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Deterrence Theorists And Capital Punishment Essay

1015 words - 5 pages

Deterrence theorists view murder as rational behavior, and assume that in calculating the gains and losses from killing, potential offenders are aware of the death penalty and regard it as a more severe sanction than imprisonment. Because the threat of one's own death presumably outweighs the rewards gained from killing another, murder is not an option for most people and always discouraged. In addition, some noted proponents assert that capital punishment provides an important educative function in society by validating the sanctity of human life (Berns, 1979; van den Haag, 1975; van den Haag & Conrad, 1983). Despite this logic, some challenge the applicability of deterrence to murder. Rather than being a product of deliberation and calculation, it is known that most murders are emotionally charged and their crimes are spontaneous events; they are "acts of passion" or result from a situated transaction rather than from deliberation (Bowers & Pierce, 1980; Chambliss, 1967; Luckenbill, 1977). Indeed, a significant proportion of homicides may not be intended. The situation escapes calm discussion, or due to some extraneous factor, an assault victim dies. Under such conditions, it is unlikely that perpetrators ("killers") give serious thought to whether they reside in a death penalty jurisdiction, or the possibility of execution.
Raymond T. Bye describes the basis for the theory of deterrence in the idea that the privilege to live and therefore an individual’s life is the most sacred and only thing any human really owns. Because of this, threatening an individual with the consequence of death will cause them to decide not to engage in the criminal activity. There is a spectrum of consequences that individuals mentally process for any crime, with death being the last and most extreme consequence that is most feared. From this viewpoint, the death penalty “is upheld as the most powerful of all deterrents and a potent aid in the repression of crime” (Bye 31). Though this seems like common sense, murder still happens when capital punishment is a viable conviction possibility. External factors may cloud this concrete logic; the rarity of capital punishment may prevent this theory from consistently applying to possible murderers and preventing the crime. Many states that do implement the death penalty do not use it as frequently as others, which may be just as ineffective as not using it at all. Many believe that simply having the death penalty as an option will prevent criminal activity, especially homicide rates; this illustrates a blind trust of deterrence theory.
The death penalty is usually implemented with both of Van Den Haag’s described goals in mind, the latter of deterrence works because of Bye’s ideas about the value we place on our own lives. Both of these theories are logical and can be psychologically verified by any individual who values their life and has weighed fear of getting in trouble with feelings of anger and revenge, though...

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