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The death penalty should be banned

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adminadmin (PRO)
I'd like to thank my opponent for inviting me to this debate. To begin, I would like to offer a few brief contentions in support of the resolution.

At the outset, this side of the house would like to emphasize that this is not a model debate, but rather one that focuses on the merits and demerits of the death penalty. As such any "ban" could be imagined as a moral realization, rather than an imposition of some agency other than the governments themselves. To put it another way, the debate is about whether and why the death penalty could be banned, not how such a ban would be enforced.

Notwithstanding the above, the motion should not be read as pertaining to any particular jurisdiction. We feel that the death penalty is unjust in nations rich and poor, anywhere in the globe.

By the death penalty, we mean any system of punishment, legal or extralegal, that results, or is likely to result, in the death of the person being subjected to the punishment. We would specifically apply the death penalty in this debate, to states vested with the authority to investigate and decide crimes, especially when the death penalty is being applied in response to those crimes, as the most likely point of clash in this debate. For example, when a state executes a murderer, it is enacting a death penalty. My position in this debate is that the death penalty should never be employed.

Role of the State (background stuff)
The most obvious question to ask in this scenario is, why do states exist in the first place?

We note that states are man-made social constructs. No divine being came down from the clouds and ordained the borders of the land we today call "India" or "Poland". Rather, these nations were created by people for human ends. Therefore the most obvious role of the state must be to serve the people. This involves aspects such as keeping people safe, and keeping people happy. Even when a state was founded with the worst of intentions, we feel this aspect holds true. ISIL, for instance, has a clear objective in the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, but this objective is being ostensibly done according to the will of Islam, which the leaders of that movement feel would be in the best interests of people.

For a more objective standard on what services the people demand of the society which society creates, we feel a useful model can be found in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Developed as a simple model for describing what kinds of things people require (and backed by clinical psychological practice), it begins with the most basic human needs, and develops towards the most advanced. The two most basic kinds of needs are safety and physiology, according to this well-established model. In general, we find that states generally provide these things for their citizens quite well under the status quo. States ensure the safety and general well-being of people by laws designed to disincentive antisocial behaviour, and by established judicial processes that ensure that these needs are being satisfied through the laws that have been passed.

When a crime has been committed, it can generally be thought of as a violation of the attempts of a state to enforce a positive society. It is also generally agreed that the punishment ought to be befitting of a crime - that is, punishments should not be made arbitrarily. These essential principles are even found in the first formal declaration of the principle of common law, hailing right back to the original version of the Magna Carta. Again, Maslow's hierarchy provides a useful framework for this, but in reverse. Less serious crimes warrant the removal of less important human needs. There can be no question, for instance, that a serious criminal should not be self-actualizing, and not hold self-esteem, because we want to send a message that these things are wrong.

It should be noted that this, like all models, is imperfect, and therefore is only useful for a generalized description of human nature. The point is largely illustrative - the state ensures lower-order needs by selectively removing higher-order needs. This is more or less how judicial systems are supposed to work, in a good state. We feel this is reinforced by the fact the most important aspect of any state is its people, so understanding psychology is fundamental to understanding this debate. Other competing models, such as fundamental human needs, follow roughly the same schema.

This trading of what we might call human needs can also be conceived of as a trading of what is known in legal theory as "rights." We have a "right" to life, for example, which we generally consider to be among the most important rights because it correlates to a physiological need, namely, survival. We also have a right to, say, free movement, although this right correlates to a less important human need, and thusly should be removed by states more readily in response to crimes. Conversely, murder is a worse crime than false imprisonment, because the deprivation of the right to life is a more fundamental human need than the right to free movement.

Human Rights
The idea that the state has an inherent obligation to remove rights in response to people removing the rights of others, is a function of what is generally known as a social contract. In this theory, society has mutually given up their "right" to kill each other, in order to better ensure the right to life. The penalty for refusing the surrender of this "right" to kill, is the seizure by the state of other rights. In more recent times, however, it has become evident that there are certain rights we simply cannot contract out of.

Most people would agree that something like a death pact - where multiple parties agree to kill each other - is morally abhorrent. That's because we consider that human life has a certain amount of value - an inherent dignity that suicide does not account for. A death pact fulfils all the classical requirements of a contract, but it is not generally legal because to execute it would involve committing the crime of murder. However, the same is not true of all rights. If you're travelling on a train, you cannot simply leave the train while it is in motion, but must wait for a station. Under ordinary circumstances, this would be false imprisonment - however, you hold a ticket, which is a form of contract that you agree to be imprisoned on the train until it reaches its destination. Free movement being not so fundamental a right, it is much easier to contract out of.

