The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
8 Points

The Death Penalty Should Be Eliminated

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/17/2013 Category: Politics
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,713 times Debate No: 31384
Debate Rounds (5)
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Votes (2)




In this debate, I will address several main aspects of capital punishment (or death penalty; terms may be used interchangeably) in the United States.

Before I begin, I would like to note that I am brand new to this site and I am excited to begin debating and put my opinions out there. So, be aware that I am certainly not the most experienced one here.

Now, first of all, I would lie to provide a definition.
Death Penalty - Execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense. OR - Imposition of a penalty of death by the state.
"Death penalty" and "capital punishment" are considered synonymous to some extent, but it should be noted that giving the sentence is not always followed through by the penalty itself.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Columbia Encyclopedia (6th edition), numerous other outlets

To follow this, I will present my argument:

- Before getting into the statistics and other arguments for the death penalty, the base question for this debate must be, "Is it ever morally acceptable to end the life of another human being?" To that, I have to say no. Personally, I believe that all forms of killing, especially that sanctioned by the state, is wrong. This argument is purely a moral one, based on how I was raised and how I choose to live my life. No matter what the circumstances may be, I believe that killing another person is unacceptable. The kicker here is that the government is actually sponsoring the murder of a convicted criminal. This means that the state takes money from taxpayers and uses it to end the life of a person. However, since killing is a crime, and the state kills someone, we are all guilty of killing. When we are guilty of killing, we also must be put to death. This the paradox of the death penalty, and you cannot avoid it.

Before I go into deeper depth of the other facets of the death penalty, I would like to see my opponent address my points and then give further reason why they believe that capital punishment should remain as an option for some criminals. Topics to be addressed may include, but are not limited to:
- the death penalty's use as a deterrent;
- the legality and constitutionality of the death penalty; and
- social, religious, and racial aspects of the death penalty.

Round 1 may be for acknowledgement and clarifications, accompanied by preliminary arguments. In Round 2, I will address all of my opponent's points and present new arguments of my own if the need presents itself. Rounds 3, and 4 will similar. In Round 5, however, only closing points should be made. Burden of proof will be divided equally. Please remember to maintain a respectful, intellectual, and professional attitude.

Once again, I am new here. As it is great to be here, I will admit that I am a little nervous to undertake my first debate. I thank you for your understanding.


I would like to thank Pro for starting this topic. I am also relatively new to this site and I hope that we will have an interesting debate.

I accept Pro's definition and my resolution is "The Death Penalty Should Not Be Eliminated". I believe that capital punishment should be kept for criminals who committed very serious crime (mass murder for example). My reasons for that are mainly "death penalty is just" and "it helps deter crime". I will expand my arguments in the next round.

Regarding Pro's first argument, I have to say this: You can't outlaw something just because you personally think it's wrong. How can all forms of killing, no matter the circumstances, are wrong? If the police killed some armed robbers to protect the civilians, is that wrong as well? The whole so-called "paradox of the death penalty" is just absurd. Firstly, as I've already said above, not all killing are crime. Secondly, the taxpayers are not guilty of whatever crimes the state committed even if there are any. Thirdly, not everyone guilty of killing is put to death, capital punishment is only used in extreme cases.
Debate Round No. 1


Firstly, I appreciate Con's prompt and honest response. Now, paraphrasing Con's response to my original claim:

Not all forms of killing are wrong, and just because you may think it is morally wrong does not mean that you can make it illegal.

My opponent uses the example of the police killing a group of armed robbers due to the robbers' immediate threat to civilians. He then posed the question: "[I]s that wrong as well?" My answer continues to be yes, while contending that such violence is necessary violence. I say this because I maintain that such an argument is a logical fallacy; it is a false comparison. The death penalty, on one hand, is where the state executes a person who is of no immediate danger to anyone else. The convict has committed their crime, been arrested, been jailed, been tried, and has little to no chance of harming another civilian. On the other hand, there is the armed robber, who is an immediate threat to several civilian lives, and is quite dangerous. The state is still involved (the police), but in this case, the state must take action in order to protect its civilians. A more desirable outcome would be for the police to disarm the robbers (be it by negotiation or by non-fatal force). When I say that is a necessary violence, please note that I do not mean morally right. The death penalty is the unnecessary killing of a person who is not a threat. One should not confuse "crime" with "morally wrong", nor should one confuse "necessary" with "morally okay".

