Sample Research Paper on Capital Punishment

Capital punishment


           The society punishes its people in order to discourage them from committing similar or other crimes. It also deters and discourages the would-be criminals from engaging in unlawful activities. However, capital punishment poses a great controversy in its usage because many people are unsure of its usage criteria. The questions that linger in the mind of many people is: is capital punishment really acceptable? And if legally acceptable, why is it used in some countries and states while others do not use it?” Answering these questions may give a strong background on the ethical, moral, and spiritual basis of the question.

Proposers of capital punishment have maintained that practicing capital punishment is the best method that to be applied to deter and prevent future murders. They also argue that it also creates fear to the would-be criminals and therefore reduces future crimes[1]. However, many factors contribute to a person committing a crime. It therefore raises many questions on its effectiveness in curbing crime. Assuming that the person is actually guilty and according to law ought to be punished; does killing him/her really deter future crimes? While the answer to this question is readily in the affirmative because the person is no longer there to commit the crime, however, there are situations and cases that digress from this perceived norm.

The justice system is usually biased and discriminatory. Some criminals have strong and renowned attorneys who may turn the case upside down and influence the jury and case outcome. Cases where innocent victims have been sentenced to death because of poor presentation have also been reported. In other cases, racial discrimination has taken root thus leading to partial execution and miscarriage justice. Insane people have been executed only to be discovered later that indeed they were not themselves at the time of committing crime[2].

Based on these arguments, it is obvious that capital punishment is controversial and thorough scrutiny ought to be carried out to determine the real fate of the subject. I believe that criminals ought to be punished but there should be a limit to the punishment since the correctional facilities are established to transform an individual from a bad person to a responsible and good person. Moreover, by killing a person, the avenue or option of transformation is lost.

The family of the victim and the affected both suffer psychologically by witnessing the act. If the law aims at providing justice to both parties; how can death be justified to be the central ground of two parties? The right to live of one party is violated and the room to transform oneself is lost[3]. As indicated earlier, the notion for an eye for an eye does not lead to justice but rather deviate the meaning of moral responsibility[4]. Many scholars believe that there are other avenues that could be employed to punish capital offenders that are less costly, less harming and efficient that could actually lead to the deterrence. This paper will try to address the reasons that supporters of capital punishment give in their campaign to extend and continue with the practice as well as the reasons available to oppose capital punishment and thereby recommend the elimination of execution as a means of punishment and in place advocate for a life in prison sentencing without parole for the offenders.

Background of the statement

The law prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment to offenders and recommend/advocate for the due process to be followed according equal protection to both parties. Death penalty violates these constitutional requirements and renders the state guilty of killing human being citing the law as the justified reason to kill. Capital punishment denies the civil liberties of the citizens and is actually inconsistent with the basic values that make up a democratic system. In its theory, it is uncivilized and in its practice, it is usually unfair and used inequitably. The capital punishment system, with the US being the case study, has been reported to have been applied in an a manner that could be considered unjust and unfair and against the citizens will. It has been based mostly on the capability of an individual to hire reputable attorneys, the financial capability of the individual, the race of the accused as well as the location where the crime is said to have been performed. History indicates that many of the people of color are more likely to be sentenced to capital punishment that the white people in case of a white victim and a white judge. This also applies where the jury is black and the case brought before them concerns a black. The law is said to have been applied sparingly.

The death penalty is considered as a waste of the taxpayer’s money with no public safety benefit. Many of the crime investigators and executors indicate that execution does not necessarily lead to a reduction of capital crimes as will be discussed later. Many of the executors believe that capital punishment and capital offenses could be reduced if campaigns against drug abuse, the creation of better economy and increasing the job employment rates among the youths as better methods to reduce capital punishment among other crimes than killing. This fact has been supported by death row data, which show that the states with the highest unemployment rates and increased drug usage are more likely to be convicted of death penalty than states that are better off.

In some instances, the innocent are also convicted of capital punishment thereby leading to the question on the justified application of the practice. It is believed that if the evidence was correctly searched for and proper mechanisms used, then cases that have been reported to have been unjustly applied could not exist and only the culprits could be arrested.

The 1976 Supreme Court rulings indicate that death sentence does not perpetually violate the constitution and therefore ought to be carried out[5]. In light of this, the Supreme Court did not put into consideration the voices of the other people to the party who were against the law. The law is made by people to govern them and the courts are mandated to interpret the law and provide reasonable grounds top support it. The constitution can be amended to address the issue. Upon the resumption of the act in 1897, it is indicated that mentally retarded criminals were killed thereby raising the question as to the applicability of the 8th Amendment. The 14th Amendment proposed in 2005 forbids the execution of minors. These wavering positions only indicate that the issue is not wholly accepted but depends on the situation and conditions of the juries.

