Is Capital Punishment Fair?


Capital punishment, though abolished in many countries, is still practiced in some others. People have always debated on whether it is right to practice capital punishment or not. There are various flaws in sentencing to kill a convict. Firstly, it does not help in reducing the crime rate. Secondly, innocent people are occasionally convicted and executed which affects their families terribly. Thirdly, the cost of executing a person is more than keeping a person in prison for many years. However, there are people who support it by saying that it is better to remove criminals completely from the society to make it safer. This paper deals with the arguments that oppose capital punishment and also the arguments which support it.


Capital punishment can be defined as the legal murder of human beings on proving them guilty of crimes of extreme gravity. Such crimes are called capital crimes. Most of the capital crimes are cruel murders which cannot be justified by any excuse. Fr.L.Abello.S J defines capital punishment as “the direct killing of someone who, virtually always, has been convicted of a crime by the state authority that orders the execution as per the provision of a law allowing capital punishment, and who is always under arrest when he is killed.” (Abello).

Capital punishment, which in olden times was seen among tribal groups, later came to be included under the laws of almost every country. Most of the countries practiced death penalty. The difference was in how each country judged the seriousness of the crimes. Some countries awarded death penalty to only murders, treachery or for military justice, while some others practiced it for rape, adultery and incest. A few religious countries, even now give the death penalty for crimes which violate their religious rules. There are also differences in how the executions are done in various countries. Some countries followed and continue to follow very cruel methods to kill the criminals. Since its inclusion, this kind of legal killing has undergone a lot of debate of whether it should be retained or removed from the law. As a result of severe oppositions, many countries banned capital punishment, and instead turned to life imprisonment. The laws of Europe, for example, prohibit capital punishment. However, there still are countries where it is still practiced. This paper discusses the reasons which make such punishment unjustifiable. The truth is that practicing capital punishments does not deter crimes, and often innocent people are executed. The expense of executing a person is more than the expenditure required for life imprisonment.


Capital punishment is not fair for several reasons. A basic fact to be remembered is that no human being has the right to take the life of anyone else. When a convict is killed, his family suffers even more than himself. Death penalty, affects not the criminal alone, but his family too. People opposing capital punishment says that when a government takes the life of a person, his family has the same right to punish the government for killing him. Even Legal killing is murder. So, the government becomes a murderer by executing convicts.

A main reason for the opposition against the death penalty is that it does not by any chance deter crimes. Countries where there is no death penalty shows a very low crime rate ,while many of the countries where it is practiced, have higher rates of crimes and that too serious ones. Awarding a death penalty to the convicts does not make communities safer. Instead, it leads to more chaos by the public opposing the decision. It can even lead to communal riots, claiming the government is biased. To consider an example, The crime rate in the US is very high, in spite of most of its states practicing the death penalty. Gangster violence, school and teenage violence, and family violence are only increasing, which proves that capital punishment is not the deciding factor. Former US Attorney General Janet Reno says, “I have inquired for most of my adult life about studies that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent. And I have not seen any research that would substantiate that point.” (Reno). In Canada, which is among the few states which has abolished capital punishment, the crime rate decreased by 27 percent since the abolishment. It is also found that most of the criminals do not think twice before they do the crimes. They do not bother if they will be given a death penalty or a comparatively safer life imprisonment. Even a majority of the law officers do not seem to support capital punishment.

Another flaw found in capital punishment is that occasionally innocent people are convicted as guilty and executed by the government. The judgments made by the judges are not always right. Every country has sincere and talented police officers who are capable of investigating every kind of crime. However, the investigation done by the police officers or the claims made by the lawyers need not always lead to the truth. False evidences might divert their investigation onto an innocent person. Once a person’s execution is done, no confession or regret later on will bring him back. Sometimes it can even happen that the investigators purposefully accuse a wrong person either to save the real culprit or out of personal vengeance for the accused. In such cases, the evidences will be against him, making it impossible to save the innocent one. As crimes increase, the proportion of innocent people given death sentences also increases.

There have been many cases of innocent people being given the death penalty. Out of 350 people who were given the death sentence between 1900 and 1985, 23 were innocent people. This is a very high rate and this rate has probably increased with the rise in capital crimes in America. “In the past decade, substantial evidence has emerged to demonstrate that innocent individuals are sentenced to death, and undoubtedly executed, much more often than previously understood.” (Liptak). The number of people being exonerated every year show that a good percentage of the judgments made have had to be revised in future. Even while many of them are freed when found not guilty, at least a few of the executed people must surely be innocent ones. In many cases, their families are shattered from the shock of execution of their dear ones who they know are innocent. It is also possible that the investigators or judges refuse to change the decisions even when it is found wrong, for fear of accepting their mistakes. Since it is human to err, mistakes must be anticipated and justice must be maintained by avoiding death penalties.

A third reason stated by people against the death penalties is that it costs the government more to execute a person than keep him in prison for years together. It is found that capital punishment does not reduce the number of crimes. It is also studied that a large number of people executed are later on found to be innocent and guiltless. To be precise, the government spends a huge sum to kill innocent people who are helpless at the hands of the judiciary. People opposing capital punishment argue why the government should waste money to kill someone when there are more urgent requirements.

