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

The Death Penalty should be made illegal in the USA.

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/22/2013 Category: Society
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,036 times Debate No: 36918
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (2)
Votes (1)




Welcome everyone to this (second) debate that I have started. I was/am doing this debate with the same name with "EsmeeFallen", but her account is no longer active, so I will reinstate the debate to anyone else.
The death penalty is a topic of hot controversy both within and outside of the USA. This debate will hopefully shed some light onto the subject for people who are either misinformed, confused, or just want a friendly debate.
The rules are as follows:
First round is acceptance only.
Fifth round is closing statements only; no new arguments or refutes.
No religious arguments.
The BoP is shared.

This is an open challenge to anyone that accepts it! I believe that's all, so if you have any questions, please post comment. Thank you to my opponent, the viewers, and the voters. Allez!


Very interesting topic for me and I get to take my earnest position. Looking forward to it!
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting; may we have an interesting and enthusiastic debate! I will now make my opening arguments!

Contention 1: Value of human life.
Human life is invaluable, and to take a life from one is a serious crime. I am sure my opponent will agree on this! However, pro-death penalty will ensure that there is an asterisk attached to this.
Pro-death penalty version: Human life is invaluable, and to take a life from one is a serious crime*.
*unless that life is taken from a person by the government.

I would ask my opponent to explain why he has this asterisk attached? A counter-argument could be:
One forfeits one's right to live by killing another human being.
That might work, except:
a) Where is that a written; what authority tells us this? And
b) Doesn't that justify people executing the executioner(s)? If not, why not?
This appears to be hypocritical on many levels and I do not see as logical.

Contention 2: Innocent executions.
Allow me, if you will, to look at two scenarios.
One: An innocent man is found guilty by the courts, despite pleas of innocence. (For whatever reason, it could be very bias; it could be framed, etc...) His punishment is death. He's executed. Years later, evidence is shown that he was, in fact, innocent. An innocent man is convicted and the families of both the accused and the victim have their false justice revealed to them.

Two: Same scenario, except this man is sentenced to life in prison. Then, when he is later proved innocent, he can go free. An innocent man didn't die.

In short, the US government takes a very hypocritical stance of: "do as I say, not as I do".

Examples of scenario one include Johnny Garrett, Carlos DeLuna, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, among others[1]. These injustices are rare, granted, but should a justice system include absolute punishments with less than 100% success rates? Of course we shouldn't - it's not fair. Justice that's not fair is not justice in the American system.

Contention 3: The death penalty could encourage murderers to murder again.
This, at face value, seems like a ridiculous suggestion. But it's really not; allow me to show you why.
In the American justice system, the penalties are very restrictive. Judges have to say:
This crime=this punishment. It's called mandatory sentencing. So if you've killed someone, to some extent you know what you've got ahead of you if you're found out. So - what they've got to lose? Effectively nothing, so they might as well kill witnesses, other grudges, etc... "A wild beat cornered is not safe to touch."

Contention 4: The cost is far too high.
It has been shown in various studies that the death penalty is far higher a cost than life without parole[2], wasting taxpayer dollars on extra expenses. "California [alone] could save one billion dollars over five years by replacing capital punishment with life without parole."[2] What could these dollars go towards? Schools, police stations to help reduce crime in the first place, roads, rubbish, etc... This is phenomenal! It shouldn't be wasted on tedious, immoral, hypocritical, and unfair "justices".

These contentions, my opponent, voters, ladies, and gentlemen, concludes my opening arguments.
Thank you.




Before getting to the specific contentions, I'll make my general opening case.

This issue takes place on two planes, first, of ethics, and second, of practicality. Some schools of ethics will treat the two as one in the same, namely the likes of pragmatism. While the class of philosophy I will present takes both into consideration, but as separate entities, it will be paramount for my opponent and I to make an effective case on both levels as the nature of the question is law.

