Discussing capital punishment in your research paper

Capital punishment, also called the death penalty, is a controversial subject. Many people are fiercely on one side of the debate or the other.

The debate on capital punishment heavily weighs the pros and cons. (Credit: AGN News Editorial)

The debate on capital punishment heavily weighs the pros and cons. (Credit: AGN News Editorial)

Some possible ideas for good research paper topics include:

  • Define capital punishment and discuss pros and cons of capital punishment

  • Discuss death penalty statistics
  • Discuss capital punishment facts

Capital punishment: deterrent or cruel

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics defines capital punishment as “the process of sentencing convicted offenders to death for the most serious crimes (capital crimes) and carrying out that sentence. The specific offenses and circumstances which determine if a crime (usually murder) is eligible for a death sentence are defined by statute and are prescribed by Congress or any state legislature.” Each American state can decide for itself whether to institute the death penalty. As of spring 2014, 18 U.S. states have abolished the death penalty.

Proponents of the death penalty say it is a deterrent to crime and that it exacts the ultimate punishment to those individuals who cannot act as civilized members of society. Opponents say it is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional, that statistics prove that it is not a deterrent to crime, it is biased against minorities and innocent people are often executed.

The world rejects capital punishment

In December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the fourth time in five years for a global moratorium on the death penalty. While 111 countries agreed, a select few did not. Saudi Arabia beheaded nine people in January of 2013 alone, Yemen sentenced a juvenile to death, Iran imposed death penalties for petty crimes, Zimbabwe still uses hangmen, and the United Sates in 2012 executed 43 people and issued 77 death sentences. Iran, Iraq, China, North Korea, United States, and Saudi Arabia are the world’s most prolific executioners.

In the article “Stepping Back from Capital Punishment,” by Mohammed Bedjaoui, Ruth Dreifuss, and Federico Mayor in International Herald Tribune, published February 21, 2013, the authors write: “There is a growing understand that capital punishment has no place in any modern justice system… All across humanity’s diverse and sprawling community—encompassing all major cultures, religions and regions—there is growing understanding that this abhorrent practice has no place in modern justice systems.”

Pro capital punishment

While there are many different opinions surrounding the issue, as mentioned above, there are two main sides of the debate. “Proponents of the death penalty say it is an important tool for preserving law and order, deters crime, and costs less than life imprisonment. They argue that retribution or ‘an eye for an eye’ honors the victim, helps console grieving families, and ensures that the perpetrators of heinous crimes never have an opportunity to cause future tragedy,” according to the authors on DeathPenalty.ProCon.org in “Should the Death Penalty Be Allowed.”

BalancedPolitics.org gives some other reasons for keeping the death penalty:

  • It gives the victim’s family closure
  • DNA testing can adequately exonerate the innocent
  • It relieves overcrowding in prisons
  • It gives prosecutors a bargaining chip in the plea bargain process
  • The U.S. justice system shows more sympathy for criminals than it does victims
  • Parole and escapees give violent criminals another chance to kill

Against capital punishment

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty International USA are working to abolish the death penalty. The ACLU says capital punishment is:

  • Immensely discriminatory against the poor, minorities and mentally ill from jury selection to who faces execution.
  • There is a high risk and evidence that the innocent are executed.
  • Poor offenders cannot afford adequate counsel against the death penalty.

In addition, ACLU writes on its website about Capital Punishment, “There are significant problems with the five methods currently used to execute people (lethal injection, electrocution, firing squad, hanging and the gas chamber), all of which violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.”

The argument that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime is not borne out by statistics. As the execution rate in the U.S. has increased, the murder rate has decreased. Some say that’s because murderers are being put to death, however, over the past 20 years, states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average, while states without it have declining homicide rates. This is especially true for death penalty states (Missouri, Connecticut, Virginia) that are next door to non-death penalty states (Iowa, Massachusetts, West Virginia, respectively).

Check out Questia’s library on Capital Punishment topics for your research. 

Do you think capital punishment is still appropriate in the modern world?

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