Capital Punishment

by group 2,GTUC BIT L100

Case study.

Is it ever right to take a life to serve as punishment?

Brief History

The word capital originates from the Latin word “capitalis” which means the head. Describing the form of punishment, that is the severing of the head.

Capital punishment normally referred to as the death penalty is the practice of taking a persons’ life as a means of punishment for being guilty of some specific serious crimes to mankind after going through a proper trial.

This used to be a universal practice but of late it has been either revised or abandoned in most democratic societies in the world with the exception of some parts in US, Japan and South Korea. This came about due to the high level of concerns raised by human right activist the world over.

Crimes that usually attract the penalty of capital punishment are known as capital crime. E.g. Rape, murder, espionage, treason. (Note that the extent to which a crime can be called capital is determined by the society)

Forms of Capital Punishment.

Crucifixion, firing squad, lethal injection, gassing, electrocution.etc

Capital punishment raises serious ethical concerns and debates all over the world. In this presentation we would bring to light the two main factions that arise when the topic is brought up for discussion

A school of thought believes that the death punishment is justified for murderers by the principle of retribution and that life imprisonment is not an equally effective deterrent and that the death penalty affirms the right to human life by punishing those who violate the right to life in the strictest form. An opposing school states that: Human life is very valuable and should be protected at all cost even if the person involved has taken the life of some other person. Putting someone to death just because they caused some serious crime doesn’t justify justice but rather preaches revenge and violence, which is morally wrong in today’s world. Simply put (One cannot kill to show that killing is wrong.)

Another school of thought against capital punishment states that Flaws or mistakes of the justice system make way for argument on the capital punishment since many innocent people have been killed and also there are rooms for “planted people” who act as witnesses and hence prosecute others wrongfully. The death sentence is irreversible after is been carried out and could not be the best way of punishment to humans. A research in the US alone shows that over 116 convicts sentence to death row were later found to be innocent since 1973. A faction that stands in support of capital punishment states that even though the judicial system has flaws that lead to the deaths of innocent people, the execution itself serves as a deterrent to potential wrongdoers and as such, such flaws cannot be compared to security the society enjoys when the wrongdoers are executed.

** I**n addition, the ways of executing people cause so much pain and suffering which is very inhumane, cruel and morally unacceptable, the torture these condemned victims had to go through is simply conflicting with many religious and ethical issues which should be looked into, many methods of execution like lethal gas, strangulation and electrocution are all very painful ways of executions and hence asks for ethical assistance says the school that stands against the capital punishment. Another faction says when one looks at all those innocent people who suffer extreme pain in the country at the hands of these criminals then showing mercy or sympathy to them would be out of the question on the basis of execution being cruel to them.

Furthermore, the school of thought that stands against the use of capital punishment , claim that the cost involved in the whole process of trial and execution is really huge, bringing forth ethical concerns, as in the inappropriate use of such monies. These monies could be used for the betterment of society, even if such money is used to build community centres, where children and the youth in a community would be able learn and become complete persons in society. A real life scenario would be the cost of convicting and executing Timothy McVeigh who was responsible for the Oklahoma City Bombing was over $13 million. In New York for instance, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1995, costs for each person condemned to death were approximately $23 million. Whilst those in favour of capital punishment counter with these two arguments: It is a fallacy that capital punishment costs more than life without parole (that the overall cost to the state to keep a person in prison for life is more costly.), Justice cannot be thought of in financial terms (justice is justice and that a price tag cannot be placed on justice.)

Taking a peek into the religious arena we look at the;

Christian perspective

Some Christians argue that the Old Testament passage “Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6). The sixth commandment, (Fifth in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) is preached as 'Thou shalt not kill' by some denominations and as 'Thou shalt not murder' by others. As none of the denominations have a hard-line stance on the subject, Christians are free to make a personal decision. Although some interpret that John 8:7 Mathew Chapter 5–7 and Luke 6:17–49 of the Bible condemns the death penalty. Others consider Romans 13:3-4, Genesis 9:5–6, and Leviticus 20:1–27 to support it.

Islamic perspective

Some scholars of Islam are of the opinion that it is permissible only in the event that the victim or the family of the victim has the right to pardon the guilty person. However, there is no difficulty in reaching the conclusion that under Islamic law (Fiqh), capital punishment is permitted. Sharia law or Islamic law may require capital punishment but there is a lot of variation amongst Islamic nations as to actual punishment. In the Qur'an, death punishment is prescribed for various hard 'fixed crimes' including rape (capital crimes). Though it will be interesting to note that murder is not part of such crimes, it is treated as a civil crime and is regulated by the law of qisas (retaliation) leaving to whether or not the person will be punished by death or whether the person will be made to pay a fee is left to the victim's family. (In the case of murder, it means the right of the heirs of a murder victim to demand execution of the murderer.)

The Ghanaian Experience

The death penalty has been in Ghana’s statute books since 1874. In Ghana capital punishment is meted out if the crimes are: armed robbery, treason, first degree murder.

Ghanaian Statistics

1\. Under the National Defence Council Government (J.J Rawlings) ,1984-1993,155 people 2\. April 2000 – 100 people had their sentence commuted to life imprisonment. 3\. 2003 – J.A Kuffour granted 179 people amnesty since they had spent 10 years awaiting the death penalty. 4\. 6th March 2007, amnesty was granted to 1206 prisoners, 36 of these were on the death row, who later had their sentence commuted to life imprisonment. 5\. On December 18, 2007 Ghana abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium (Suspension of an ongoing activity) on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.


In preparation of this presentation, we as a group have agreed that we cannot take a strong stance in this topic, though the individuals in the group find themselves taking sides. The question as to whether or not it is morally justifiable for the state to execute people, and if so under what circumstances, has been debated for centuries.

Therefore we as a group cannot say what is ethically right or wrong, we have done our best to present the topic as it is, bringing to light several points raised by the two main faction that arise when this topic is raised. We leave the decision to you as individuals, to decide where you would take your stand.


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