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Should we retain Capital Punishment?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/10/2013 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,422 times Debate No: 42028
Debate Rounds (4)
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1st round will be for acceptance only
2nd will be for posing an argument. No rebuttals.
3rd will be for rebuttals and further flushing out your point.
4th will be for conclusions. No rebuttals.

I will be arguing for the retention of capital punishment on ethical grounds.
Con will be arguing for its abolishment.

(No burden of proof nonsense.)
Debate Round No. 1


Truly a glorious day for a debate! Thank you for the acceptance, I hope this is a friendly and polite debate. I am eager to match wits with you, sir.
I will begin my ethical retentionist argument.

1) Distribution

People often bring up the issue of improper distribution of the death penalty among the guilty and innocent, however, the distribution of a punishment or reward does not inherently make the act immoral. If capital punishment were immoral no distribution among the guilty or innocent would make it moral and vice versa. Discriminatory or capricious distribution could not fully support abolition.Furthermore, maldistribution in capital punishment is no more prominent here than it is in other punishments. Rather, the injustice does not lie in the nature of the punishment but in its finality when enacted on the innocent. That is the only true maldistribution of the death penalty as by our laws it is assumably deserved when enacted on the guilty.

But punishments are not enacted on racial (or other) groups. They are enacted on persons who have gone against in this case our most fairly held right: the Right to Life. Guilt is only personal and while others may have avoided the death penalty in other situations, the key to deciding the punishment to someone is the situation. The only fair question is if the this person committed this offense and then what punishment they deserve. However, this discrimination seems to have taken a strange turn, murderers of Caucasians are thought to be more likely to be executed than murderers of African-Americans. However, since most most murders are committed by those of the same race, African-Americans are often spared the death penalty while many Caucasians in the same situation face the death penalty. The motivation behind unequal distribution of the death penalty may have been to keep African-Americans from being fully vindicated, but the result has favored them.

2) Miscarriages of Justice

Professors Hugo Bedau and Michael Radelet have recently found that out of the 7000 executed prisoners between the years of 1900 and 1985 only 25 could have been innocent of their crimes. Although counted in that 25 is several very questionable people that were caught red handed. The point of this is that over a long enough period, there will be miscarriages of justice in every punishment and in this case its far less than 1%. More innocents die in construction and trucking accidents, yet we don't stop these activities.

3) Deterrence
This is a non-issue as most abolitionists agree that even if the death penalty had a known deterrent effect they would still favor abolition. This is the equivalent of being angry that the new iPad Air doesn't have a cup holder and citing that as the reason you aren't buying one, even though the real reason is that you dislike Apple's business practices.

Much deeper though it seems that abolitionists value the life of a convict, or at least his execution, more than that of an individual who could be saved by deterrence of prospective murderers. However, it seems more impossible to prove deterrence than to estimate the true amount of Marijuana in the United States. Mostly, due to the fact that if an individual answered the phone and the census bureau asked if the death penalty had deterred them today, whether they had been deterred or not they would obviously lie. There is no reason to tell the truth at all, most people may even fear legal repercussions or surveillance against them.

4) Cost, Relative Suffering, Brutalization
It is often wrongly associated with capital punishment that it is more costly to execute a criminal than to allow them to live out their life in prison. First off, punishments have never been about cost effectiveness if they were officers would still carry swords and punish thieves by cutting off their hand or immediately putting a bullet in a murderer the second guilty is read. It is not about money, this is only about justice. Second, the high cost is attributed to appeal costs but these costs could be attributed to even life in prison inmates, Michael Skakel has spent million attempting to appeal his conviction for life in prison. We have these high costs to avoid Miscarriages of Justice.

People argue that the suffering of the inmate that is executed is greater than the suffering of the victim, however, relative suffering has never been the goal of the legal system. It is not to equate the suffering the victim had felt to the suffering the inmate now feels, but rather to punish the perpetrator for their grievous offense. The punishment is mean to vindicate the law and social order that had been offset by the crime.

