Thirty-eight states allow the death penalty and twelve states disallow the death penalty. Like abortion, it is a hotly debated issue. The primary problem with the Death Penalty as it stands today is that it results in executing many innocents. In 1915, Joe Hill was executed and was later proven innocent. There are obviously major flaws with the system as it stands. To quote a qualified source in regards to Capital Punishment...
At this point, it would be obvious even to the most uneducated person that the Death Penalty is surely no proper system. Even if one person who was innocent was executed amongst a billion people, it is a broken system. The government thus displaces its duty from protecting the innocent citizens to outrightly executing them. If the public can be protected from convicts simply by the government stationing the convicts in prison, then surely, the convicts should be stationed in prisons.
Thus far, I have not examined the death penalty itself, but have addressed the method it has been carried out. There are large amounts of innocent people who are killed, and even to their last dying breath, they still claim their innocence. It is only after their life is snuffed out forever that we learn of their innocence. This system is largely faulty. However, thus far, I have given no opinion on the murder of a man for his past crimes. The question now arises: If a Capital Punishment system may be devised that excludes all innocents from being killed and kills only those who are guilty, are we justified in using it?
This appears now to be the question at hand. Our only consideration of ethical behavior is to conscious beings. To quote Jeremy Bentham, "The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" [*Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, chapter 17, by Jeremy Bentham.] Bentham was asking what was required by someone for them to require ethical treatment. It is obvious that the people in prison can feel suffering and that they certainly are conscious beings. However, ought they be executed?
The answer I give is a no. Even if a great Capital Punishment system comes along that does not execute any innocent beings, I find myself in utter disagreement with such a legal theory. Vengeance can never be justified. People are put into prison for the purpose of protecting the public. The pain of their victims - be they theft, murder, or rape victims - is often thoroughly described before the courts by the prosecutors that seek the Death Penalty. The accounts of their pain, suffering, and anguish are laid out in full in front of the judge and the jury. It is taken to be wrong and unethical that anyone has to suffer. Surely, then, we ought to at least consider the rights of a convict.
When a convict is standing before the electric chair or the scaffold, and when the beads of fear and sweat roll down his sad face, can anyone honestly kill this man? Although many humans may be cruel by mind and will ardently cheer, "Kill him! Kill him!" I am sure that many of them would have difficulty with actually going through with such a task. When the prosecutors are describing a crime to a jury, is it not the viciousness and cruelty of the crime that will induce a jury to secure the Death Penalty for the convict? The anguish and suffering felt by the victim is the same as the convict. A convict is certainly not someone who is so distant from being a conscious being that he feels no pain, feels no pleasure. He is as alive and conscious as any individual on this planet can be. And when a man is chained to an electric chair, and when those jolts of electricity course through his body, when the tears and sweat resurrect smells unknown, when his face is clearly expressive of his emotions, I am sure that no person could smile at such a sight, other than individuals who are pure Brutalitarians and vicious in all their pursuits. When a man suffers, either by the hand of a legal executor or just an executor, the pains and suffers are the same. It is no less a crime for the government to kill its own people than it is for people to kill each other. Both institutions are cruel. Suffering is the result of malicious and uncaring efforts. When such an institution - the Death Penalty - has caused so much suffering, who can say that it is not malicious and uncaring?
To further demonstrate my point, consider the convict's position for a moment. He committed a crime, and there's a high chance this crime was purely for a gain (although this reason is not exclusive). A rapist will most likely rape for the satisfaction that he or she gains from rape; it is a pleasure that all of us gain from sex and it is almost forbidden to admit so. A Westerner is much more content with the idea that a rapist is a foul minion from hell, rather than just another conscious being with similar desires. What of a murderer? He most likely had murdered for the sake of gain, either by looting the dead body of their adversary or for another gain. However, the fact that this murderer could be a person of emotion, full of joy and desire, pain and greed, is something rarely considered. A rapist, thief, or murderer is someone who did something for their own gain. Their crime had that incentive: gain. If this is true, which in many of the cases it proves itself true, then what can be said of the pursuit of the government to murder its own citizens? It cannot be for gain; to prosecute a convict to the point where they will be sentenced to death by a jury would take millions and millions of dollars. It cannot be for the sake of pleasure; no civilized man can be entertained by the screams of a defenseless man as he is smothered out of existence. It cannot be for the sake of protection; prisons today are effective at their job. Can it not be for the sole purpose of causing suffering? A criminal may do what he does for the sake of greed, but a state does what it does for the sake of causing suffering!
