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Rational Choice Theory: Death Penalty

2275 words (9 pages) Essay in Philosophy

12/05/17 Philosophy Reference this

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The death penalty has been debated over and over with no clear solution to whether it should be continued or be abolished. One thing is clear and to provide an argument for the death penalty can be made with the rational choice theory (RCT)/deterrence theory (DT). “In their model, Cornish and Clark (1986) understood that people are not “empty vessel” when they approach a situation in which a crime might be committed” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2007, p. 276). Environmental, psychological, and biological factors create the motivations to commit crimes. The rational choice theory is advancement towards the causation of crime because it looks beyond the background factors and looks more at “conscious decision makers who weigh options and act with a purpose” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2007, p. 277). The basic idea of the rational choice theory is that individuals or criminals “engage in some intelligent thought before choosing to commit a crime” (O’Connor, 2007, para. 2). This means that the individual is already thinking of the risk, consequences, and possible rewards if they continue on with the thought of committing a crime.

The other side of the RCT is the DT. As RCT would explain, individuals make a personal choice on whether they will commit a crime or not. The RCT “suggests a more promising approach to reducing crime: situational crime prevention. By studying how offenders make decisions to commit criminal acts certain steps may be taken to reduce such opportunities for these offenses to occur” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2007, p. 277). By installing such things as alarm systems could prevent a potential burglary on your own but this is also a purpose of the deterrence theory. With regards to the death penalty, the assessment of action weighs the benefit of killing someone (for financial gain, revenge, etc.) against the threat of death and a possible result is that offenders would not make a choice to murder someone because of the threat of dying themselves at the hands of the government. Both the rational choice theory and deterrence theory work together when answer the call to murder and whether the death penalty is a rational punishment for committing a murder.

Once again, the rational choice theory is explained by the personal choice made by the individual to commit a crime. The deterrence theory is the answer to that personal choice to commit a crime or for the purpose of this explanation; murder justified by the death penalty should suffice an effective deterrent to committing murders. To many this sounds good, you commit yourself to following through on a murder; you receive the death penalty but as it common knowledge that death penalty is not given to individuals all of time for committing murders. Therefore, the rational choice theory and deterrence theory immediately receives criticisms for a solution to preventing murders. Why does this happen? Our justice system pretty much tells us that for example, killing your wife because you just found out she was having an extra-marital affair does not necessarily mean you will get the death penalty. You have expert lawyers and then poorly constructed juries that defeats ideas of the rational choice and deterrence theories. Rational choice and deterrence theories are supposed to provide quick, swift, and certain death to offenders who commit murders but as mentioned before, this is not always the right or correct answer.

Though both theories serve to the answer the question of whether or not a murder is a rational choice made by an individual and the quick answer to it, they also unfortunately lay down the issues with rational choice and deterrence as a solution to committing a murder. The problems within our justice system allow those who are on death row to extend their time alive because of appeals thus defeating both theories. According to Montaldo (2006), “The U.S. Supreme Court has issued two rulings that make it easier for death row inmates to file additional appeals to avoid execution, extending the appeals process for many of the 3,300 inmates on death row and delaying justice for the families of their victims” (para. 1).

Final thoughts on the rational choice and deterrence theories as solutions to murder have issues but both can work and for the death penalty to serve the purposes of both, the justice system must make some changes. Death penalty cases are expensive from the court time sentencing to the actual execution can last for years because of the number of appeals for possible mishaps in the case or any other problems the individual could have with their case for example, rights violations, arguments for cruel and unusual punishment can all bring up points for new case. Unfortunately, this does happen and a death penalty sentence may get reduce to life in prison and most of the time without parole. However, some instances, individuals do get parole and release back into society and commit more crimes. To limit things like that, the rational choice theory and deterrence theory could be utilized to limit such instances. Right now, the death penalty cannot be used as deterrent in our current justice system because of some of the mentioned. If the theories were used, they could really provide a deterrent to murder.

How would conflict theory explain the phenomenon of racial profiling in America?

The conflict theory is based on an assumption that criminal behavior is delivered from the social and economical forces imposed on individuals. “The criminal justice system and criminal law are thought to be operating on behalf of rich and powerful social elites, with resulting policies aimed at controlling the poor” (“Conflict,” 2005, para. 1). The hierarchy falls as follows: High class society, Middle class society, Lower class society. The rich and powerful has always had the upper hand when establishing policy for the country. Much of that power came from capitalism. As stated by Lilly, Cullen, & Ball (2007), “capitalism was considered to be at the root of the conflict because it was taken to be the source of the unjust inequality” (p. 151). In many opinions, capitalism makes the rich people richer while the rest are left behind thus defeating the 2nd Bill of Rights proposed by former President Roosevelt. In his State of the Union Address to Congress, FDR proposed a 2nd Bill of Rights because of the capitalism had over run the country. The highlights of FDR’s speech are the 5 specific Bill of Rights and they are provided for Woolley & Peters (1990):

Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:

(1) A realistic tax law-which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test.

