The philosophy essay below has been submitted to us by a student in order to help you with your studies.

Back to Subject Index

Print Reference This Reddit This

What Is The Death Penalty Philosophy Essay

Death penalty is defined as the process of killing an individual who has committed a crime by a judicial process (Watson, 2003); it is also called capital punishment or execution. Crimes which are punishable by death penalty as explained by Watson (2003) are regarded as capital offenses or capital crimes. The term capital punishment originated from the Latin word, capitalis which refers to punishment of an individual involving removal of the head (Philbin, 2009). It reflects the mode of execution which was practiced in the past involving the removal of the head as a method of killing. Capital punishment of death penalty was in the past very common. However, there has been a trend towards moving away from the death penalty to other types of penalty for those people who have committed capital offenses. Currently, only fifty eight countries practice the death penalty. About ninety five countries have abolished the death penalty completely and thus do not exist in their legal systems as a punitive measure. The rest of the countries in the world have not practiced the death penalty in the last ten years although it still exists in their legal systems as a punitive measure for those who commit capital crimes.

We can help you to write your essay!

Professional essay writers

Our writers can help get your essay back on track, take a look at our services to learn more about how we can help.

Essay Writing Service Essay Marking Service Place an Order

According to Watson (2003), people who commit capital offenses have been the major target of death penalty. However, the death penalty has also been used in the punishment of people who tend to politically antagonize the government of the head of the state. It has been used as a political tool to eliminate those who the governments of some countries think they are a threat to their survival. Although the purpose of the death penalty or capital punishment was for those who commit grave concerns, heads of governments and states have used it as a way of taming their opponents and thus eliminating the opposition. This has advanced the problem of poor leadership in such countries. It is very common in African and some Asian countries where autocratic systems exist. Most targeted are the people who are vocal against the governments including opposition crusaders, writers, preachers among others.

However, as Philbin (2009) explains, in other places, the capital punishment is reserved for capital offenses such as people who commit murder and they need to b e executed for the purpose of the victims of the diseased. The relatives of the deceased will be unhappy to see someone who killed the member of their kin enjoying life while their kin is dead. In the military, it is part of their justice systems. On the other hand, it is explained by Ellis (2008) that military courts use this type of punishment in an effort to ensure that there is discipline within the force. Offenses such as the use of military machinery to carry out a coup are punished by death penalty in most of the countries. Others crimes such as rape are considered as capital offenses in most of the countries and thus punishable by death sentence. In some cultures like in Islamic law, people who commit some social crimes like adultery are punished by stoning to death, a crude form of capital punishment. In countries like China, human and drug trafficking are part of the capital offenses.

Justifications for Death Penalty

There are several theories of justification of the existence of death penalty. These theories explain why some of the countries are still supporting the punishment of capital offenses by a death penalty. They include the following: incapacitation, retribution and deterrence.


This theory stipulates that the death sentence is important for capital crimes so that it can take away the ability of the individual to commit such a crime again (Ellis, 2008). By executing the criminal, the criminal cannot repeat the crime. It will be impossible for the criminal to commit the offense again. According to this theory, death penalty is very important in the society as there will be decrease in crimes involving the capital offenses since the removal of such criminals reduces the number of people likely to commit the crime again. There are several ways of incapacitation of a criminal. First, the criminal can be taken through probation so as to rehabilitate him or her. He can also be taken through incarceration. However, the best way to incapacitate a criminal who has committed grave crimes is by death penalty. This will be a very sure way of ensuring that the criminal cannot commit the same crime again in the future and thus saving the lives of other innocent people in the society (Ellis, 2008).

As compared to death punishment, life sentence is less effective in the achieving of the objective of incapacitation of those who commit capital crimes. In some cases, people who have been convicted of committing capital offenses and put on life imprisonment can escape and go and commit the same crime. This returns very dangerous people to the society who has committed grave crimes and are still able to commit the same crimes. The legal system in such a case has not been effective in incapacitating such individuals. However, with death sentence, an individual is not able to escape and go and cause more harm to the society. The legal system effectively makes such a person unable to commit such a crime in the future and thus protecting the society (Watson, 2003).

