A Latin phrase says Dura Lex Sed Lex. It means the law maybe harsh but it is still the law. It presupposes that a law is passed by the Legislature after consultation with the people. The death penalty is a law enacted by the Legislature with the consent of the people. Since the imposition of death penalty in 1976 more than 1,000 people have been executed in the United States.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 980 convicts have been executed by lethal injection, 155 by electrocution, 11 by gas chamber, 3 by hanging and 2 by firing squad (“Methods of Execution, 2009, p.1). As early as 1976, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that the imposition of death penalty does not violate the constitution. It is not a cruel and inhuman punishment as discussed in the case of Gregg v Georgia (428 US 153). Any question therefore on the constitutionality of the death penalty is already well-settled.
Despite the legal basis for imposing death penalty, some are still against it. The opponents of death penalty argue that the taking away a human life as immoral, inhumane and cruel. Should the contemporary society continue to tolerate death penalty? This essay seeks to re-evaluate the issues behind death penalty for the purpose of determining whether it still has relevance in our contemporary society.
There are a number of arguments against the imposition of death penalty. The most important arguments are that it is immoral, it has no utility and that it is irreversible. The first argument is that death penalty is simply an act of violence. Opponents of death penalty argue that there is nothing more inhumane than tolerating the killing of another human being.
They also allege that it is contrary to a state policy which respects the value of life to allow the execution of a human being as a solution to crime and violence, to wit: “legalized homicide as punishment is generally inconsistent with the values it is presumed to protect, and in a broader context is demeaning of the dignity of human life. “ (Capital Punishment: British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, p.1)
The second argument is that death penalty has no utility considering that until now there is no universal consensus that will prove that it can deter crime. The logic behind death penalty is that a person who contemplates on committing a crime against another which is punishable by death will be forced to reconsider his action. Faced with the possibility of suffering either a lethal injection or a gas chamber, the would-be murderer will be prevented from committing the crime. However, research has shown that a majority of the crimes are committed in a fit of anger. Common sense will say that if a crime is committed in a fit of rage and anger then the thought of gas chamber or lethal injection will not serve any deterrent purpose.
The third argument against death penalty is that it is irreversible and imposed unfairly (“What sways US views on death penalty: Americans favor capital punishment by a 2-to-1 edge – down from a 5-to-1 margin in the 1990s, a time of high urban crime”, 2001, p.1) Once the convicted defendant is executed, then it is over for him. Our criminal justice system is not perfect. However, it may turn out that the accused was just unlucky in the sense that he was not adequately defended by his counsel or the pieces of evidence were against him. It may turn out that he was innocent after all. Recently, in view of the improvements in DNA technology a number of convictions have been overturned.