Capital Punishment: Why it is Morally Wrong


Capital punishment is a social institution where offenders of some forms of crime are punished by being put to death. The court decides whether the crime has been committed and the verdict is passed then a responsible and recognized government executes the offender. From the colonial era, about 13,000 lives have been taken in capital punishment in the US. This form of punishment was mainly used during the colonial era but today still many countries adopt it as a form of punishment to wrong doers or offenders of some types of crime. It should however be noted that it is a very expensive form of punishment to the state, very brutalizing to those executing, very cruel to those being executed and very painful to those close to the person being executed (Mello 5).

This paper discusses why capital punishment is wrong and why it should be outlawed from our country.

Reasons why capital punishment is morally wrong

Human life is valuable to everyone including offenders and their lives should not be taken away because of their bad conduct. Because of the value attached to human life, everyone in the universe has the right to live and this should be respected no matter what crime the person has committed, putting one on a death penalty and later taking away their life is a violation of this right. The counter argument to this is that sometimes one gets to take away another person’s or many other people’s lives and therefore becomes a threat to other people’s lives and taking away their lives is the only way to protect society (Stack 39). Thomas Aquinas argued that killing an innocent man is evil and morally wrong but however if one is a sinner then killing him is justifiable as he is now considered a beast as Aristotle says a beast is better than an evil man and an evil man is even more harmful than a beast. They therefore approve capital punishment as a form of punishment in society. This however is morally wrong as life is divine and sacred and there are other forms of punishment that can be adopted besides capital punishment in order to drive the point home. Instead of taking another person’s life, the government should try to help reform the person and turn him into a more productive member of society. Like the case of Stanley “Tookie” Williams a former leader of Crips gang who was convicted in California 1971 for murdering four people in a motel robbery, he was sentenced to death but with time, he turned around and was reformed to an extent of becoming an anti-gang activists and wrote many children books discouraging them from gang activities. He wrote an apology and later even brokered a peace deal between two gangs. Capital punishment is therefore not the ultimate means of punishing offenders of some crimes, there are better options that would make this people better members of society. The government or the state should instead of convicting the offenders go an extra mile and try teaching them how to spread peace in society instead of murdering them (Mello 12).

Every system has its flaws and we cannot exclude the justice system from this. At times people who may not be guilty get death penalty sentences because of the mistakes in the system of justice. Their mistakes combined with flaws in the justice system makes it likely that innocent men will end up being convicted of crimes they did not commit. Capital punishment does not give a choice of the situation being corrected eventually as the persons life will have been taken before the correction is made. Amnesty international claims that death penalty allows the state to execute acts of violence that claims blameless lives unavoidably. As long as this form of punishment is being used, execution of innocent lives is inevitable. Since early 1970s, roughly 116 US residents on death sentence have been declared not guilty and freed from their sentence. The counter argument to this is from lawyers who argue that the court would not execute one when there still is arguable evidence for his innocence. It should however be noted that the evidence may be recovered long after the execution of innocent lives and the situation is irreversible.

Capital punishment is mostly a form of retribution which is however wrong to many people. The US catholic conference says we capital sentence is sends the wrong message to the citizens who are told killing is wrong yet see the government do it. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said capital punishment is a form of revenge where one’s life is taken away mostly because he took away another person’s life. This makes capital punishment a form of vengeance and vengeance is morally wrong in society. However, the counterargument to this is according to Sir James Ftzjames stephens, vengeance is justifiable and an acceptable form of punishment for the sake of the ratification of the feeling of hatred which he argues this will excite a healthy mind (Sarat 274). However, the issue of having innocent people executed is as well a hitch for the retribution argument where the innocent person whose life was taken away did not deserve it and it was not a revenge hence the people who took away the life would also deserve death as a form of vengeance for taking away an innocent life as the argument here is that people should get what they deserve. Compared to other types of crime, retribution for one who has killed is not a fit form of reaction to those who committed the crime as this will not be applicable to such crimes as rape and physical attack as people guilty of these crimes are not punished by being sexually assaulted or being beaten up nobly as retribution for the crimes they have committed. According to Camus Dostoevsky, retribution in death penalty is not fair as the anticipation one suffers while awaiting the execution in most circumstances outweighs the suffering of anticipation of their victims in the crime committed. This therefore makes death penalty a double form of punishment that entails the waiting and preceding the real execution which makes it a mismatch to the crime. Offender are kept waiting for a very long period of time and this is a form of torture, in the US it takes an average of ten years before one is executed while in Japan executions are done on Fridays and therefore each week, one lives worried they maybe living the last week of their lives. Sometimes death penalty as retribution for such crimes as suicide bombings would be a mismatch and if such people are imprisoned for life it would be a much more suffering than it is for them to be executed after a short period of time (Sarat 278).