When an individual is killed and suffers, it is a cruel and vicious thing. All suffering that is avoidable must be avoided and all pain that is unnecessary should not be inflicted. To please your own vengeance by murdering someone is perhaps the most cruel and merciless action I have yet to witness. They may say it is peace of mind, but this is nothing but a sick lie. "To hear those screams, to see those tears, to know they suffer, to see their face ball up into a mess of pain," -- a victim's relative may state, "And after seeing that, I am glad that the man who did this to my relative has paid for their crime!" Would someone truly call that "peace of mind"? Knowing that their determination knowingly had led to the eventual death and execution of an individual, and to see them die horrifically? Until ending their sentence by expressing happiness at suffering, one may well have believed that this relative was speaking about how the victim had died. But it is not so! The relative is describing the death of the criminal in such gory accounts that it would make anyone wince with sympathy. But then to hear that it was the criminal and not the victim the relative was being described, would it truly eradicate all sentiments of sympathy? This is something no educated person can deny: a conscious being is a conscious being, capable of feeling like any conscious being, and someone's past crimes do not erase this fact, no matter how much an ignorant person wishes to blind himself or a how much a cruel person fails to care.
Does the death of a convict avenge the death of a victim? It certainly does not bring back the victim, nor does it relinquish the pains and sufferings caused by the convict. In the end, it is a fruitless pursuit. I do not see how soiling the ground with the blood of a convict can make ANYONE feel that they have achieved anything other than another death. A person may say they disbelieve in vengeance, but believe in justice, but when their pursuits are for the sole sake of killing a harmless individual for a crime, it is the same atrocity with two different names. To kill an individual who still posses a threat to society when no other option is available is acceptable, but to kill an individual who is completely harmless and posses no threat at all is the greatest of all crimes. It is injustice. It is the root of a vice. It is the enjoyment of pain. It is the sadism of a torturer. It is everything to be despised by any who hold value in compassion and it is everything to be loved by any who hold value in cruelty.
There are no secrets or tricks in the Death Penalty. Nothing is hidden. When you buy a Nike shoe, you do not see the suffering of the Indonesian Wage slaves. When you buy a hamburger, you do not see the suffering of the animals who gave their lives at the hand of brutal treatment so you could consume it. And when you steal someone's items while they're absent, you do not see them enraged by your actions. These are crimes without compassion because they are founded on ignorance. But with the system of a Death Penalty, nothing is hidden. Someone's relative was killed: they get to see in exact and precise detail how the murder happened. They get to see the wounds, the flesh marks, the cuts, the bullet wounds, the lacerations, the blood, the gore. These are all things shown to the relative. And from these experiences, this relative is tantamount to developing an attitude that the death of one life avenges another, cruelty for cruelty, an eye for an eye, or - in effect - that life means nothing. From these experiences, any normal individual would come to the conclusion that life means something, that it holds value, and that suffering is wrong and should be avoided entirely. It should build a bond between this relative and compassion, unbreakable till death. To see such painful sights, one would naturally come to the conclusion that this is wrong. But in the time of such emotional trauma and distress, many come to the opposite conclusion: vengeance. After seeing such pain, they wish to cause more, and it is something only a brutal or ignorant person could do. Who smiles when they see someone murdered? Who laughs when another cries? Who can honestly feel their heart warmed as another's is destroyed? Only cruel and ignorant individuals can do such things.
Society claims one life. The state retorts by claiming another life. Is this a conceivable concept of justice? I would hope not. But in our age, like any other age, individuals are brutal and cruel. When given no limitation - and when encouraged by the media and the state prosecutors - they will forget compassion and embrace cruelty, under the name of "justice." The Death Penalty allows the destruction of a life for the sake of nothingness. Perhaps it is the sake to warm hearts, but only an ignorant heart has a violent voice. A lack of kinship with fellow creatures will slowly degrade to the state of murder, and the Death Penalty is simply legalized murder. After a thorough examination of the Death Penalty, I can state with firmness that I find nothing of it appealing or attractive; some will say I am biased, but cruelty is not a virtue in my book. From the initial crime, to the eventual death of a convict, for the sake for vengeance and a desire to cause suffering, and with finality a glimmering smile of those fought for the Death Penalty, seeing the criminal die for the death of their beloved one. There is nothing more revealing of the cruel, barbaric, brutal, ignorant, and dogmatic mind state of today than this institution of the Death Penalty; it seeks to cause so much misery for the sole pursuit of creating suffering.