Con goes on to rebut me by saying that the paradox of the death penalty is "absurd", a point that can be tied to his second point which is that taxpayers are not guilty of crimes committed by the state. Does the state not represent its people? In any state-sponsored endeavor, it must be funded by citizens, the taxpayers. If the state kills someone, the taxpayers become responsible simply because they paid for that action. So, essentially, the government is forcing some people who do not support the death penalty to kill against their will.

Con also notes that not all violent criminals are put to death, a clarification that I am aware of but appreciate none the less.

I would now like to let Con respond and then elaborate further on his reasons for opposing the abolition of capital punishment.


My arguments

Death Penalty is Just

Any crime should be punished proportional to how serious they are. So when a man commits the most atrocious acts, he should receive the highest penalty: the death punishment.

This a quote of Robert Macy, District Attorney of Oklahoma City, about one of his case: "In 1991, a young mother was rendered helpless and made to watch as her baby was executed. The mother was then mutilated and killed. The killer should not lie in some prison with three meals a day, clean sheets, cable TV, family visits and endless appeals. For justice to prevail, some killers just need to die." [1]

What is described above is just one single case. There are many other criminals who committed much more horrifying murders, and they should receive their retribution.

Death Penalty deter crimes

Punishment makes people less likely to violate the laws and more severe punishment will deter crimes better. Because everyone fears death, they will be more hesitated before committing a serious crime.

In one of his research, Professor Isaac Ehrlich of the University of Buffalo estimated that each execution deterred about seven or eight homicides [2]. Additional research of Professor Stephen K. Layson of the University of North Carolina has reconfirmed Professor Ehrlich's results [3].

Counter Arguments

Pro accused me of using a logical fallacy, but it is not true. I didn't use the example of armed robbers to compare with the death penalty. I used it as a direct counter to his "all forms of killing are wrong". Because Pro said "all forms" so my example must be included.

Then Pro said that the killing of the robbers is "necessary" but not "morally right". He talked about a desirable where the problem could be solved without anyone killed. Of course it's the ideal solution, but sometimes it doesn't work and you have to use the last resort. So, in a situation where you have no other choice, what will you do? Pro said it's still "not right". I respect his opinion even though mine is different. But it doesn't matter, as I've already said in Round 1: You can't outlaw something just because you personally think it's wrong. Pro said it himself: One should not confuse "crime" with "morally wrong", and this is my point: We outlaw "crime", not something "morally wrong", as morality is subjective.

Regarding the "paradox of the death penalty", it requires three conditions to be true. The first and the second ones are debatable but it does not matter. Because Pro conceded the third point, so he conceded this argument and therefore this so-called paradox doesn't exist.

[2] "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death," (1975), Isaac Ehrlich
[3] "Homicide and Deterrence: A Reexamination of the United States Time-Series Evidence," (1985), Stephen K. Layson,
Debate Round No. 2


I am pleased that this is turning out to be such a good debate.


-My opponent argues that the death penalty is just; the punishment fits the crime. In Con's own words: "Any crime should be punished proportional to ho serious they are." However, there are numerous problems with this argument. The penalty for rape shouldn't be rape; the penalty for arson shouldn't be arson; and the penalty for murder shouldn't be death. We live in a civilized society, which means we have to reject the ancient eye-for-an-eye punishment. When a government doles out vengeance and claims that it is justice, that government has stooped to the level of the killer and has devalued human life and dignity. If you want to punish a murderer, then do with him what you do with other crimes: Put him in jail and let him rot. And for such a unique instance, put him in solitary confinement for twenty three and a half hours a day. If you don't want him to have such a nice life as Robert Macy describes, feed him cheaper food, don't give him television, and don't allow him family visits. Some even argue that life imprisonment without parole is worse than death.

