The Death Penalty Essay

The Death Penalty Essay

            In 2019, 34 individuals in the US faced capital punishment and 22 of them were executed in line with the death penalty (CNN, 2020). The term death penalty refers to the process of ending one’s life as punishment for certain crimes as set out by the government. This sentencing is an issue of controversy since the act of killing someone for a crime can be perceived as cruel and irreversible. On the other hand, the rationale behind the death penalty is that some crimes justify this kind of treatment. However, the justifications are not sufficient to cover the ethical and repercussion concerns that result from intentionally taking away someone’s life. The death penalty should be abolished since it violates the right to life, ignores the dignity of those affected, and has procedural problems, which are all reasons why it cannot be justified as punishment even for the worst crimes.       

Reasons of Abolition

            The death penalty should be abolished since it violates the absolute right to life through the intentional killing that is involved. Both legally and morally, the absolute right to life has been used to discourage procedures that knowingly end a life (Barry, 2019). The validity of this right in determining cases such as unlawful abortions and murders as a form of self-defense makes the argument valid in capital punishment. If no justifications for killing exists then no crime can warrant the death penalty either legally and morally, which would make abolition of the death penalty necessary.

            Another reason why the death penalty should be abolished is that the action is among the highest forms of cruelty that strips away someone’s dignity. A person existing in their own human capacity does so because this state imparts dignity (Nagelsen & Huckelbury, 2016). If by the right of existing one is owed respect, practices such as the death penalty are immoral since they take away an individual’s dignity. Therefore, considerations for what it means to be human would lead to the conclusion that cruel actions such as the death penalty should not exist as it would mean that the capacity for dignity can be violated.

            Lastly, the death penalty should be abolished for the high risk of procedural problems that are associated with this irreversible practice. The sentencing of an individual to a death penalty is so far arbitrary as there is no clear structure showing who will be executed and who will not for the same crimes. Room for the death penalty to be intolerably arbitrary suggests that there have not been strong grounds to warrant such a cruel punishment. Further, there is an opportunity for incorrect rulings that might lead the wrongly accused to suffer a punishment that not only costs their life but is also irreversible. Abolishing the death penalty thus eliminates the chances of arbitrary, discrimination, and ruling errors that might lead to the irreversible death of individuals.


            Proponents of the death penalty argue on the grounds of retributivism, where the sentence for wrong doing is meant to make the perpetrators suffer as punishment (Radelet, 2015). Under this rationale, the only punishment that could rightfully deserve crimes such as murder is execution. This argument is supported by the fact that in all the US states where the death penalty has been in use, it has solely been for charges of murder or accomplices to murder (Gius, 2016). From these statistics, the rationale of an eye for an eye not only makes sense but also creates the idea that justice is being served.

            However, the retributivist approach is countered by the deterrent effect that should accompany this outcome. The foundation of the death penalty as a form of justice is that it will show that actions have consequences and thus deter further crime. It is under this line of thinking that the retribution applies where the intensity or damage of a crime will establish how much suffering the perpetrator undergoes. The challenge arises from the lack of conclusive data on a direct relationship between punishment and frequency of committing crimes especially for the death penalty (Stichter, 2014). For a ruling where what is at stake is the government sanctioned killing of individual, the justification has to outweigh the outcome. In this case, retributivism fails to justify death by a lack of evidence of the deterrence effect that would warrant this extreme action. Abolition would thus not only preserve lives but also are reinforce the dynamics of justice by disqualifying deterrence as reason enough to kill. 

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            The death penalty is rightfully controversial since it involves the extreme action of sanctions killing. To justify such action, there would have to be proof that this action outweighs the absolute right to life, human dignity, and working procedures as some of the core principles that help society function in the context of justice. Inconclusive proof of deterrence fails to provide enough reason why each of these principles of violated. The abolition of the death penalty is, therefore, the only way that this extreme injustice can be eliminated to pave way for more humane forms of either retribution or rehabilitation.


Barry, K. M. (2019). The death penalty and the fundamental right to life. BCL Rev.60, 1545.

CNN Editorial Research. (24 Aug. 2020). Death penalty fast facts. CNN,

Gius, M. (2016). The impact of the death penalty and executions on state-level murder rates: 1980–2011. Applied Economics Letters23(3), 199-201.

Nagelsen, S., & Huckelbury, C. (2016). The death penalty and human dignity: an existential fallacy. Laws5(2), 25.

Radelet, M. L. (2015). The incremental retributive impact of a death sentence over life without parole. U. Mich. JL Reform49, 795.

Stichter, M. (2014). The structure of death penalty arguments. Res Publica20(2), 129-143.