Sample Essay On Capital Punishment
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In legal terms capital punishment as the name suggests is the ultimate form of punishment for the cruelest crimes against humanity. There are typically five ways for capital punishment with some more prevalent than others in some countries. These methods include lethal injection, gas chamber electrocution, hanging and firing squad.
Despite continual debate and controversy regarding capital punishment as the correct way to punish a criminal, this form of execution is still being carried out in various counties including several states of USA. Among 38 states in USA only 12 states(including: Maine, North Dakota ,Massachusetts ,Hawaii, Iowa, Vermont, Alaska, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) do not consider capital punishment as a humane response.
Some social and human rights group such as Amensty International consider that the capital punishment violates basic human rights and does not guarantee deterrence on any level. In spite of this debate, several countries around the world still practice capital punishments at large.
This paper will look into different aspects of capita punishments, including the various factors or circumstances considered by the judges before deciding on capital punishment. The question this paper aims to answer is if it is morally acceptable to execute people for their crimes and if permissible under what circumstances.
Current Global Stats of Capital Punishments
While some countries have removed capital punishments from their constitutional laws yet a small number of countries still reserve their stance on this issue. In 2013 the number of capital executions was much more than the previous years, the following figure shows the top executioner countries of the world including US:
Figure 1 Number of executions by countries,http://www.amnesty.org.uk/death-penalty-2013-report-use-statistics-executions#.VPP9KvmUcwQ
The death execution trend rose to 15% within the 2013 and the execution by Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia account for about 80% of all death penalty executions in the world. Additionally, the number of executions in China is in thousands, the actual number is a state secret.
Capital Punishment – Ethical View
Legal experts believe that the punishment of a criminal should be equivalent to the severity of the crime committed, the historical background and mental state of the criminal and the general state of the victim at the time of crime.
While some religions and law makers strongly believe that criminals should be punished and made to pay back for their crimes with same severity, however the stance of the social activist group against capital punishments argue that the core idea behind punishment is to deter others from committing similar crime but capital punishments have failed to do so. Sociological effects of capital punishments is still unclear as in most countries death penalty is executed in private and in with less painful means such as lethal injections or gas chamber.
Often serious crimes are committed in such circumstances that mentally stimulate the criminal and they often cannot judge the consequences of their act.
A survey to study the sociological evidence revealed that 35% Americans and 45% British respondents believed that death penalty can be an effective deterrent. However most respondents supported the least painful methods of execution as shown in the figure below:
Figure 2 Methods of execution,
Death Penalty Sentencing
Death sentences are decided by the judges and not juries, and thus puts a lot of pressure and responsibility on the judge. Execution sentencing is administered by state laws and constitutional instructions. The US constitution describes specific crimes and their suitable punishment that is comparable to the severity of the crime. A judge is responsible to identify, analyze and decide about the severity and circumstances of the crime. The following points discuss the major factor taken into consideration by the judge when deciding upon the sentencing:
Death penalty is sentenced for the worst of the crimes. Though murder is considered to be the worst crime against humanity however before sentencing execution the judge needs to analyze the evidence showing the criminal intent(aggravating factors) and consider any evidence against those intent (mitigating factors) to ensure that the crime is actually a barbaric act. Murders for monetary or personal reasons, murders of police or law enforcement officers, murders during committing any other crime (drug/human trafficking, burglary, rape) are all considered as the aggravating factors. The judge is responsible to examine criminal’s history and background, their mental or psychological trauma faced by the defender that might have provoke him to commit the crime. The history, circumstances or illness all can act as mitigating factors. Thus these factors can be broadly in two categories:
For the mitigating factors the judge examines the evidence related to the offender’s history and background such as:
Lack of criminal history: a defender with no previous history of criminal or illegal activities of any scale has better chances to be evaluated for other mitigating factors as in several scenarios a temporary provocation or situation might have forced them to act illegally.
The criminal history of defenders might involve petty and nonviolent crimes too however that is considered as aggravating or mitigating factor depending upon the crime severity. For example, in a US department of justice survey it was found that the majority of defenders (53%) in murders of intimate partners had been convicted previously for various violent offences. In comparison between male and female defenders as shown in the figure below, the male defenders had previous violent record that is used as aggravating factor against them in contrast to women defenders who had a record of nonviolent crime record that can be used as mitigating factor.