There is a huge problem with making this issue emotive such as Macy does. We forget that we are a civilized nation with a working justice system. I realize that revenge is hot and may make the victim's family feel good, while the law is cold and takes a long time. But in order for justice to truly prevail, we need to actually administer justice rather than reverting to barbaric instincts.

-My opponent goes on to cite outdated studies in his argument that capital punishment deters crime. This argument can be dismantled quite simply:

First, statistically. A vast majority (88%) of criminologists do not think that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, while only 5% view it as effective[1]. This is just some of the evidence that capital punishment has little to no deterrent factor. More statistics prove this point. American states that utilize the death penalty have higher homicide rates than states that do not have the death penalty[2].

Second, with common sense. It is extremely hard to discourage someone from murder, especially the severe murder that Con talks about as the only type of murder that warrants capital punishment. Almost all of the murders that resulted in the death penalty were committed by those who were either: 1) convinced they would never be caught, 2) under the influence of some kind of substance, 3) killing in the "heat of the moment"; by passion, or 4) killing by compulsion; due to a mental disorder. It is quite impossible to deter these crimes, especially indirectly by law. I not only question the notion that "everyone fears death" (exact words of Con), but I reject it wholly, for reason stated above. I iikewise reject the notion that potential killers ponder the idea of killing someone and weigh the factors of the situation. Even if there is such a situation where that does happen, it does not matter if the killer hesitates or not, because the crime is still committed. And there is no way a government can know whether that thought process took place, much less make a policy that is more or less based such an assumption. The fact of the matter is that capital punishment has very little deterrent factor, if any at all.

-Con's response to my morality argument makes me very worried that he does not understand my point, or worse, that he may have missed the point all together.

I fully understand that we may have reached a simple moral disagreement, but Con continues to characterize my argument quite incorrectly. I concede that I misspoke in Round 1 when I said that "all forms of killing... are wrong". I meant to imply that all killing is not morally right (which is not the same). I apologize for this. However, that does not change my argument. Putting aside the unnecessary example that Con provided (one that has no bearing on this debate), the base of my argument is that with capital punishment, the state not only kills someone, but they kill someone who is of no immediate threat to anyone. 63% of Americans support the death penalty, forcing more than a third of us to kill against our will. The situation is unique in and of itself, and any comparison is a fallacy. To Con's point of "You can't outlaw something just because you personally think it's wrong", I disagree. If murder is a crime in the US (which it is) and killing is wrong, then it makes no sense, morally or in any other way, to punish murder with murder.

My opponent has clearly displayed a lack of understanding of the paradox of the death penalty when he claims that it requires three conditions to be true. That notion itself holds no value because it was made up on the spot. But, to be fair, I can analyze the "conditions" now:
1. Not all killing is crime. But the murder of an innocent person is crime. If the state kills an innocent person, we are all guilty.
2. Taxpayers are not guilty of crimes the state committed. No? I believe I already addressed this.
3. Not every convicted killer is put to death. I did not concede this point because I had no idea that it was a "condition" at all. Like the first "condition", however, this is also irrelevant. Again, if the state kills one innocent person, we are all murderers.

Con goes on to say that the paradox doesn't exist because I conceded one "condition", but both of those accusations are untrue. That doesn't even address the morality of state-sanctioned murder of anyone, guilty or not. Government shouldn't be in the business of killing people.

