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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 118837 Find in a Library
Title: How To Argue About the Death Penalty (From Facing the Death Penalty, P 178-192, 1989, Michael L Radelet, ed. -- See NCJ-118827)
Author(s): H A Bedau
Date Published: 1989
Page Count: 15
Sponsoring Agency: Temple University Press
Philadelphia, PA 19122-6099
Sale Source: Temple University Press
1601 N. Broad Street
University Service Bldg., Room 305
Philadelphia, PA 19122-6099
United States of America
Type: Issue Overview
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The controversy over capital punishment does not turn on controversial social goals or controversial moral principles any more than it does on disputed general facts, but instead turns on how all three factors are to be balanced.
Abstract: The empirical evidence provides no indication that the death penalty is a better deterrent to murder than is imprisonment. It also shows that it is administered intentionally or unintentionally in an arbitrary and racially discriminatory manner, that some innocent persons are executed, and that some murderers have killed after a prison sentence for murder. Thus, the facts alone do not strongly support either retaining or abolishing the death penalty. An examination of moral and social principles shows that the death penalty is mainly a means to one or more goals, but it is not the only means. In addition, several principles of relevance to sound punitive policy generally favor, but do not demand, the abolition of the death penalty. Furthermore, no goal or principle constitutes a conclusive reason favoring either side in the dispute. Finally, the goals and principles of punishment have no obvious rank order. However, three factors are important in the assessment of the moral objections to the death penalty. One factor is the role and function of governmental power and the desirability of shrinking rather than enlarging this power. The others are the desirability of focusing on the future and the living rather than on the dead victims and the way in which the death penalty projects a false picture of humans and society. Thus, the focus on the death that all murderers supposedly deserve overlooks the fact that few murderers actually receive the death penalty. Thus, the death penalty is a symbol of brutality and stupidity rather than of justice. 18 references.
Main Term(s): Capital punishment
Index Term(s): Abolishment of capital punishment; Cruel and unusual punishment
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