Type: Review
Pages: 10 | Words: 2934
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The purpose of this research is to find out if the death penalty is an appropriate way of punishment in a civilized society.
To reach this goal I will analyze 22 articles by various authors with different points of view on this matter. Thus, there are supporters of the death penalty among them, and there are those, who do not accept such theories.
The points of view and the ways of presentation of the content will be mainly analyzed.
I will also represent the researchers’ opinions about death and Constitution, public administration, democratic values and public opinion which can lead to better understanding the topic and highlight the main points of view the authors of the articles have towards the death penalty.
As the Constitution and democratic values are of much significance in the civilized societies, it is worth noting that this literature review will be concentrated on these aspects first of all.
Every researcher has his/her own view on the death penalty: he or she may argue on some conceptions or take them as a rule. Like in modern societies, there are different views all around the world too. Some of them are very humanistic, and some look at the death penalty as the most appropriate way of punishment. Anyway, everything depends on the culture and traditions of nations, their way of life and laws. Every researcher should take such factors into account in order to write a good research paper.
For example, Professor Finkelstein (2006) in her article “A Contractarian Argument against the Death Penalty” argues that there are reasons to oppose the death penalty. Her statement is proceeded by that neither the deterrence theory, nor the retributivism one is good for justifying the death penalty. Generally, she provides a suggestion that while each theory is an important part of the justification of capital punishment, supporters of each theory must take some limiting principles into account regarding the most appropriate way of punishment of crimes. Moreover, Professor Finkelstein argues for the theory of contractarianism. With respect to the principles of the basic structure of the society, rational contractors will conceive of benefit. Then she argues that according to this conception, rational contractors will presumably reject any system of punishment, including the death penalty. According to Professor Finkelstein, one should take into consideration that the death penalty is costly in the case of mistakes. Generally, this article presents a new approach to the concept of the death penalty, as well as a general theory of punishment. Moreover, the researcher in her article presents the discussion about democratic values, which are the most significant for civilized society.
Another researcher, D. S. Sidhu (2009) develops such thoughts in his article “On Appeal: Reviewing the Case against the Death Penalty”, published in the West Virginia Law Review. The author tries to ensure readers that the death penalty is of no use in modern societies, which should be humanistic. According D. S. Sidhu, death penalty goes against democratic values and Constitution, the main law of the state.
According to Steiker (2006), capital punishment is not quite morally required. However, in the minds of some individuals, it is good as it means arranging the scales of justice so that the most horrible crimes must be made right by punishments, which are just similarly horrible. Coming back to the past, the author talks about ancient codes, containing the demand for retribution in the case of crimes as a way of keeping the scales of justice in balance. However, it was just some kind of revenge, which is not morally required nowadays. The supporters of the death penalty give many arguments concerning the victims of crimes, who have no possibility to speak for themselves. To the opinion of those researchers, capital punishment is the only way to justify crimes, when they are consciously done. According to Steiker, such opinions have no grounds, as capital punishment morally has no right for the future. Steiker’s opinion is closer to religious views, as almost every kind of religion in the world teaches not to do harm to others. So, the research by Steiker presents the discussion about the public opinion to the death penalty as many people think that capital punishment is not quite morally required.
Unlike Steiker and other researchers, Cassel (2008) opposes this point of view, ensuring readers that the death penalty is a case of need. Cassel gives numerous examples of horrible crimes against men, women and children. According to Cassel, such crimes should be justified by capital punishment only. For example, Cassel describes the case of Colleen Reed, brutally raped and killed by Kenneth Allen McDuff. Colleen Reed was not his only victim: he “raped, tortured, and murdered at least nine women in Texas in the early 1990s, and probably many more”. There are a lot of such examples, and Cassel thinks it gives an opportunity to defend the death penalty as the only way of balancing the scales of justice. Moreover, his article is full of emotions. That has a great influence on the readers of his work. Cassel underlines that he is on the side of justice, when he takes a look at the photos of young girls, murdered by brutal people. They are full of vitality. Besides, they could live their lives for long, if such brutal crimes had not happened. So, Cassel’s research presents the discussion about democratic values, concerning the right of every human being for living in the society without crimes.
Another researcher Adkins (2008) argues against such statements: “[D]eath is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal… Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our ‘evolving standards of decency,’ we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution ‘places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life’ of a mentally retarded offender.”
