Capital Punishment

Throughout centuries, capital punishment has been a disputable means of punishing the criminals. Even nowadays, the scholars search for the evidence that would prove the effectiveness of such a penalty against the felonies. This paper is based on the analysis of the three peer-reviewed articles related to the issue of capital punishment as a non-justified legal mean of decreasing the crime level. The purpose of this paper is to review the researches that prove the minor role of such a penalty in deterring or encouraging the crimes in the USA. It is not effective in terms of creating an exterior influence on the citizens’ actions being widely informed with the help of mass media. Additionally, the ethical aspects as the inner coordination of the decision to implement capital punishment are regarded from the perspective of the social-legal sciences opposition. The review concludes that from the historical, legal, and ethical perspectives, little evidence proves the appropriateness of the capital punishment in the struggle against felonies.

Capital punishment has been a timely issue throughout the centuries as the most effective means of preventing further crimes. Such a way of punishment ensures that the killed abuser will not be able to commit more crimes. However, the question of the capital punishment efficiency with regard to the deterrence of the new criminals is quite disputable. The crimes deterrence can be caused by a number of means that may be divided into the interior and exterior ones. In such a way, capital punishment and its exposition to the wider public through mass media are related to the exterior influence on the general citizens and potential offenders. The interior influence is mostly related to morality and ethical norms taught since childhood; they are associated with the generally accepted rules of the society. Therefore, in order to find out the most effective means of decreasing the felony crime level in the country, it is necessary to consider the deeper roots of the moral and ethical norms throughout the history and analyze the dependence of the crime rate on the interior and exterior influences on a person.


One of the quite informative works about the capital punishment advantages and disadvantages was written by Peterson and Bailey (1991). Even though it focused the objective laws and rules of the end of the 20th century instead of the modern society, it provided a valuable background based on the practical researches and outlined the possible areas of capital punishment effects on the criminals’ behavior. In order to find out the cause-and-effect relations between the offenders’ behavior and capital homicide, it is essential to be sure about the human awareness of the penalty. Therefore, the television coverage of the criminal cases and further trials and verdicts were taken as the necessary variable that ensured the awareness of the abusers. Therefore, this paper analyzes the data taken from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and aims to find the relation between the murder rates, capital punishment, and the awareness of people raised by the means of television.

Regardless being dated back to 1991 and even earlier, the timeliness of this paper is predetermined by the fact that the views of the researchers and criminal justice representatives on the effectiveness of the capital punishment has always been quite disputable even until nowadays. Therefore, the practical studies are essential not solely for the additional information but also for the ability to use them as a part of the data that would be compared.

The research by Peterson and Bailey (1991) considered two possible arguments for the capital punishment: deterrence and brutalization. As a result, both were proven to be invalid. The scholars did not find any strong relation between the deterrent effects, people’s awareness, and crimes execution. Additionally, the types of the felony crimes did not depend on the information from the television and capital punishment fear. The period that was analyzed in the article reported no changes in the murder rates depending on the influence on the audience through television. Even though the number of the executions during the period was quite small (only one-third of the execution cases was presented to the wider public), the interdependence of the two variables showed the null results.

The study also presented the two cases that were not explained properly based on the offered variables. First, it marked the growth in the execution of the vehicle thieves that could be associated with the generally greater number of the executions. At the same time, the cases of sentencing the non-deserving people to death accused of the narcotics murders could be also associated with the higher number of the executions represented on television. 

The study, definitely, had some limitations. Firstly, it was out-of-date and related only to the limited period of time, which was 1976-1987. However, it can be used as the background historical information or a part of the comparative analysis in the further investigations. In addition, the results are limited by the fact that the number of the executions covered on TV could not contribute to the citizens’ awareness, as it was quite small. Moreover, the variances in the regional statistics and cases representations make it necessary to have a common study that would be related to the regional and state division of the results. Finally, the authors stated that some of the felony cases in different states were missing, at all. Therefore, in the case the detailed information on some states is necessary, the mentioned above article is hardly useful. Nevertheless, it is sound to provide general evidence in order to prove that the mentioned period was obviously not marked by any strong influence on the murders rate on the government part. It also concluded that, on the national level, the capital punishment and its representation to the citizens on television neither deterred nor encouraged the crimes. In fact, such conclusions necessitate a deeper investigation in other spheres of the possible influences.

Another work that deserves particular attention is Haney and Logan’s research (1994). The central issue considered in the article is the opposition between the legislation and social sciences in terms of the capital punishment implementation. The issue is considered through the major prisms that were relevant for research in the area of social sciences at different times. However, the authors focused primarily on the social sciences’ influence on the process of making the court decision. Numerous academic papers concerning ethical issues of the capital punishment implementation and statistical data that served as an illustrative material in examining certain issues provided a source material for the research. A general conclusion of the state explains the need for the future research in the field of capital punishment, as far as the social sciences have constantly had to overcome the clashes with the U.S. legislation, which was often neglected.

The paper analyzes a number of cases that are of a great value in terms of the analysis of establishing the conceptual relations between the legislature and social sciences. The principles of deciding on these cases were illustrative of the point of using the findings of social sciences in the decision-making process. Therefore, it is possible to say that the sources used in the article were highly relevant for this research. The article about capital punishment is doomed to be impregnated with the ethical dilemmas. However, the authors managed to consolidate the principles of previous research into a logical and concise structure. This step seems to have allowed Haney and Logan (1994) to distance from the boiling point of the ethical conundrum and provide the reader with a robust structure that helped analyze the reasons and principles of the altering legislation according to the findings in the field of social sciences.