What's directly implied by the question, "should the death penalty be made illegal", is that I may very well recognize changes that ought to be made to the current system, but as long as I see that there is any place for it, if even a smaller one than it currently occupies, then I have successfully made my case. With that, my argument is as such: The death penalty is a justified response to some crimes, and is both practical and worth its resources.

On ethics. The central component here is the issue of justice. I contend that the best way to view justice in this context is a punishment inflicted of equivalent value and severity of the crime committed, for having broke the social contract. We all recognize this basic notion, as we see a jay-walker fit for a citation while a rapist a heavy prison sentence. Equivalency is the marking characteristic. And in the case of the death penalty for the crime of murder, what is equivalent to a life taken could not be less ambiguous. As we are all considered equals and peers, ones life is equal in value to any one others. It naturally follows that one life stolen is worth one life stolen. One who murders someone else is defiling justice with every breath taken thereafter, whether in a cell or walking free. They have stolen not just one right, but every single right from that person they have murdered. Their right not just to enjoy the remainder of their life, but also that person's right to suffer as well. With this, equality of justice should demand that the murderer forfeit too his or her rights, every one they have permanently robbed their victim of, including the right to suffer in a prison cell.

The next part of the ethical question is to determine what the purpose of punishment is, and if capital punishment meets the criteria. There are three primary purposes for punishment as I see it: One, a forfeit agreed upon for breaking the social contract, as determined by society as a whole to be justified. Two, as deterrent. And three, as a means for society to protect itself from someone violently unwilling to respect the rights of others, breaking the contract of law. Part one is cardinal and should apply to all punishment. Three primarily is the counter-balance for the weakness and flaw that exists in two. Not all crimes can be deterred by any threat of punishment. But should they shouldn't go unpunished for that reason? This is where the third purpose plays a role.

Does capital punishment meet the criteria? I assert that it does. It is justified, it is potentially but not always a deterrent, and more than any other crime, it is the absolute surest and best way for society to protect itself against those who violate others' rights in the singly most malicious and egregious way imaginable.

The question of the death penalty's practicality will be fully addressed through your contentions, so I will now continue to the rebuttal phase.

#1. This is a misrepresentation of the true ethical maxim which should read like this: *Innocent* human life is invaluable, and to take an *innocent* life from one is a serious crime. The difference between the murderer and the executioner is that the murderer took an innocent life, whereas the executioner did not. All legal punishment is predicated on the government having the authority to do something to someone that in any other normal context would be considered wrong. Even you yourself argue that the government should have the right to imprison someone for the entirety of their remaining natural life, against their will, but I must assume you don't believe that you or I have that right? So it would seem you too have some asterisks to explain.

#2. This is one part of the issue of practicality that I must address. You're absolutely right in observing that by our current system, we execute innocent people. The solution is to limit the death penalty to cases that are genuinely 'beyond a shadow of a doubt'. That is, documented and virtually irrefutable proof that the accused committed a pre-meditated murder. It would be next to impossible to prove absolutely that any crime ever takes place, but the only room for doubt that should be accepted is when the only conceivable way the accused is innocent is total, inexplicable conspiracy. This is the standard the letter of the law is currently supposed to be held to. If it were, there would undoubtedly be fewer executions, but there would be some and they would be perfectly right.

#3. A murderer can no sooner serve more than the rest of their life in jail than they can be executed more than once. They'd be a pinned beast with nothing to lose either way, not just with the death penalty. And yes, one life sentence gives than an opportunity to appeal and potentially go free, but in high-degree murder cases where the evidence is overwhelming, they're basically guaranteed to receive several life sentences and restrictions on parole possibilities. More-over, a person having committed a murder is far more likely to attempt to get away with it by laying low, and keeping a low profile. Going on some murder spree of all the people who could incriminate them only increases the chances of them being caught by magnitudes.