Capital punishment deters crime and reduces future crimes from being committed[6]. The application of utilitarianism theory in this case does not apply since it is impractical to determine the next action or behavior of a person after being convicted. There are those people who when convicted denounced the bad behaviors that they have been doing and there are those who are not deterred by any action that may be taken against them. Deterrence is a function of its inevitability and occurrence but not limited to the punishment severity. Many supporters of capital punishment indicate that the threat of punishment influences the criminal behavior more than imprisonment[7].

However, death not deter crime commission in several ways. For deterrence to be effective, it has to be consistently and promptly employed. Capital punishment in this case may not meet the criterion conditions mainly because the proportion of the offenders on the capital punishment list is so small to attract any attention. At the same time, the small proportion that is executed may not be felt by the offenders. It should be noted that from the statistics from the criminal investigation department, the number of death sentences in the 1990s were about 300 representing less than one percent of the homicide cases reported by the police, and of the convicted, a lesser percentage is actually executed. Huge costs are incurred when trying to convict and accuse of capital offenses. The time taken to investigate and convict a criminal takes a lot of time and costs thereby rendering the procedure unjustified because of the cost used in comparison with other punishment methods. The time taken for appeals takes a lot of time and other related costs that other punishment methods would fail to consume, thus invalidating the effectiveness of the punishment.

Of importance to note is that most of the capital offenses are committed under stress due to the  influence of alcohol and drugs thereby reducing the effectives of logical thinking. Moreover, many crimes, which warrant capital punishment, are committed by the mentally challenged persons. These offenders may not be able to appreciate themselves or others and lack emotional and physical control. Therefore, the mental status of the offender may not be stable during the act. For crimes that are premeditated, the threat of punishment may not deter the person from committing the criminal activities. For political terrorists, the treat of death penalty may not yield the expected result since the terrorist’s kill in the name of religion/ideology where death is better than living. It should however be noted that sentencing offenders to capital punishment does not address the root causes of the crime in the society. It also ignores the political; and diplomatic sanctions that could otherwise lower the frequencies of terrorism.

Assuming that capital punishment can deter crime essentially assumes that life imprisonment without parole is even a greater punishment for deterring a right thinking person from executing  a crime. Because of the insignificant number of cases regarding capital punishment, there has been insignificant change in the trend and behavior of capital crimes in states that undertakes the practice. In practice and logic, it may not be possible to compare whether capital punishment actually deterred crimes since there are no comparable body of evidence[8]. In some instances, it is believed that it does incite capital offenses for example in the “crime by execution syndrome”. These people would commit capital crimes deliberately and therefore go against the law thus prompting the state to execute them. Daniel Colwel in 1996 claimed to have killed a couple in Georgia so that the state would rule against him and execute him. He was eventually sentenced to death but took his life while on the death row.

Unfairness of the practice

Apart from deterrence, it should be noted that death penalty is an unfair undertaking since it assumes the racial and political dimensions. In 1944, a decision by the Supreme Court indicated that death penalty was unconstitutional in Furman case since it took racial discrimination dimension. Texas study on capital punishment indicates that the system is an extension of the slavery since the Negroes are more sentenced than the white. Research also indicates that at any given time, half of all those that have been placed on death row have been the African American.

Other studies indicate that the poverty and social status have been used to determine who receives the death penalty. Gender and social economic class also have also been used to determine the extent of the punishment meted out by the justice system. Well-connected individuals in the society are treated as special entity and therefore are given a lesser punishment than those who are underprivileged. This fact is supported by the capability of the convicted to afford attorneys to represent them in judicial hearings. Without a legal expert, it would be difficult to be adequately represented by the counsels provided by the state. Because of the social construction, that we have grown in, it is impossible to rule out discrimination in any judgment. It therefore follows that innocent or below the standard means may be used to convict and bar a person.

Irreversibility of capital punishment

Under capital punishment, the death penalty inflicted is irreversible. Once it has been effected, there is no room for appeal. History has it that the innocent people have been erroneously executed because of lack of proper attorney, background social status among other determinants. .  Since 1900, it is estimated that there are about 4 cases every year that innocent persons are executed. In some instances, the erroneous reprieves or commutations are delivered just before the culprit is killed/executed. The Columbian Human Rights Law Review in 2012 indicated that a case in which Carlos Deluna was murdered in 1989 was a case of common knowledge since the executed had no crime scene fingerprints, or any other evidence that could lead to the execution of the person. But because of the investigation agencies misconduct, shoddy investigations and prosecutorial misconduct many innocent victims may be killed as a result.

