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Death Penalty Argumentative Essay: Retributive and Deterrent impacts in America


Task: Write a death penalty argumentative essay about its retaliatory and restrictive impacts in the American Culture.


The death penalty is the last and the final punishment that any court of law can produce for an offender or an accused. It is the ultimate punishment, although several nations have abolished this system; still, there are fifty-eight countries which are in favour of the death penalty. America is one such country which practices the death penalty. The State provides the death penalty when there is a commission of murder. People who support pronouncement and execution of death penalty consider the punishment as a deterrent to criminal activities. The present death penalty argumentative essay paper will establish the fact that the death penalty does not lead to the deterrence of illegal activities, and America should abolish this practice.

death penalty argumentative essay

Before we proceed with the arguments, background information about the death penalty is a must to understand how this system developed. The theory of capital punishment was established in Britain and the United States of America implemented this theory after its independence (Peffley & Hurwitz, 2007). The idea of the death penalty was approved and an accepted part of life since long in America. In Europe, the punishment of the death penalty was provided for different criminal activities. As per the death penalty, argumentative essay the first known execution was performed in Jamestown, America in the year 1608 where a person known as George Kendall was charged with treason (Radelet & Borg, 2000). During the colonial period, criminal activities being charged with death penalty varied from place to place.

The ninetieth century saw a drastic change in the pronouncement of death penalties, and it was in this period that the system started to lose its popularity. Some of the states of America began to keep themselves away from pronouncing public executions, and this practice was done privately. The practice was first followed and adopted by Pennsylvania, but there were certain states which completely refrained from pronouncing and executing death penalties. As per the current statistics, there are fourteen states that have abolished death penalty which includes Alaska, Iowa, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and Washington (State by State, 2020). The below image in the death penalty argumentative essay provides statistical data of the states of America who are practising and who have abolished the death penalty.

death penalty argumentative essay

Source: State by State. (2020)

In several cases, help from the Supreme Court of the United States of America was sought for. People opposing the death penalty said that the act contravened the provision mentioned in the eighth amendment of the Constitution and was an unusual and cruel practice. In the case of Furman vs Georgia (1972), the jury delivered a judgment against the death penalty, and this rule was to be followed for the next ten years. But in the year 1977, Gary Gillmore an American criminal was sentenced to death penalty due to the crimes committed by him, Gary himself asked for execution, and he opposed the persons who tried to commute the punishment (Cromie & Zott, 2013).

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According to this death penalty argumentative essay, the death penalty is still practised in the United States of America but with certain conditions. There are certain exceptions to the rule like a mentally challenged person, or a juvenile cannot be executed. There are different ways of execution being practised in America, which includes lethal injections and gas, hanging, electrocution and firing squad. States of America use these ways as per their convenience (Fienkelstein, 2020). Keeping in mind the statistics of the death penalty being practised in the United States, the numbers have gone down as compared to the previous years. People who oppose the death penalty rely on humanitarian grounds, whereas people who prefer death penalty rely on the fact that the act of murder can only be compensated by taking life.

The ultimate goal of all forms of punishment is deterrence is true in all respects, but there are certain criminal activities wherein a severe punishment like death penalty should not be enforced. People advocating death penalty refers to specific statistics which shows that illegal activities in which the death penalty was being awarded have decreased. The number of crimes which was considered as violent has fallen, one of them being murder. In the United States, murder consisted 22% of the total crimes being committed in the State but this reduced to 11% due to the deterrence effect of the death penalty (Ellsworth & Gross, 1994). The states of America award death penalty only when a person commits a grave or a violent crime like murder, so this has led to the decreasing numbers. It is not necessary that the statistics mentioned above in this death penalty argumentative essay are accurate; there may be a change in the numbers. A thorough investigation needs to be done as there are certain studies which show a conflicting point of view with the numbers mentioned above.

Punishment as a form of retribution is also one of the points to be considered. If a serial killer is punished with a death penalty, then it will stop any further killings, and this is the most accepted logic in the America society. There is a general notion about an eye for an eye, and this is what right in the eyes of American people. If a person takes the life of another, until and unless he is punished, the justice remains at a back foot. The act disturbs the functioning of the society till the time the justice is restored back (Glaser, van den Haag & Conrad, 1985). The restoration can only be done in the form of taking the life of the murderer which establishes the fact that the commission of murder cannot be tolerated and the murderers will be treated in a like manner. But there are many drawbacks of such thinking and one of them being morality. Any state practising or awarding death penalty has no right to do so.

