidence that could be falsified, to take away someone’s life.

As humans, we make mistakes and are nowhere near perfect, so therefore, our system is not one hundred percent qualified to make the decision on whether to take a life or not. Even if that person has done the most vicious crime there is, who are we to play God? It is believable that a more fitting punishment is for the convicted to be sentenced to life in prison. Living in a violent environment without any type of liberty will hopefully discourage any potential criminals. The death penalty should not be allowed in all cases because there is a dark side to it, there is both a moral and financial toll to execution, and it is discriminatory towards certain groups.

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Historical Context of Capital Punishment

Capital punishment started as far back as the 18th century BC when the penalty had been established as a punishment for crimes (Reggio). It was also practiced by Greeks and Romans in ancient times. In the United States, the first person to be executed as a criminal was a man by the name of George Kendall in Virginia in 1608 due to the act of espionage (Reggio). This is not surprising when it comes to society and its thoughts and opinions on the topic the matter at hand; there are two sides to this debate. Some people believe that it brings closure for the victim’s family; there would be contemptuous feelings towards the killer, and there would be a desire for them to receive punishment. On the other hand, there are people who believe that it is morally wrong to take away someone’s life. It is true that the debate for this argument in society will never end.

There will never be a clear answer to whether it is right or wrong. There are many who believe that this punishment violates a person’s eighth amendment rights. Almost half, or 49% of Americans, say that they would prefer life imprisonment for convicted murderers over the death penalty. Currently, in our nation, there are only nineteen states who have abolished the death penalty and have made it illegal to utilize. Meanwhile, there are still thirty-one states where the punishment is still legal. However, in 1972, there were only three states where the death penalty was legal.

Moral and Ethical Implications of the Death Penalty

Humans are not perfect; therefore, there is no way for our justice system to be perfect with no flaws. People make mistakes every day, so why is there power given to individuals to take someone’s life away? There are innocent people every day that get accused based on false evidence and are sentenced. It then usually takes a significant amount of time to notice the mistakes made and that they are, in fact, not guilty. What happens if that person is sentenced to death? What happens after we have already executed them for a crime they did not commit? For example, in 1994, a 14-year-old boy named George Stinney Jr. was put on trial for murder. It took only 10 minutes for the jury to convict a child and sentence him to execution. They put a 100 lb. child in an electric chair where the straps were too big to fit him due to his frail body.

These electric chairs or lethal injections don’t instantly kill individuals; in fact, they are prone to failure and are known to cause extreme pain. The people being executed usually die from the excruciating pain. That is what we as human beings put a child through, even only to find out 70 years after his execution he was innocent (Beaver, 2014). It is abhorrent to think people are being sentenced to a slow death because of a crime they committed; such behavior is painful and torturous. We are torturing them slowly and painfully. Additionally, killing someone for a crime they committed would not bring the dead back to life; instead, it would cost taxpayers millions of dollars. For these reasons, the death penalty should be banned in our society.

The death penalty is government-sponsored ‘murder,’ which is morally and ethically wrong. Some people might call it retribution, but at the core level, it is a civilized nation deliberately ending the life of a sentient living being. The forefathers of the United States of America fought for the God-given rights of liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness and believed that it was the job of the government to preserve those rights. To them, the death penalty would seem like a tyrannical act, something they have fought so hard to avoid. The sanctity of life is echoed by various religions around the world; almost all the major religions denounce the use of the death penalty.

As stated by Pope John Paul II, “Human life from the beginning involved the ‘creative action of God’ and remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator; only God is the master of life.”Aside from the moral and ethical dilemma, the death penalty goes against the basic rights set by the eighth amendment. It states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Death penalty falls under cruel and unusual punishment since it extinguishes life in a violent and painful manner.

Financial and Discriminatory Aspects of the Death Penalty

The death penalty takes a heavy toll on the taxpayers. There are numerous trials and appeals associated with the death penalty to lower the chances of convicting an innocent person. The cost of prosecution lies with the taxpayers and, in some cases, the cost of public defenders as well, not to mention the cost of decades-long prison times while awaiting execution due to appeals. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, on average, it costs $23,000 a year to keep someone in prison, depending on the security.

Additionally, the death rows are among the costliest due to high security Even with the high cost of incarceration, a 2008 study of Maryland by the Urban Institute concluded that it costs the state $2 million more to carry on a death sentence than carrying on a life sentence. Similarly, the average cost of a federal death penalty case is $620,932, which is about eight times higher than a non-death penalty murder case.

Since the taxpayers are ultimately responsible for the cases, it indirectly affects the budget for public services. It might also have to increase taxes or levy higher fines to cover costs. A report by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that between 1982 and 1997, the extra cost of capital trial was 1.6 billion, and to manage the cost, the local counties decreased the funding for highways and police and increased taxes.