Many will also argue that execution brutalizes the very spirit of our society and endorses or legitimizes unlawful killing. This argument is unfounded as putting kidnappers in prison does not endorse kidnapping, and thus executions do not legitimize murders.

5) Retribution

In order to bring back the social order stolen from us by criminals we must punish them and there is no greater crime than stealing someone's life and thus we must use the greatest punishment we can come up with, i.e. execution. There is a sort of unbalance that occurs through the societal structure when a crime is committed and the only way to return the balance of just and unjust is to punish the perpetrator.

With this, I add, that by killing an individual the killer forfeits their right to life and accepts the possibility of execution. They make an autonomous decision to murder and to respect their autonomy and treat them as humans we must punish them in accordance with our laws.


Thanks to my opponent again. This is an issue I have changed my mind on and so I know the arguments on both sides. There are several reasons one may object to the death penalty. Some say it is immoral and hypocritical to execute someone. That is not my main objection and in fact I could see it being just, if we could assume it was always administered fairly and in only the most heinous and desperate circumstances. My primary objection is the miscarriage of justice argument. If the argument is that the death penalty is meant for violent criminals but sometimes innocent people get it is not good enough. The problem is our standard of evidence is too low and indeed I doubt it is possible to raise it high enough. People can be framed, witnesses can lie, and even DNA can be contaminated. I live by the axiom it is better 1000 innocent men go free then 1 innocent man be put to death. Will those guilty men kill more? Quite possibly which is why I think life in prison is a reasonable compromise. Also we shouldn’t knowingly let an innocent person go that is the flip side to miscarriage of justice. However with life in prison there is still a chance to correct any mistakes if they are later found. People are released from death row all the time, others are not so lucky and are found to be innocent only after they have already been executed. [1][2] A good fictional scenario is played out in the song Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, yes he admitted to a crime he didn’t commit but they refused to hear any other arguments. Our justice system can be corrupt which is another problem. With that in mind how can they be trusted to administer it fairly?



Debate Round No. 2


I apologize as I did not clarify that I will be using the book "Doing Ethics" for my arguments and that I will only be using the papers by Ernest van den Haag, "The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense", and Hugo Adam Bedau, "Against the Death Penalty: The Minimal Invasion Policy". I am sorry that this was not thoroughly clear.
Thank you to my opponent for his speedy response, I wish my busy schedule would allow for the same.
Quote: "I could see it being just, if we could assume it was always administered fairly and in only the most heinous and desperate circumstances."

Rebuttal: You claim that others argue that it is immoral or hypocritical, but that is not your objection and you could see it as just. This means that you accept Capital Punishment as a moral punishment and as I have already stated no distribution of a moral punishment or reward can make it immoral and thus distribution cannot be a viable option for an argument of abolition.
Quote: "If the argument is that the death penalty is meant for violent criminals but sometimes innocent people get it is not good enough. The problem is our standard of evidence is too low and indeed I doubt it is possible to raise it high enough. People can be framed, witnesses can lie, and even DNA can be contaminated."

Rebuttal: I have already claimed that in a study by Bedau at Harvard University, alongside his colleague Radelet, found that there were only 25 out of the 7000 executions between 1900 and 1985 that the executed was even possibly innocent and among those were Sacco and Venzetti as well as Ethel and Julius Rosenburg. These individuals are all seen as having committed their crimes beyond any doubt, whatsoever. My point is that less than one percent of executed prisoners are even possibly innocent because there are so many appeals to make sure that the right individual is being executed. That given those specific individuals listed as well as a few others would require massive speculation and assumption of non-existent evidence to prove a doubt.
Our standard of evidence is so extraordinarily high that we have made it as impossible as humanly possible for someone to slip through the nano-meter sized cracks. You only need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty, with the key word being reasonable, that means that it has to be proven that the defendant was there and had a motive and opportunity. It is so extremely difficult for someone to be framed, witnesses are drilled thousands of times to make sure every time that their story remains the same, and DNA contamination would only allow the guilty to escape and to rewrite DNA to look like whoever you're framing would take billions of dollars in a genetic lab and equipment, as well as, trained personnel. Even at the end the transformed DNA would barely resemble the original; even planting evidence is difficult because of having to gain a significant amount. Also, there are so many appeals and so many different judges and juries that for all of them to agree that this person is guilty all the way through is extremely against the odds and it shows that this individual is guilty beyond any doubts.
Quote: " I live by the axiom it is better 1000 innocent men go free then 1 innocent man be put to death."