There have however been arguments that incapacitation does not lead to decrease in crime in the society. On the same note, countries which let the murder criminals out of prisons after some years in prison do not record an increase in crime. The question is, is death sentence important in reducing crime? Death sentence is only applied on a few of the criminals who have been involved in the capital offenses. Some criminals who have committed such offenses are let the hook because of their ability to get very good defense lawyers or because of lack of evidence or even because of corruption. Only a small number of those who commit capital offenses are put on death punishments. This means that majority of the criminals are still in the society and the ones executed form only a small percentage of those who are guilty. It therefore beats logic by killing a few people who commit such crimes while leaving most of them walking freely in the society (Watson, 2003).

This essay is an example of a student's work


This essay has been submitted to us by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Who wrote this essay Request removal Example Essays

If the system was very just and identifies all those who are involved in the capital crimes, it would have some meaning to kill them through the justice system. However, this is not the case and those who are executed form only a small percentage of the guilty ones. There are also cases where the real murderers are let the hook and innocent people are given the capital punishment. In addition, there is the claim that when the criminals go through the justice system for some time, they reform and are not able to commit the same crimes. This makes the role of incapacitation insignificant in combating crime. It has been established that the countries which allow the prisoners to go home after some duration of stay in jail for rehabilitation do not report an increase in crime after they release the former convicts of capital offenses. This makes the role of incapacitation very useless in preventing crime in the society. Previously, traditional societies used to have this as a reason for the death sentence since the society believed that it is the only way of reducing crime. They believed that those who have committed the offence will definitely commit it again in the future. Therefore, they needed to remove those who have committed such an offense for fear of them repeating the same mistake. However, in the current societies, jails have been established with rehabilitation as one of their major roles. In jails, it is believed that the jailed people will realize that they did something wrong and that they should not repeat it. Thus, is the prisoners are killed to ensure they do not repeat the offense; the jails are useless (Watson, 2003).

If the main purpose for capital punishment is to make the individual unable to commit the same crime, then, other punishments like life imprisonments can take over its functions. Life imprisonment ensures that the convict stays in jail throughout his or her life. During this time, the individual is not able to move out and commit the same crime. The individuals who have committed capital crimes are isolated and put on life sentence where they will be guarded by the prison warders, ensuring that they do not go back to the society. This is cheaper and more socially accepted than the death sentence. It will also give the person convicted of capital punishment the time to appeal and if he or she was not guilty, he or she can be released and go back to the society. This is not the case with the death sentence where the person cannot get a reverse order if he or she has been executed.


According to Watson (2003), this theory also justifies capital punishment. It has two meanings. First, it can mean the emotional response which is aimed at making the people equal. The second is aimed at making a wrong right. The first aim, making the people equal is more of a private objective than a public objective while the second aim, making a wrong right is more of public aim than a private aim. This theory stipulates that the offender must receive a payment for his or her mistakes. The capital punishment is meant to make the person who committed the capital offense pay for his or her mistake by the same being applied. This is more of an emotional pointy of view in which the people who lost their loved ones secondary to murder will be satisfied by the person who killed their relative executed. It is more of personal objective as compared to the other aim of capital punishment in which the society's main aim is to make a wrong right.

In most of the public opinions regarding the death penalty, retribution has been regarded as the most cited as to why people favor the capital punishment. Some people have gone ahead to claim that a life should be paid for a life. Thus, if a person killed, then he or she should be killed thus the origin of capital punishment. In general, death penalty is meant to make the person who committed a crime face the same consequence as the person who was killed. This is a form of natural justice in which the people will want someone to feel the same thing as his or her victim felt. However, does this reduce crime? That is the most important question in this case. The problem with this system is that it is an emotional feeling which the relatives of the person who has been murdered want to feel good after the person who killed their relative is killed. Their main objective is not to have the reduction in crime in the society. They want the person done the same way as he or she did to their beloved one and thus eases their emotions towards that situation (Watson, 2003).

Earn money as a Freelance Writer!

We’re looking for qualified experts

As we are always expanding we are looking to grow our team of freelance writers. To find out more about writing with us then please check our freelance writing jobs page.

