Issues Regarding Capital Punishment

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Issues regarding capital punishment keep on sparking heated debate in both academic and political circles worldwide. Particularly in the U.S., matters about the death penalty remain many and varied. Notably, capital punishment is as a result of numerous reasons that aim at restoring sanity among individuals and preventing chances of crime reoccurrence (Hood & Hoyle, 2015). However, the issue has faced several problems including international abolishment trends and miscarriages of justice. Nonetheless, with sound policies/strategies, capital punishment can effectively attain its ends. Therefore, the rationale behind capital punishment can only be viable if the current problems associated with the issue get adequately addressed through the adoption of policies /strategies aimed at enhancing the viability of capital punishment.

Capital Punishment Definition

Death penalty or capital punishment remains a legal undertaking in which an individual gets put to death by a state as a form of punishment for a committed crime. The judicial verdict that an individual gets punished in this way is the death sentence while the enforcement of the penalty gets termed as the execution. Offenses that lead to a death sentence are known as capital offenses or capital crimes. Thus, a capital crime is any criminal act that remains punishable by a death penalty. Remarkably, capital crimes significantly vary from country to country and from state to state. in the United States, some of the capital crimes include murder with exceptional circumstances like with guns, intentional or multiple, first degree murder, rape with bodily harm as well as federal crime entailing treason (Garrett & Desai, 2018). The modes of capital punishment include hanging, lethal injection, stoning, beheading, gas chamber, shooting as well as electrocution.

Currently, cases involving death sentences are at the lowermost level. Notably, in the 1990s, death sentences remained steady at about 300 each year. However, the trend dropped in 1999 and has significantly declined with approximately 75% since then (Garrett & Desai, 2018). The Bureau of Justice Statistics continues to record a decline in death sentences each year. Also, public support for capital punishment has significantly declined with approximately 64% since 1994.

Influences of Capital Punishment


Deterrence entails believing that people can only stop crime through making punishment extremely severe compared to the benefits derived from criminal actions. The two kinds of deterrence include general and specific deterrence. Specific deterrence primarily focuses on individual criminals. Making punishment extra harsh ensures that the individual does not recidivate in the future (Reckless, 2017). On the other hand, general deterrence concentrates on the general public. It holds that by severely punishing an individual, the public learns their lesson and thus will not commit such a crime. Therefore, capital punishments result from the belief that a death sentence remains far much an effective deterrence compared to life imprisonment. It gets done to ensure an individual does not commit the crime again as well as to caution the public from engaging in a similar crime.

This argument gets further strengthened by the utilitarian theory of punishment. The utilitarian theory justifies penalty for a crime as a way of preventing future crimes and thus strongly supports capital punishment. According to Jeremy Bentham, the strongest proponent of the utilitarian theory, punishments for a crime should always be swift, certain and severe so that rational individuals can get deterred from engaging in such a crime (Hood & Hoyle, 2015). Therefore, capital punishment is always instituted to deter society from committing capital offenses.


Most people in the world believe that retribution remains the most appropriate response to violent crimes. The concept of retribution holds that the punishment presented to offenders must be proportionate to the harm the committed offense caused. This principle gets based on the retributive theory of punishment which holds that punishment impositions should never be justified as a result of a future purpose but rather for the intention of punishing the already caused harm (Canes-Wrone, Clark & Kelly, 2014). Therefore, capital punishment gets positioned to ensure that the individual gets punished appropriately for the harm they caused either to individuals or society.


The incapacitation ideology entails keeping offenders under tight national control to minimize their capability of committing future crimes. Curtailments can get done in various ways such as intensive supervision probation, house arrest, death or imprisonment. However, it remains notable that individuals who have committed capital offenses are extremely dangerous and pose a significant threat to the peace of the entire society and inmates. Nonetheless, an executed individual cannot ill-treat fellow inmates or escape and harm citizens and thus contains no future danger to the general society or those in prison. In short, a death sentence remains the ultimate form of incapacitation (Garrett & Desai, 2018).  This further explains why capital punishment gets instituted for those who commit capital crimes.