Rebuttal: I have no idea what you are trying to say. I would assume an argument and try to rebuttal but that would be putting words in your mouth, which none of us want. So, I will merely agree that I too wish for innocent men to go free as the do by the thousands thanks to our amazing appeal system.
Quote: "People are released from death row all the time, others are not so lucky and are found to be innocent only after they have already been executed."

Rebuttal: People are released from death row all the time because they are proved innocent in our great appeal and legal system. People that are continually found guilty throughout the entire process because they are overwhelmingly guilty or do not prove any type of defense. It is much easier to prove innocence over guilt, because you don't have to prove you are 100% innocent as you are assumed innocent until proven guilty. All an individual has to do is prove that its even slightly possible that another individual with a motive and opportunity could have done the crime. That's how the rich get off. They are less concerned with proving complete innocence and are willing to just prove that others could have done it.
Quote: "A good fictional scenario is played out in the song Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, yes he admitted to a crime he didn"t commit but they refused to hear any other arguments."

Rebuttal: I love this song, Reba is amazing. However, it is severally over-dramatized as lights don't go out when prisoners are executed anymore as prisons outfitted for it have their own generator to produce the energy cheaply. Also, its told by the point of view of someone that refuses to believe the convicts confession when in truth they actually did commit the crime. The singer loves the convict and simply refuses to believe the truth making this song significantly sadder, because their trust was betrayed and this person will continue to investigate fruitlessly until they finally let it go.


I thank my opponent for his response and will be addressing them here.

As it was my understanding that I couldn’t directly refute my opponents arguments the first round I will address some of those now.

His Distribution argument he did bring up a good point here “the injustice does not lie in the nature of the punishment but in its finality when enacted on the innocent.” That is the key. I would agree with the point that just because someone else got away with it means that we must let everyone now get away with it, but that’s not really my argument.

Miscarriages of Justice

This is the main focus of my objection. My opponent’s estimates of innocents executed is low and doesn’t account for the fact that there are almost certainly more cases that we don’t know about and some we may never know. Ultimately it doesn’t matter the number what matters is that we allow innocents to be executed [1]


I don‘t think whether or not it is a deterrent is relevant for my argument, I think laws are putative rather than preventative anyway.


I have heard the cost argument from both sides and while what makes the cost so high is the amount of appeals I would rather have high appeals cost than not have an appeals process in order to save money. The appeals process is finite however so we still run into the problems I have been debating. The other two points in four I really have no issue with except to say that I would not endorse torture either.

5) Retribution

Retribution is different than justice, retribution is more related to vengeance. I would agree that when you commit a crime you forfeit certain rights but my argument’s focus is on the harm to the innocent. Life in prison can be rectified, even though they had years taken from them they still have some time, that is not possible with execution.

My opponent says he doesn’t understand my point with the thousand guilty men and one innocent man. It is a fairly common saying and is based on Blackstone’s formula although the actual numbers vary. [2]

One thing that must be put into account is intentionality. For instance people do die in cars all the time but the purpose of cars is not to kill people and if someone did use it that way most people would agree they should be punished.

My opponent also seems to have too much trust in the system. I would actually agree that the way our jury works is a great thing, even if there are eleven idiots, all it takes is one smart person to acquit and I am sure that has helped keep the problem from being worse than it is. We can’t always count on this however and lawyers are very crafty when it comes to playing on people’s emotions and twisting the fact. Our court system is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, and rightfully so. Sometimes reasonable doubt is not good enough.