Furthermore, another reason why the death penalty should be illegal is because it disproportionately affects those of a minority race or a lower economic status. The death penalty often targets those who identify as a race that is not Caucasian. In a 2017 study, it was found that about 41% of those on death row were classified as African-American, while 13% were classified as Hispanic. On the other hand, within the federal system, it was found that about 42.6% of those on death row, about 26 out of 61 inmates, were classified as African American, while 13% of those on death row, about 7 out of 61 inmates, were classified as Hispanic. Racial discrimination affects the death penalty in court cases as well.

In the years 1995 to 2000, 682 cases were given to the Department of Justice to review in order to make an informed decision about whether the death penalty should be given. Out of all these cases, 324 perpetrators were classified as African-American, while 195 perpetrators were classified as Hispanic. In contrast, about 20% of these death penalty cases had Caucasian perpetrators.

Not only does the death penalty unlawfully affect minorities, but it also affects those lower on the socio-economic scale. Individuals at an economic disadvantage cannot actually hire proper representation. The lack of proper legal defense is a significant factor in death penalty cases that involve innocent individuals. When a person’s lawyers have completed an incompetent job in trying to defend in their court case and leave out important facts to give to the jury, in turn, they are then more likely to be sentenced to death row.

Advocates of capital punishment ground their reinforcement of the penalization on the fact that execution perpetually eradicates the worst felons from society. It serves as an illustration and reminder that society can take tough initiative when required. Society is better by getting rid of murderers. Society has constantly used chastisement to dissuade prospective felons from criminal deeds. Since society has the uppermost concentration on avoiding manslaughter, it should use the sturdiest punishment obtainable to prevent murder, and that is the death penalty.

If murderers are condemned to death and executed, possible murderers will deliberate before murdering on behalf of terror of losing their individual existence. Conclusively, the death penalty unquestionably ‘deters’ the killer who is eradicated. Malicious murderers should be executed to prevent them from killing again, in prison and in society, if they are released from prison. Together as a warning and as a form of everlasting incapacitation, the death penalty aids in precluding impending criminal activities.

Some would say that the death penalty deters individuals from committing atrocious crimes. However, according to data and studies executed, crime rates are shown to decrease in states that have forbidden capital punishment as an option for a prisoner (Issitt, 2013). As stated by the Death Penalty Information Center, in 2015, it was found that the most murders were committed in the Southern region of the United States, which also happens to be the area that executes the most prisoners.

It has been found that neither supporters nor opponents of the death penalty have been able to produce evidence that conclusively determines the role of capital punishment in crime deterrence”. Also, according to the top criminologists in the country, eighty-eight percent of them believe that the death penalty does not deter individuals from homicide. Seventy-five percent of these criminologists also believe that “debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems”.

Overall, the death penalty is a controversial topic today. Proponents of the death penalty claim that it is a vital contrivance for upholding rules, dissuades corruption and has less expenditure than life imprisonment. Opponents of the death penalty declare that it does not at all deter crime, erroneously provides governments the authority to murder an individual, and immortalizes social prejudices. The death penalty is the process by which convicted criminals are executed by a governing authority. In layman’s terms, it is murder committed by governments under the pretense of social justice, also known as capital punishment. The advantage of not sanctioning the death penalty is that innocent people will not be executed, and there is a lower chance of both heinous crimes being committed and more of a prison labor force.


  1. Issitt, M. (2013). The death penalty: Opposing viewpoints. Greenhaven Publishing LLC.
  2. Reggio, M. H. (n.d.). History of the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Information Center.
  3. Declaration of Independence. (n.d.). National Archives.
  4. Williams, J. P. (2017). The case against the death penalty. America – The Jesuit Review.
  5. The Bill of Rights: A Transcription. (2018). National Archives.
  6. Urbina, I. (2009). Study Finds Death Penalty Costs Texas Millions. The New York Times.
  7. Costs of the Death Penalty. (2018). Death Penalty Information Center.
  8. MacDougall, S., & Williams, B. (2018). Death Penalty in Decline. The Hub.
  9. Bright, S. B. (2002). Discrimination, Death and Denial: The Tolerance of Racial Discrimination in Infliction of the Death Penalty. Southern University Law Review, 29(2), 1-123.
  10. Michigan State University and Death Penalty Center. (n.d.). Arguments for and against the Death Penalty. Michigan State University.
  11. DPIC (2018). The Death Penalty Doesn’t Deter Crime. Death Penalty Information Center.

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Exploring the Controversies of the Death Penalty: Ethics and Consequences. (2023, Aug 11). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/exploring-the-controversies-of-the-death-penalty-ethics-and-consequences

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