Essay, Research Paper: Capital Punishment And Church

Legal Issues

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Crime is inevitably one of the biggest problems that faces the modern world
today. It can be found all over the world, whether in large cities or small
villages. Over time, society has tried to find ways to deal with crime. Such
methods include community service, paying a fine serving some time in prison,
and in the case of more serious crimes, the death penalty. This is the case in
some states in the U.S. where persons have been executed for aggravated assault,
rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, sabotage and espionage. Advocates for capital
punishment feel that it deters criminals from committing crime and that if the
criminal is not executed, the risk later extends to the community as such
persons may escape or be pardoned or paroled. Although believers in the death
penalty feel that it deters people from committing violent crime and is a
variable solution for protecting society , capital punishment is immoral, it
cannot be proved to be a deterrent, it violates the principle of double effect,
it is often applied with inequities, is condemned by the Church as heresy, and
should be eradicated. Before an actual argument in favour of the eradication of
the death penalty it is important to define what capital punishment actually is.
Capital punishment is the execution of a criminal under death sentence imposed
by competent public authority. It is derived from the Roman word,
"caput", meaning the head, the life or the civil rights of an
individual. Unlike the revenge of a single person, this penalty is a
manifestation of the communities will to vindicate its laws and systems of
justice. The death penalty was used in ancient times as well. The earliest
historical records contain evidence of capital punishment. It was mentioned in
the Code of Hammurabi, a collection of laws and edicts by Babylonian king
Hammurabi that date from the first half of the 18th century BC. The Bible
prescribed death as the penalty for more than 30 different crimes, ranging from
murder to fornication "Whoever hits a man and kills him is to be put to
death."( Exodus 21:12) The Draconian Code of ancient Greece imposed capital
punishment for every offense. It also existed in the legal codes of the Ancient
Middle Eastern Kingdoms. These codes commonly prescribed death for murder,
religious and sexual offenses. The Israelites listed capital crimes as homicide,
bearing false witness in a capital charge, kidnapping, insult or injury to
parent, sexual immortality, magic, idolatry, blasphemy and sacrilege. During the
reigns of King Canute and William the Conqueror in the 11th century AD, the
death penalty was not used in England. However, the results of interrogation and
torture were often fatal. By the end of the 15th century, English law recognized
seven major crimes: treason (grand and petty), murder, larceny, burglary, rape,
and arson. By 1800 more than 200 capital crimes were recognized, and as a
result, 1000 or more individuals were sentenced to death each year (although
most sentences were commuted by royal pardon). In the American colonies before
the Revolution, the death penalty was commonly authorized for a wide variety of
crimes. African Americans, whether slave or free, were threatened with death for
many crimes that were punished less severely when committed by whites. In the
early days if death was prescribed, the sentence was often carried out by
stoning hanging, beheading, strangulation or burning at the stake. Today, there
are different methods of execution such as the electric chair, the gas chamber,
lethal injection or death before a firing squad. All of the methods of
executions above are all highly immoral. Not only are they brutal and savage,
but they are destroying the person’s basic human good of life, therefore,
violating the principle of morality or moral action. This principle states that
when freely choosing human goods and avoiding what is opposed to them, one
should choose in a way that does not directly damage, destroy or impede any one
of the basic human goods in one’s self or in others. The basic human good of
life refers simply to the preservation of life and to various aspects of health,
safety and the removal of pain. It is relatively obvious to see, that killing a
criminal his basic human good is being destroyed. It is easy to say, it is easy
to say "he/she is a criminal and deserves the death sentence", but
he/she is still a human being, and Human life is sacred because from its
beginning it involves ‘the creation of God’, and it remains forever in a
special relationship with the creator…[N]o one can in any circumstance, claim
for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being. (Pope John
Paul II, 94) Furthermore, God himself proclaims that He is the absolute Lord of
the life of man, who is formed in His image, giving human life a sacred and
inviolable character. As far as the right to life is concerned, every human
being is equal to all others by virtue of the simple fact that they are humans
and nothing else. Similar to the right to life, advocates of the death penalty
feel that it deters criminals and potential criminals from committing violent
crimes, thus lengthening their own lives, and the lives of others. There is a
problem, however, with this line of thinking because all of the empirical
evidence is ambiguous and can have alternative explanations. For example, during
the 1980’s, the states that employed the death penalty averaged seven and a
half homicides per one hundred thousand people, while eradication states
averaged just under seven and a half homicides per one hundred thousand people.