Death penalty may fail to deter people from committing violent crimes that are serious even where it is intended for this purpose. To deter people from committing these crimes can be achieved by ensuring the justice system is good in catching and punishing criminals. UN conducted a study to ascertain whether death penalty influences homicide rates and came out with findings that research could not provide scientific evidence that death penalty has a larger prevention outcome than life detention and such proof was never likely to come up. The means to increase prevention is increasing the probability that one will be found, arrested and held responsible for their crimes. Capital punishment is said to be a harsh type of penalty that is however not cruel on the offense. It is not in order for someone to compensate for the probable crimes that others may commit in the future even if capital punishment was a means of preventing them. While it is argued that death penalty is a form of punishment that is likely to deter people from committing crimes of serious assault and Some people argue that even if innocent people were executed, it give the deterrent effect to others, however, this will only spread fear to the public.

Death penalty increases the murder rate in society and is therefore considered a form of brutalization to individuals in a society. In the US, according to FBI statistics, there are more murders in those states where death penalty is administered. Murder in states where capital punishment had been abolished in 2003, was at just 4.1% from 100,000 people, while it was 5.91% in the same year for those states where capital punishment was being employed. These findings are related with the figure of the murdered police officers. According to George Kateb, capital punishment is a form of brutalization of a society and may eventually cause deterioration of the relationship between the state and its citizens who may view the state as using its power deliberately to do whatever thing it wishes with the lives of the citizens. This form of punishment produces a link between violence and the law where the law becomes violent yet it is supposed to be used in the prevention of violent crimes (Cohen 22).

Capital punishment reduces the dignity of society in that elegant communities do not abide by torture even if it is expected to prevent similar crimes or fabricate good effects. Hence many people do not find capital punishment a form of response necessary even for the dreadful crimes in any modern and civilized society. Beccaria, de describes capital punishment as a repeated form of murder committed remorselessly in cold blood. The counter argument here is that some people argue that death penalties are not executed in the public and hence do not lower or degrade the public spectacle. However, still it receives media shows that give great exposure making the public conscious of what is happening even though the media was meant to educate the community about righteousness, individual liability and reckoning.

Capital punishment is expensive like in the US, it is estimated that it is about three times more expensive to execute an offender than to keep them under high levels of security in a single cell for about forty years. Timothy McVeigh was found guilty and murdered bombing Oklahoma City for about 13 million US dollars. Counter arguments for capital punishment being expensive include that it is unrealistic that death penalty or capital punishment is more expensive than life without parole while others argue that justice should not be though of based on the financial terms. However it is not fair for a state to spend so much money taking away the life of an individual who can be detained with others and be let to fend himself for life while people in other regions have dire needs for such basic needs as food (Mello 116).

Some people should not be detained as a response for their actions as they may not be answerable. Some countries together with the US have ended up executing people who are mentally retarded yet it is universally accepted that for one to be punished they should be having a guilty mind that will allow them to know what they will be doing when committing the crime and the fact that it is wrong. Therefore it is not inconsiderate to execute those who are insane and even convicting them is unfair as they are not aware of what is morally righteous. Some people argue that they should still be convicted for the safety of the public, even executed but it would be more humane to get such people into mental institutions where they will be well taken care of.

