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Capital punishment is death by lethal injection, the electric chair, or the gas chamber as a consequence of an aggravated murder. There are several groups that stand for, as well as against, the death penalty. A utilitarian is very much in favor of the death penalty, and in the case of Lawrence Brewer, they would be in favor of the death penalty, because his death would be more beneficial for the community as a whole. Putting him to death would be more cost effective for the community, than housing him over an extended period of time. In the case of Duane Buck, they would oppose the death penalty, because the greatest happiness or good, would come from keeping him in prison. During his years in prison, he showed signs of remorse, as well as a change in behavior, which is where an utilitarian would say the most good is being done. I personally do not believe in the death penalty, nor do I agree that it is causes retribution or deterrence.
Utilitarian and Capital Punishment
Capital punishment has been a form of punishment in the United States hundreds of years. Today, many different viewpoints still exist around the controversial subject of capital punishment. Is it the right thing to do? Is it too harsh? Is it beneficial? Does it really cause a person to truly “pay” for the crime they have committed, or offer an escape from it? Is it the best solution for all parties involved?
If you were a person with a utilitarian point of view, you could say yes or no. A utilitarian is, according to John Stuart Mill:
The creed which accepts as the foundations of morals, utility or the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. (as cited in Fox, 1912, para 2)
Two utilitarian points of view make arguments for the death penalty. One argument is in favor of how the death penalty will prevent a criminal from committing a crime again, while the other argument argues that the death penalty saves valuable tax dollars that the community could use elsewhere. Both arguments present an opportunity for overall happiness, justifying the use of such harsh punishment. (Cassese 2007)
Capital punishment is a consequence for a heinous crime, but does it really deter the individual? Does his or her family gain closure from his death, whether by the electric chair or lethal injection? No, they do not. A utilitarian believes that the consequences an action receives, determines the value of an action. They believe that the best consequence or plan of action is one that is best for the most people involved. (Fox 1912) I do believe, however, that their point of view would have to be looked at on a case by case basis. Two recent cases in American history ended in death penalty sentences. I believe that a utilitarian would look at each one from two different aspects.
Utilitarian For Ku Klux Klan Member Execution
In 1998, Lawrence Russell Brewer, along with two other men, picked up an African American man, by the name of James Byrd, Jr., as he was walking home. The three men chained him to their pickup truck with a logging chain, and drug him three miles over an asphalt road. By the time they finished, his body was beaten, bruised, bloodied, and headless. He was found on the road between a church and a cemetery. The three men were apprehended within twenty four hours, and faced their charges in separate trial proceedings. At his sentencing, the judge ordered that Brewer be put to death. (Ku 2011)
Looking at it from a utilitarian point of view, Lawrence Brewer should not have to pay for his crime by receiving the death penalty. However, looking at the aspect of a utilitarian that adheres to the happiness of the most people, (Utilitarian) a utilitarian would state that putting Brewer to death would serve two good purposes. One, his death would be a more cost effective punishment, saving the community tax dollars over a period of time due to his continued incarceration, and two, it would prevent him from being able to commit any further crimes. (Cassese 2007)
The interesting part about Brewer’s punishment is that he spent twelve years on death row before he was murdered. A utilitarian says that putting him to death saves money for the community as a whole, but not if we are still going to pay to incarcerate them over a twelve year period of time, or longer. It seems that being incarcerated, would be a worse punishment, because they are suffering for the crime they committed. If permits them time to reflect on what they did, and should deter them from wanting to do it again.
In the case of Karla Faye Tucker, she, too, spent twelve years in prison before she was executed. During her time in prison, she found God, and became repentant for the crimes she had committed. Just before she was executed she asked forgiveness, and apologized to the victims’ families. The twelve years that she was incarcerated gave her time to reflect, and she reached a point where her thoughts and viewpoints began to change. It did not save her from execution, but she did change. Several thousand people set to work to have her sentenced dropped to life imprisonment, but Governor Bush did not approve it. He stated that he must uphold the law. The victim’s families were relieved that she was still put to death. Had she not spent the twelve years in prison, she would not have had the opportunity to change. Death does not give a person that opportunity.