Look at the video I posted it is rather long but it does go into great detail about how someone can incriminate themselves even if they are innocent. That is why the 5th Amendment is so important.

While many have been exonerated, we may not know how many others weren’t I they can be falsely convicted in the first place. Just as Gandalf said in the quote I posted last round “even the very wise cannot see all ends”. This is the heart of the matter, no matter how much we think we know we often end up making mistakes.

I thank my opponent and look forward to the next round.



Debate Round No. 3


My opponent agrees with my distribution argument. Instead of refuting my deterrence argument in any way decides to try and say it irrelevant to his argument (even though it is relevant to mine and helps persuade my point). He does not understand that the stories shown in his sources claiming higher numbers of miscarriages of justice to be much higher are severely biased and only take into account one side. His sources refuse to acknowledge the stories held to be true in the courts and he heralds his journalistic biased sources up against a multi-year study be a Harvard Professor. Clearly, my source is far stronger and I would like for him to show scholarly proof that his estimation in right. He has no problem with and even admits that he is completely fine with te high costs of appeals on both sides, death row and life in prison. He also misunderstands retribution, both vengeance and revenge are personal. Retribution is societal. Society does not seek punishment to make them feel better as a whole, but rather to show disapproval and return balance, like when teens vandalize a sign and are fined for its restoration or tasked with the restoration themselves.

I never claimed to not understand "Blackstone's Formula" my problem was that he severallyisquoted it through typos and I was not willing to assume its original state. Doing such would create what appears to be a straw man argument by putting words in his mouth and I am unwilling to do such out of respect.

I disagree with his assumption that I did not take intentionality into account as no one intends to execute an innocent nor send them to death row. It's an unintentional fault and causes a wrongful death. My point is that wrongful deaths occur all the time, such as in the examples I gave.

He continues to stand behind the music video he claimed as a source even though my rebuttal makes it obvious that the executed was guilty and it's a story of pain generated through misplaced trust.

Sorry since Con used parts of his rebuttal to adress my rebuttals I wanted te same chance to keep everything even. This will be the last of us addressing each other's arguments. It has been a wonderful debate and I look forward to reading Cons conclusion.

It is important to remember that distribution cannot be used to support abolition, it can only support reform of how we enact the death penalty. Miscarriages of Justice as shown by unbiased scholarly sources are extremely low and in any punishment miscarriages will occur over a long enough timeline. Also, we can only assume miscarriages when there is sufficient proof to prove reasonable doubt. Deterrence is impossible to prove as no sane person would admit it and even if deterrence was proven most abolitionists would not back down. Cost is unimportant as justice takes presedence over all else and costs can be racked up through appeals with any sentence. Retribution is not vengeance, nor is is revenge. Revenge and vengeance is personal, retribution is societal. Retribution is meant to uphold social balance that has been abused by the guilty.

Think long and hard. Vote for the strongest argument.


Alright I thank my opponent for this debate and want to make my closing statements. First of all after rereading I can understand my opponents confusion on m,y use of the Blackstone formula. I will also point out that I do not have access to my opponent's sources however reputable they are luckily I was able to find part of it online.
When it comes down to it the number of innocents executed is ultimately irrelevant and almost certainly more than the numbers we know since there will always be cases that we don't know the truth as is the nature of these things.
The music video was hardly a main point of mine and the story in it is that the executed man was innocent but his sister, the narrator is the guilty one.
I will reiterate that juries can be easily manipulated by clever lawyers who play on emotion.
In closing I will say that no matter how just the death penalty is against a murderer, the fact remains that any risk ton the innocent is unacceptable. The Death penalty is not an accidental death but a deliberate act of judgement and so even if the intent was not to kill an innocent person, the deliberate nature of the act itself still makes it unacceptable.
Thanks again to my opponent
Debate Round No. 4
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