4. The second main part of the practicality issue. Money. First, I would ask you if justice is *worth* the cost, even if it is more expensive? Second, the reason the death penalty is more expensive is because it is paired with a more expensive trial and appeals process [1]. What this means, is not that the death penalty is more expensive, because as basic logic would dictate it is ostensibly *less* expensive, but that the court process is unfair. Why should those who are being charged with the exact same crime receive less resources, court time and appeals just because they aren't facing life? It should take the same amount of time and resources to determine if two people having committed the same crime under the same conditions are guilty or innocent. Their punishment comes last, and should have no bearing on the trial itself yet it does. And why shouldn't someone facing life be able to access appeals in the same way as someone on death row? The lost time and life of someone innocent serving a life sentence is just as valuable as the time lost of an innocent person waiting in death row. This speaks not of what's impractical or costly of the death penalty, but of what is unfair in the trial system we have.

This concludes my opening argument and rebuttal. The next round should be interesting!

Debate Round No. 2


I thank my opponent for his arguments and his strong refutes; allow me to respond.

I will address my opponent's contentions first and then offer my contentions and refutes.

Opponent's Contention 1: Justice.
My opponent contends that: "the best way to view justice in this context [of ethics,] is a punishment inflicted of and severity of the crime committed" This is saying that:
If you murder; you deserve to be executed.
Interestingly, my opponent only proposes this for murder. He doesn't state that:
If you rape; you deserve to be raped. Instead, he states that: "a rapist [should receive] a heavy prison sentence." It is interesting that this only appears to apply for execution and nothing more for no stated reason. If, as my opponent states:
"Equivalency is the marking characteristic." Then this should follow to:
Murder = you deserve to be executed (legal murder). Opponent is Pro.
Rape = you deserve to be raped. Opponent is Con.
Why is my opponent choosing that genuine equivalency should apply for murder only? Why does my opponent pick and choose why murder should have the literal legal equivalent of death for death, but not rape for rape? Indeed, this points to my opponent's personal opinion of what should be literally "equivalent" and nothing more! Instead:
"a rapist [should receive] a heavy prison sentence", but not 'a murderer should receive an indefinite prison sentence'? My opponent, despite his contention, does follow his own logic. I would ask for clarification.

My opponent also proposes three points on why execution is justified ethically:
1) "a forfeit agreed upon for breaking the social contract [law]"
2) "a deterrent" and
3) "as a means for society to protect itself from someone violently unwilling to respect the rights of others"
I will break these down.

1. This works for whatever punishment you decide to implement into the legal system. For example:
'[Sentencing people to life in jail is justified ethically because it is] a forfeit agreed upon for breaking the social contract [law].'
If that was the law, I could use that against you just as illogically for you trying to make life sentencing illegal. This doesn't work as an argument for justifying why the death penalty should remain legal. It's a neutral argument.

2. It doesn't work as a deterrent[1]. Not at all. As you can see, it doesn't work when compared to states without the death penalty, the states had a lower murder rate if it didn't have the death penalty. My opponent's consents (kind of) that it doesn't always work as a deterrent, but source one would suggest that it never worked over not having it implemented.

3.Jail works just as well. While this by itself just works as a "neutralizer", it doesn't give your position an advantage over mine, or vice versa, in any way.

From this: "Does capital punishment meet the criteria? I assert that it does." Doesn't hold.

Contention 1: Value of human life.
Aha! Yes, I didn't think that through. True, I consent that:
a) executing the executioners doesn't hold and
b) the government's authority is legally justified if the person is found guilty in the current legal system.
However, if my opponent would suggest that:
Government has right, therefore, it's ethically justified because they have that right; it doesn't work. It's appeal to authority fallacy.
Legally and ethically don't hold hands.