After discussing both the views in this death penalty argumentative essay, we have come across that none of the opinions is backed by an accurate statistic. There is no clarity on the data being referred to how was it collected is not clear. The statistic method to generate the data can be different from the one which was actually required to be used in this process. One of the eminent writers from Columbia University, Dr Jeffery Fagan, questioned the statistical method used for generating the deterrence percentage in one of his journals. He pointed out that there were some missing data and some of the essential variables to be considered before developing the data which were not considered. As per him, the data does not provide a clear picture of the deterrence effect of the death penalty on the criminal activities being committed (Passell, 1975). The bias in the data cannot be regarded as a base for deciding the life and death of a murderer. Every theory requires evidence which can be proved and which does not has any scope of being claimed as incorrect. Therefore, the claim that the death penalty has a deterrence effect cannot be accepted, and it is not a conclusive proof basis the data generated.

There are studies as mentioned in this death penalty argumentative essay which has clearly established the fact that there is no relationship between deterrence and commission of crimes with regards to the death penalty. The death penalty information centre has reported that the states which do not reward the death penalty have reported lesser murder as compared to the previous records. The 17th report of the centre claims that there is a 40% decrease in the occurrence of murder in such states (Peffley & Hurwitz, 2007). New York abolished the death penalty and found out that there was a significant decrease in the murder rates as compared to the times when the State was still pronouncing death penalties as a punishment for violent crimes including murders. The year, New York abolished the death penalty; it saw a decrease of 4% in the murder rates (Peffley & Hurwitz, 2007). 

One of the reasons behind the death penalty not having a deterrence effect is the thinking of the offenders wherein they believe that they will never be caught. If a person knew that he would be caught and executed for the commission of a crime, then he will never commit the crime (Radelet & Borg, 2000). It can be stated in this death penalty argumentative essay that having a deterrence effect is only a psychological process until and unless the offender believes in the risk of doing a violent crime, there will not be any deterrence.

As per the current status, the existence of the death penalty as retribution does not make any sense. The states applying death penalty and executing offenders are sending a hidden message for murderers. The message is to strongly condemn the act of murder, and such crimes cannot be tolerated in the country. But the government is unable to understand the fact that by killing a person, they are also committing murder. There may be some people looking for revenge which are related to the offender who has been sentenced to death. Committing two wrongs cannot make something right, and by doing so, the person who died cannot be brought back to life (Cromie & Zott, 2013). As per the ongoing discussion made in this death penalty argumentative essay, it is time to amend the criminal laws of all the countries and to reject the idea of taking an eye for an eye.

Keeping in mind the current conditions where it is difficult to get to a quick decision regarding the death penalty, it can no longer be regarded as form retribution. There are persisting delays in execution. Some of the reports and statistics suggest that an inmate sentenced to the death penalty has to wait for at least eight years for the execution to take place. Many of the inmates die before being executed reasons being old age, diseases, etc. One of the examples of such prolonged delay can be seen in the State of California where there have been only 13 executions of inmates since 1976. Going by the information, there are 700 offenders in the Californian prison who have been awarded a death penalty and are on a death row (Fienkelstein, 2020). If the delay continues, then we can see more of the inmates dying due to natural causes instead of being executed.

The execution process of any country or the criminal proceedings is not being considered by the people who consider the death penalty having a retributive character. It is a known fact that offenders have a right to appeal against the judgment passed. Appeals against judgments are necessary in the American legal system in order to stop the system from making any err in judgment. An offender can stretch the execution for over ten years through filling different appeal petitions. The ratio of cases, the appeals being made is not at par with the number of judges available in the American legal system (Ellsworth & Gross, 1994). Thousands of cases are filed annually before the supreme court of America, but the judges are unable to review all of them. So for these very reasons, as mentioned in this death penalty argumentative essay, the death penalty as retribution cannot be considered.

Going by the discussions made in this death penalty argumentative essay, it can be said that death penalty does not have any effect on the disposal of justice nor in controlling crimes so the United States of America should take a step to abolish this form of punishment. Many great people tried to abolish this practice, and they were successful in doing so. There are states which did abolish the penalty, but there are also some states which brought back the penalty after hearing a judicial review. Baze v. Rees (2008) was one of the recent cases which highlighted the abolition of the death penalty. In this case, the offender appealed against execution through lethal injections. The petitioner argued that injecting lethal injections is cruel and unjust and goes against the Constitution. It violates the provision of equal protection as there are times when the penalty is given basis race, colour and the standard of the person being awarded the penalty. But the judges were not impressed with the argument, and they favoured the death penalty through lethal injections as per the findings of this death penalty argumentative essay. The case was heard by the Trial court on different hearings, and it reached at a conclusion after verifying the details of the case and the verifying the quantum of punishment. It held that execution on any grounds will always be opposed on moral, societal and religious grounds (Glaser, van den Haag & Conrad, 1985). But keeping in mind the constitutionality of the punishment, there is nothing unconstitutional, cruel or unusual in inflecting lethal injections. But the case is considered as a great step towards abolishing the death penalty. However, the petitioners did not highlight the problem in injecting the lethal injections; rather, they were after the process. The pain caused by the injections was also not highlighted in the case. The below image is a set-up for giving a lethal injection in California.