The notion of human rights is such that there are some rights so fundamental that a person can never contract out of, regardless of circumstance. For example, if no individual in society can justifiably agree to having themselves killed, then that society as a whole must have a right to life. The individuals in that society cannot agree to have their right removed, and therefore, it follows that any agreement reached by the members of that society (for example to form a state) must be done with reference to inviolable human rights. People receive these rights because they are human - there is no qualifier for a human right.

A state that does not respect a right that is inviolable, cannot as a matter of principle, be known as a legitimate state. For when a state loses the sanction of its people, and it no longer respects that which makes states in the first place, then that state has no moral authority to exist at all. The only question is whether the right to life, should be taken as a human right or not.

First of all, we find that this question has already been thought about for a long time, and has already a wide basis of support. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for instance, holds the right to life among its top priorities. The principle can be traced legally back to the precedent set by the Poljica Statute of 1444, and the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, which famously classified the right to life as inalienable. Outside of legal theory, we find the right to life to be a valid ethical question as well, with philosophers such as Albert Camus and more recently Peter Singer raising valid objections to the point. This is to say, it is undoubtable that if any human rights exist at all, they certainly encompass the right to life. Indeed, it is this fundamental respect for life that makes a crime like murder so abhorrent in the first place. Nations around the world overwhelming support banning the death penalty, with the United Nations voting 99-52 in 2007 in favor of a ban on the death penalty on these grounds.

Green = voted in favor of abolishing death penalty, yellow = abstained, red = voted against abolishing death penalty

Public opinion is perhaps even more important. Our society is what forms our states - therefore by rights, our public should have some degree of self-determination. Overwhelmingly across societies, there is broad support for the abolition of the death penalty.

Even if it were not for this support, however, the fundamentality of the right to life may be deduced, because it is the most basic of human needs on which all other needs are premised, including the right to contract. Without a right to life, one would have no way to belong to a society in the first place - therefore, should society agree that given a certain crime the death penalty should be imposed on members of that society, that society could never justifiably convict anybody, because those criminals would then entirely cease to be a part of society. There is no philosophical justification for the death penalty, and many problems - it is simply retributive and vindictive.

The goal of justice
There can be no question that the abrogation of rights in response to wrongs is a tool of states to ensure public safety. However, criminologists have long been aware that this does not inherently prevent crime. The root causes that drove that criminal to offend in the first place may still exist. A classic example would be a robber, whose crime was to steal a loaf of bread to provide for his family. Since his crime was motivated by a lower-order need, courts would generally see this as a mitigating factor. Somebody who stole jewels because they wanted to self-actualize by walking around looking super shiny, well, that probably would not be taken as being as good a justification.

The fact of the matter is, not just is this notion of justice insufficient, it is also perverted. Gandhi noted "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" - or to put it in this context, by murdering murderers, you only make more murders. Two wrongs don't make a right, even in this case. Indeed we feel that the goal of justice ought to be primarily rehabilitative, and not retributive. Since you can't reliably resurrect people from the dead (unless the court has at least a level 15 necromancer handy), courts cannot find a person worthy of the death penalty of rehabilitative grounds. In defence of this claim I'd like to advance a number of arguments.

First, we consider retributive punishment to be lacking in a working principle. We find no natural right to enact retributive justice on others, and indeed we find much of human progress has been towards enabling a society more conductive to this. Second, retributive justice has other flaws that I demonstrate throughout my case. But most crucially, rehabilitative justice does the least harm, since at least that way you have a good chance of getting at least one well-adjusted member of society in the end, rather than a bunch of dead corpses. This is no surprise - much like murder is only destructive, so too is state-sponsored murder only destructive. Fourth, we find that retributive justice is a better precedent for cases where the law is in violation of public conscience. If, say, some dictator (let's call him "Adolf") decided to invade some nation (let's call it "Poland") and made it a crime to be a citizen of that nation, then that law is clearly abhorrent. However, if the punishment is rehabilitative (Germanification) then that is less abhorrent than a retributive outcome (death by firing squad).

Finally, however, we contest that rehabilitation just simply works better. First, we find that the practical evidence demonstrates that rehabilitation has a much lower rate of re-offending than retributive crimes. Setting a precedent for retributive justice in the case of the death penalty, may therefore be harmful when trying criminals for other crimes, in that it encourages a mindset of retribution among jurors as opposed to more rehabilitative measures.

We further note that in most cases, retribution is more expensive.