My Case

-Capital punishment is unconstitutional. Thurgood Marshall, the late justice of the US Supreme Court, in Furman v. Georgia said this:

"[Capital punishment] violates the Eighth Amendment because it is morally unacceptable to the people of the United States at this time in their history. In judging whether or not a given penalty is morally acceptable, most courts have said that the punishment is valid unless 'it shocks the conscience and sense of justice of the people.' Assuming knowledge of all the facts presently available regarding capital punishment, the average citizen would, in my opinion, find it shocking to his conscience and sense of justice. For this reason alone, capital punishment cannot stand."

The killing of a human being by the state is cruel and unusual punishment. But it is not just the Eighth Amendment being violated; since capital punishment cuts off an chance of exoneration, then due process is also nonexistent and the Fifth Amendment is also violated.

-There are innocent people on death row. Since 1973, over 140 people have been exonerated from death row, including two from 2012 alone[3]. That's too big of a risk for any government to take. We shouldn't trust prosecutors and the sometimes-biased judicial system from being right 100% of the time, because, as humans, we err too often. We should not take this risk with innocent lives.


Based on valid questions of morality and constitutionality, the death penalty is an abomination and an embarrassment to our otherwise civilized country. It is arguable that life in jail with no chance of parole is an even greater punishment than death. There is no substantial evidence that capital punishment is a deterrent; in fact, there is evidence supporting exactly the opposite. It is unconstitutional, immoral, and risky. We should at least give convicts the rest of their natural life to prove their innocence. Because we are now beyond reasonable doubt that we have killed an innocent person and for that, we are all murderers.







My arguments

Death Penalty is Just

I never said "The criminals should be punished with exactly what they committed". Not all murderers receive the death penalty, only the ones who cross a further line must be put to death. So it's not "eye for an eye". Punishment proportional to the crime's seriousness is exactly how the law works. Tell me, what is the difference between someone who serves ten years in prison and someone serving two years, if not the one who committed more serious crime will be put in prison for longer? Therefore, death penalty is not revenge, it's a punishment for someone who deserves it. If that is not justice, then I don't know what is.

Pro suggested an alternative for the death penalty: "put him in solitary confinement for twenty three and a half hours a day", and denying him other needs. This is torture. Now we have something clearly morally wrong, devaluing human life and unconstitutional. Pro said it himself: "worse than death". So he wants to abolish the death penalty then replace it with something even worse?

Death Penalty deter crimes

Pro said the studies I cited are outdated. Unless someone can prove that the related circumstances have changed so much that those results are no longer true, it's not outdated.

* 88% of criminologists think that the death penalty does not deter crime

Those are nothing but their opinions. We can not simply trust someone's opinion just because who he is. If I were a criminologist, would I automatically win this debate? Obviously not. Therefore, those people, whoever they are, need to present their studies and explain why they think that way instead of a simple "yes" or "no". Otherwise, their opinions don't really worth anything.

* American states that utilize the death penalty have higher homicide rates than states that do not have the death penalty

And Venezuela, the first country abolishing the death penalty, has a very high murder rate while Japan, a country having the capital punishment, has a very low one.

You can say that Japan and Venezuela are different, then I will say that Massachusetts and Louisiana are different. That is the point. Homicide rates are affected by a lot of factors. In order to know whether the death penalty deters crimes we need to compare the homicide rates in the same state when it has and has not the capital punishment. And someone already did that. Professors Hashem Dezhbakhsh of Emory University and Joanna Shepherd of Clemson University, after analysing the panel data covering the fifty states from 1960 to 2000, found out that the murder rate increases when the death penalty is abolished and decreases when it is reinstated [1]. The following figure is taken from their study:

In another study, Joana Shepherd found out that the death penalty "deters murders previously believed to be undeterrable: crimes of passion and murders by intimates" [2].

The second part of Pro's argument is "common sense", or I should say "his assumption". I would like Pro to include some evidence to back it up, especially after I've presented some studies that states otherwise.



I don't really understand what Pro tried to argue here.

* 63% of Americans support the death penalty, forcing more than a third of us to kill against our will

Sorry, that is how democracy works. Policies are chosen by majority and the rest are forced to obey whether they like it or not. Otherwise, I think we should abolish the president election too.

