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Home Issue Index Issue: Death Penalty

Death Penalty

Issue Overview: Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is the legally sanctioned killing of a convicted criminal. Methods of execution include hanging, beheading, burning, firing squad, and electrocution. In the United States today, most executions take place by the lethal injection of deadly drugs. View Issue Overview and Video

Pro/Con Articles

SUPPORTERS ARGUE

The death penalty is a humane method of punishing brutal killers by granting them a quick and painless death. Public opinion supports capital punishment, and banning it would be an undemocratic act.

OPPONENTS ARGUE

The death penalty is a flawed punishment method because it is irreversible, and innocent people have undoubtedly been put to death for crimes they did not commit. Life imprisonment is a far more humane method of punishing convicted killers.

SUPPORTERS ARGUE

DNA testing is an important way for those who have been wrongly convicted to prove their innocence. Such testing is not expensive, and prisoners should be given a chance at exoneration. Law enforcement agencies should collect DNA from criminal suspects in order to determine if they may be guilty of other unsolved crimes.

OPPONENTS ARGUE

Post-conviction DNA tests often do not conclusively prove innocence. Such tests are expensive and clog the justice system, leading to frivolous appeals that waste time and taxpayer money. Collecting DNA from suspects who have not been put on trial or convicted of any crime violates their constitutional right to be presumed innocent, as well as the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

FELONY-MURDER LAWS:

Is the felony-murder rule fair?

SUPPORTERS ARGUE

Individuals committing crimes are putting the lives of innocent people at risk, even if they do not intend to kill anybody. They should be punished for any deaths that occur even as an indirect result of their actions. The felony-murder rule is a deterrent against violent crime; if would-be felons knew that their actions might lead them to be charged with murder—even if the murder was committed accidentally—they would be less likely to commit a crime.

OPPONENTS ARGUE

Felony-murder laws are unfair. Murder charges in the U.S. justice system should be based on intent; if a death occurs accidentally during the commission of a felony, then the felon should not be charged as if he or she willfully killed the victim in a premeditated manner. Additionally, there is evidence that felony-murder laws not only do not deter crime but may actually increase the commission of certain crimes.

SUPPORTERS ARGUE

Lethal injection is a major improvement over older forms of execution, and it is unreasonable to think that pain can be eliminated entirely during executions. Contesting lethal injection gives inmates a way to postpone their executions indefinitely.

OPPONENTS ARGUE

The current use of non-medically trained prison personnel to administer lethal injection results in unnecessary pain for the executed. The current use of lethal injections constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eight Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

SUPPORTERS ARGUE

Punishment should be based not on age but on the severity of the crime. Most young people understand that crimes such as murder are wrong. Furthermore, the threat of being sentenced to death for certain crimes acts as a strong deterrent for would-be offenders.

OPPONENTS ARGUE

Because juveniles' brains are not yet fully developed and juveniles are less mature than adults, they should not be punished as adults. National consensus now recognizes the juvenile death penalty as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.