Contention 2: Innocent executions.
My opponent consents that we do, indeed, execute innocents:
"You're absolutely right in observing that by our current system, we execute innocent people." But the argument (for the voters), wasn't whether we do or not, it's whether it's a risk we want/need to take over alternatives. My opponent (appears) to make an appeal to probability fallacy. It's unlikely, therefore, go right ahead! I contest this fallacy. Yes, it runs off "beyond any doubt" - at the time. Allow me to elaborate.
X is innocent, but is found guilty *beyond a shadow of doubt* and is executed. "Beyond a shadow of doubt" isn't infallible[2], they are mistakes made[2], so should we institute an absolute punishment when there isn't absolute certainty? I see no reason why we should when compared to alternatives such as life in prison that have so many advantages, like cost, for example[3]. (I'm not quoting here, but, to clarify):
"because it's unlikely" is appeal to probability fallacy and
"because it's not happened many times before" is appeal to majority fallacy.

Contention 3: Encouraging murder.
Another strong counter. This is indeed a "neutral" argument, as it works both ways. I'll consent that this helps no one's cause either way.

Contention 4: Cost.
Maybe I made my argument unclear. By "cost of the death penalty" I did mean the process, too, not just the actual execution. I apologise if I made that unclear. My opponent bases his argument off a red herring fallacy - pondering about the (should be) processes of other punishment systems, which is irrelevant, as this contention was about cost of the death penalty system. Whether or not another system *should* or not be x or y is totally irrelevant to my contention of cost for the death penalty. Indeed, my opponent's argument largely hinges on the fairness of the system in general, thinking that I was talking about the execution itself; I wasn't. My point stands:
The death penalty (including process) cost is very high when compared to other alternatives, such as life in jail[3]. This cost, upon summing all reasons up, isn't justified when compared to other options.

I think this will, indeed, become extremely heated; I await your response(s)!




Waxwing forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


It's a shame that my opponent has forfeited round three of this debate. Nevertheless, I will extend all of my arguments and refutes, in the hope that he will come back to this debate as soon as possible.


I do apologize for missing that round. I had been quite busy for those days, and actually attempted to surmise a response on my lunch break yesterday with 11 minutes remaining on the timer. I finished and submitted it with around 1 minute remaining, but it told me I was too late.

At any rate, getting back to the matter...

1. I actually wouldn't disagree that raping a rapist is justified. I wouldn't agree that its a proper punishment however, since it could potentially fail to meet all three qualifications for the purposes of a punishment. The guilty party in question may not care that he or she has been raped (or may very possibly be 'rape-proof' so to speak, in that their goal or wish might be to receive the very sexual act levied against them), it may not deter them consequentially and it wouldn't for any appropriate period of time remove them from society to prevent them from committing the crime again. In fact, the same could be said of all punishments, that no retaliation could either effect them personally in any negative way nor deter them, but in the case of both imprisonment and certainly of execution, we can at least be assured that if anything else, they will be temporarily or permanently removed from society and disabled from continuing to violate other people. I believe that is enough to warrant the general, seemingly 'double-standard' against simply mirroring a crime committed back at the guilty. It's also in many cases not even possible, for example a homeless and possession-less man burglarizing another person's house.

On your next objection regarding the three criteria for punishment: All three, I agree, are 'neutralizers' in-so-far as they don't inherently discount or bolster either capital punishment or life-imprisonment. But please recall, the question is whether or not capital punishment should be made illegal, so it would follow that if I theoretically neutralized every single argument between the merits of life imprisonment versus execution, assuming no alternative between them was offered, there would be no reason to actively make capital punishment illegal. If it were currently illegal, and I was arguing that it should be made legal, it would work the other way around. That said, it wasn't my intention there to demonstrate that capital punishment had an advantage to life-imprisonment, it was merely to lay out the grounds for which capital punishment can be considered justified. My arguments for capital punishment *over* life-imprisonment lay elsewhere.