Rehabilitation is simply a better value. It should be encouraged at all levels of judicial procedure. Sentencing a person to life in prison keeps society effectively equally safe as the death penalty, but provides a pathway for that offender to turn their lives around. Further, rehabilitative justice provides ex-criminals in the community, who are vital to educating others on how to avoid a life of crime. Figures such as Malcolm X are commonly perceived as "reformed" former criminals who went on to do great things.

Closely connected to the preceding argument, we don't believe the death penalty is befitting of any crime because people's culpability must be taken as relative to the needs they are fulfilling. Stealing a loaf of bread to feed the family, again, means reduced culpability. Since all crime is ultimately committed relative to the need for life, culpability must be limited to that context. Put another way, criminals operate under a certain social order - indeed, this is how they are usually caught. Police look for motives to draw a list of suspects. If people acted arbitrarily, then the police would have a much harder job! Since the social order imposes on them, at the bear minimum, the need to survive, their instinct of self-preservation can never be held as culpable for a crime.

There is also another issue. We find that in general, individuals become criminals because they are driven to that end by one or more of their human needs that they are attempting to fulfill in the context of the society they live. Murdering somebody is, of course, generally bad... but in the case of something like war, or abortion, or euthanasia, or even enacting the death penalty itself, culpability is reduced because we are acting on some other human need, as opposed to somebody who kills for no clear reason. So too is it possible that we create the social conditions for murders and other terrible crimes to occur. This is not to say that the worst of criminals should be let off the hook! Only that their culpability is inherently also mitigated by social and environmental factors, while the death penalty punishes the offender alone. It is worth noting that the death penalty is very unique in this regard. Even a long jail sentence has an attached social cost of paying for the offender's cell.

Increasingly, a body of evidence appears to support these conclusions. First, philosophically, it appears clear that minds are not born bad (outside of, occasionally, impaired cognitive function), simply because even really bad people can be influenced to be good. As Aristotle observed: "...mind is in a sense potentially whatever is thinkable, though actually it is nothing until it has thought". To that end, people cannot help the way they are, and are merely the sum of what chemicals happen to be in their brain at a given time. This is further supported by scientific evidence - being under the influence of certain drugs, for instance, causes one to be more predisposed to certain kinds of crime. It is now not generally believed that people are born programmed for anything more than human needs. Further, research shows that people actually decide on actions before they become consciously aware of them, ruling out the notion of moral culpability ie "he is a bad person". Finally, psychology has reached much the same conclusion. One of the most common models of criminal development is this:

Miscarriage of Justice
This argument has been partially copied from one of my previous essays on this topic.

When I commit a crime, the only people who really know what happened (usually) are myself, and possibly the victim (if alive). The police can only guess based on clues. It isn't surprising that they often get it wrong. Usually, the whole truth is never revealed. The problem is that with any other punishment you can correct mistakes the police make. That's called due process - you need to be able to pursue your claim of innocence after conviction, as evidence becomes available. You can't do that if you're dead. So, what if the evidence is only available after you've been executed? Take the USA for an example. Since 1973, over 150 people in over 25 states have been released from death row after they were found innocent. This proves the police get it wrong. Dozens more appear to have been executed innocently. We can never know how many were really executed innocently with any certainty, because despite their best efforts, the police can not yet time-travel.

Even if one person is innocently killed, that's too many. Any other punishment it would be alright to have innocents, but when the state kills not a killer but an innocent person, even just one, then they create guilt and multiply it upon themselves. If I came to your house tomorrow, set up a sham court and convicted you to die before killing you, you would expect me to be punished. But if you replace me with the police, you would expect me to be applauded, so long as some other killers are also killed. Killing killers gives people no right to execute innocents. Since you cannot stop 100% innocent executions, innocents will be executed cruelly and unusually for the crime of doing nothing wrong.

It is a well-known fact that in nations such as the USA, much of the probability of whether you will be convicted depends on how much the judge likes you. Judges sometimes discriminate very actively and don't always look at the facts. In the case of death penalty, where a person's life is at stake, this can have disastrous consequences. It isn't just about ethnicity. Poor people can't afford good lawyers, and so are disproportionately represented. Men are executed far more often than women. That's not fair. If we are to accept discrimination as a given - and we must, because we cannot ignore the reality of it - then we need to err on the side of caution because innocents will be convicted and killers will walk free.

This is further complicated by the procedural mess that typically accompanies the judicial right to due process when a person's very life is at stake, and the difficulty on educating a fair jury on the legal intricacies of a death penalty hearing. As Justice Cormac Carney said in an oft-quoted passage: "Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State. It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose."