It is found that on average a single death penalty case costs the government, from $ 1million to $ 3million. In some cases it is even more; around $7million. Whereas, life imprisonment cases cost only $5,00,000 per person. The difference is so vast that it cannot and must not be ignored. This is reason enough for the government to rethink their decisions on giving death sentences. One reason for the high cost is that capital cases require more efficient police officers, good lawyers and senior judges from the beginning to the end, till the sentence is given. Such cases also require a lot of time, with its endless appeals. Most of them are almost a decade or even more to reach a decision. “There are several problems involved in trying to determine the cost of a capital case. First, there is a wide variety of costs associated with capital cases. These include costs for prosecuting and defense attorneys, interpreters, expert witnesses, court reporters, psychiatrists, secretaries, and jury consultants.” (Does the Death Penalty Cost Less than Life in Prison Without Parole). The help from professionals in various fields will be required to successfully complete a case. All of them must be paid, which is additional expense to the government. It is true that the cost changes with different methods of execution. Whatever the method used, it takes up more of the judiciary’s time and the government’s funds to legally kill a person than put him in prison for many years.

However, the people who support capital punishment have an altogether different perspective about it. They argue that killing a criminal means completely removing him from the society which is safer for everyone. A person who is put in jail will return even if after 15 or 20 years. Every criminal who spend years together need not be changed at the end of his imprisonment. They also argue that the rate of crimes has doubled after Britain abolished capital punishment. They justify their argument with another argument that even in the Bible, death is prescribed for crimes like murder, kidnapping and witchcraft. “Execution is a very real punishment rather than some form of “rehabilitative” treatment, the criminal is made to suffer in proportion to the offence.” (Arguments for and against Capital Punishment in the UK).


Whatever, the justifications given, killing a person is not right, because human beings only have the right to bring new lives into the world, not to take them away. This is especially important in the cases where the executed ones are later on found innocent, or the innocent people are exonerated just days before their execution due to the accused person’s sheer luck. There is nothing wrong to give a second chance to the criminals by giving them a life imprisonment sentence. Neverthless, it is evident from the rate of execution of innocent people that even the judiciary can make mistakes. Killing a person, once done is done. The action cannot be revoked. By avoiding capital punishment, there is an opportunity to accept the mistake in judgment if any, and exonerate the innocent people, especially because execution is very expensive.

Works Cited

Abello, S. J. Fr. L. Capital Punishment. The Geothals Indian Library and Research Society.  2009. Web.

Fr. L.Abello, S.J, defines capital punishment as direct killing of a convict while under arrest as per the order of the judiciary when found guilty. In this article, he describes the situations when capital punishment can be justified, for example, in cases of defense. He writes in other cases, it is unfair and morally not justified. The flaws in awarding death penalties is discussed in it by the author, like the chance to kill innocent people, and the second chance provided by life imprisonment to both the criminal and the judiciary. The article is clear as far as the definition of capital punishment is concerned. Hence, the work is a reliable source.

Arguments for and against Capital Punishment in the UK. 2009. Web.

This article deals with arguments supporting and opposing capital punishment. As to support it, the article says that death is the real punishment which must be given to criminals to proportionately match the offense. It also says that removal of the criminal completely is safer to the society, since there is no chance of him returning to crimes. The article also speaks about the defects of killing people on the belief that they are the real culprits. The reasons mentioned above are stated as supporting points in it. The article has been well written and includes both sides of the arguments and their reasons.

Does the Death Penalty Cost Less than Life in Prison Without Parole? 2008. Web.

A study by the Office of Legislative Research for the Connecticut General Assembly, concludes with the statement that capital crimes is very costly, because more professionals like defense attorneys ,interpreters, witnesses, psychiatrists, secretaries and many others are required. The article includes studies by various government offices and universities and their varying views about capital punishment costs. While some of them claim that execution is more expensive, others say that keeping a prisoner is more expensive. The article is authentic enough, but since every opinion is as authentic as the other, it is difficult to conclude based on this article alone.

Liptak, Adam. National: Signs Grow of Innocent People Being Executed, Judge Says. The New York Times. 2003. Web.

Mark.L.Wolf, the judge of Federal District Court, Boston writes in New York Times that it is true that the number of innocent people being executed has greatly increased in the last decade. However, the article does not give any statistical data about the rate of innocent people being executed every year. At the same time, he says there has been a gradual change in the Justice department and that recently in 16 out of 17 cases capital punishment was refused by the juries. The article is a very authentic one because the judge himself has given evidence for the increasing wrong executions.

Reno, Janet. Fact Sheet: The Death Penalty Does not Deter Crime: The Death Penalty Has no Beneficial Effect on Murder Rates. 2000. Web.

In the fact sheet providing evidence that capital punishment does not deter crimes, Former US Attorney General Janet Reno says that he has never found any study to prove that death penalties reduce crimes. The article include comments by a few other people like the Police Chief of Angeles and District Attorney of Manhattan, with similar views about capital punishment. The sheet provides clear evidence with the help of statistics that the rate of crimes is not related in any way to abolishing capital punishment. The fact sheet is very specific in its content and the source is worth taking into consideration.