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Utilitarian on Duane Buck Execution
In July 1995, Duane Buck entered the apartment of his ex-girlfriend, and killed her and a man who was also present at the time. He also shot his step-sister, who survived the incident. Sixteen years later, he was set to be executed, but his attorneys submitted an appeal and he was given a stay to further investigate the ethicality of his sentencing. (Graczyk 2011)
In this case, Buck has already spent sixteen years in prison paying for his crime. He is not going to be released from prison under any circumstances. At this point, commuting his sentence to life in prison would be a better solution because he would be deterred from committing any further crimes, and he would have to face what he did daily. He has also shown that he is changing, because he was showing a sign of spirituality and repentance when they told him about the court’s decision to give him a stay. If he was not repentant, he would not have been praying. (Graczyk)
Buck tried to appeal his case arguing that race was a factor in his sentencing, and that he was sentenced to death unfairly. This was not the first time that such an allegation had been made, and he believed that this appeal would grant him clemency. In The Story of Capital Punishment, Streissguth says that states were no longer allowed to have different laws or punishments for the same crime based on their color or ethnicity. This change came about after the Civil War and the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment. He stated that, despite this new law, those inmates being put to death the most were of African American descent. He also spoke of how several crimes were punished differently due to the race of an individual (African American) especially when compared to a Caucasian person who committed the same crime. (2002)
A utilitarian would not agree with the execution of Buck, because he has shown signs of change, and he would not commit any further crimes. I believe that his crime was a crime of passion, and that had he not been in a relationship with the victim, he would not have committed the crime. He does not pose a threat to anyone else, and life imprisonment would be a better punishment. This would cause a greater happiness for the most people. Buck would still be punished, he still would not be able to commit any further crimes, and he could continue to get help or counseling to change his behavior. (Fox 1912)
Death Penalty – Personal Point of View
Most people who oppose the death penalty, believe that it does not prevent crime. (Streissguth 2002 p.9) I agree. If a person commits a crime of aggravated murder, which is the only crime punishable by death, how does putting them to death stop them from doing it again? Aren’t we just doing the same thing to them? How is that beneficial?
In the case of Lawrence Brewer, I do not agree with the death penalty. Although he showed no remorse or conviction of the crime he had committed, I do not see the benefit in putting him to death. He committed a horrible crime, but we did, too. How will he ever change or deter from his ways if he is dead? A person commits a crime, and then they are arrested and sent to jail, where they sit in a small cell, looking at four walls day in and day out. At some point, it seems like they would want to change or find some peace, in order to be able to handle that; whether it is through counseling, or prayer, or support groups. Putting them to death just seems so inhumane.
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In the case of Duane Buck, I feel that it was a crime of passion. While no one deserves to die no matter what the circumstance, it is simply that – no one deserves to die. Only God has the power to decide life and death, and we, as humans, do not have a foolproof way to prevent from executing innocent people, as has been done, nor can we consciously decide who should or shouldn’t be put to death.
Brewer’s crime was much worse than Buck’s crime. He was brutal, horrific and inhumane. Buck was enraged, and probably hurting, and he decided to take it out on the one he loved. Both men were wrong, and they both committed a crime. Yet, one was much more gruesome than the other, yet they received the same punishment. Why is that? Buck began to change, where Brewer showed no remorse. They were both set to face the same ending, execution by lethal injection. Did it really solve the problem?
Did murders stop, or did crime stop? No. The world kept going, the families of the victims and well as the offenders, are moving on, and more people are still being killed every day. We are one of the few countries that still use capital punishment. If the death penalty gave retribution as it is meant to do, how come when the offender dies, the victim family still hurts and misses their loved one? It is because they can’t bring them back. As far as the death penalty being a deterrent, serial murders happen every day, and so do aggravated murders. The possibility of being caught, and then being put to death, is a only a one in five hundred chance. Doesn’t seem to have much effect in my opinion, and I do not agree with its use.
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Utilitarian’s believe in promoting choosing the action that best suits the most amount of people, and brings the most happiness. They are for the death penalty when it is most beneficial to the community or public as a whole. They would stand up for the death penalty, and uphold its’ necessity. I personally do not agree. Capital punishment will continue to be a debate for many years to come.