Deterrence Theorists and Capital Punishment

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Deterrence theorists view murder as rational behavior, and assume that in calculating the gains and losses from killing, potential offenders are aware of the death penalty and regard it as a more severe sanction than imprisonment. Because the threat of one's own death presumably outweighs the rewards gained from killing another, murder is not an option for most people and always discouraged. In addition, some noted proponents assert that capital punishment provides an important educative function in society by validating the sanctity of human life (Berns, 1979; van den Haag, 1975; van den Haag & Conrad, 1983). Despite this logic, some challenge the applicability of deterrence to murder. Rather than being a product of deliberation and calculation, it is known that most murders are emotionally charged and their crimes are spontaneous events; they are "acts of passion" or result from a situated transaction rather than from deliberation (Bowers & Pierce, 1980; Chambliss, 1967; Luckenbill, 1977). Indeed, a significant proportion of homicides may not be intended. The situation escapes calm discussion, or due to some extraneous factor, an assault victim dies. Under such conditions, it is unlikely that perpetrators ("killers") give serious thought to whether they reside in a death penalty jurisdiction, or the possibility of execution. Raymond T. Bye describes the basis for the theory of deterrence in the idea that the privilege to live and therefore an individual’s life is the most sacred and only thing any human really owns. Because of this, threatening an individual with the consequence of death will cause them to decide not to engage in the criminal activity. There is a spectrum of consequences that individuals mentally process for... ... middle of paper ... ...New England area and northern-more Middle West area, and the higher rates found in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Sellin grouped the states according to geography but made sure that the populations of each group also had similar social and economic conditions. Within these groups he found it impossible to distinguish the abolition state from the non-abolition states according to crime rates. Therefore, he found the homicide death rates of these grouped states to be similar, no matter their position on the death penalty. The inevitable conclusion is that all things remaining the same, executions have no discernible effect on rates of homicide. This study sparked debate and lead many other researchers to conduct their own analysis of data at different points in time up to the present in order to support or contradict Sellin’s findings in accordance with their own views.
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