Capital Punishment: Whether Or Not a “Just” Form Of Justice

In any human society, there is a constant struggle directed towards maintaining peace and prosperity. Peace holds a vital importance in human growth and survival, therefore, the aim is to ensure its existence in a society at all costs. The peaceful atmosphere gives us the feeling of togetherness and harmony which makes us supreme to all other species. In order to maintain peace, several laws and regulations are formulated and implemented. If an individual does not abide by these laws, he/she is considered an offender and held accountable for that. To ascertain a smooth functioning of the society, justice system plays a very important part.

One of the most important responsibilities of any state is to provide protection to the life and property of its citizens. Any deviation from the norms that is damaging to the people is often considered a crime.In order to deter the crimes, the judiciary imposes penalties to those found guilty. The severity of the penalties imposed is commensurate with the severity of the crime committed. The most severe punishment is the capital punishment which is usually sanctioned for crimes like homicide, rape, and drug trafficking. Although on some occasions, capital punishment acts as a deterrent to hideous crimes, it has numerous counterproductive effects which substantially outweigh its effectiveness; therefore, it should be prohibited throughout the world.

Bahai Teachings

Although the laws are sketched globally for the people and by the people and the rule of law is ensured for a just and progressive society. However, some of the beam actions were taken by the state or government can always cause many irreversible negative effects in the society. Same holds true for each and every crime. As for capital punishment for crimes like murder, rape and drug dealing, the crimes are already heinous enough that the state sanctioned killing further violates human rights and undermines human dignity. For instance, if a country gives capital punishment in open public as an unjustifiable stint to ascertain the control of the government, the human dignity is at a great loss and is tarnished on either side. William J. Brennan explains how the death penalty devalues human dignity in the following words.

One area of law more than any other besmirches the constitutional vision of human dignity. . . . The barbaric death penalty violates our Constitution. Even the vilest murderer does not release the state from its obligation to respect the dignity, for the state does not honor the victim by emulating his murderer. Capital punishment’s fatal flaw is that it treats people as objects to be toyed with and discarded. . . . One day the Court will outlaw the death penalty, permanently. (173)

Peter Preble

Another flaw of capital punishment is that it fails to recognize that the guilty people have the potential to change, denying them the opportunity to ever rejoin society. If the criminals are incarcerated for life, they cannot commit a crime again but it certainly leaves room for improvement and makes it possible for the felons to rejoin the society once they are rehabilitated. Criminals might well be guilty of horrific crimes but the practice of capital punishment gives them the idea of no way back thus triggering the snow ball and the same convicts might as well go on to commit extraordinary crimes and as a result increasing the severity of crimes to a great extent. Hence the situation must be analyzed well enough in order to study the exponential increase in crime rate and also its severity. These counterproductive effects certainly point towards the flaw and failure at the governmental level to understand and appreciate the fact that even criminals could reform themselves. Dalai Lama, a famous monk of the Gelug School says, “Criminals, people who commit crimes, are usually rejected by the society. They are also part of our society. Give them some form of punishment to say they were wrong, but show them that they are a part of society and that they can always change. Show them compassion”.

One of the key prospects of the death penalty is that it is considered as a deterrent to horrific crimes and this type of punishment upholds the law of “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. Right from an early age, a person is groomed to strive for the good deeds and to abstain from the dire actions that bring equitable punishment with them. When a potential criminal is aware of the fact that his/her life is at stake, he/she would give a deep thought to if the crime that he/she is likely to commit is worth giving up his/her life for. This type of feeling could bring some sense in the offender and might play a vital role in deterrence to horrific crimes. In such situations, a person’s inner self-speaks up to forbid him from committing such a crime. This helps the person to reconsider his decision and act accordingly. George Bush expresses his belief in the idea as, “I support the death penalty because I believe, if administered swiftly and justly, capital punishment is a deterrent against future violence and will save other innocent lives”. The idea of an eye for an eye was first given by the Bible in the words, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man for God made man in his image” (Genesis 9:6).