In addition to all these opinions, Alarcon (2011) in his article “Executing the Will of Voters” uncovers the true costs of the death penalty in California by revealing how much taxpayers are spending on capital punishment trials or non—death penalty. It is also more expensive to pay for living expenses of prisoners “from the initial death sentence to its execution”. For example, people can wait for twenty or more years for the execution, and then die in a natural way. Instead of this, according to Alarcon, voters spend their money in vain when they support capital punishment, since the system of its execution is not an effective one. Billions of dollars are spent on those, who have committed the worst crimes. It is the discussion about the case of good public administrating, when the money of taxpayers are spent wisely.
Cohen and Smith (2010) pays substantial attention to the racial geography of the death penalty, regarding both the overrepresentation of black defendants and the disproportionate quantity of federal defendants sentenced to the death penalty for the murder of white victims. One part of the research is devoted to the unusual geography of the federal death penalty, which is quite unique.
Moreover, when talking about the execution of capital punishment, special attention should be paid to the professionalism of judges and prosecutors in order to exclude fatal mistakes when judging.
In his article, “Statewide Capital Punishment: The Case for Eliminating Counties Role in the Death Penalty” Gershowitz (2010) argues that even having very competent lawyers handling capital cases is not quite sufficient. Anyway, there is a need for specialists. “The death penalty system should be staffed by prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges, who are not only exceptional lawyers, but who are willing to devote their attention exclusively to capital cases”. Then the author continues: “By using specialists, the system can reduce the number of reversals and thereby cut the costs of capital cases. Relying on highly skilled and ethical trial lawyers can transfer more of the costs of the death penalty from the appellate end of capital cases””where they do little good””and place them at the trial stage”. Undoubtedly, such an approach does not only seem to reduce the costs and the length of appeals, but also to restore faith in the judicial system, and hopefully to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions which is the most undesirable.
In her article, “A Dialogue on Death Penalty Dignity”, Knowles pays special attention to the concept of “˜dignity’ explaining that it has always played an integral role in the opinions proposed by members of the U.S. Supreme Court in death penalty cases. In this article, the author identifies and analyzes three main kinds of dignity, which have appeared in capital punishment opinions.
It is a very effective way of revealing the evidence concerning the death penalty, as proposed by M.C.A. De Ungria et al (2008). The thing is about Forensic DNA evidence. As an example, the researchers evaluated 26 child sexual assault cases with the help of Y-STR screening for the objective confirmation of sexual contact between a child victim and a perpetrator. In the opinion of the researchers, this method is very innovative: with the help of it, the psycho traumas of children, who usually have to describe what have happened to them, can be reduced to minimum.
In their article, “Public Opinion and the Death Penalty: A Qualitative Approach”, Falco & Freiburger (2011) try to measure public opinion on capital punishment, underlining that despite all moral statements and intentions, capital punishment has strong support from the public. This is “arguably the number one reason why the death penalty continues to be used as a form of correctional policy in the U.S. criminal justice system”. Moreover, it is fundamental that the measure of capital punishment opinion be heavily scrutinized. In this study, the authors conduct six focus groups to provide a better understanding of the complexity of these thoughts. The authors state that “the findings suggest that participants’ views regarding the death penalty are more multifaceted than previously believed. This study further suggests that current methods used to measure public support of the death penalty fail to capture the complexity of sentiment on this issue”.
The research by Jiang, S. Et al. (2010), titled “Death penalty views in China, Japan and the U.S.: An empirical comparison” lets us to go from the other authors’ opinions, devoted to the American situation, to the attitude to capital punishment by other nations, for example Asian countries.
In their research, the authors pay special attention to Japan, where the death penalty is very popular way of punishment similar to other countries, for example the USA. The authors try to clear the reasons, why capital punishment is of such importance for the government, and additionally, why it is an appropriate way of punishment in the case of very brutal crimes. Finally, the authors reveal that the death penalty has many supporters among inhabitants of Japan.
Unlike supporters of the death penalty, there are a lot of people in the East opposing them. There are people, who believe that the death penalty is inhuman punishment. For example, Li and Yang (2009) cited Marx, who thought that the death penalty was “cruel, uncivilized, inhuman, unfair, invalid and not right-biased” in a modern and civilized society. So, in the their opinion, death penalty goes against the democratic values of the society.
In their research “Persuasion and Resistance: Race and the Death Penalty in America”, Peffley & Hurwitz like Cohen and Smith pay special attention to the racial geography of capital punishment. They try to reveal who are sentenced to death more often — blacks or whites. This research is very important for describing the role of lawyers and prosecutors, as it is also a very important aspect.
The authors conclude: “Our results suggest that a more effective argument for encouraging opposition to the death penalty is one that frames the unfairness of the policy more generally, without focusing on race, thereby avoiding whites’ resistance to more direct racial appeals. The argument that many innocent people are being executed may not move whites in great numbers toward opposition, but neither does it precipitate a white backlash. In addition, as we have seen, such nonracial arguments against the death penalty can and do elicit blacks’ opposition because many blacks already have a deep suspicion about the fairness of the legal system”.