death penalty argumentative essay

Source: (Lithwick & Dang, 2020)

If the death penalty needs to be abolished from the United States, a petition is to be filed before the supreme court of the United States. The petition can be filed in the form of a writ, mandamus, certiorari or in the form of prohibition. It has been seen in this death penalty argumentative essay that an offender who has been sentenced to the death penalty can also file an appeal against the order. An appeal can be upheld only on a piece of conclusive and solid evidence to prove that the death penalty has no deterrence nor has a retributive nature. The judges of the Supreme Court need to understand through evidence that giving out a death penalty is not only unconstitutional, but it also contributes to the wastage of resources (Fienkelstein, 2020). A lot of time and energy gets wasted in deciding and pronouncing a death penalty. It creates a burden on the justice system and is unfruitful in controlling the crime rates.

There may be some criticisms coming from the corners that abolishing the death penalty will increase the crime rates, but we have different studies and articles which prove that the penalty cannot deter criminals. There are no such studies or article which states that death penalty has a deterrence effect, but we have certain statistics from the states which had abolished the death penalty, claiming that the commission of murders in their states had lowered as compared to the data when the death penalty was in practice (Fienkelstein, 2020). The credibility of the fact that the death penalty leads to saving of many lives is also not true basis the research conducted through certain examinations as highlighted in this death penalty argumentative essay. The research conducted has even claimed that the same data can be used to prove that the death penalty does not reduce the crime rates; rather, it increases the same. So by using the same data and a different methodology, there may be two different conclusions. If there is conclusive evidence, then it will not lead to any criticism with regards to murder rates and death penalties. Abolition of the death penalty is not signal towards protecting the murderers or being unsympathetic towards the victims; rather, it is only State of respecting human life. Life is too precious, and a state-generated death penalty is immoral. It shows the incapability of the administration in controlling criminal activities. There are certain victims who do not wish an eye for an eye to compensate for the pain faced by their near and dear ones. Death penalty establishes the fact that killing a menace is an end to all social problems being caused by it, but it overlooks the effects it has on the society and the children.

In the concluding remarks of this death penalty argumentative essay, it can be stated that going through the facts presented in favour of the death penalty; it can be clearly stated that death penalty should be abolished. Those who recommend and support the idea of the death penalty have no conclusive proof to support their claims. However, reports suggest that the idea behind pronouncing the death penalty has failed and it is no more an easy task to perform. It is not only affecting the inmates on the death row, but these delays are also affecting the exchequer. Dying of inmates before being executed is a regular phenomenon. Criminal activities amounting of violent crimes and murders can also be controlled by different factors like restriction on drug usage, longer sentences and an increased patrolling of police on streets. So basis the reasons stated in this death penalty argumentative essay, it is high time for the United States of America to abolish the death penalty in its entirety.

Cromie, J., & Zott, L. (2013). The death penalty. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press.

Ellsworth, P., & Gross, S. (1994). Hardening of the Attitudes: American Views on the Death Penalty. Journal Of Social Issues50(2), 19-52. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1994.tb02409.x

Fienkelstein, C. (2020). A Contractarian Argument against the Death Penalty 82 New York University Law Review 2006. Retrieved 12 November 2020, from

Glaser, D., van den Haag, E., & Conrad, J. (1985). The Death Penalty: A Debate. Contemporary Sociology14(2), 190. DOI: 10.2307/2070148

Lithwick, D., & Dang, B. (2020). How to Abolish the Death Penalty Has Made the Death Penalty Less Safe. Retrieved 12 November 2020, from

Passell, P. (1975). The Deterrent Effect of Death Penalty: A Statistical Test. Stanford Law Review28(1), 61. DOI: 10.2307/1228227

Peffley, M., & Hurwitz, J. (2007). Persuasion & Resistance: Race and the Death Penalty in America. American Journal Of Political Science51(4), 996-1012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00293.x

Radelet, M., & Borg, M. (2000). The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates. Annual Review Of Sociology26(1), 43-61. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.43

State by State. (2020). Retrieved 9 November 2020, from


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