The Death Penalty Debate: Arguments For and Against Capital Punishment

The debate around the Death Penalty has been argued many times over, with the practice continuing to divide opinion. Many nations continue to employ the practice, while many oppose it, with many charitable organisations fighting against it. The death penalty is officially known as Capital Punishment. Capital Punishment is legal in many countries, while several others have outlawed it. In this article, we take a look at both sides of the argument, looking at the positives and negatives of capital punishment.


illustration of gray wire
There are several arguments both for and against capital punishment. Photo by izhar khan on


To begin with, the Death Penalty refers to the practice where a person is killed by a State as a punishment for a crime. The criminal doesn’t serve a lifelong custodial sentence, instead being executed after waiting on ‘death row’. There are many ways that State’s carry out executions, with hanging, a firing squad and lethal injection the most common. Offences meriting a death sentence typically include murder, espionage and crimes against humanity amongst others – dependent on the state involved. At the time of writing 56 countries retain capital punishment. Over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty is in operation. The topic has proven highly controversial.




Arguments For the Death Penalty

  • The Death Penalty provides retribution, and is a just response to a horrific crime, such as a mass killing or terrorism. Ultimately the punishment should ‘fit the crime’, e.g. if someone murders another human, they should be murdered.
  • The Death Penalty has been described as ‘a filter which selects the worst of the worst’. Only those that commit the most heinous of crimes are sentenced to death.
  • The Death Penalty can be seen as being proportionate to a criminal’s crimes.
  • It can be suggested that the Death Penalty is a violation of Human Rights. However, it can also be suggested that when someone commits a serious crime against someone else, that they give up their Human Rights.
  • Re-offending statistics are worrying, with several offenders who get released from Prison going on to re-offend. Capital Punishment makes this impossible.
  • Many suggest that the Death Penalty deters crime. If criminals think about the repercussions of doing something, they may reconsider their actions.
  • Keeping multiple prisoner’s in a Prison can be very costly. By sentencing more people to death, it lowers the economic cost involved in corrections.
  • Some suggest that the Death Penalty ‘isn’t right, but needed’. Without it, there wouldn’t be a just punishment for crimes.
  • When the Death Penalty is legal, prosecutors and crime agencies can use the threat of Death in plea bargaining. This is helpful in securing a worthwhile sentence for a criminal.
  • In some cases the Death Penalty can provide closure for the families of victims.


Capital punishment is often associated with the United States


Arguments Against the Death Penalty

  • Many people see the Death Penalty as a violation of Human Rights. Amnesty International states Capital Punishment ‘is the ultimate irreversible denial of Human Rights’.
  • One of the biggest problems with the Death Penalty is when an innocent person gets landed with the punishment. Many people have been shown to be innocent despite being on death row. The Innocence Project is an example of an organisation that has helped overturn dozens of wrongful convictions.
  • People who actually take part in the execution e.g. soldiers in a firing squad or person delivering the lethal injection, may develop psychological trauma in the aftermath.
  • While the Death Penalty is seen as a deterrent, there is no study or report that has confirmed this. As many crimes take place in the heat of a moment, there isn’t even a chance to think about the consequences.
  • Ultimately, two wrongs don’t make a right. Executing the criminal won’t change the fact that their first crime has taken place.
  • While in many countries the wait for execution is long, in others, a criminal is executed within days. If this happens, it doesn’t give the criminal a chance to reform or reflect on the pain and misery they have caused. Sometimes a lengthy prison sentence does this.
  • In some countries, the sentence received is heavily dependent on the quality of lawyer/attorney. When an individual cannot afford a high-quality lawyer, it is likely they will receive sub-standard care and attention, meaning they are at a disadvantage when compared to richer criminals.
  • Many laud the Death Penalty as being quick. However, in some cases there can be complications during the execution, which causes a painful death.
  • Campaigners have suggested that when criminals have to wait long periods on death row, with uncertainty over the date of their execution, that it is bad for their mental health.




As you can see, there are compelling arguments both for and against the Death Penalty. It is a very sensitive topic, which continues to split opinion. Many countries have outlawed the practice, while it remains prevalent in others. It is very difficult to suggest one side of the argument is correct. Arguments over the Death Penalty will always divide opinion.





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