Ethical Issue: Legal Punishment Punishment by the judicial system (for breaking the law) : fines, community work, withdrawal of certain rights (license to practice certain trade), imprisonment, execution. Moral justifications for legal punishment: Deterrence. The harm or pain inflicted would prevent the individual to commit the same crime again and serves as a warning to others. Physical isolation from society (imprisonment) makes the individual unable to commit the crime again. Retribution. A matter of justice. Those who committed crime should pay for it. To restore the original state. (To please the victim??)
Moral Justification for Legal Punishment: Deterrence (1) Deterrence works Fear of punishment should prevent crime. Holding the criminals in prison would prevent them to commit crime. Deterrence does not work In “crime of passion or rage“ individual might not be in the state of mind to think about the consequences. Criminals do not think that they will be caught. For some criminals the benefit of the crime might outweight the risk of potential punishment. Prison as rehabilitation institution Prisoners can be rehabilitated with psychological counseling, work training etc. However, it is difficult to balance the role of prison as a place for punishment and an institution for rehabilitation.
Moral Justification for Legal Punishment: Deterrence (2) If legal punishment is not a deterrent some of the time, is it morally justisfiable? If there are other means to deter crime (better education, more policemen, drug rehabilitation centers, changing the law etc) they should be used first instead of punishment. Utilitarian's view? The benefit must outweight the suffering from punishment. If punishment does not provide any deterrent, it should not be applied. Kantian's view? Society has certain moral values, criminals are undermining these values. Punishment of criminals should help them realize that they had done wrong.
Moral Justification for Legal Punishment: Retribution (support) It is a matter of justice. People who had committed a crime should pay for it. Therefore even if there are other means to prevent crime, they should not be a substitute for punishment. To be morally justifiable punishment should be proportional to the crime. Diminished mental capacity, mitigating circumstances, and duress, which lessen a person’s responsibility are important considerations in giving out punishment.
Moral Justification for Legal Punishment: Retribution (oppose) Often punishment cannot undo the harm that was done to victim. Sometime punishment cannot be proportional to the crime eg. Multiple murder. Punishment for retribution appears to endorse revenge, which is not a good thing. (Therefore supporters of retribution do not claim that punishment is to please the victim, but it is a matter of justice being done.)
The Death Penalty: The Ultimate Punishment Death penalty is the ultimate deterrent for the murder? Studies showed that those who committed murder seldom murder another person after they were released from prison. Therefore killing a murder does not really prevent him/her from killing another person. Is it OK to impose death sentence only on those who committed second murder? Does death penalty deter others from murder? Intuition says yes. Studies in US showed no correlation between murder rate in states with death penalty and states without death penalty. However, economic status of the community is a more important factor for murder rate, making it difficult to interpret these studies. In those states that reinstated/eliminated death penalty, there was no correlation between murder rate and the change of death penalty. Many factors to consider: changing economic status, changing ethnic populations etc.
Death Penalty: Arguments Against Death penalty as a retribution to murder is not right Some argue that killing another person will not bring back to life the victim of the murderer. It only serve to please the victim’s family or the society, it is vengeful. Death penalty is applied to other crimes not involving murder Death sentence is also imposed on those who committed serious crimes but not murder (treason, large scale economic crimes etc). Where do you draw the line on the seriousness of the crime. Judicial system is unfair Justice is not evenly applied. Rich and powerful often escape punishment. Death penalty is too heavy a punishment to be unevenly applied.
Discussion Case Karla Faye Tucker and her boyfriend Stanley Williams were convicted of murder two people when they were robbing the victims’ house in 1983. Karla claimed she felt a surge of sexual gratification when she killed her victim with the axe. Both were sentenced to death. Stanley die in prison before the execution. After a series of appeals failed Karla was scheduled to be executed in February 1998. In her appeals she claimed that she found GOD in prison and she is now a different person with no threat to the society. She married her spiritual counselor in prison. Her case attracted widespread attention. Even the Pope wrote to Governor George Bush to change her death penalty to life sentence. All these failed and she was executed. Should her sentence be commuted? Why? Why not? What do you think of the fact that she was convicted of murder in 1983 and executed in 1998?
Discussion Case In the USA a doctor is usually present during execution of a prisoner to certify his/her death. The American Medical Association objected to this practice because doctors are sworn to save life, and therefore should not be accessory to killing a person. Do you agree or disagree with AMA? Why