Figure 3 gender and criminal record,
Stressful or incendiary circumstances: it is highly possible for a defender to fall into situation that challenges them to commit crime for self-defense or to protect family. Often crimes committed during bar fights or gang related violence result in murders that are solely due to unexpected circumstantial factors where others might provoke the defender to indulge into the crime. It is also important to analyze whether the defender was the mastermind or merely used by others to commit the crime.
Age of victim: The age of victim is a strong factor to be considered while deciding on the death sentence. The minor defenders can easily fall prey to criminal acts as their lack of education and understanding does not let them realize the possible consequences of their action. Supreme court instructs to treat juvenile crimes with lesser culpability on the offender as their moral and ethical responsibilities are less than adults.
Mental Health/ Psychological Issues: Diagnosis of mental or psychological disorders among defenders is a common finding. Stats show that about 68% female and 20% male defenders had a history of depression, schizophrenia or other disorders that may result in uncontrollable temper. Even though these can impact the actions of the defender at the time of crime however the judge and the jury need to weigh the evidence to ensure if that is actually a mitigating factor or not.
There is a definite relation between psychopathic traits and criminal instincts. Studies have suggested that psychopathically challenged individuals had strong capabilities of criminal activities and showed little or no effect of reward or cooperativeness. These individuals are prone to pain and causing harm to others as well as to themselves.
While mental illness can be mitigating factor, however intoxication or substance/drug/alcohol abuse is considered to a strong aggravating factor. However, in some cases abuse or intoxication can be a result of continual traumatic experience that could arouse a defender to commit the crime.
In the famous case of Aileen Wuornos the judge found several mitigating factor based on her traumatic childhood, physical and sexual abuse, convictions and suicide of father, alcoholism in family and her borderline personality disorder however the jury believed the psychological disorder but recommended execution for the defender. The judge accepted the jury’s recommendation.
Modus Operandi: While above factors were related to defenders who might have fallen prey to a sensitive moment or have troubled history that could make them end up in traumatic circumstances. Defenders with serious criminal records but lack of evidence to convict them are also common. Serial killers or habitual violent criminals usually develop a set of actions or habits in commission of their crime. Modus operandi is their defined behavior to complete their crime, make a clean escape and avoid investigation or questioning. Habitual offenders have a more flawless MO that can be hard to decipher. In such scenario the judge and jury need to identify any loopholes in the MO through re-questioning or cross questioning and by comparing the MO against the circumstances and other evidence.
Intent/Motive: MO is also closely related to the intent or motive behind a crime. As discussed earlier if the motive is self-defense or for protection of another family member. It is also interesting that the motive of crime is also important to understand whether the crime was circumstantial act, planned or accidental. In cases of spouse or intimate partner related serious crime personal intents are present, however in case of serial killers or habitual criminals a clear intention towards the victim might be absent.
The judge and jury need to clearly understand and identify the motive behind the crime to evaluate the participation level and will of the defender in the crime. In order to define the crime the judge/jury need to have an actus reus (physical action), description of the mental state of the defenders and also a proof that the defender wanted to achieve the same result or wanted to cause harm to that extent.
Death sentencing is a serious, vulnerable and a debatable issue. The judge and jury have immense pressure and responsibility, the various factors and facts related to the crime and offender to fully understand the surroundings of the crime and the mental state of the offender while committing that crime. The law supports punishing the guilty but instructs to ensure in every way that no person falls prey to bad circumstances and punished for a crime that he may not have committed on free will.
Amnesty International. (2014). Death sentences and executions in 2013. Retrieved 2015
BBC-Ethics Guide. (n.d.).
capitalpunishmentincontext. (n.d.). Mitigation in Capital Cases. Retrieved 2015
David Stevenson, F. C. (2014). 1 in 11 Britons approve of beheading murderers(https://ampp3d.mirror.co.uk/2014/08/15/a-quarter-of-britons-would-bring-back-the-electric-chair-but-overall-support-for-the-death-penalty-is-falling/). Retrieved 2015
Edens, J. F. (2013). No sympathy for the devil: Attributing psychopathic traits to capital murderers also predicts support for executing them. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment.
Mandery, E. (2012). Capital Punishment in America: A Balanced Examination. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
Turvey, B. (2002). Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis (2nd Ed.). London: Elsevier Academic Press.
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