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There are some words that often return when we defend the death penalty: justice and human dignity. These words also constitute a foundation for that which is called democracy and civilization. These two realities can also be regarded as two bearing pillars in the defense of capital punishment.
Justice is a highly regarded word in society and in politics, but within the judicial system and that which concerns crime and punishment, justice has, both as a word and as a conception, ended up existing in the shadows. People want to lift forth this truth in the light, since justice should be the foundation within the legal system. When the death penalty is discussed the aspect of justice should be allowed in the foreground first and foremost.
Man has an inviolable dignity and, therefore, deserves the highest respect. Human dignity and respect, not foremost for the one who hurts his fellowman but for the victims of crimes and his relatives, is something that should be brought forth considerably more than today, and especially in connection with the death penalty. But the prerequisite for that is that sympathy and solidarity with the victim should increase in society. In order to rightly value the death penalty it is necessary to have empathy and understanding for all the victims and their relatives.
The capital punishment makes up one link on the way to a safer society. The capital punishment means that some heinous criminals never again will walk on the streets, and that makes the society a somewhat safer place.
Murderers and violent criminals will always exist in society and the death penalty will only lower the number of criminals marginally. It is inevitable, however, that every violent criminal less that exists in a society will mean a safer society. A prison term on the other hand would mean that there would always be a pressing dark cloud of worries over a society.
Also, in prisons the interns and personnel would feel safer with the death penalty. It is not unusual with conflicts, violence and murder in prison. Some interns who have been sentenced to long prison terms or lifetime would probably deter from cruel acts of violence and murder if they knew that it could lead to the death penalty. Today, on the other hand, he who has been sentenced to lifetime in prison cannot be sentenced too much more and, therefore, he would probably neither be deterred from committing further crimes.
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Death penalty like a strong thunderstorm, declares to the criminal his evil and immoral act. The capital punishment, thereby, makes up the strongest moral declaration a society can make to show what crimes are horrible. At the same time, the death penalty, more than any other punishment, declares that the criminal is a moral person with responsibilities.
Something that follows justice is punishment, and behind the punishment there is dislike, or it can also be called wrath. The wrath of society in view of the violent criminal’s or the murderer’s ravings, is proof that our concern, sympathy and compassion towards afflicted people is living and true. A society that does not react over the ravages of the violent criminal has lost some of its true humanity and its humane feeling, and it is natural if such a cold society does not understand or accept the capital punishment. The capital punishment is namely the most powerful way a society can show how much it respects, values and feels with its afflicted citizens.
Already nearly four thousand years ago these words were written: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (The Bible, Genesis 9:6.) Whether one believes that the words come from a god or not, these words testify of an ancient sense of justice, which in turn testifies of the view of the high value of man that has existed far back in the history of humanity. There is something within people that instinctively says that man has such a value, dignity and greatness that one who murders, does not deserve to live. This natural intuition of the heart is something we need to confirm and cherish.
If a state governed by law values man, the victim of a crime, with the highest respect, then it becomes natural with the death penalty for murderers and violent criminals. In a deeper sense, therefore, the capital punishment is actually about the human value.
A violent criminal and a murderer should never be allowed to get away from the ultimate justice by pointing to his ‘inviolable value.’ He has brutally and without respect tried to crush the value of other people. Then compensation has to be made and justice administered (Stanford Law Review).
There is no greater crime on earth than when a man takes a fellowman’s life. A person cannot be violated in a more brutal way. Human value cannot be more despised in a more drastic way. A murderer gives his victim a horrible punishment: never to see the light of the sun again, never hear the birds sing, never again feel the sent of the rose, never again hear the voice of a loved one, never again stroke the baby’s cheek, never again spend time with friends, never again smile at the nice and beautiful in life.
Of course, the capital punishment is not a cure that will completely remove all of this - the pain will remain. However, when a death penalty is carried out it still means a clear and decisive turning point for many, towards greater inner peace and health for the soul. Inner peace will also become the obvious consequence in someone’s soul, when one understands and feels that justice has been administered through a death penalty. His/her heart will always feel uneasy if they know that a violent criminal and murderer never receive the punishment they deserve.
When the death penalty is carried out there is a decisive end to the deed of the criminal. This means that a decisive step has been taken, especially for most of the victims. Someone, who has caused so much worry and pain is gone. This becomes a concrete step on the road to greater inner peace. When the murder is sentenced to a lifetime in prison, there is a constant reminder for the victim, the relatives and the rest of the society that after a time the perpetrator will be free again, and the crime will, therefore, remain as an open and bloody wound that never cease to cause pain.
It is difficult to find really valid arguments against the death penalty. The abolitionists are likely to use emotional expressions and quick-witted slogans when they attack the death penalty. However, if one is able to remain calm when listening to the speeches about it being ‘barbaric’ and ‘uncivilized’ and seriously examines them, he will find that it is easy to see that the attacks are in actuality, often shallow and frail (Stanford Law Review).
It is clear that the central ideas such as justice, human value, solidarity and democracy are something that legitimizes the capital punishment. When the death penalty is discussed these humane ideas have to be placed in the limelight and be discussed in relation to the victims and their relatives. If this takes place, there is no argument against the death penalty that can shake the position of the death penalty as a legitimate and civilized method of punishment.
Jeff Jacoby, Executions Save Lives, 1978
John Stuart Mill, Speech In Favor of Capital Punishment, article, 1999
Punishment and the Death Penalty, Robert M. Baird, 1995
Capital Punishment, Stanford Law Review, Nov. 1988