The nature of the execution

There are several methods that have been recognized as appropriate for execution and in certain jurisdiction, the prisoner is given the option of choosing the method to be executed with. One of the option used in certain states is the traditional hanging. This is a barbaric act that subjects the convicted to pain and slow death in case of the drop being too short. The firing squad practiced in Utah and Idaho is barbaric as the prisoner is strapped in a chair and a target pined at the chest where masked men fire and kill the person. Electrocution used electromagnetic waves that are subjected to person who has been strapped and fastened on a chair. The lethal injection functions by injecting the affected person with poisonous chemicals that instantly kills the person. Gas chambers on the other hand suffocates a person to death.

It is assumed that many of the capital offenses cases takes about 12 years. There are those cases that have been delayed for up to 30years. The delay is costly and time consuming and usually results to death row syndrome which is destructive in nature since the victim is kept in confinement for up to 23 hours a day without access to education or training, recreation facilities or  have restricted visits. Such a situation provokes agitation, delusions, and paranoia and in most cases leads to a situation of self-destruction.

Retribution and capital punishment

Is capital punishment the retributive option for heinous crimes?  Crimes have to be punished but to what extent should capital punishment go? Should it also include drug trafficking, kidnapping and rape?  It should be noted that execution is more than retribution could compensate.  Retribution functions under the principle of retaliation. Does that therefore mean that the law should allow rapists to be raped to equate the punishment? Criminals need to be punished with punishment that equates the harm done under the utilitarian theory, but this has limits usually imposed by the justice and the common moral laws which should limit the use of execution as an option to deter crime[9].

Many of the international communities are against the act and calls for the elimination of the practice. Statistics available indicate that capital punishment is an unpopular undertaking as compared to incarceration. Many people would prefer incarceration than death penalty. Many countries in Europe have reduced the number of crimes that could lead to death conviction, while others have completely abolished the practice replacing it with imprisonment without parole.


Even though proponents of capital punishment believe that it can deter future criminal activities, capital punishment does not as no indicative comparison can conclude so. At the same time, assuming that capital punishment is a retributive option is a flawed assumption since it does not fully compensate the injured party equally and in most case subjects the offender to more psychological torture. It is therefore important to note that by undertaking the executions, the due process of the law is violated as well as the rule of equity and common law and morality. The individual convicted is denied the option to use new facts that might have otherwise lead to the reversal of the conviction. Moreover, it violates the principle of equal protection since social construction leads to randomization and discrimination when sentencing and presenting the offenders. It may therefore not address the root causes of the crime and wastes a lot of resources that would otherwise have been used in other constructive means. All in all, offenders ought to be punished for crimes done but the method used should support the cause for punishment and leave room for transformation of the offender. Addressing the root causes of crimes would be a better alternative than capital punishment.


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Donohue, John, and Justin J. Wolfers. “The death penalty: No evidence for deterrence.” The Economists’ Voice 3, no. 5 (2006).

Fridell, Ron. 2004. Capital punishment. New York: Benchmark Books. of Form

Haines, Herbert H., and Herb Haines. Against capital punishment: The anti-death

Penalty movement in  America, 1972-1994. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Kayser Philip, is the death penalty just? Omaha: biblical blueprints. (2011): 2-10

Kronenwetter, Michael. 2001. Capital punishment: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif:


Lambert, E., A. Clarke, and J. Lambert. “Reasons for supporting and opposing capital punishment: A preliminary study.” The Internet Journal of Criminology(2004): 1-34.

Mandery, Evan J., and Evan J. Mandery. 2011. Capital punishment in America: a balanced examination. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Volpe, Tara. “Capital Punishment: Does Death Equal Justice?.”


[1] Eric  Lambert, Allan Clarke, and Janet Lambert. “Reasons for supporting and opposing capital punishment: A preliminary study.” The Internet Journal of Criminology (2004): -94

[2] Ron Fridell.  Capital punishment. 2004. New York: Benchmark Books. 17-19

[3] Philip Kayser, is the death penalty just? Omaha: biblical blueprints. (2011): 2-10

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[5] Herbert Haines and Herb Haines. Against capital punishment: The anti-death penalty movement in America, 1972-1994. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996 4-7

[6] Michael Kronenwetter,  2001. Capital punishment: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. 2-5

[7] John Donohue, and Justin J. Wolfers. “The death penalty: No evidence for deterrence.” The Economists’ Voice 3, no. 5 (2006).

[8] Evan Mandery  and Evan  Mandery. Capital punishment in America: a balanced examination. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning. 44-49

[9] Tara Volpe. “Capital Punishment: Does Death Equal Justice?.”