Freelance Writing Jobs

However, very few people who commit the capital crimes receive the death penalty. Thus, the people who killed someone's relative are still walking in the streets without anyone punishing them. To add on this, some of the people who are put on death sentence are not the same people who killed the person. It thus makes it impossible to achieve justice for all the people. In most times, corporate offenders are left the hook; they continue enjoying life while the members of the kin of the murdered person remain in pain. Since the government is not in place to ensure that the emotions of different people are satisfied, its intentions should be based on reason and not emotions. The legal system should view the situation from a point of view which is not influence by emotions. Leaders are those people who do not act on their emotions but act on reason. Thus, the government should try to avoid actions which are based on emotions (Watson, 2003).

Since murderers are executed by the use of injections which are lethal, they do not in reality feel the same pain which the person who was murdered felt. The lethal injection makes them have an easy death without first being traumatized and then killed. This is the current trend in the world. Therefore, the murderer will definitely have a better death than his or her victim which indicates that there murderer did not feel exactly what the victim felt. On the same note, other people who commit other crimes, do they get the same punishment as the crime they committed? For example, if a person steals a car from another person, does the legal system allow the person whose car was stolen to steal the offender's car in an effort to make them equal? This is not the case. The legal system does not allow such things to happen. Thus, why should those who commit capital offenses is punished by being killed as they killed? This theory advocates for the rule of jungle law in which a person receives a punishment which is equivalent to what he or she did. It is not the objective of finishing crime in the society which drives the capital punishment but it's more of emotional satisfaction (Philbin, 2009).

The killing of a person who killed the other does not make the killed person come back to life. The person who died is unable to come back to living whether his or her killer has been killed or not. Therefore, the people cannot receive back their person after a criminal has received a death penalty. As it has always been said, two wrongs do not make a right. Therefore, killing a person because he killed does not in any way bring justice to the victim. It is more of revenging than achieving justice. It is therefore not a good system to be used by the justice system.


This is the last theory of death penalty. It has two meanings; Special and General Deterrence (Watson, 2003). The specific special deterrence is aimed at the creation of fear within the person who wants to commit a crime so that he or she can desist from committing such a crime. He or she will not be able to commit another crime because of the fear which has been created upon him or her by the punishment. General deterrence is aimed at creating fear in the society. All the members of the society cannot commit that crime because they are scared of the repercussions. Thus capital punishment is administered to the offender not for the purpose of him or her committing the offence but for the rest of the members of the society not to commit the same mistake. The death penalty is not a specific deterrent. This is because the person has died and he or she cannot learn from his or her mistakes. The death penalty makes the person not able to change his character. Other penalties such as imprisonment for sometime make the offender learn from his or her mistakes and when he or she returns to the society, he cannot repeat the mistakes as he fears the repeat of the punishment.

As explained sometime back by Bledsoe (1998), the death penalty cause deterrence in the society alone and not in the individual who was involved in the crime. This also does not make sense. Consider a case where a child pees on the floor. The child is punished to ensure that he or she does not repeat the mistake again. The main objective of punishment is to make sure an individual does not repeat the same mistake. In that case, does killing an individual make him or her not repeat the mistake? Does it make the person fear from his or her mistakes? The answer is definitely no. killing an individual only serves to make the rest of the members of the society not do the same mistake. This makes the person who has been executed be like a sacrifice for the rest of the members of the society to learn. Capital punishment serves the purpose of making the rest of the members of the society more disciplined while the offender is not given an opportunity to reform and change his or her behavior (Bledsoe, 1998). Therefore, the death penalty does not deter the accused. It has not also been proved that it deters the rest of the members of the society from committing such crimes.

In conclusion about the theories of death penalty, none of them explains sufficiently on why the death penalty should be practiced. The reasons which are given for the execution are not valid. The death penalty is guided more by the emotional feelings of the relatives of a person who has been killed and the wish to have the person who committed a certain crime feel the same pain. It is also aimed at making the rest of the members of the society develop some fear for the committing of the capital crimes. This is not the case since people still commit capital crimes after they have seen one of their own being sentenced to death. The theory of incapacitation also does not aid in the reduction of crime as only a few of the people who commit capital crimes get death sentence and the rest are left in the society and can commit the same crimes.