Similar to other researchers, Roberts-Cady (2010) in her work “Against Retributive Justifications of the Death Penalty” tries to oppose one of the theories of the justification of capital punishment. Other statements lead the readers into a discussion about what the death penalty is, if it is moral or humanistic, or not. Roberts-Cady analyzes different points of view, while making an assumption that the death penalty is an inappropriate way of punishment, grounded on an obsolete tradition, going back to the past. She tries to explain that death penalty is not humanistic way of punishment, that goes against the democratic values of the people.
In his research “The Death Penalty as an Unconstitutional Deprivation of Life and the Right to Privary”, Smith (2011) highlights his thoughts about the death penalty relating to the Constitution. To his opinion, every person and human-being has the right to living. Therefore, the death penalty breaks this right. Moreover, the researcher tries to ensure the readers that the Constitution prohibits it, since it neglects the right to living, and causes troubles for families, bringing sufferings to them.
Completely unique research is presented by Wang, Y. (2009). In his “Evolution of the Death Penalty in America”, the researcher tries to make the presentation of the capital punishment evolution in the USA from the historical point of view. Finally, he concludes that this process has a long history, significant for the whole judiciary system of the USA.
Similar to some other researchers, whose points of view are mentioned above, in their research “Support for the death penalty: Chinese and American college students compared” Wu, Y., Sun, I., & Wu, Z. present a unique view on capital punishment in the USA.
The authors explain the reason, why they decided to highlight this problem: “While a substantial number of studies have examined public opinion on the death penalty in the USA, very little research effort has been devoted to assessing Chinese attitudes toward the death penalty in general or comparing Chinese and American attitudes in particular”.
The researchers use survey data collected from students in several universities for comparing and contrasting Chinese and American attitudes towards the death penalty and identifying factors, which have similar effects on such attitudes. The represented results indicate that Chinese students support capital punishment more than their U.S. counterparts do. Gender, as well as victimization, and criminal justice-oriented programs significantly shape both American and Chinese students’ attitudes toward capital punishment. Country
differences are also revealed, along with the fear of crime influencing Chinese students’ support of death penalty, but not that of American students, and the fear of crime control orientation influencing American students’ attitude to capital punishment, but not that of Chinese students. In this article, implications for policy and future research are also discussed.
In her research, “The Death Penalty and Public Information on Its Use”, Sangiorgio (2011) tries to ensure the readers that the death penalty does not coincide with the humanistic point of view, by which civilized societies are characterized. With the help of examples, the author gives the readers an opportunity to make appropriate conclusions.
Similar to Sangiorgio, Sun (2009) argues for abolishing the death penalty and states the logical necessity of the irrationality of the death penalty.
Finally, I would like to represent the Lambert’s point of view. He is a researcher, who analyzes the issue of the death penalty in his unique and original manner.
Lambert believes that any additional information about the death penalty can possibly change public’s attitude towards this issue. For example, “in 1972, the former Supreme Court Justice Marshall postulated that the public was uninformed about the death penalty and information would change their support for it. There is some indication that information about the death penalty may change people’s level of support”.
In addition, the study by Lambert and Clarke (2011) uses a multivariate analysis, applying testing the impact that information has on death penalty support, along with the level of prior knowledge about capital punishment, as well as some personal characteristics (gender, age, race, political affiliation, academic level, being a criminal), and some religious factors. Therefore, the results of the Lambert’s study suggest that information on deterrence and innocence leads to a decrease in capital punishment support and views on it. Furthermore, the results suggest that the presented data may have various effects on different groups of people.
After reviewing the articles mentioned above, I have found that every researcher has its own point of view on the death penalty.
Some researchers say it is not a moral case, and others support a theoretical background to the death penalty as an integral part of justifying crimes, which are brutal and the worst.
Anyway, every researcher has his/her own manner of representing his or her points of view. Some of them lead readers into a discussion, and others prefer to find appropriate arguments in regard to their theories. In any case, every article under analysis is very informative, and its content is worth discussing.
Therefore, the majority of authors do not accept the theory of the death penalty as an original way to justify the worst crimes. I have also found out that among the researchers from Asia there are more supporters of the death penalty.
In this literature review first of all I was concentrated on the points of view of different researchers who discuss the problems of death penalty and the Constitution, democratic values, public opinion and public administration. The most of the researchers think that the death penalty goes against the democratic values and it is not morally required.

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