Capital punishment: Pros & Cons

Capital Punishment

Throughout history, societies around the world have used capital punishments as a way to punish the most heinous crimes.  While capital punishment is still practised today, many countries have abolished it.

In countries like the US, many states have temporarily put an end to the punishment of Capital Punishment considering it a cumbersome tool to take away a person’s life. Even in India, there have been discussions to put capital punishment to an end. Given the moral complexities and depth of emotions, capital punishment is a controversial debate on the global level. Here in this article, we would deal with what Capital Punishment is, its history, pros and cons.

What is Capital Punishment?

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the execution of an offender after he/she is convicted for some criminal offence. Derived from the Latin words “capitalis” meaning “head”, in simple context it is “execution by beheading”. Based upon the principles of due process of law, it is interchangeable with the punishment of Death Penalty, which indicates that a penalty of Capital Punishment may sometimes be used in the sense of life imprisonment.

As of now, around 60 countries use capital punishment in their justice delivery system. Also, 106 countries have completely abolished it for all crimes and 8 have abolished it for ordinary crimes while using it in “rarest of the rare cases”. Various jurists have given the notion that considering the cumbersomeness involved in these punishments, devoid of humans of their humanity the practice if capital punishment should be abolished.

History of Capital Punishment

Capital punishment has been used as a method of punishment since the ancient Greeks and the Romans. It was used mainly for incorrigible offenders and was used in a wide range of offences like murder, treason and the like. Babylonian Code has specifically dealt with Capital Punishment under the legal principle of Lex talionis (talion) which means “an eye for an eye” to maintain the proportionality in cases of Capital Punishment. In England, during the 17th and 18th centuries, capital punishment was made the formal punishment to deal with the most heinous crimes of that time.

From ancient times up until the 19th century, societies have been using capital punishment in one form or the other. For instance in Rome capital punishment was given by drowning the offender or by crucifixion. In ancient China people who committed heinous crimes were sawed in half or were given death by thousand cuts method. In Europe boiling in oil, burning at the stake, decapitation, hanging were common ways for capital punishments. It is also to be noted here that historically Capital Punishment was a public event and the bodies were often displayed until they rotted, but the practice was banned in England in 1868 and the US in 1931. By the end of the 20th century, lethal injection or gas chamber was made the tools for capital punishment considering them a bit more humane than the other methods. In India Hanging is the method of the Death penalty but it is given only in rarest of the rare cases.

Pros and Cons of Capital Punishments


1. To avoid violent crimes in society, a strong deterrent is required. The goal of a law is to provide a deterrent against crime.  This deterrent could be capital punishment which is used in cases of rarity and sets an example that if ever such acts are repeated the consequences would be dire. This would also help prevent the crime from happening in the first place.

2. There are cases of horrific crimes which are beyond the point of rehabilitation. For such cases, capital punishment not only creates a deserved punishment equivalent to the crime committed but also provides safety for the rest of society. It also prevents the commission of such crimes in the distant future.

3. Death penalty eliminates the chance of escape for the consequences of a criminal’s actions. It eliminates the possibility of an illegal escape.


1. Capital punishment many times do not show its effect on the rates of violent crime. It is quite ironical but the states with most executions have the highest murder rates. It is, for this reason, capital punishment seems ineffective for the motive it was created.

2. In a country like India wherein many cases justice seems to be an ideal type which is hard to get, there are many cases where innocent people come within the clutches of Death Penalty. Though an exact number for such cases is impossible to be checked, this is a fact which cannot be denied.

3. Capital Punishment simply takes away the right of a criminal who may prefer to get rehabilitated. It eliminates such possibilities where a person who is not a habitual offender can seek a chance to rehabilitate. It assumes that nothing can be done about an offender which are simply in violation of his/her rights.

In relation to the pros and cons of capital punishment, it is to be noted here that they are often based on information that is subjective in nature. While some societies see it as the only deterrence to crime others believe that there are other instruments as well which could be implemented to lower the crime rate by deterring the very criminality itself.

Capital Punishment in the 21st Century

Despite there are anti-capital punishment movements, many countries have retained capital punishment. For cases of drug trafficking, 30 countries have made it a capital offence. Singapore has by far the highest rate of execution in drug cases which is three-fourths of all the cases of 2000. In cases of economic crimes around 20 countries use capital punishment. Sexual offences of various kinds are punishable by death in more than 24 countries one of which is India as well.

In the United States, where 60% of its states have retained the death penalty, about 2/3rd of all executions since 1976 have been made in only six states. Although the number of executions worldwide varies on yearly basis countries like Belarus, Congo, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Singapore have the use of capital punishment on a regular basis. India has till date retained the death penalty and carry out executions from time to time in rarest of the rare cases.

In cases of minor committing crimes, there are only a few countries which allow execution of such minors. Executions of minor offenders are strictly prohibited under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Based upon what all we have discussed the purpose of the death penalty is very clear. It can be said that capital punishment stands justified in India because of its use in rare cases and are not only justifiable for the offender but also the society at large. It is impactful and society learns a lesson from it. Considering the Indian scenario it would not be right to abolish capital punishment and considering its rare usage it stands strong on its notion of making a difference in the society by setting examples in cases of grave crimes.

“The views of the authors are personal


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