Legal Issues Surrounding the Death Penalty

Due Process

Although some of the convicts of death sentence are really murderers, there is a group of people who are charged with the crime and yet they are innocent (Bledsoe, 1998). On the other hand, some people who have committed capital crimes are let go after the court fails to get convinced that they committed the offences. This presents a very complex situation for the legal system. The legal system can convict a person of a death penalty and yet he or she is innocent. The courts cannot be very sure that the person committed the offence and although most of the people who are convicted of the offence, they have committed the crime but a few have not. Differentiating those who have committed the crime from the innocent ones is not easy. The judges have no ability to absolutely know that a particular person committed the crime or not. In addition, the intention of committing the crime by the person cannot easily be determined. Although every person will say that he or she did not wish to commit the crime, it is not easy for the judges to decide with enough certainty that a person committed the crime with the intention of committing them.

According to Bedau (2007), the important point here is not that people commit crimes and they are let off. This is not a very justice. The natural justice has it that when someone commits a crime, he or she should receive an equivalent punishment. The punishment must equal the intention of the criminal. If the intention was to cause some pain in the criminal, he or she should have some pain inflicted on him. However, to ascertain the intention of the criminal at the time of committing the offense is not easy. The judges are not able to decide with a lot of accuracy what the criminal was planning as he or she was committing that crime. In addition, as mentioned above, the judges can accurately know for sure who committed the crime and who did not. Thus, it creates a problem.

Only a handful of the people who commit capital crimes get punished by a death sentence (Bedau 2007). The rest of the people are let free for lack of evidence, corruption in the judiciary or because they got very good defense lawyers. This means that the judicial system is not one hundred percent sure. The justice system should be such that all the people get some form of fair treatment. This is not observed in the capital punishment. Not all the people who commit capital crimes end up getting capital punishments. Some will commit the crimes and not be punishment.

The legal system has checks and balances. It is designed such that there are channels of appeal and review of the sentences which have been acquainted to the criminals. In the case of death punishment, when a person has been executed, he or she cannot appeal. Even if later people come to understand that there was an error, the person has already been executed and there is no way any appeal can bring back the person's life. The death punishment makes the convicted person not have the legal right of appealing later in the court. Therefore, some people who were supposed to appeal and get a lower sentence or even be released are killed making them, unable to obtain justice (Bedau 2007).

Bedau (2007) explains that, in some countries, the due process is not followed in the execution of the criminals. This is more ion autocratic systems and in corrupt systems of government. In some cases, a person is not allowed to have a proper legal representation. The person is not even allowed to defend him or herself. In such cases, people are convicted of capital offenses without the judge listening to them and making an unbiased opinion. As a result, they end up getting a death sentence unfair.

In other places, the death sentence is a way of silencing the opponents of the governments of the heads of states (Bedau 2007). When a president perceives you as an enemy to his or her leadership, he plans to have you executed. Because of weak institutions in such countries, the judiciary gets compromised and they work on the orders of the president, landing a death sentence to an innocent person who did not deserve such a punishment. This leads to execution of innocent people. The unfortunate thing is that when the system of government changes and the past injustices are corrected, it will not be possible for that execution to be corrected. If other penalties were used like life sentence, it would be easy to reverse it since the person will still be alive and can be released home, as opposed to where the person is death.

Legal Representation

Bedau (2007) explains that, in most times, the people who are convicted of death sentence are the poor. The rich people rarely get the death sentence. This can be because of the fact that the rich are able to get very good lawyers who will defend them in the court of law. They are able to defend themselves using the law and thus ensure that they do not get the sentence. However, the poor are not able to get a proper legal representation. As opposed to the developed countries, the developing countries cannot pay a lawyer for every person who is accused of murder. The person has to get his or her lawyer who will defend him or her. If he or she is not able to afford the servicers of a lawyer, he will not be able to adequately defend himself. The bad thing with the death penalty is that it does not allow the accused to appeal in the future when he or she gets some money in the future which he can pay the lawyer with. In addition, most of the lawyers will shy away from representing clients who are likely to be convicted of death offense. This is because they see a possibility of not being paid if they loose the case as their client will be in jail waiting for his or her death penalty. The legal representation of a person convicted of murder should therefore be given to the state. The state should hire the lawyer on behalf of the client. Since in most of the countries the state is not able to hire lawyers for all the people convicted of such crimes, the death penalty should be abolished so that it gives the convicts an opportunity to appeal in the future in case they become able to hire a lawyer (Miller, 2007).

