Arguments For and Against Capital Punishment

The Human Declaration of Human Rights - 1948

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


For: Against:
Capital punishment has a deterrent effect. Fear of the death penalty will keep potential murderers from committing the crime. Research has failed to provide valid scientific proof that capital punishment has a deterrent effect. In fact, U.S. states that abolished the death penalty have lower homicide rates than retentionist states, as do countries without the death penalty.

In 18th century England, even pick-pocketing was punishable by hanging. Public hangings of pickpockets often served as an excellent opportunity for other pickpockets to pursue their 'trade' in the throngs, thus at best proving pointless the alleged deterrent effect.

In order to find out what causes criminal behaviour, one must look at the complex psychological and social circumstances of human existence. To think this issue could be solved with the death penalty would be naïve.

A good example of the positive effect of its abolition is seen in the case of Canada: Since capital punishment was abolished there, the murder rate has decreased by some 24% compared to the time when it was still applied.


For: Against:
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". Justice means to give someone a taste of their own medicine. If we give back to the perpetrator what he gave the victim, we would prove to be no better than the offender. For example, we do not rape a rapist, nor do we cause bodily harm to a person guilty of assault.

Executing a perpetrator neither abates nor negates a crime. The sole necessity of an execution is to meet the need for retaliation, which in itself is neither necessary nor morally just.  A nation that alleges that it is morally superior must not conduct itself in the very same way as a criminal, but rather follow both a legal and a moral code.

The "eye for an eye" passage from the biblical Old Testament has been misinterpreted time and again. It is not a call for retribution, but for proportionality in order to limit excessive punishment. It also dates back to times rife with blood vengeance. The New Testament refutes vengeance and calls for forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation.

Terrorism is Different

For: Against:
Terrorists attack a nation and human society at their roots, thereby threatening the continued existence of modern civilization and culture. The death penalty does not deter any terrorist from committing terrorist acts. Terrorists fanatically believe in what they do, and the brutality they often apply is an effort to martyr themselves for their cause, which for them is a means of "salvation."

If we argue that an offender ought to be executed not because his or her crime was especially cruel, but because of his political views, we suggest that offenders committing equally cruel albeit non-political criminal acts should not receive the death penalty.  This in turn would mean we punish an offender for his political views as opposed to his criminal action. (Douwe Korff, Max-Planck-Institute, Freiburg, Germany)

Additionally, the prospect of receiving the death penalty may even be rather appealing to terrorists who may hope for martyrdom while at the same time furthering the causes of their group.

Protection of Society

For: Against:
An executed offender can never again commit murder ("specific deterrence"). Society can not be protected by incarceration as the perpetrator may kill if he is released from prison or harm fellow inmates or officers. Data have failed to prove the truth of the expression, 'once a killer always a killer'. Additionally, incarceration is equally effective at protecting society. 
More importantly, capital punishment does not provide "general deterrence," that which deters others from killing.

Undoubtedly, society needs to be protected from dangerous individuals. In this day and age, incarceration is an equally effective option. 

A state has a duty to recognize the sanctity of all life and to foster that principle on behalf of all of its citizens. Therefore, it is not morally entitled to violate its citizens’ right to life to satisfy some alleged need for safety.  

In particular, media coverage and pertinent fiction have contributed to the commonly shared view that death row houses mainly serial killers. However, pathological killers such as Hannibal Lecter are clearly the exception.

The Cost for Life in Prison

For: Against:
Hardened criminals have it nice and easy in a “cushy” environment complete with TV and are fed with taxpayers' money. We should not waste taxpayers’ money on lengthy incarceration. Currently, in the US the cost of an execution from the start of trial until the death warrant is enforced exceeds by far the cost of a life sentence.

Any humane society is a community based on the principle of mutual solidarity and it is required to provide the resources necessary in dealing with its offenders. However, the financial aspect, especially when provoked by base motives such as resentment or revenge, must never be rated as highly as the legal principle of the inviolability of human life. To offset cost against a human life can only be described as a mean and disrespectful attitude.

Public Opinion

For: Against:
In a democratic system, the will of the people must be heeded - in most US states the majority favour capital punishment. Public opinion is dangerous by nature, as 'opinion' is not an equivalent to knowledge. Human instinct must not be disavowed; however, when it comes to institutions such as the legal system, decisions should not to be based upon it.

In general, the public is uninformed or misinformed about facts regarding the death penalty. The more superficially or less informed the public is, the more radically it will judge. A large majority of experts (criminologists, criminal law experts, lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, judges and district attorneys) favour worldwide abolition of the death penalty. From the above explanations, one can easily determine the obvious reasons for this attitude.


Source: German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty e.V.