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Avaliani (2010) indicates that death penalty is among the most controversial topics with various voices calling for its abolition. But noticeably a few ascending voices still exist in support of the capital punishment and that is why the debate will not end any time soon. According to Murphy (2010), cases of wrongful criminal convictions in the United States are more than what is known in the public. What makes the situation pathetic is that most of these wrongful convictions receive death penalty as a deterrent punishment. According to study by Death Penalty Information Center (2012) 33% of Americans still believe that death penalty is justifiable. On the other hand, the same study reveals that 39% support life imprisonment without parole as an alternative. Evidently this statistics calls for review of the argument for or against death penalty in various countries.
The execution of death penalty has been criticized by many people because of its lack of evidence to support the ethical ground on which its rationale is drawn. Murphy (2010) identifies several myths on which these penalties are sometimes founded as assumption that any criminal is probably a career criminal who is not likely to change if put in prison and that death penalty is given after a thorough investigation and therefore innocent conviction is highly unlikely to occur. Another assumption is that sometimes the offenders themselves confess to having committed the crime they are accused of and therefore death penalty is justifiable. However, Avaliani (2010) notes these are only myths which when they are explained could stop people from being hanged if true justice is observed.
On the other hand, supporters of death penalty argue that this form of punishment helps respect the value of human life. This is because many criminals who face death penalty are murder convicts. Avaliani (2010), notes that one proponent of death penalty, Edward Koch, argued that “it is by exacting the highest penalty for the taking of human life that we affirm the highest value of human life.” Avaliani (2010) observes that others believe that meting death penalty is a way of achieving justice and vengeance. Moreover, Murphy (2010) identifies that death penalty is justifiable on the grounds of deterring the convicts to repeat their mistakes if they are released back into the public. He argues that proponents of death penalty identify the need to cut on the cost of maintaining criminals who will not be resourceful to the society in prison.
According to Amnesty International, death penalty is an outrageous denial of human rights. It involves a cold-blooded and premeditated killing of a human being. Murphy (2010) observes that this cruel, degrading, and inhumane punishment is done in the name of justice. Furthermore, it is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that death penalty breaks the right to life. Avaliani (2010) claimed that it is on this ground that Amnesty International is opposed to death penalty in all instances. According to Amnesty International, death penalty is not justifiable regardless of the crime nature which one has committed or the method through which the penalty is executed.
Human Right versus Justice
The debate on death penalty has to larger extent been determined by the argument of human’s right to life which should be entitled to any human being by birth. According to Avaliani (2010), most cases in which the offender is given a death penalty involve murder which means that it also depends on the right rights of other people. Sarat & Martschukat (2011) observe that death penalty has been given to offenders of crimes other than murder. Furthermore, death penalty becomes more complicated when the conditions that prevailed before the crime was committed are examined. For instance, how do the systems of justice convict a criminal who is mentally unstable to death when he or she was not in control of his/her actions? Avaliani (2010) observes that this argument is counteracted by Pojman in his justification of death penalty when he states that humans are rational, they ought to be morally upright. According to him, if this is the case, then such cases of one person killing the other should never arise because people out to treat each other with dignity. He therefore reasons that whenever an individual intentionally kills another one, he/she is implying that she/he also deserves death.
On the other hand, questions arise on the right of the State to act as God by punishing those who take away the lives of others. In particular, Avaliani (2010) notes that such assertion by Pojman puts into doubt the fact that a person who commits a crime that calls for death penalty automatically loses his/her right to life. He further says that by intentionally killing another person or committing a heinous crime, one loses his/her capacity to self-consciousness and rational standing. Moreover, Avaliani (2010) adds that death penalty at least implies that a criminal offender punishable by death has undoubtedly lost his/her right to life and therefore deserves death. For instance, Avaliani (2010) cites the example of abortion debate where proponents of abortion usually argue that the fetus has no right to life. It is agreeable that it is not permissible to kill simply because the victim has lost their right to life. Avaliani further notes that a loss of right to life does not give another living creature a duty to kill (Avaliani, 2010, p. 12).
Another argument against death penalty is advanced by Avaliani (2010) when he states that an action cannot justifiably be considered a crime if it is not acted contrary to the judicial systems. In other words, the jury is given the ultimate power to decide whether an act is a crime or not with the intention of inflicting punishment upon a person who is “found guilty”. Banner, (2003) notes that this results into meting out a punishment only for the sake of the society while it fails to consider the right of the person losing his/her life. According to Sarat & Martschukat (2011), this implies that death penalty is not necessarily a form of punishing offenders but rather a means of benefiting the society. Banner (2003) observes that supporters of death penalty like Kent opinioned that the act of being found guilty and punished precedes the benefit that the society gains from the act. Avaliani (2010) on the other hand argues that the right to take one’s life is not with any individual neither the sate lest an innocent person is also punished in the process. He further observes that such an approach will not lead to punishing the criminal because in most cases, the foundation of punishment will not be the criminal act but the benefit that the society is going to get.