* If murder is a crime in the US (which it is) and killing is wrong, then it makes no sense, morally or in any other way, to punish murder with murder

I have to say it again: Not all killing are murder, and the death penalty is not murder. So we do not punish murder with murder.

Then we come back to the paradox, what Pro said in Round 1 is:
1/ Because killing is crime so the state is committing crime
2/ Because the state commits crime so the taxplayers are guilty too (I already said I can debate with him about this but it's not necessary)
3/ Because we are guilty of killing so we deserve death too (his own word: "When we are guilty of killing, we also must be put to death")
Obviously the paradox need all three above conditions to be true. But I pointed out that the third one is false: Not all guilty of killing will be put to death. So no paradox.

Capital punishment is unconstitutional

Eighth Amendment:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. [3]

Cruel and Unusual Punishment:
Such punishment as would amount to torture or barbarity, any cruel and degrading punishment not known to the Common Law, or any fine, penalty, confinement, or treatment that is so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community. [4]

The death penalty is only applied to the ones who deserve it. It does not cause suffering or humiliation to the person subjected to it. It does not "shock the moral sense of the community" either (according to Pro, 63% of the Americans support the death penalty so I think it's safe to assume that it's not shocking enough).

Fifth Amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. [5]

I fail to see how the death penalty violates the Fifth Amendment.

There are innocent people on death row

Two people are exonerated from the death row in 2012, not "Two people are sentenced to death (wrongfully) in 2012". Seth Penalver was convicted in 1994 while Damon Thibodeaux was convicted in 1997. Looking at the list of people recently exonerated, most of them were convicted before 2000 and many of them are proven innocent by using DNA testing. [6]

Yes, nothing is 100% right, but nowaday DNA testing and other methods help us accurately find out whether someone is the true culprit. If you doubt the DNA testing, then maybe Damon Thibodeaux is not innocent at all.

[1] "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a 'Judicial Experiment'", Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Joanna Shepherd (2003)
[2] "Murders of Passion, Execution Delays, and the Deterrence of Capital Punishment", Joanna Shepherd (2003)
Debate Round No. 3


I feel like I have said all I need to say, and I would like to enthusiastically thank Con for an intriguing and thoguht-provoking debate. Seeing as I do not have the time nor the energy to form a response for this round, I will not make a formal argument. Please do not take this as a concession (it is not), rather it is me realizing that perhaps I may have made this debate too long and underestimated hw much work would have to be put into the debate alone. But this has been a great learning experience and I hope to use that in future debates.

Voters: Don't necessarily vote for the person with whom you agree, vote objectively based on the aguments. Thanks.

Again, I still disagree philosophically with my opponent, but I have come to a realization that I cannot complete this round. Thank you.


Serious preparation for a debate will drain you :)
I know that from my own experience.

Okay, let's consider that Round 4 does not exist. We will post our conclusions in the next round.
Debate Round No. 4


MTK1978 forfeited this round.


Summary of the debate:

I have presented my arguments and explained why we should keep the death penalty:
- Death Penalty is Just:
It's not revenge, but a fitting punishment for the ones who committed horrendous crimes.
- Death Penalty deters crimes:
I've shown several studies showing that the death penalty deters homicides.

I have also refuted Pro's points:
- We can't outlaw something just because we personally don't like it. Morality is subjective and can't be used as a basis to change the law.
- The death penalty is not a cruel and unusual punishment. Therefore it does not violate the constitution.
- Innocent people on death row is a thing of the past. Current methods help us easily find out whether someone is the true culprit.

In conclusion, the capital punishment should not be abolished, in order for justice to prevail and innocent lives to be saved.
Debate Round No. 5
No comments have been posted on this debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Misterscruffles 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfeited
Vote Placed by Pennington 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:05 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro basically quit. Con offered more reliable sources and arguments. Both had polite manners so I gave both conduct.