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Just Desserts Theory and the Death Penalty

Is the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment without just cause, or is it just desserts? According to the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution: “nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted.” (U.S. Constitution, 1791). It states that no one will be sentenced to a punishment greater than the crime, with a just system in place to ensure other constitutional rights are not infringed upon. I believe capital punishment is justified under the right circumstances. Some may say the capital punishment is cruel, for the reason you are extinguishing a bright, human life. However, is that life so bright if it smothered and snuffed out others?

Before exploring the modern day implications of capital punishment, one must understand that the death penalty is as old as law itself. According to the website, the Code of Hammurabi “contained the first known death penalty laws” (History of the Death Penalty), and that was 1700’s B.C. Throughout history, capital punishment has been applied to the most serious crimes according to a civilization’s values at the time. Whether it’s helping slaves escape in the 18th century B.C., or murder in the 21st A.D., humanity has punished criminals with the death penalty for heinous crimes for thousands of years.

For Americans, the death penalty is an incredibly controversial issue relating to every citizen’s constitutional rights. Regardless of which side of the issue you agree with, it is important to recognize the death penalty is only applicable to criminal cases of aggravated murder, treason, kidnapping, and rape, as well as a few other various crimes that vary from state to state (Death Penalty Information Center). One may only be sentenced to death if they have been convicted by a jury of their peers and if they have committed one of the aforementioned crimes. Therefore, their constitutional right to a fair trial, as granted by the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, is never violated (U.S. Constitution, 1791).

As well, the death penalty affects the common good of society as a whole. Capital punishment keeps the truly dangerous criminals off the streets and out of the prison system. Those that choose to rape and murder could never hope to ever contribute positively to society, so, why should they live in prison and sponge off of state and federal government funds. In short, capital punishment keeps the general public safe from those that would seek to cause harm and grief.

Furthermore, the interaction between these two features of American life is subject to fierce debate. I believe that the common good must come before individual rights, or the needs and safety of the public come before the rights of the individual. Now, this may seem like an alienation of one’s rights, but the public is a conglomerate of people with their own rights, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as outlined by the Declaration of Independence (Declaration of Independence, 1776). So, the question posed is how can a person utilize and live these rights when there are murderers, rapists, and bombers that seek to undermine the safety of the American public. The answer is to apply the death penalty to the most gruesome of crimes and to remove these individuals from the world once and for all, to ensure that no one may ever again fall victim to a heinous or violent crime. Additionally, let us not forget that each of these criminals is entitled due process of law and a fair trial. The scales are tipped in favor of the public as far as rights are concerned.

Moreover, I intend to advocate my position by providing dangerous criminals on death row that are the underbelly of society. As well, I will explore the morality and implementation of capital punishment. There is a constitutional principle behind the 8th Amendment: that no on shall receive a punishment greater than the crime committed. This is an apt policy, demonstrating the foresight of our founding fathers. It ensures capital punishment is not doled out for minor crimes such as petty theft or vandalism. Rather, it is reserved for only the most gruesome of crimes.

One such gruesome crime was the 2005 murders of Brenda Groene, her boyfriend and son, as well as the kidnapping of Brenda’s two youngest Shasta and Dylan in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho (Joseph Duncan, The perpetrator, convicted felon Joseph Edward Duncan, then proceeded to murder Dylan in the Montana wilderness. As well, after his apprehension by the authorities he was tied to several other murders, one in California and two in Washington. Duncan was given due process of law, and was sentenced to ten consecutive life sentences and the death penalty for seven murders across four states in a ten year time span. The constitutional principle of just punishment was upheld, an eye for an eye. Justice was served in this instance, for if one murders seven others in cold blood, how can they themselves be worthy of life?

Inversely, opponents to capital punishment unanimously believe that the punishment is racially biased. They believe this because the majority of prisoners on death row are in fact minorities. However, an independent study conducted by the R.A.N.D. Corporation (Research and Development), in which several separate teams were tasked with determining whether or not race factors into capital punishment (Muhlhausen, The Death Penalty Deters Crime and Saves Lives). They concluded, independently with no inter-team contact, that incases resulting in the death penalty, “… that decisions to seek the death penalty are driven by characteristics of crimes rather than by race.” Furthermore, Prof. Richard Berk of the University of California concluded that “cases with a black defendant and white victim or ‘other’ racial combination are less likely to have a death sentence.” (Muhlhausen).

In continuation, another primary argument against capital punishment is it costs state and federal governments a great deal to carry out the sentences. They believe this because of constant appeals to convictions and demanded re-trials due to new evidence that cost the courts time and money over the course of decades per inmate. However, in a letter to the editor of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Assemblyman Curt Hagman of the California State Assembly observes the people against the death penalty are the ones that are creating the deficits with those very same appeals. (Hagman, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin). In this way, I believe the opposition to capital punishment, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is poisoning the public and courts against justice for grisly crimes. The solution to this problem is to take all the time needed the first time around, as well as to gather all possible evidence and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt guilt or innocence, as well as limiting appeals to one per inmate.

In summary, the death penalty must be applied strictly, quickly, and fairly. By implementing the death penalty, justice can be served for capital crimes such as murder, and the public will be safe from humanity’s worst. Also, if we as a nation dispose of all the red tape in the judicial system, the cost for euthanizing inmates will be reduced drastically. The time to act is now. Hundreds of prisoners have sat on death row for 30 years or more, with countless victims and families never seeing justice served. Help set everyone’s minds at ease and encourage the death penalty.


The Declaration of Independence. The Heritage Foundation. 2008. Print

Hagman, Curt. “Don’t End Death Penalty, Streamline It.” InlandValley Daily Bulletin. 5 May 2012. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.


Muhlhausen, David B. “The Death Penalty Deters Crime and Saves Lives.” 28 Aug 2007. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>

Staff Writer. “Crime Punishable by Death.” 29 Jan. 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>

Staff Writer. “History of the Death Penalty.” 8 May 2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <>

Staff Writer. “Joseph Duncan”. 15 Mar. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. <>

U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend. XI, Sec. 3

U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend. XIII, Sec. 3

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