Similarly, Banner (2003), argues that the concept of punishment as viewed by the proponents of death penalty is likely to lose meaning if the crime is not the basis for that punishment. He notes that it will only imply that justice has been denied to the person who commits a crime. Furthermore, Banner (2003) indicates that by the fact that punishment is aimed at inflicting damage on a criminal, it is likened to revenge. He adds that this can only mean "eye for eye". In essence, this expresses the concept of fair punishment. However, Avaliani (2010) argues that this again fails to meet the threshold that death penalty is aimed at making both the individual and the society learn a lesson. He therefore concludes that a death penalty is vengeful in a legal form. In this respect death penalty is retrogressively used as an instrument of scaring people rather than as a penalty in itself. Avaliani (2010) also argued that this conclusion can be supported by the fact that a criminal who commits an offense for which death penalty is meted often does not come to know the possible effect of the crime he committed on himself as a member of the larger community. Avaliani (2010) puts this vividly when he argues that it is not possible for any human being to exist outside a society. Consequently, any harm to a society can only mean harm to each and every member of that society to which offenders of a murder belong.
Kronenwetter (2011) noted that another controversial issue in the death penalty debate is the role of the state in punishing crime with death. Whereas proponents of death penalty like Kant argue that a society that fails to execute punishment on those who commit murder with death penalties should also be taken as parties in the crime commitment. However, Kronenwetter (2011) states that this position is likely to place unmerited privileges on the controllers of state machineries. He indicates that Italian lawyer Beccaria Cesare contrasts this view when he declares that by the fact that no one is given a right to deprive another of the fundamental right to life, death penalty can never be justified. However, Kronenwetter (2011) observes that Kant cannot understand the reason that can make a state not to be given a right of issuing a death penalty to a murderer. Avaliani (2010) cites that proponents of death penalty fail to explain why death penalty is only justified when the case in question is a murder case or the case which has negative impact on the society. Furthermore, Kronenwetter (2011) notes that murderers are not provided with legal rights that would enable them to justify their action. More so, he adds that where such legal rights are provided, the jury cannot fit in the point of view of the criminal given the fact that death penalty is premeditated hence a determination to ensure that it is executed.
In addition, it is argued that no other form of punishment can possibly replace death penalty. In contrast, other law practitioners have suggested other forms of punishment like life imprisonment to replace death penalty. But Sarat & Martschukat (2011) argue that this will be costly to the state in that it will involve expenses that the society will not benefit from. With its findings, Death Penalty Information Center (2012) indicates that it is more expensive to execute a death penalty than having the same criminal imprisoned for life. In retrospect, Avaliani (2010), in his analysis notes that proponents of death penalty suggest that life imprisonment is a shameful punishment. This is clearly argued for by Kant when he declares that faced with the two choices, any man of honor would choose death (Avaliani, 2010). According to Kant, life imprisonment is a severer punishment than the death penalty and that in abolishing death penalty a murderer is simply denied a right death and not something worse.
Personal Views on Death Penalty
From this discussion, it is clear to me that that death penalty for whatever reason is inhuman and it usurps the human right to life (Banner, 2003). That is, death penalty should be replaced by life imprisonment. This will give the offenders an opportunity to rectify their mistakes and become resourceful to the society. Again it is common sense to perceive mentally that a premeditated killing is inhumane even if the criminal facing death penalty committed a intentional crime. This argument can be advanced by the fact that what is always considered as humane is subjective to a person’s characteristics like belief, religion, and education. Banner (2003) observes that since humane and inhumane acts are subjective to interpretation by different people, there is need to have unified systems of action that will be universally acceptable. Until such system is achieved then death penalty will remain an inhumane act in itself.
Similarly, it should be noted that by taking the life of a criminal, no compensation is given to the crime committed. In essence, a wrong cannot be rectified by another wrong. Overall, given that there is no defined definition of human rights, it is widely accepted that the penalty is a violation of human right to live. I agree with Sarat & Martschukat (2011) who conclude that true justice can only be attained if there is constant vigilance.
From the above discussion, it is evident that death penalty will continue to elicit controversy between the advocates for and against the punishment. There is need to have more studies in trying to analyze pros and cons of having death penalty as a form of punishment. As debates continue to penetrate the public sphere, it is evident that many more people will continue to suffer under this inhumane form of punishment as cases of wrongful conviction continue to come into the limelight. However, there is need to advocate for a safer world where human right to life will be respected by everyone without favor or discrimination.