Even as the number of death row inmates increases, so too does the exoneration rate, in countries with the death penalty. This indicates more miscarriages of justice are taking place, and that the system has not improved despite a long period of research on how to improve it.

The resolution is affirmed.

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-09-03 19:32:12
| Speak Round
KrazyKrazy (CON)

I thank my opponent for accepting the challenge of this debate. This should be fun and interesting.

The purpose of government-Retribution

The simple purpose of the state is to punish evil-doers. It says in the Bible that that is the only purpose of human governance (1 Peter 2:14; Romans 13:4). Because all governments are established by God (Romans 13:1). My opponent says that “...role of the state must be toserve the people.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. The Bible says “for he (governing authority) is God’s servant for the good.” (Romans 13:4). But then it continues. It goes on to say “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4). So the only purpose of government is the retribution of evil-doers.

A lot of people say that retribution is just another word for revenge. Well yeah, that’s the point of government-to enact vengeance on the wrongdoer. This is where the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” philosophy takes place. It means simply that the punishment should fit the crime. When somebody commits murder, the just penalty would be to take the life of the murderer. Some people bring up what Jesus Christ said about the “eye for an eye” philosophy in rebuttal to retribution as a value in government. They quote Matthew 5:38-48 about what Jesus said. But they ignore the context. When the Bible talks about “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”, it supports it in the context of court systems and government punishment; not in personal relationships. And that’s what the Pharisees did. They took a value meant for the courts, and applied it to daily personal connections. Jesus Christ was simply rebutting that type of thinking. It was only meant for the courts.

A lot of people argue that the death penalty is immoral, but in arguing so, they fail to realize the true purpose of government. God leaves the punishments up to the governments that He established. And the death penalty doesn’t seem to go against God’s character (Genesis 9:6). So the death penalty is not immoral. God determines morality--not man. If man determines morality, then morality is just reduced to simply a matter of opinion. It is reduced to man’s always-changing opinion. So God determines morality.


A primary reason to support capital punishment is this: It saves more lives than it kills. It is a great deterrent.

It used to be that hanging was a common death penalty. Then a lot of people said that was too “inhumane”. So the electric chair was a death penalty as a substitute, because it gave less pain. Then THAT became too “inhumane” and it got replaced by lethal injection later on. And now a lot of countries are abolishing the death penalty in general. The point is this. People have lost sight of why the death penalty exists--to deter murder. The fact that it’s “inhumane” is what scares off criminals from committing evil. It is a good thing that it’s “inhumane” because that is what discourages people from committing murder--and more lives are saved as a result.

It’s also the explanation that when people give statistics that show that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, it’s completely meaningless. The most common death penalties in the modern world are lethal injection, hanging, and firing squad. That offers no pain whatsoever; or if it does, it’s for a very short period of time. Of course it’s not going to deter crime! Unless if it’s botched, which is rare. The death penalty has to be painful in order for it to be most effective. And also, even when the death penalty is not painful, some statistics show that it does deter crime. So when pain is added, imagine how much more that would deter criminals from committing heinous acts--because that’s what they’re really afraid of.

This is why I believe, and this may sound controversial to some, but I sincerely believe that Roman-style crucifixion should be a death penalty. And the reason for that, is because crucifixion is excruciatingly painful. Because here’s the thing: Not everybody is afraid of death; but everybody is afraid of PAIN. Oh yeah. Everyone understands this. If you ever put your hand over a flame and pulled it back, then you are afraid of pain. Everyone is.

Put yourself in the mind of the criminal. He will think “If I commit murder, and if I’m caught, then I have to go through the most horrible, unbearable, and torturous execution process known to man; and then die.” If you believe that, then you’re going to think twice before killing somebody. Granted, you do have a chance of possibly getting away with murder, but given how painful crucifixion is, would you take that chance?

Take people who commit suicide for example. When people commit suicide, do they look for the most painful way to die possible? No, most likely they go for the more “easy way out”. That’s why the most common methods of suicide are firearms and drugs. They kill quickly and offer no pain. If we add pain to the factor, then that will certainly deter murderers a lot better. So not everybody is afraid of death; but everybody is afraid of PAIN.

And just by the way, it doesn’t have to be crucifixion. It can be stoning or the brazen bull or some medieval torture/killing device. As long as it’s painful. That may sound sort of sadistic to some; but realistically speaking, this is the only way you will deter the most murderers. It also adds to the deterrence if state executions are publicized on national television for everyone to see. It sends a message to the rest of society that “THIS is what’s going to happen to YOU if you commit this crime.” These kinds of measures will instill fear into the hearts of the criminals. And it’s the good kind of fear; the kind that will keep you out of trouble.