There is no solid evidence that capital punishment deters crime. In fact
majority of the police chiefs surveyed all across America feel that the death
penalty is not to be a effective deterrent. In some cases, the death penalty may
have the opposite effect altogether. For example, in England, when public
hanging was the punishment for a pickpocket, the other pickpockets found it a
good time to pick pockets when everyone’s attention was on the pickpocket
being hanged. Those who believe in capital punishment think that "…[a]
would-be murderer [would] think twice before taking a life if he [knew] that he
may well forfeit his own in doing so." (Sorell,32-33) This theory makes
sense, but it is hard to prove because it assumed that all criminals use
rational thought. It excludes those who murder in a fit of passion, or those who
plan to kill others and themselves . Other things besides the death penalty
could cause more murders, for example, tensions within families, or factors as
diverse as adultery and unemployment. Advocates also argued at unless murders
are execute they might some day be free to kill again and others may be tempted
to kill. With this philosophy, a human life is intentionally taken as a means of
achieving a hoped for but uncertain end, a reduction in deadly crime. The end,
deterrence, justifies the evil means execution. This is a violation of the
principal of double effect. The principle of double effect is a principle that
recognizes that moral decisions often have two effects, a good one and a bad
one. In order to obtain the good we must have no choice but to tolerate the bad
one. Self-defense is a good example to illustrate how the principle works. The
good defender intends that removal of deadly force that is threatening his/her
life. This is inseparably linked to the evil that he/she must commit, which is
the death of a person. This principle, however, does not apply when the state
executes a criminal for murder or another capital offense, but first we must
distinguish between two parts of good and evil effects. First, both effects,
neither of which causes the other, resolved from a single act or procedure.
Secondly, the evil effect produces or induces the good means to an end. When the
second part is examined, it is important to realize that "…a good end, no
matter how compelling, never justifies an evil means. Never, in other words may
[one fundamental human good] be intentionally sacrificed… for the sake of
another" (Campbell,17). Only in the first case can the principle of double
effect be invoked. Capital punishment is similar to the second case. It violates
the principle in that through evil means, the execution of a human being, can a
good end, the protection of the common good, be obtained. Another example how
the principle of double effect works can be shown through a person who has a
deadly tumor in his leg which must be removed, but may cause a problem with
mobility. The procedure, there for, has two effect the preservation of life
which is intended, and the crippling which is not intended. In this case,
neither effect causes the other, but both are a result of the operation. One
good, mobility, is denied by which another is affirmed, life. The benefit must
be proportional to the harm. It would be wrong, however, to give consent to a
procedure that cripples in order to attain money because the good end must not
be obtained through evil means. The principle of double effect is similar to the
argument that stresses the whole is greater than the part. For example, there is
a hockey team with great potential, but there is one selfish player that hogs
the puck, takes stupid penalty’s, and takes long shifts. The selfish player
must be dropped from the team in order for the team to progress, even though it
means playing with one less player until they get use to it. I is not, however,
a mater of obtaining a good end through an evil means, but rather curtailing the
same team we intend to help. This makes the death penalty seem just, wrong. Once
this criminal is behind bars, he is no longer an immediate threat to the larger
part of the community, and therefore, the death penalty serves no purpose. The
purpose of the death penalty is to "… redress the disorder caused by the
offense." (Catechism, para.2266) This is done by public authority when they
impose an adequate punishment for the crime. It is hard to defend these
executions on the grounds of simple retribution. Those who advocate capital
punishment for murder on retributive grounds must face the objection that
sometimes the death penalty is more inadequate. For example, how does in the
electric chair, gas chamber or firing squad match as retribution given the
savage, brutal, heedless characters of so many murders. If the idea of lex
talionis, "a life for a life", were to be embraced literally, then
those who believed in the death penalty would bind themselves as cruel and
savage as the criminals they are executing. Perhaps even worse, is the fact that
they would be doing this through the light of reason where as a criminal commits
