Justifiable Homicide At The Hands Of The State

Justifiable Homicide at the Hands of the State
Several problems exist in society today, and we are doing everything we could to
correct these complications and to possibly diminish them. Some are as minor as traffic
violations, and some are as serious as deaths. Many innocent lives are being taken due to
the careless and unforgivable acts of a few people. Something has to be done to stop this
from happening. In other words, we, as society, need to play our part in preventing these
nightmares and tragedies from taking place. This is where capital punishment, which
Websters School and Office Dictionary defines as punishment by death for a crime; the
death penalty, can play a crucial role (p 125). The death penalty is a form of punishment
that, when applied in the correct context, is morally and ethically justified by the
philosophies that shape our society. If capital punishment was legalized in all fifty states
and was carried out more frequently, our countrys problems would significantly decrease.
Family and friends of the victim would feel better knowing that the punishment of the
criminal would fit the crime, and less innocent lives would be taken as well (Roark 58).
We are not the first civilization to invoke the death penalty. Both Biblically and
historically, the death penalty was found to be an effective method to end the criminal acts
of convicted offenders. For instance, in ancient Israel, it was socially acceptable to throw
stones at an adulterous woman until she died from the injuries (New Oxford Annotated
Bible 563-OT) . In the colonial periods of our great nation and even in more modern
circumstances worldwide, treason is a crime punishable by death.
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In recent times, the culture of the United States has become more humane in its
methods of execution. No longer will crowds of townspeople gather at the square to
witness the hanging of thieves and murderers. Instead, the United States has opted to do
away with any punishment viewed by the citizens and by the Supreme Court as violating
the Eighth Amendment (Lowi and Ginsberg A20) This guarantees every citizens
protection from what the courts perceive as cruel and unusual punishment (Constitution
of the United States, 1791). It is important to note that the 74 men and women that were
put to death in the United States in 1997 were not killed in such a way that could further
detract from their, or their families dignity (U. S. Government: Bureau of Justice Statistics
December 1998)
The methods of execution to be used are delegated by each individual state. Of all
the possible alternatives, only three are found humane in most of the United States
(Bureau of Justice). These are the lethal injection, the gas chamber, and the electric chair.
None of these are considered to be, by many, more painful or dehumanizing than the next.
Some people still choose to oppose these methods too, citing that all form of the death
penalty are cruel and unusual. Such was the case when the Supreme Court decided
against its invocation in the case of Furman vs. Georgia in June of 1972 (Hood 47). (Due
to the courts decision in this case, many death sentences given prior to 1972 were
reopened. Also, all state and federal laws prescribing the death penalty were thrown out
(Knowenwetter 88).)
Others who choose to oppose the death penalty base their arguments on the fact
that they believe that life, in itself, is a commodity worth preserving despite the
circumstances of the crime. This theory may be valid in a very abstract manner, but only
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as long as that abstraction perpetuates. Even the most devout believer in the Sanctity of
Life is sure to consider the options when the victim of some heinous crime is a sibling, a
child, or a parent. Retribution for such crimes at the hands of some monster is sure to be
demanded swiftly by the public as well as the grieving family enduring the loss
Such retribution can also have a second purpose. Davis notes that the death
penalty, like no other form of punishment of those humanely available, has the ability to
deter potential criminals from committing such horrible acts (9-13) Any criminal, whether
or not he is a reasonable man, will consider his options when the consequence of his
actions may lead to his own finality. A finality within itself can be considered yet another
positive bi-product of the application of modern methods of capital punishment. This is
ultimately the fact that a dead murderer will never be given the opportunity to kill another
innocent human being. In fact, there is no case to date where a killer that has been put to
death has ever committed another crime of any degree (Leiser 222-230) The death
penalty, as a form of justifiable incapacitation, is met with no significant opposing

For decades the philosophical debate over whether or not the death penalty is
justifiable has been a controversy amongst lawyers, authors, philosophers and religious
spokespeople. Numbers of books and articles have been written about the subject and its
relevance to society. Movies have been made about the issue. Dead Man Walking is the
most recent film concerning the issue. This was based on Sr. Prejeans novel of the same
name. The most difficult points in the debate are that both sides are strongly supported by
valid philosophical and ethical claims. Even more problematic is the idea that each
individual case has to be treated subjectively, without allusion to the events that
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have occurred outside of the case context. This makes each and every case context
specific meaning that once the circumstances are brought to question, the debate begins
once again from the beginning.
Capital punishment is one of the most controversial topics of the world today. Many
people feel very strongly about their opinions and will express themselves any way they
can in order to prove a point. Often times though, people may even change their beliefs
after hearing the opposing argument. They may learn information they never were aware
of, which could change their whole perspective on the topic. These controversies could
really be used as valuable lessons to teach people how to listen to the opposing arguments
and then make a decision on what they believe. Sometimes it just takes listening to other
peoples points of view and maybe a little research to make valuable judgments and
decisions that could really affect society.
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Capital Punishment. The Pocket Webster School and Office Dictionary , 1990
Davis, Michael. Justice in the Shadow of Death. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield
Publishers Inc., 1996
Hood, Roger. The Death Penalty: A World-Wide Perspective 2nd ed., New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996
Kronenwetter, Michael. Capital Punishment: A Refference Handbook Santa Barbara,
CA: ABC-CLIO Inc., 1993
New Oxford Annotated Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994
Leiser, Burton M.. Liberty, Justice, and Morals: Conteporary Value Conflicts New York:
MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1973
Lowi, Theodore J., and Benjamin Ginsberg. American Government: Freedom and Power
5th ed., New York: W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 1990
Roark, Anthony P.. Retribution, the Death Penalty, and the Limits of Human Judgement
International Journal of Applied Philosophy 13.1 (1997) : 57-68
United States. U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington
GPO. December 1998

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