The conflict between the legislature and results of research in terms of effects, advantages, and disadvantages is predetermined by the contradiction between the reasons for abolishing the capital punishment and reality. First, regarding the principle of the growing decency of society, it seems appropriate to mention that the criteria of decency itself might be rather controversial. Although the society might express strong opposition to the capital punishment, it is quite possible that in one or another case, it will take a different, opposite point of view. Certain reluctance in taking this principle into consideration seems to be conditioned by the fact that the law and court procedures cannot be changed on every whim of collective mind. In this case, the future statistic research, which will prove the point of the majority being strongly against capital punishment, is required. In the case the data are persuasive and consistent, the principle might be taken into consideration.

Another controversial issue is the fitness of a person to be executed. The application of the principle focused the cases, in which the defendants were either juvenile or mentally impaired. The reason for such a controversy also lies in the inaccuracy of criteria. Therefore, while judging the juvenile, how is it possible to differ between the psychological development of a 15, 16, and 17-year-old person? Moreover, if one turns to the cases, in which the mentally disabled people committed a felony, one will see an implementation of the idea of the mental age in practice, but no explanation of how it is measured are provided. It is questionable whether there is a unified scale for checking the results of the test. The answers to these questions cause further hesitation and require a more precise justification of the validity of the principle.

The aspect of deterrence of capital punishment also appears to be questionable. If one considers the mentioned above groups of society, it will become more understandable why this principle is not widely implemented today. It is possible to say that the capital punishment of a teenager has a great degree of deterrence and might lead to a decrease in the juvenile delinquency. However, execution of a mentally disabled person might lack not only deterrence but also humanity. Other factors take into consideration the diminished racial prejudice and justification of the number of the death penalty jury. The latter factor needs to be thoroughly analyzed not only on the basis of legislation but also with the consideration of psychological and ideological belongings of the jurors. The discrimination, however, should be brought to a minimal level. In such a manner, the Afro-Americans and White people should be judged on the equal terms, with the consequences based only on the crime level and its circumstances. 

In general, the paper provides a profound insight into the issue of the capital punishment by contrasting the principles of legislation and findings of the social scientists. Therefore, the combination of these features may lead to the positive changes not only in the legislature but also in society, in general. However, it is necessary to consider the limitation of the study – the date of the research. Therefore, the further investigations in the same area during the last two decades need to be analyzed.

The work by Steiker and Stetker (2010) focuses the more recent data than both of the previous articles did. This work studies and covers the history of capital punishment in the USA, specifically making emphasis on the debates about the ethical involvements of the death penalty. In 1909, there was a case covering the lynching of a black man, Ed Johnson, in a county trial because he raped a white woman. The authors considered the case in order to study the suggestions of U.S. Supreme Court on the capital punishment in the past and contrast it to the present days’ situation. The capital punishment is debated and covered as a cure to the practice of lynching. The authors conclude that the debates on this topical issue have been more or less static. Therefore, it is crucial to regard capital punishment in different periods in the U.S. history as a discontinuous process in order to define the key aspects of its appropriateness or irrelevance. 

In the 19th century, abolitionists discussed the cause of capital punishment. Later on, criminologists alleged that the death penalty was as a necessary tool or preventative measure used to regulate the social policy. However, there are discussions about the possibility to control capital punishment in a compatible with justice way. People, who support the sentence of capital punishment, mostly believe that it can be possible to shape the laws and procedures in order to guarantee that only the offenders who adequately deserve that death penalty are executed. They also claim that it has a deterrent impact on the really violent offenders because the threat of imprisonment is not a sufficient punishment for them. On the other side, the opponents claim that the death penalty is not a more effective sentence than the long-term imprisonment. They believe that the application of the capital punishment proves that any similar attempt to outline some types of crime, which deserve the sentence of the death penalty, will be arbitrary. There are some factors, according to which they hope to ensure that the death penalty can be applied on a fair basis. They confirm that the poor people and representatives of different ethnic and religious minorities often do not have a proper legal aid. The opponents also highlight the fact that in some cases, the racial prejudice provokes the white juries to sentence black people to the capital punishment. It causes that some people can be sentenced for crimes that they did not commit, at all. The last factor is that the appeal process for the death penalty is prolonged. Therefore, people sentenced to death can be forced to sustain a long uncertainty about their further fate. 

There is some empirical evidence that can suggest that capital punishment has both a proper and irrevocable deterrent impact on the offenders, who have committed the crimes. However, it is an extremely subjective point of view that has some pragmatic grounds in terms of the moral, ethic, political, and social reasons. Some people believe that a great number of crimes failed to harm society and was adequate in a healthy society that stresses the ideas of the right and wrong. These ideas are confirmed by the existence of such phenomena as the crime and punishment. Therefore, it reflects an obvious result of the common morality. One can understand that without it, any rules would lack the meaning. Still, some consider that the main aim of the criminal code is to prohibit the conduct that unjustifiably assails or threatens firm harm to the individuals or to the society that does not counterpart with the abovementioned statement, unfolds the natural law that any refusal is to be punished according to the law. The society should be protected in order to guarantee the freedom of a person. 

To sum it up, the mentioned above review considers the legal and ethical aspects of the capital punishment in the US. The ethical and legal aspects are regarded as an essential part in defining the appropriateness and effectiveness of the capital punishment as the means to deter the felony crimes. With regard to a number of examples and historical overview, it is obvious that the cases differ and demand attention to particular details. However, capital punishment is more often associated with the unfair or ineffective way of deterring or punishing for the crimes.


Oct 24, 2019 in Research
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