Death penalty is at times applied incorrectly due to mistakes in the justice system. The system is surrounded with discriminations based on both social class and race. According to justice Harry Blackmun, death penalty is characterized by discrimination, arbitrary, mistake and caprice whose elimination can never be achieved. The jury on death penalty cases has to be aware of the possible options and sometimes may end up biased when it comes to death sentences as they can never be accepted into the jury if they oppose death penalty. Most poor people on death penalty are not in a position to afford good lawyers and consequently the end up being convicted. Death penalty is biased on sexual category where male convicts are far much more likely to be on a death sentence than females who have committed precisely the same offensee (Stack 101).

Capital punishment is cruel, degrading and inhuman in that it exposes the person to so much suffering that can be defined as torture and hence wrong; some of the methods of execution include, electrocution, strangulation and the use of lethal gas. Today many countries with this form of punishment have adopted the use of lethal injection which is assumed to less cruel to the offender and less brutalizing to the person executing although those against this form of punishment find the method to be having moral flaws and should therefore be abandoned. The mistakes in the method include the addition of medical workers in the procedure of murder which is one basic violation of their ethics. Second, a survey conducted in 2005 confirmed that the lethal injection used in the murdering of death penalty convicts is not as humanitarian as it was considered to have been (Gaie 23).

Capital punishment is not morally right especially from a political reasoning where the responsibility of the state is to accomplish its duties in the least injurious, restraining and persistent way possible. The government should rule with the slightest harming means yet at times they opt to death penalties which are the most detrimental type of punishment ever thought of. This makes the state fail in fulfilling its obligation when it uses this form of punishment, the state should hence not use capital punishment. To make it fair, states should come up with other forms of punishment like the ones in states where capital punishment is not employed.

Christianity is against murder, although the bible has mixed revelations about capital punishment, the New Testament is clearly against this form of punishment, murder is a sin. The bible and many other forms of religion consider life to very sacred and since many communities are Christian it would be more humane to find other methods of punishing wrong doers or offenders than to execute them. Execution is very immoral form of punishment therefore (MaCarthur 104).


Capital punishment is a type of penalty where offenders of some crimes usually serious violent assaults are sent for death sentences and their lives are taken away or they are murdered. However this form of punishment is considered morally wrong for the reasons which include; it is a violation of human rights considering everybody has the right to live and therefore nobody, including the state has the right to take away another person’s life. Secondly, due to flaws in the judicial system, many a time innocent people may end up falsely executed and due to the nature of this form of punishment there is no chance to reverse the situation as the life of an innocent man will already have been taken. Thirdly, retribution and vengeance is morally wrong and killing someone because they killed is a form of vengeance which it should be noted is not universally applicable to all forms of crime and also for those murdering the offenders, it cannot be applied. Fourth, this form of punishment does not have a deterrent effect as more people continue committing the crime and hence capital punishment does not seem to scare them, most dangerous criminals usually consider death penalty an easy way out as compared to life imprisonment. Fifth, it is expensive to execute a death penalty even compared to life sentencing, it therefore not a better option as it costs the state and yet there are needy people out there who could use the services of the state. Sixth, this form of punishment is brutalizing to those executing it and very brutal to the offenders to a point it is considered a form of torture. Sometimes people are executed unfairly especially in cases of insanity when the offenders are not responsible for their crime as they are conscious in the action. Capital punishment is not used fairly as there are many forms of discrimination along the system based on such factors as race, sex or gender, social class among others. Finally, this form of punishment is cruel, degrading and inhuman. Capital punishment is therefore morally wrong in any society and particularly in our country.

Works Cited

Cohen, Stanley. The wrong men: America’s epidemic of wrongful death row convictions. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003

Gaie, Joseph. The ethics of medical involvement in capital punishment: a philosophical discussion Volume 18 of International library of ethics, law, and the new medicine. London: Springer, 2004

MaCarthur, John. Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong: A Biblical Response to Today’s Most Controversial Issues. London: Harvest House Publishers, 2009

Mello, Michael. Dead wrong: a death row lawyer speaks out against capital punishment. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin, 1997

Sarat, Austin. Boulanger Christian: The cultural lives of capital punishment: comparative perspectives Cultural lives of law. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005

Stack, Richard. Dead wrong: violence, vengeance, and the victims of capital punishment. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006