LS 490 Unit 6 Assignment

Unit Six Assignment


LS 490


The criminal justice element of the judicial system of the United States has always had some sort of critique, as it is not perfect. But the biggest issue that is often discussed is the death penalty. This kind of sentencing can occur for the criminal act of murder, but usually is reserved for more heinous acts of this crime. Here in the United States, this penalty, typically referred to as capital punishment, is only available in a certain number of states and has been at the center of many cases heard by the Supreme Court. (States and Capital Punishment, 2019) On the holdings of some of these cases, there has been certain situations in which the death penalty has been deemed to be unconstitutional. An example of this is that individuals under a certain age cannot be given this punishment. In this assignment, we will discuss the arguments for and against this punishment using the guidelines of two different ethical theories, along with some illustrations of each, and my opinion of each.

Utilitarian Approach

Utilitarianism, taught by philosophers such as Jeremey Bentham, is the theory to crucial decision making using the principles of what will bring happiness to the greatest amount of people. (Murphy, 2007) Since law and punishment are not often associated with happiness, believers of this theory think that they should be kept at a minimum and that the guilty should not have to “pay” for their actions. Instead, punishment should be used as a tool to balance the scales between the unhappiness brought forth by the crime committed. When applying this logic to the idea of the death penalty, it could be argued that there are several reasons against this type of punishment.

The first one, since this theory is rooted in the fact that punishment is used for deterrence, is that the death penalty does not deter criminals from murdering others. In fact, studies have shown that there is no correlation between the death penalty and a deterrence in the homicide rate (Deterrence, n.d.). With this being the case, this could be considered the biggest reason why the utilitarian theory does not support this kind of punishment. Instead, it would be recommended that the convicted be given a lengthy sentence to remain in prison.

A second reason why the death penalty should not be given is because of the cost of the entire process, from trial to appeals to the price of the drugs used in the killing, it adds up rather quickly. For example, a death sentence trial cost a million dollars more than a trial where this is not a punishment (Unit Six Powerpoint, 2019). For a struggling state budget, this can be very detrimental. Also, it can be argued that this money can be allocated to more beneficial resources, such as drug counseling. Under this theory, to use these funds on killing someone instead of helping, does not bring the greatest amount of happiness to the most amount of people.

The third reason against the death penalty is that innocent people may be put to death. From a utilitarian viewpoint, this would not bring any happiness to those involved and most certainly not the public. It has been shown that many individuals who were given the death penalty, were innocent (Facts about the Death Penalty, 2019) It is shame enough to convict an innocent individual, but to put an innocent person to death is just beyond. At least with those who are innocent being punished by a period in prison, they can try to set their cases right, but this cannot be done in the case of a dead person.

Retributivist Approach

In staunch contrast to the utilitarian view, is the retributivist theory. The most prolific philosopher of this view is Immanuel Kant. Essentially, those who believe in this theory think that punishments should fit the crime in the form of “an eye for an eye” (Murphy, 2007). This holds especially true for those who have committed a crime like murder, as punishment is to correlate with the degree of the crime committed. From this standpoint, there a few arguments that can be made in favor of upholding the death penalty.

The first and possibly the most important reason is the idea of retribution and that those who have been convicted for killing another should die themselves, in order to pay for their crimes. As a retributivist, seeking retribution for the crime should be the focus of all punishments (Capital Punishments, n.d.). For example, in a world ran by retributivist, the convicted killer would die in the fashion that they killed in and this would fulfill the concept of an eye for an eye. Since the belief that every crime should be punished, this would extend to the lower levels of criminal actions as well.

Another reason this theory would argue in favor of the death penalty is because it provides closure for the families involved. Main emphasis of this is that a family who has lost a loved one to murder, can enjoy the knowledge that the individual responsible for this is going to lose their life as well (Should the death penalty be allowed? 2016). While this mostly pertains to the direct family members, another party that could be benefitted by this is any witness in the trial, as they can also have a sense of security.

The last reason that will be discussed is that those who have murdered will do it again and by killing them, it will be prevented. According to Shelton, (n.d.) there is quite a few people who have murdered, gotten out, and murdered again. Because this theory is based on the principles of retribution, the first sentence should have been death, therefore not allowing the same individual to murder again.


Both theories have pros and cons associated with them. For example, a criticism of the utilitarian view is that it is too lenient on the convicted because they want them to get help and be productive citizens again. On the other hand, retributivism’s eye for an eye principle can ultimately leave the world blind. In deciding which one of these I would follow, I tend to lean more towards the approach of the utilitarian, because I do think that people can change if given a better opportunity. But, at the same time, I do recognize that some cannot or will not change, no matter what situation they are presented with. And if it is one of those kinds of people who committee a heinous criminal act, such as murder of defenseless victims, then I do not believe they should be allowed the luxury of living.


Capital Punishment. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Deterrence. (n.d.) Retrieved

Facts about the Death Penalty. (2019) Retrieved from

Murphy, C. M. (2007) Philosophy of Law: The Fundamentals. Retrieved from!/4/2@0:0

Shelton, J. (n.d.) Paroled Murderers Who Were Freed Only to Kill Again. Retrieved from

Should the death penalty be allowed? (2016) Retrieved from

States and Capital Punishment. (2019) Retrieved from

Unit Six PowerPoint. (2019) Retrieved from