Immanuel Kant, a great philosopher explains this concept as, “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death”. Since every man has the right to live, have liberty and to pursue happiness as described in the US Declaration of Independence. Therefore if someone usurps someone’s right to live, he/she forfeits his/her own right to live a life. The implications of the murder not only affect the victim and the culprit, but the lives of the family of the victim also turn upside down. They tend to face significant challenges recovering from the mental and psychological trauma. This emotional pain makes them demand absolute justice for the crime committed and the wrong done to them. The justice might not heal all their scars but it certainly gives them mental peace. They recover well considering that they were supported well enough by the government and that they were just unlucky to be in the position.

This also puts out the fire of revenge burning in the hearts and minds of the victim’s family which could turn things really ugly and might result in the loss of more lives since the family would try to seek revenge at their own. Another concept about capital punishment is called “Qasas” in Islamic religion that describes the idea of life for a life. In order to compensate the loss of life of the victim, Islamic religion presents another way out. The victim’s heirs can accept some money called “Diyat” as compensation for the life lost only if they wish to accept it. This makes sense if the victim was a bread earner, the money can uproot their upcoming financial problems.Hence the punishment/compensation is very important to the victim’s families since it provides them support and closure to their sorrow. The importance of the closure for the victim’s family provided by this punishment is explained as:

Although the victim and the victim’s family cannot be restored to the status which preceded the murder, at least an execution brings closure to the murderer’s crime (and closure to the ordeal for the victim’s family) and ensures that the murderer will create no more victims. For justice to prevail, some killers just need to die (Macy).

The City

It ensures that the punishment fits the crime committed and no leniency is permitted to the culprit which gives the idea of a strong and fair judiciary. When the criminals are aware of the fact that there is no way they could get away with such a crime, it would help significantly in reducing the crime and in giving a sense that the government has played its role well in attempting to reduce the crimes. There is also a perception about the hardened criminals who have the tendency to repeat the crime, that if they are given leniency the first time, there are great chances of their repeating the same crime all over again. Hence, in order to have a crime free society, such criminals should be given punishment the very first time, ruling out the possibility of them committing such crimes ever again.

Another perspective supporting the capital punishment is the economic burden on the nose-diving economies. It helps to save money which would be used if the offender were incarcerated for life. Governments consider it the waste of too many resources and that too resting on the mere assumption that the criminal could be reformed. In contrast, the same resources could be used in the development of the law abiding citizens because it is generally perceived that the criminals forfeit all of their rights when they commit such a horrific crime. For instance, the average money spent on an inmate per year is $168000 (Santora) so it is evident that there is a huge burden on the economy due to the incarceration of death row convicts for life. The Government cannot be blamed for analyzing the situation this way in monetary units since the maintenance and growth of the economy is the duty of the government. Although it sounds harsh to execute people for the sake of saving money all the money is being spent because of just an assumption that the convict will rehabilitate in the prison over time and be able to rejoin the society as a normal human being.

NCR Online

Sometimes the purpose of capital punishment is not to serve justice but to have personal vengeance. For instance, we all know many cases are misruled by the courts all over the world including those involving murder. In such a case, the family of the victim would not understand the dilemma and they would be taken over by the vengeance colluding their cognitive function. The result would be disastrous. In such circumstances, if capital punishment is applied, it would result in two wrongful deaths which would rather incriminate the government. If the death penalty is not executed fairly, it has numerous irreversible effects hence the government should opt for violence free methods. Martin Luther King Jr. suggests this idea in the words, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love”. In another speech, he describes the concept of love in the words, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.

He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies” (Luther). Besides this, the role of the government not ends with the provision of basic rights (for example, justice) to its people but the psychic modeling is also the duty of the government. Brutalization, the capital punishment, on part of the state promotes aggressiveness in civilians. With the ever increasing extremism and terrorism, no government should and would want to install or aggravate the extremist ideas in the minds of masses which might turn very soon into a global crisis leading to loss of uncountable lives. Therefore, the stoppable means of promotion of aggressiveness must be halted.