Problems of the Capital Punishment System

International Trends and Capital Punishment

The biggest problem that capital punishment currently faces is the global trend in its abolishment. There has been an increase in the number of abolitionist countries making retentionists lesser. Most of the nations have abolished the death penalty as a result of the global criticisms from human rights activists and organizations. Even in the united states, the issue has received intense debate with a significant number of the population against its execution.

Miscarriages of Justice

Notably, it remains impossible to recover the lives that have been taken away via executions resulting from a miscarriage of justice (Reckless, 2017). In some instances, some rulings might get overturned in the future, and the individuals involved termed not guilty. In such cases, there are issues of a miscarriage of justice since the individuals have already been executed and thus cannot earn back their freedom. According to Steiker and Steiker (2015), it is always a challenging endeavor for the criminal justice system to completely eradicate the probabilities of a miscarriage of justice. As a result, capital punishment significantly relies on the views of judges and hence may sometimes affect individuals who are truly not guilty. This issue further gets strengthened by issues such as forced confessions, inadequate rights to defend suspects as well as insufficient chances for retrials.

The Cruelty of Capital Punishment

Although most of the supreme court rulings hold that capital punishment is never cruel, its cruelty remains undeniable. It inevitably and undeniably violates human dignity and life. Irrespective of its mode of execution, it remains cruel. Most of the death-row inmates experience mental disturbances due to execution fear. In short, the human dignity of capital offenders gets always ignored. This issue of human life and dignity has been the prime argument of human rights organizations and activists in leading their efforts towards global abolition of capital punishment. Further, the fact that most of the people who observe executions get seriously shocked and never wish to observe it again proves that capital punishment remains very cruel (Canes-Wrone, Clark & Kelly, 2014).

Policy Recommendations for Capital Punishment

First, individuals facing capital punishment should be granted additional rights. Such should include adequate facilities and time to prepare their defense as well as to communicate with a counsel for their choosing. Courts should provide these individuals with adequate legal assistance to guarantee a fair trial (Canes-Wrone, Clark & Kelly, 2014). Specifically, adequate assistance should get guaranteed at every stage of their proceedings. This will significantly eradicate the problem of a miscarriage of justice.

Second, appeals made by individuals sentenced to death should always be mandatory. The government should ensure that these individuals receive hearings at courts of appeal. The factors that might inhibit these individuals from appealing their hearings should get eradicated entirely. They should be free to file an appeal. Moreover, the government should strictly ensure that no capital punishment gets executed pending an appeal.

Third, structural causes of miscarriages of justice should strictly get eliminated. This is by appointing a counsel during the investigation stage for crimes that might call for capital punishment as well as requiring a death sentence to be given via a unanimous vote of judges (Steiker & Steiker, 2015). Also, the government can mandate three trials for cases attracting capital punishment.

Lastly, the government should significantly reduce the types of crimes under which capital punishment may get applied. There should be clear and definite rules and procedures governing capital punishment. It should only get applied to the extremely serious crimes that even human right activists feel that it was the appropriate option. Therefore, the government needs to take steps toward limiting the crimes that attract capital punishment (Hood & Hoyle, 2015).


The issue pertaining to capital punishment remains the most debatable in the criminal justice system. Notably, many countries have abolished it in their justice system. Nonetheless, it remains critical in promoting deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation. Further, it gets faced by serious problems including its abolishment, its cruelty as well as the likelihood of miscarriages of justice. However, with the implementation of various strategies, such issues can be maintained.


Canes-Wrone, B., Clark, T. S., & Kelly, J. P. (2014). Judicial selection and death penalty decisions. American Political Science Review, 108(1), 23-39.

Garrett, B. L., & Desai, A. (2018). The State of the Death Penalty Decline. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3124455

Hood, R., & Hoyle, C. (2015). The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective (5th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reckless, W. C. (2017). The use of the death penalty: a factual statement. In Capital Punishment (pp. 38-62). Routledge.

Steiker, C. S., & Steiker, J. M. (2015). The American death penalty and the (in) visibility of race. The University of Chicago Law Review, 243-294.

December 12, 2023

Crime Law Social Issues


Human Rights

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