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PCP: Death penalty ineffective, immoral

Kevin Griffin

The following is part of a Point / Counter-Point that discusses the death penalty in light of the series of programs on campus addressing capital punishment.

Read the counter-point here.


Kevin GriffinThe death penalty is an essential topic to society, because justice is an essential part of society.

But to me, capital punishment has little to do with justice.

The death penalty is not fair, just or equitable, and evidence, logic and morality all support this position.

Those who defend capital punishment tend to cite the moral high of defending the interest of victims. After all, it’s only common sense murdering murderers is the only real justice for murder victims, and that the death penalty will stop more murders later.

These arguments, in addition to the dependable appeals to religious morality, are all the pro-death penalty side has. And all these arguments are heavily flawed.

The idea the death penalty deters crime has been debunked for the most part. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 88 percent of criminologists reject the link between capital punishment and deterrence.

A casual look at the correlation between states with the death penalty and murder rates should only drive home the point that executions do not have an appreciable effect on murder rate. The Death Penalty Information Center proves states that enforce capital punishment have the highest murder rates.

If you think about why murders happen, these findings make sense. Look at the main causes of murder: compulsive serial killers, crimes of passion and arrogant criminal masterminds who expect never to be caught. Deterrence assumes a rational fear of punishment that does not occur in many cases.

The most disturbing arguments for capital punishment are the moral ones.

Most moral arguments for the death penalty accept the idea that the taking of “an eye for an eye” is justice.

From this comes the dangerous and destructive idea that justice and vengeance are the same. So many death penalty arguments rely on the idea that the state should exercise vengeance on behalf of individuals.


This mindset completely distorts the purpose of justice. Justice by its nature has to be detached so that everyone gets fair treatment. The guarantee is not that one gets to decide justice, but that standards of justice will be exercised on one’s behalf.

My moral position is simple: killing a person for reasons other than immediate self-defense is unjustifiable. Once a criminal has been detained, we as a society have no more the right to kill him or her as the criminal did over the victim.

We should all remember that the urge to kill, even when sometimes justified, is always barbaric.

Griffin, a freshman journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.

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