People being falsely convicted has always been rare. And now, with the application of forensics and the discovery of DNA, now it’s even more rare. And the exoneration rate isn’t going to somehow change if the death penalty were abolished; but false convictions have always been scarce. As horrible as it would be to be the person to experience the death penalty when not actually deserved, it really has no relevance in respect to the fact that the death penalty still saves more lives than it kills. The death penalty, in it’s right form, still prevents murders from happening to a great degree. That fact does not change because of exoneration. Because again, not everybody is afraid of death; but everybody is afraid of PAIN. And also, the exoneration argument sounds more like an argument to improve the criminal justice system, rather than an argument against the death penalty itself; or any method of punishment for that matter. My opponent said “Even if one person is innocently killed, that’s too many”. I agree. That’s why the death penalty should be enacted; because murdering an innocent is a serious crime. And in terms of exoneration, even though falsely convicted people are occasionally sentenced to death, it doesn’t matter because the painful death penalty still deters the most murderers and saves the most lives overall.

Exoneration. It happens. And it’s always going to happen no matter what types of punishment are kept or abolished, which includes the death penalty. But the fact that people are exonerated does not change the fact that the death penalty still deters the most murders--and more lives are saved in the death penalty model. So it doesn’t matter that some people are falsely convicted and sent to the death penalty; because the death penalty still deters the most murders and saves more lives than it kills overall.

Additional Rebuttals

The death penalty actually upholds the value of life. There is an inclination for some people to believe that the anti-death penalty position supports life. But it is truly more accurate to say that the death penalty for certain crimes (namely murder) actually respects the value of life more. This quote from Got Questions Ministries sums it up quite nicely: “Sometimes the best way to uphold the value of life is to end the lives of those seeking to destroy life”.

Pro has stated that retribution is costly. He then presented a chart showing the cost of treatment in comparison to cost of prison; prison being more expensive. But it is very misleading. There are many things that increase the cost of prison that are completely unnecessary. For example, in a lot of prisons, the food is just as good as the food in a children’s public school. That’s ridiculous. Just feed them only old-fashioned grits everyday. That will lower the cost of food in prisons dramatically. True, the inmates won’t enjoy it; but they aren’t supposed to. And true, the inmates will be malnourished; but prison life isn’t supposed to be enjoyable, now is it? And that brings up another thing. Prison life should be made utterly terrible: no toilet paper, one set of clothes, no bed, only grits everyday to eat, no “recreational yard time”, random torture beatings, no lighting in your cell, no hygiene products, no health care (which is another big expense). You got into a prison fight and broke your arm? That sucks, because you aren’t getting any medical attention, regardless if it was your fault or not. Some people may think that all of this is cruel or inhumane. Well, then it’s probably not a good idea to commit a crime. Only the wrongdoers need to worry. See, retribution works--it puts the fear in you to not commit evil. If you believe that prison life would be this terrible, then you’ll think twice before committing crimes, especially if you’re a re-offender. Because a lot of prisons today have television and internet access. This is why my opponent’s graph of recidivism rate is also misleading. A lot prisons treat their prisoners very well, so of course they’re going to reoffend (since prison life ain’t that bad). Prison life should be made unbearable. This will add to the deterrence aspect that will keep people out of prisons and lower the recidivism rate. This will also save a lot of money that the state can use for other things like military defense, instead of making sure that criminals are having comfortable housing. So when my opponent showed that graph comparing the “cost of treatment” and “cost of prison”, it is very misleading because the cost of prison could be reduced dramatically if the prisons didn’t give criminals such things, like health care, electricity, and high-quality food. And the “cost of treatment” is just that--the cost of treatment. That doesn’t mean the treatments worked. So again, very misleading.

Retribution is simply a better value in general in contrast with rehabilitation. It is accurate to sum it up like this: Rehabilitation attempts to fix criminals after they commit the crime. Retribution prevents people from committing the crime in the first place. And that is especially true with the death penalty. And ESPECIALLY true when the death penalty is painful (like crucifixion).

I await for my opponent’s responses.

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-09-08 19:18:53
| Speak Round

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Rats. I wish I would have been around before admin accepted. :P
Posted 2015-09-10 19:59:32
Posted 2015-08-26 06:20:54
Nice challenge! Will accept soon.
Posted 2015-08-26 05:40:12
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