Should the U.S. Still Have the Death Penalty?

Gavel and a Name Plate With the Engraving Death Penalty

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In the USA, a majority of the people support capital punishment and vote for politicians that take a firm stand against crime. Those who support the death penalty use arguments such as:

  • An eye for an eye!
  • Society should not have to pay for someone so dangerous that they can never return to live around normal people.
  • The threat of execution is enough to make criminals think twice about committing a capital crime.

Those who oppose the death penalty argue their position with statements such as:

  • Although the act of murder is horrific and inexcusable, executing the killer does nothing to bring the person back.
  • It often costs more to execute a criminal than it would cost to keep him/her alive in jail.
  • It is irrational to assume that a criminal is going to consider the consequences of his actions before committing a criminal act.

The compelling question is: if justice is served by putting a murderer to death, in what way is it served? As you will see, both sides offer strong arguments. With which do you agree?

Current Status

In 2003, a Gallup report showed public support was at a high level with 74 percent for the death penalty for convicted killers. A small majority still favored the death penalty when given a choice between life in prison or death, for a murder conviction.

A May 2004 Gallup Poll found that there is a rise in Americans that support a sentence of life without parole rather than the death penalty for those convicted of murder.

In 2003 the outcome of the poll showed just the opposite, and many attribute that to the 9/11 attack on America.

In recent years DNA testing has revealed past mistaken convictions. There have been 111 people released from death row because DNA evidence proved they did not commit the crime for which they were convicted. Even with this information, 55 percent of the public feels confident that the death penalty is applied fairly, while 39 percent say it is not.


The use of the death penalty in the United States was practiced regularly, dating back to 1608 until a temporary ban was established in 1967, during which time the Supreme Court reviewed its constitutionality.

In 1972, the Furman v. Georgia case was found to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment which bans cruel and unusual punishment. This was determined based on what the Court felt was an unguided jury discretion which resulted in arbitrary and capricious sentencing. However, the ruling did open the possibility of reinstating the death penalty, if states redrafted their sentencing laws to avoid such problems. The death penalty was reinstated in 1976 after 10 years of being abolished.

A total of 885 death row prisoners have been executed from 1976 until 2003.


It is the opinion of proponents of the death penalty that administering justice is the foundation of any society's criminal policy. When punishment for murdering another human being is delivered, the first question should be if that punishment is just relative to the crime. Although there are different concepts of what constitutes just punishment, anytime the well-being of the criminal out ways that of the victim, justice has not been served.

To gauge justice, one should ask themselves:

  • If I was murdered today, what would a just punishment be for the person who took my life?
  • Should that person be allowed to live out their life behind bars?

In time, the convicted murderer can adjust to their incarceration and find within its limitations, a time when they feel joy, times when they laugh, talk to their family, etc., but as the victim, no more are such opportunities available to them. Those that are pro-death penalty feel it is society’s responsibility to step in and be the voice of the victim and determine what is a just punishment, for the victim, not the criminal.

Think of the phrase itself, "life sentence." Does the victim get a "life sentence"? The victim is dead. To serve justice, that person who ended their life should have to pay with their own for the scale of justice to remain in balance.


Opponents of capital punishment say, capital punishment is barbaric and cruel and has no place in a civilized society. It denies an individual of due process by imposing irrevocable punishment on them and depriving them of ever benefiting from new technology that may provide later evidence of their innocence.

Murder in any form, by any person, shows a lack of respect for human life. For victims of murder, sparing the life of their killer is the truest form of justice that can be given to them. Opponents of the death penalty feel to kill as a way to "even out" the crime would only justify the act itself. This position is not taken out of sympathy to the convicted murderer but out of respect for his victim in demonstrating that all human life should be of value.

Where It Stands

As of April 1, 2004, America had 3,487 inmates on death row. In 2003, only 65 criminals were executed. The average time span between being sentenced to death and being put to death is 9 to 12 years although many have lived on death row for up to 20 years.

One has to ask, under these circumstances, are victims' family members healed by the death penalty or are they re-victimized by a criminal justice system that exploits their pain to keep voters happy and makes promises it cannot keep?

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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "Should the U.S. Still Have the Death Penalty?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Montaldo, Charles. (2020, August 28). Should the U.S. Still Have the Death Penalty? Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Should the U.S. Still Have the Death Penalty?" ThoughtCo. (accessed April 15, 2021).