such crimes "…impulsively or in hatred and anger or with an insane or
unbalanced mind." (Bedau, 246) For there to be an equivalence, the death
penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at
which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward,
had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in
private life (Bedau, 247) Life imprisonment, on the other hand, does fit the
crime of murder and can even be claimed to be the proper one because it is
retributive, but not in the literal sense of the lex talionis. Another way in
which the death penalty has been applied with inequities is that all
sociological evidence points to the conclusion that the death penalty is poor
man’s justice. They either have poor defense at trial; they have no money to
bring helping witness’ to trial; no funds for an appeal or for a transcript of
the trial record; or they are strangers in the community in which they are being
tried. Capital punishment is also radically sensitive. "every study for the
death penalty for rape (unconstitutional only since 1977) has confirmed that
black male rapists (especially where the victim is a white female) are far more
likely to be sentenced to death than a white male rapists." (Bedau,247-248)
similar studies show that black murderers are more likely to end up on
"death row" than other killers. Even killers of whites rather than
non-whites , are more likely to end up on "death row". Persons are
executed not because they are found to be uncontrollably violent or likely to
escape, but because they are victims of prejudice and discrimination. A
punishment as severe as death should be fairly enforced and applied if it is to
be used. The use of the death penalty was condemned by Pope John Paul II last
year in Missouri in front of one hundred thousand people. He even urged the
people to spare even those who commit "great evil". According to the
Pope, "modern society has the means of protecting itself without definitely
denying criminals the to change to reform."( the star, Jan. 28/99) What he
was really doing, however, was "…renew[ing] the appeal [he] made most
recently at Christmas (1999) for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is
both cruel and unnecessary." (the star, Jan. 28/99) He declared that
"the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of
someone who has done great evil." (the star, Jan.28/99) The Church strongly
believes that " if bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives
against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons,
public authority must limit each other to such means…" (Catechism,
para.2267) Not only is the death penalty cruel and unnecessary, but it is also a
grave act of disobedience to the moral law and to God Himself, the creator of
the Law. Does the fifth commandment not forbid directly and intentionally
killing a human being on the grounds that all life is sacred ? it does, and all
those who do advocate the direct and intentional killing of a criminal are
sinners in the eyes of the Church. In short, the Pope established the Church’s
position on the controversial issue of capital punishment in saying that
"[He] confirm[s] that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human
being is always gravely immoral." (Pope John Paul II, 101) although the
death penalty may seem to be excellent solution for deterring violent crime and
protecting society, it is quite obvious that it is immoral, has no empirical
evidence to support the fact that it may be a deterrent. It violates the
principle of double effect, is often applied with inequities , and is condemned
by the Church and the Pope as heresy. Rehabilitation and life-long incarceration
are two effective solutions to the problem that has been facing the whole world
for centuries. Unfortunately there is no way to bring about a complete halt to
violent crimes, but measures can be taken to ensure that the punishments are
morally upright and acceptable.

BibliographyJohn Paul II, Pope. The Gospel of Life = Evangelium Vitae. New York: Random
House, 1995 Steins, Richard. The Death Penalty: Is It Justice ?. New York:
Twentieth Century Books, © 1993 Bedau, Hugo Adam. Miscarriages of Justice in
Potentially Capital Cases./Michael L. Radelet. [Stanford, Calif.: S.N.], ©1987
Wekesser, Carol. The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, Calif.:
Greenhaven Press,©1991 Tushnet, Mark V.. The Death Penalty. New York, NY: Facts
File, ©1994 Sorell, Tom. The Cambridge Companion To Hobbes. Cambridge:
Cambridge University, 1996 Schabas, William. The Abolition of the Death Penalty
in International Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997 Baird, Robert
M. & Rosenbaum, Stuart E.. Punishment and the Death Penalty: The Current
Debate. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, ©1995
issues Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1193-1998 Microsoft
Corporation. All rights Reserved Catechism of the Catholic Church/ Austin
Flannery,. O.P.copyright©1992, Costello Publishing Company Inc.
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