On the Necessity of Eradicating Capital Punishment
The moral question regarding the imposition of capital punishment lies not so much on whether the convicted felon deserves to die but on whether the state has the right to kill those who are convicted. Arguments for the necessity of capital punishment are based upon the assumption that capital punishment serves as a tool for deterrence and retribution. As opposed to this, arguments against the necessity of capital punishment are based upon the following assumptions: (1) The imposition of capital punishment by the court does not ensure the felon’s guilt, (2) There is insufficient evidence to prove that capital punishment is a more effective tool for the deterrence of crime as opposed to life imprisonment, (3) The cases of capital punishment prove to be economically more costly for the state as opposed to life imprisonment, and (4) Capital punishment is applied unfairly to both the poor and people of color. Although both sides provide both theoretical and practical arguments for or against the imposition of capital punishment, it is the later side’s argument that proves to carry greater weight as opposed to the former.
In Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Supreme Court stated that it is necessary to impose capital punishment “fairly and with reasonable consistency or not to all” (qtd in Blackmun 76). Given that the trend in the application of capital punishment showed its unconstitutionality as (1) it tended to increase the risk of wrongful or unfair treatment to the poor and people of color and (2) it tended to lead to the inhumane treatment of the convicted felon [standards of decency argument], the Supreme Court opted for the eradication of capital punishment (Potter 69). This decision however was reversed by Gregg v. Georgia (1976) as it (1) provided the standards for the imposition of capital punishment and (2) argued that given the current developments within the field of science and technology, it is possible to provide the convicted felon sentenced to capital punishment a ‘humane’ death.
From both a legal and moral point of view, Gregg vs. Georgia was able to solve the problems in relation to capital punishment as they were stated in Furman vs. Georgia. The legal solution took the form of the creation of standards for the implementation of capital punishment that ensures the criminal justice systems equal and just treatment of all individuals regardless of their background. On the other hand, the moral solution took the form of arguing against the initial assumption that capital punishment leads to the inhumane treatment of the individual.
Although the legal provisions provided by Gregg vs. Georgia answer the initial problems regarding capital punishment, the moral argument provided by the case proves to be weak. This is evident if one considers that to treat an individual humanely necessitates the respect of the individual’s rights [i.e. it necessitates the respect of the individual’s right to life and right to liberty]. In the case of convicted felons, although their right to liberty may be curtailed by the state, it remains to be the case that the state must protect their right to life. By allowing the practice of capital punishment, the state thereby fails to uphold an individual’s right to life. This proves problematic since the state’s decision proves to be ‘irreconcilable with constitutional command’ (Blackmun 79). Within this context, it is thereby possible to state that it is necessary to eradicate the implementation of capital punishment since the continuous practice of capital punishment leads to the state’s failure to uphold the individual’s right to life and hence the state fails to treat the individual humanely.
Blackmun, Harry. “Dissenting Opinion in Callins v. Collins.”
Stewart, Potter. “Gregg v. Georgia.”