Most of the prosecutors are not able to proof beyond doubt that the capital offense was committed (Bedau 2007). It is practically impossible to proof with one hundred percent surety that the person before the court was the one who committed the capital offense and that his or her intentions at that time were to commit the offense. Thus, it is not possible to be very sure that the punishment the person is about to get is the one he or she deserves. In addition, they are also not able to proof that all the people who are released are innocent. Although they know that someone committed an offense, because of lack of enough evidence, they are released.

Alternative Method of Execution

In my opinion, the death penalty should be abolished and replaced by other forms of punitive measures such as life sentence. Life sentence is where the person will stay in jail for the rest of his life and thus making him not to go and interact with the rest of the people. This will achieve some of the objectives of the death sentence. First, the person will be incapacitated to commit the same crime again. The criminal is confined in a jail in which he or she cannot go back to the society and cause the same harm. The jail will ensure that these people are not released back to the society and make them expose the rest of the members of the society to the same crimes. Life imprisonment thus achieves the same goal of incapacitation as the death sentence but in a better way (Bedau, 2007).

Life sentence also achieves deterrence. The criminal will get specific deterrence because he or she will not want to commit the same offence if allowed back to the society as he or she will be scared of the punishment which will follow such an action. As a result, the person will avoid committing such a crime. As opposed to the death sentence, the person has an opportunity to learn from his or her mistakes as will be alive. With the death sentence, the person has no opportunity to learn from the mistakes he or she committed. It also achieves the objective of retribution but not with the emotional perspective. The relatives of the diseased will feel that the person has also suffered like their person.

The best thing with the life sentence is that it achieves all the objectives of the death sentence and at the same time providing the person who has been convicted of committing capital crimes an opportunity to appeal in the future (Bedau 2007). The person is able to appeal in case he or she was unfairly convicted. As opposed to death sentence, if the person was unfairly accused, he or she has a chance to get justice in the future. He can at some point in the future be able to appeal and get be released. This is not true with death sentence in which once a person has been convicted, he can be executed which marks the end of that chapter. There is no option of reversing the punishment. However, with the life sentence, the person can be released if the sentence was unfair.

Ethical Issues

Ethically, it is not appropriate to kill (Ellis, 2008). A person who has committed a crime should not just be punished by killing him, but he or she should be given another opportunity (Bedau 2007). The people of the society advocate more of reconciliation and forgiveness rather than punishing one another. It is therefore better to let that person live. In the death penalty, the society will lose two people; the person who was murdered and the person who murdered him or her. The society will be at a loss as compared to a situation where there is life sentence in which the murderer can be reformed and keep on serving the community.

Religious Issues

According to Christianity, killing is a sin (Bedau 2007). It is only God who is allowed to execute. Thus, the judicial system of executing people who are convicted of murder is completely against the law of God. It is against the faith of most of people to ravage. As stated earlier, the death penalty is meant to ensure that the person who committed a crime gets the same punishment as he or she did. This is the spirit of ravage which the laws of most of the faiths do not advocate for. In most other religions, a person who has committed a crime should be given another opportunity to repent and change his behavior. Putting a criminal on a death sentence makes him or her not be able repent and has another opportunity to shoe that he or she has changed. It is only God who should terminate the life of a person and thus the individual loses his or her ability to repent.

Those who commit crimes will be punished at the end by God. According to Christianity, the responsibility of punishing rests on God who is believed to be the one to burn the bad ones in hell. However, He does not punish them immediately they commit the mistake. He first gives them an opportunity to repent and change their lifestyles. It therefore makes the criminals be able to change. Lastly, Jesus died because people had sinned against God and by that, they were forgiven. Thus, it does not make sense that all of us were forgiven by God and yet we cannot forgive.


Death penalty is one of the ways used in the justice system in an effort to reduce crime. Although it might reduce crime, it is counterproductive as it fails to provide all the people with justice. The theories of death penalty do not seem to explain the real reason why death penalty should be imposed over the life sentence. Life sentence can achieve all the objectives of death penalty but in a more ethical manner, giving those who were unfairly treated an opportunity to appeal.

Print Reference This Reddit This

Request Removal

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please click on the link below to request removal:

Request the removal of this essay

More from UK Essays