(2) A continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts-which will prevent exorbitant profits and assure fair prices to the Government. For two long years I have pleaded with the Congress to take undue profits out of war.

(3) A cost of food law-which will enable the Government (a) to place a reasonable floor under the prices the farmer may expect for his production; and (b) to place a ceiling on the prices a consumer will have to pay for the food he buys. This should apply to necessities only; and will require public funds to carry out. It will cost in appropriations about one percent of the present annual cost of the war.

(4) Early reenactment of the stabilization statute of October, 1942. This expires June 30, 1944, and if it is not extended well in advance, the country might just as well expect price chaos by summer.

We cannot have stabilization by wishful thinking. We must take positive action to maintain the integrity of the American dollar.

(5) A national service law- which, for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes, and, with certain appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or for any other essential services every able-bodied adult in this Nation.

These five measures together form a just and equitable whole. I would not recommend a national service law unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living, to share equitably the burdens of taxation, to hold the stabilization line, and to prevent undue profits. (p. 1)

Though this was a dream of FDR, it never came to pass but if it did chances are that the separations between the classes may not have ever occurred. Unfortunately, a separation did occur and created why as to the reason in which the conflict theory exists. Inequality is now a part of our society and will stay that way until the people want change. In the United States, the competitions for decent paying jobs are overloaded with applicants vying for jobs that would provide a decent living for their families. Those at the lowest level of the socio-economic ladder often find themselves working jobs with poor pay and using that little money to pay for insurances e.g. life, health, etc. Even with the Civil Rights Act, Affirmative Action, and other things meant to help there still lies the shadow of inequality in the United States thus leaving most individuals in poverty for their entire existence.

In the United States, our poorest people are minorities including African Americans and Hispanics and it is easy to be placed into a group and most of the time those particular groups are targeted by police as “bad seeds” that want to upset the balance of the rich and powerful or the upper class of society. Trying to get a “piece of the pie” falls short and therefore commits crimes making it easier for racial profiling to occur. In other words, police are able to target whole groups of people that are minorities in order not to mess up the way of life for the upper class of society. The constant harassment makes the minority people feel fear of rebellion and maintains the inequality that benefits the upper level of society. By being the top of the pyramid, these people are able to dictate the rules to the lower masses and are doing so by implementing (or trying to implement) racial profiling. If a group of society is always in fear of being accused of crimes they did not commit, they are unlikely to find a common and loud voice of protest but by still having the ability to vote maybe there could be a change in the thought process of society’s upper class. It is truly unclear on whether President Barack Obama can keep his promise of “change” alive but many people in the lower socio-economic classes believe that the change can and will happen. Also, there is no guarantee that if the classes were equal that crime would not exist because even those with all the money still commit crimes…hence Bernard Madoff.

Can the concept of rational choice involve passionate crimes? Explain and defend your answer.

Yes, because the rational choice theory blames the crime on the personal decision of the individual. “The belief that human nature was predicated upon the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, and that human action was consequently organized around calculative strategies aimed at utility maximization” (Hayward, 2007, p. 233). The deliberate acts done in passion crimes are calculated in short periods of time. Many times the actions in passion crimes are usually at a moment’s notice and therefore are “judged as ill advised, if not foolish” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, p. 277). The rational choice theory ultimately teaches that people make decisions to act or not to act based whether the actions would satisfy the main objective. Crimes of passion is a term used to define a crime which is committed by an individual in the form of assault or murder against a spouse or a lover out of jealousy or heartbreak and is not a preplanned crime. The thinking process is based on the limited amount of information available to the individual but it is common knowledge that the brain reacts faster than the body can process the signal and therefore even if in a split second to stop the first blow it may not be stop in time. So, when a person says they cannot stop themselves from acting what they are truly trying to say is that there is no need to suffer the pain or difficulty it would cause them from carrying out the criminal act. The most common example of a crime of passion is when a husband discovers his wife is having affair with another man and out of jealousy he can murder her.

Peoples’ brain can make the choice to eliminate the pain of a breakup by covering it with anger, frustrations, and pain. With enough pain built up, there is usually a lot of trouble for the one who caused it. The choice being made is one that is rationalized. I believe that most courts in the United States understand crimes of passion and incarceration is the end game because though it was choice or decision it is understood that the act happened without a clear thought. However, it is still a poor decision, but a choice that brings instant satisfaction and delays pain. Therefore, explaining that the decisions in crimes of passions can be understood with the use of the rational choice theory.

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