2. The main thing I will offer to you here is a better definition of "shadow of a doubt". I sort of improvised it at it didn't come out as well as it should have, in retrospect. The simpler definition is that "there can be no doubt". Now we could either 1. get into an extremely elaborate debate on the merits of epistemology, for which the remaining character and round limits wouldn't likely even begin to accommodate, or 2, take *both* empirical and rational basis for knowledge as givens, for the sake of practicality. That is, generally things that are perfectly sound in both logic and physical evidence should be considered 'facts'. So beyond a shadow of a doubt implies that for all intents and purposes, a party is found guilty as a matter of undeniable fact, save for the possibility pigs spontaneously grow wings, 2+2 somehow equals 5 and we all awaken from the matrix.

4. I disagree that reform to the justice system, especially a reform reform directly related to the topic, should be 'off-the-table'. Consider that your entire argument is that a purely hypothetical change to the system should be made (making illegal capital punishment.)
Debate Round No. 4


I would like to extend my thanks to my opponent, Waxwing, for this debate; it has been interesting and difficult to debate on. I will follow with my closing statements:

There is little I can respond to, as per the rules laid out in round one, but:

Contention 1: Ethics.
All I can say is that this system of (raping them might not convince them - "x"ing them might not convince them) really works in either way, as might is the key word here - in another sense, this is another "neutral" argument.
On the three points:
"All three, I agree, are 'neutralizers'" Is what my opponent stated. So This does nothing to support either position - we are in agreement.

Contention 2: Innocent executions.
I will essentially re-cap and re-phrase my round three post:
Innocent people die (whether it be gassed, electrocuted, injected with poison, or hanged) in America's justice system. No one innocent dies over alternatives. I do not accept that we should have this legal system wherein irreversible mistakes are made - even if, in theory, it is in a state of "no doubt". It might work on paper, but not in reality[1].

Contention 3: I consented to my opponent that this was another neutral argument.

Contention 4: Cost.
I will again re-cap and re-phrase my argument.
"...Commission estimates the annual costs of the present (death penalty) system to be $137 million per year.

The cost of the present system with reforms recommended by the Commission to ensure a fair process would be $232.7 million per year.

The cost of a system in which the number of death-eligible crimes was significantly narrowed would be $130 million per year.

The cost of a system which imposes a maximum penalty of lifetime incarceration instead of the death penalty would be $11.5 million per year."[2]

It costs far too much to endure when compared to alternatives. There is really no excuse for it - even with (theoretical and potential) reformations included[2].

I will now make my closing statements:

First and foremost, I would offer a huge thank you to my opponent, Waxwing, for this debate! (I know I've said it before, but no harm in duplicating). I have enjoyed it immensely!
As for closing my stance:
I would simply like to put forward to the voters and my opponent a comparison:

Does the death penalty (tDP) bring justice (still debatable, but, for the sake of argument)? Yes
Does life in prison (LiP) bring justice? Yes

Does tDP kill innocent people? Yes
Does LiP bring kill innocent people? No - better

Does tDP cost more over LiP? Yes
Does LiP cost more over tDP? No - better

When executed (i.e. carried out), can it be reversed (for tDP)? No
When executed (i.e. carried out), can it be reversed (for LiP)? Yes - better

These all culminate that life in prison is better than the death penalty. But wait, you might say, why should this make the death penalty illegal? The answer is:
By making the death penalty illegal, you force better alternatives to be carried out that will ultimately do the same thing (bring justice), but will also reduce costs, hence increase in funding for more pressing issues, make reversible mistakes, instead of irreversible mistakes, and kill (100%) less innocent people.

That is why: cut out the weeds and the flowers will shine!

I thank the audience, the voters, my opponent, Waxwing, once again, and look forward to our next debate!

Kind regards,




In closing, I'd also like to extend a thanks to my opponent for a very healthy and intensive debate.

