Ethics of Capital Punishment Essays

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Western democracies like the United States still impose the death penalty for major crimes like treason, rape, severe murder, espionage, and hijacking of an aircraft that results in murder. A legal trial followed by the government's execution of a person as punishment for a specific offense is known as the capital punishment. Executions for the perpetrators have included lethal injection, hanging, firing squad, and electrocution. According to Death Penalty Information Centers (2017), there were 20 executions in the US in 2016, which is the fewest since 1991. There have been several arguments about the ethics of capital punishments where some support the practice while others are against it. Some of the ethical arguments in favor of capital punishment include redistribution and deterrence of the public from committing capital punishment crimes. Arguments against capital punishment present that it is not ethical to kill because human life should be valued and the practice is too expensive for a state to fund. The paper will present arguments both for or against the death penalty focusing on the ethical systems that tend to support the various arguments presented.

Redistribution as an Ethical Argument

Redistribution is an ethical argument for practicing capital punishment because a guilty person deserves to be punished. According to this argument if someone is guilty of a crime he/she should receive a punishment that has a proportional severity of his/her crime. Real justice entails that people should suffer for their crimes and each offender should be punished according to what the offense deserve and therefore if someone murders another person what the offense deserves is death (Bohm, 2016). One should not be under-punished or over-punished for a crime committed, and only the guilty ones deserve to be executed. Redistributes support the concept of "An eye for an eye" because the imposed punishment is proportional to the offense done and not to bring social benefit such as stopping a repeat of the crime. Rapists are not punished by rapping them but through other punishments that cause them similar pain before they die to make the pain and suffering equally.

Incapacitation as an Ethical Argument

Incapacitation argument states that guilty offenders of serious crimes should be punished through capital punishment to avoid the repeat of such similar crimes. When a criminal is murdered of killing he will never repeat the crime because they will be dead and the government makes sure that the offenders will not repeat the crime by physically restraining them. When the police catch violent offenders such as serial killers, the first thing to do is to remove them from the public to stop criminals causing harm to others, and capital punishment is the best way to ensure that they will never return to the public and cause more harm. There have been several cases where an offender is arrested and gets out of prison and commit similar crimes again, and therefore capital punishment removes this danger because executed people cannot commit further crimes (McCafferty, 2017).

Preservation of Law and Order as an Ethical Argument

Capital punishment preserves law and order in the society, and therefore it is ethical. This is a justification of capital punishment through the social contract where the citizens agree to maintain peace by being less hostile and allow the government to execute them if they are found guilty of capital punishable crimes. According to Thomas Hobbes before the creation of a government people lived in a hostile manner which one another because they competed for survival until they entered into a social contract to form a government that would protect the citizens from wrongdoers and punish those who breaks the law and this punishment includes capital punishment if the government find it necessary.

Deterrence as an Ethical Argument

Capital punishment deters people from committing heinous crimes because they are afraid of being executed when they are caught by the police. The government uses this form of punishment to discourage others who are planning to do similar crimes because they see how people die painfully when they are hanged in prison. The aim of this punishment is to make the public afraid of committing capital punishable crimes such as rape and murder. If criminals realize that their crimes are punished by death, they will be less likely to commit those crimes. The main reason for capital punishment is to use a criminal as an example to make others learn about the consequences of committing similar crimes, and the public will be safe. According to research done by Heritage foundation capital punishment deters crime as demonstrated by the reduced rates of murder (Muhlhausen, 2014). Capital punishment is ethical because it makes other criminals reform and changes their criminal activities. Everybody is afraid of death, and criminals realize that when they commit specific crimes, they will be executed they change their wrongdoings after they learn that their lives would be under threat if they are found guilty in a court of law.

Wrongful Execution as an Ethical Argument

One of the ethical arguments against capital punishment is that an innocent person may be executed which is unacceptable. If a person it took in a court of law and has no money to hire a qualified lawyer he/she may be proven guilty of homicide while he/she is innocent. In this case, an innocent person may be killed due to flaws and mistakes in the judicial systems. According to Amnesty international capital punishment is an irreversible violence to the innocent who may be convicted as a result of untrue testimony from witnesses and lawyers. In the United States 130 people have been convicted and sentenced to death and later proven innocent (Amnesty, 2014). The supreme case of Herrera V. Collins, the defendant, was sentenced to capital punishment and he was innocent. This punishment is unethical because it causes a lot of pain to innocent being executed because the process is irreversible.

Racial Discrimination as an Ethical Argument

Capital punishment is unethical because it leads to race discrimination. If one is sentenced to be in a court the race of the victim is the main factor in determining if the criminal will die or not. If the criminal is black, there is a high possibility that he/she will be executed (Alesina & La Ferrara,2014). The legacy of racial discrimination is extended in judicial systems where 40 percent of black people are sentenced to a death penalty. This is a tragedy since its main aim is to deter crime and not to extent racial bias. Martin O’ Malley was fighting for the removal of capital punishment for he had witnessed how black people are executed not because they were guilty but due to their skin color (O’Malley, 2015). Mentally ill patients may also be put to death following their failure to prove their innocence.

Devaluation of Human Life as an Ethical Argument

Capital punishment devalues human life which should be protected at all cost. No one has the right to take another life, and this punishment violates the constitutional right to life. Life of a human is valued, and even the worst criminals such as murderers should not be denied their value of lives (Vaughn, 2015). Executing an individual because of his bad conduct is a wrongful act, and the government should protect the life of its citizens. It is also a violation of the right to life which everyone should enjoy even those who commit homicide. The methods used in executing a criminal such as hanging, electrocution, lethal gas, and strangulation are cruel and inhumane because they cause suffering to the condemned person. Other methods used by federal governments, for instance, beheading and firing squads, are barbaric and cause the executioner to commit a degrading crime.


In conclusion, capital punishment is a proper method of punishing heinous criminals because it maintains peace and order in society by deterring and reforming others who were planning to perform capital punishable crimes. The method should be abolished because it makes the taxpayers pay a lot of money for the execution of this punishment and it deprives people of their right to life which is given to them by the constitution. Capital punishment is unethical and should be abolished for it makes the society become brutal and increases cases of murder and rape instead of reducing them.


Alesina, A., & La Ferrara, E. (2014). A test of racial bias in capital sentencing. The American Economic Review, 104(11), 3397-3433.

Amnesty International, 2014. Retrieved from

Bohm, R. M. (2016). Deathquest: An introduction to the theory and practice of capital punishment in the United States. Taylor & Francis.

Death penalty Information Centre accessed on 2017 retrieved from

McCafferty, J. A. (2017). Capital punishment. Routledge.

Muhlhausen D. (Oct. 4, 2014) Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis at the Heritage Foundation "Capital Punishment Works: It Deters Crime,"

O'Malley M. (Nov. 6, 2015). "Why the Death Penalty Needs to Go,"

Vaughn, L. (2015). Doing ethics: Moral reasoning and contemporary issues. WW Norton & Company.

July 15, 2023
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