Repeating Islands

Although people justify the capital punishment with the argument that it acts as a deterrent to crimes but there is no certainty of its positive outcomes. If a government doesn’t consider its people mentally able enough to reform themselves after committing a crime, how could they consider them able enough to abstain from the crime in order to skip the tremendous punishment? What about the families of the victims of capital punishment, who not only face the loss of a family member but also the judgments and criminal associations made about them by the society resulting into a total mental and psychological trauma having everlasting effects. Governments must carry out the multidimensional studies on the effects of violent measures like capital punishment. To support this stance, some statistical reports are given,

Indeed, 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average, Federal Bureau of Investigation data shows, while half the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average. In a state-by-state analysis, The Times found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 percent to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty. Massachusetts, which abolished capital punishment in 1984, has a lower rate than Connecticut, which has six people on death row; the homicide rate in West Virginia is 30 percent below that of Virginia, which has one of the highest execution rates in the country. (Bonner and Ford)

The state should choose violence-free methods even for short-term crisis resolution because it always creates more problems than it solves; as it is said “more executions, more murders”!


By discussing the above aspects of capital punishment, we can safely say that although it might result in some positive outcomes in some situations, for example, it fulfills personal vengeance of the victim’s family but in totality, it has far more counterproductive effects. In third world countries like Pakistan, there is relatively more practicability of capital punishment since people do not pay much heed to the effects of the crime they are committing, and hence, the punishment actually deters the crime. However, in the developed world, this has not been the case. As evident by the statistics already provided, there is a higher homicide ratio in the states where capital punishment is practiced than those where it is not. Hence instead of imposing the death penalty to the culprits involved in acts of terrorism and mass killings through long painful legal procedures, the culprits are usually eliminated in the police encounters.

According to The Washington Post, the number of police encounter killings in 2016 so far is “933”. Furthermore, as already appealed by almost all human rights activists, capital punishment damages human value and dignity. If the punishment is applied unfairly, an innocent could fall a prey to it, therefore, can have countless irreversible effects. Also from the very early years of our lives, we all have been taught the codes of chivalry such as mercy and kindness to others. As it is said, “In any case, frequent punishments are a sign of weakness or slackness in the government. There is no man so bad that he cannot be made good for something. No man should be put to death, even as an example if he can be left to live without danger to society” (Rousseau). Considering all these arguments, we can safely conclude that although the punishments for lower level crimes are fair and justified the capital punishment is not justifiable since it has numerous negative consequences attached to it, therefore, it should be abolished all over the world.

Works Cited

Bonner, Raymond, and Ford Fessenden. “States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates.” Death Penalty Information Center. N.p., 2015. Web. Dec. 2016.

Bush, George W. A Charge to Keep. New York: Morrow, 1999. 147. Print.

Friedman, Leon, Fred L. Israel, and William J. Brennan. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. New York: Chelsea House, 1997. 173. Print.

Genesis. Commentaries. Web. Dec. 2016.

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgement. Oxford: Clarendon, 1952. 198. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. Dec. 2016.

Lama, Dalai. The Art of Happiness. N.p.: Dalai Lama XIV, 1935. N. page. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. Dec. 2016

Luther, Martin, Jr. Strength to Love. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. 213. Print.

Luther, Martin. Love and Forgiveness in Governance. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Alabama. 1957. Speech.

Macy, Robert. “Retribution (In Support of the Death Penalty).”. Web. Dec. 20

“Police Shootings 2016 Database.” The Washington Post. WP Company, n.d. Web. Dec. 2016.

Rousseau, Jean. “The Social Contract.” Internet History Sourcebooks. Web. Dec.

Santora, Marc. “City’s Annual Cost Per Inmate Is $168,000, Study Finds.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. Dec. 2016.

Featured Image Credits: Christianity

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