To make a final address to our winding contentions/objections:

1&3. Here we basically agree that the underpinning issues are 'neutral', except that I contend that all things neutral, I have the advantage as it would mean no reason to actively change the laws to make what is currently legal, illegal, has been established. One part I do not believe is neutral, and goes to my arguments favor, is that capital punishment better suits the concept of justice than does life-imprisonment, drastically so. The idea of someone being able to live, in despair or even in possibly in enjoyment, after robbing someone else that right completely, is an utterly reprehensible disservice to the victim, to society, and an inequity of punishment compared to the crime. To murder someone is literally to rob them of everything, the damage is infinite and unfathomable, and any quantity of time they are allowed to exist on earth is a violation outright of fairness. It would be like sentencing someone to two weeks of community service for burning down your home, except infinitely worse.

2. This is certainly the strongest argument made against capital punishment. Do innocent people currently die in our system? Yes. What can we say about these cases? It's first, difficult to tell for certain, as once an execution is performed, there is seldom a bother to spend resources in any further investigation, but glancing at the list of what few innocent people *known* to be innocent and have been executed, and the list of exonerated death-row inmates, there is a very common theme found: 20+ year old crimes turning up reliable DNA evidence unavailable at the time[1][2]. Bare in mind, it seems as though it can be the case that one's innocence can indeed be proven (not to say the onus is on them to prove it), so does it not follow that guilt can be proven as well? If this is the case, if even in only a tiny fraction of cases, it's sufficient to say this argument succumbs to itself when thought out.

2b. Another thought worth mentioning in respect to this: All punishment inflicted by the legal system is permanent, and unretractable. No amount of time we may put an innocent person in jail can be undone. 20 years spent on death row is 20 years that can never be given back, even if found innocent. The advantage of life-imprisonment in this case wouldn't be that anything could be 'undone', but further punishment staved. This is the crux of the argument, which isn't something I strictly disagree with, for because of this its clear whether you support the death penalty or not that reforms to the standards in court needs to be improved. However, again, I do contend that its utterly conceivable that guilt can be proven (lest we believe that nothing at all can be proven), and that a court can be permitted to recognize such a proof, and following from that, there is absolutely a time and place where a death sentence is appropriate.

4. On the figures you offered: I don't imagine anyone believes the court system should be 100% about cutting costs at the expense of justice, and it would seem only a very impractical cost should be avoided, one that would literally be worth investing that amount of money in other things and accept perverting justice. Looking at the data you provided, even the most expensive system is about 1/10 of 1 percent of California's GDP, or 200 million to 2 trillion[3]. Are these the horrible numbers that make it so unthinkable and outrageous to pursuit? And don't forget that the money spent on these systems aren't thrown into a void, they stimulate a very valuable sector of our economy and provide useful jobs to judges and trial lawyers.

Let's re-evaluate now some of the high-lights:

Does tDP bring justice?: Yes (+1)
Does LiP bring justice?: No

Does tDP, limited to empirical and rational *proof*, kill innocent people? No
Does LiP, kill innocent people? No

Does tDP cost negligibly more in an unfair system? Yes (+1)
Does LiP cost more in a fair system? Yes

When carried out, can tDP be reversed? No
When carried out, can LiP be reversed? No (see 2b above) (+.5)

In closing, without being too overbearing with a summary of everything you've only just read, The death penalty is the only proper ethic response to a murder. The burden of proof is paramount, though not insurmountable, and when it is done, there should be empathy, no anger, no pity or any such thing for the murderer, just a humble leveling of things he or she could not come to respect in others; a quiet removal of the worst possible type of person from our midst. For this, I ask you vote 'CON'.

Debate Round No. 5
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by leandro.sanchez 4 years ago
Technicly the onu has valued the life of a human i dont remember the exact number but in the 6 milion
Posted by MysticEgg 4 years ago
"my opponent...doesn't* follow his own logic." I typed does, I meant doesn't. My bad, my friend!
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by funwiththoughts 4 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:60 
Reasons for voting decision: Sources to Pro since Con had none. Conduct to Pro since Con forfeited in Round 3. Arguments to Pro since Con's arguments depended on some things that are not possible (i. e. 0 innocent executions) and presented few real arguments of his own, mostly push-debating.