The global opinion on the death penalty varies in different regions and nations around the world
The global opinion on the death penalty varies in different regions and nations around the world. While some areas have limited information on the topic, due to their own governmental differences, this paper is structured to inform the reader on the background information and the general history of the topic, the current issues that the death penalty is facing, globally, and this writer’s own opinion on the matter. The death penalty is a legal way to punish a convicted criminal of the capital crime they committed, by execution.
We can date the first death penalty laws as far back as the 18th Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, which “codified the death penalty for 25 different crimes. The death penalty was also part of the Fourteenth Century B.C.’s Hittite Code; in the Seventh Century B.C.’s Draconian Code of Athens, which made death the only punishment for all crimes; and in the Fifth Century B.C.’s Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets” (Part I). These deaths were often executed by “crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, and impalement” (Part I).
A century after hanging was considered the most commonly used form of execution, William the Conqueror decided he “would not allow persons to be hanged or otherwise executed for any crime, except in times of war” (Part I). Some of the usual methods of execution at that time were “boiling, burning at the stake, hanging, beheading, and drawing and quartering. Executions were carried out for such capital offenses as marrying a Jew, not confessing to a crime, and treason” (Part I). During this time in England, 222 crimes were punishable by death—including stealing, cutting down a tree, and robbing a rabbit warren. Many juries wouldn’t even convict defendants if the offense was not deemed serious enough because of how severe some of these executions were. After another century or so, Britain’s death penalty had initiated reforms which “eliminated 100 of the 222 crimes punishable by death” (Part I).
The death penalty has long been a topic for governments and the people to debate for various reasons. Though there is a lot of back-and-forth discussion about this, when I completed my research, it appears that most people, globally, believe the death penalty is immoral and they are against it.
Cesare Beccaria wrote an essay titled On Crimes and Punishment, and it has had a tremendous impact throughout multiple nations in the world. In the essay, Beccaria stated that there was no reason for the “state’s taking of a life”. This essay effected people by giving most the motivation and gumption to take action against the executions. In one case, both “Austria and Tuscany decided to abolish the death penalty” (Part I).
Beccaria had influenced us here in America, too. Our first attempt of reforming the death penalty took place when Thomas Jefferson introduced a bill to revise Virginia’s death penalty laws, which proposed that capital punishment only be used for those who commit murder and treason. The bill lost by one single vote though.
Also influenced by Beccaria was Dr. Benjamin Rush, “a signer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the Pennsylvania Prison Society” (Part I). Rush believed that the death penalty actually increased criminal conduct. With those thoughts, he gained the support of both Philadelphia Attorney General William Bradford and Benjamin Franklin and led Pennsylvania to become the “first state to consider degrees of murder based on culpability” (Part I). Toward the end of the 1700s, the state of Pennsylvania repealed the death penalty for all offenses except first degree murder.
“In Furman v. Georgia (1972), Justice Marshall reasoned that American citizens know almost nothing about death penalty, and that information on its issues and limits “would almost surely convince the average citizen that the death penalty was unwise,” except perhaps for those who support capital punishment for retributivist reasons” (Public Opinion on the Death Penalty). This suggests that Americans typically aren’t educated about the death penalty, which I can believe because not everyone sits down and learns about it. These educational limits are exposed when people are confronted with evidence on the lack of effectiveness of the capital punishment “as a deterrent and the risk of executing innocent people” (Public Opinion on the Death Penalty).
According to the article on public opinions about the death penalty, “the risk of executing innocent people has a significant impact on respondents’ views on the death penalty. In China, 43.7% of those who were undecided or favored the death penalty stated that they would oppose it if there were proof of wrongful executions” (Public Opinion on the Death Penalty). In Malawi, the traditional leaders had a general consensus of distrust in the criminal justice system. They believed that it was possible that innocent people were sentenced to death because of the death penalty. Malawians had actually seen how individuals could change with time, and how they could be rehabilitated even after committing violent crimes also. They spoke of how “prisoners formerly sentenced to death had become leaders in their communities, often pitching in to build schools, repair roads, and support family members by farming” (Public Opinion on the Death Penalty). While this has been proven that people can change, most criminals convicted of extremely violent crimes do not “change”, they merely are held in a supervised prison cell and have limited access and ability to commit another crime.
Opposing views have continuously made the argument that the death penalty is not immoral, but rather a justice served. According to Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette in their article “Why the Death Penalty Is Still Necessary”, they solidified their stance clearly: “We reserve the death penalty in the United States for the most heinous murders and the most brutal and conscienceless murderers. This is not, as some critics argue, a kind of state-run lottery that randomly chooses an unlucky few for the ultimate penalty from among all those convicted of murder. Rather, the capital punishment system is a filter that selects the worst of the worst… Put another way, to sentence killers like those described above to less than death would fail to do justice because the penalty – presumably a long period in prison – would be grossly disproportionate to the heinousness of the crime. Prosecutors, jurors, and the loved ones of murder victims understand this essential point… Perhaps most importantly, in its supreme gravity it the death penalty promotes belief in and respect for the majesty of the moral order and for the system of human law that both derives from and supports that moral order” (Feser, E., ; Bessette, J. M.).
Now that the severe brutality has been taken out of most executions—we primarily use the lethal injection in the states—I agree with Feser and Bessette when it comes to my own views on the death penalty. We are still making necessary changes to our laws to protect innocent people from receiving the penalty, but in general, I believe that those who commit capital crime, deserve capital punishment. This topic is likely to be a controversial topic for the remainder of our world’s existence. From arguments on mortality to the emotional toll it takes on those that do the execution, people will always have disagreements on this particular discussion. One day, maybe our own legal system in the U.S. will come up with a successful way to portray the benefits so more people can get on board and see the benefits. The rest of the world and their actions toward the subject are out of our hands.
References & Work Cited
Public Opinion on the Death Penalty. (2018, June 20). Retrieved from https://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/public-opinion.cfm
Feser, E., & Bessette, J. M. (2016, July 21). Why the Death Penalty Is Still Necessary. Retrieved from https://deathpenalty.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001038
American Civil Liberties Union, The Death Penalty: Questions and Answers. (2007, April 9). Retrieved from https://deathpenalty.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=001038
Part I: History of the Death Penalty. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/part-i-history-death-penalty#intro