In the modern, democratic world, there is debate whether capital punishment should be awarded for any crime howsoever serious. Many people are shocked at this debate and feel how capital punishment could be abolished at all. They feel that it is fear of death punishment which keeps criminals and murderers restrained.
If the capital punishment is abolished, they argue, people will not be safe and the graph of the murder will soar high. However, these are not sound arguments. At one time the pickpockets were also hanged in England and when the death sentence for pick-pocketing was sought to be abolished, same argument was advanced that no pocket will be safe. It is also pointed out that when a pickpocket was being hanged and the people had gathered to witnesses his execution, some pockets were being picked.
It is not always true that a stringent punishment is sufficient to check crime. At best, it is one of the factors necessary to control crime but never a sufficient one. There are several causes among which social, economic and educational ones are quite important. One cannot check crime without creating congenial social and economic conditions, on one hand, and educating people and creating proper moral atmosphere, on the other. Socio-economic conditions, and not mere lack of stringent punishment, encourage crime. If there is poverty and high rate of unemployment and also widespread illiteracy and lack of moral education, crimes, including murder will thrive. Also, even if there is no absolute poverty and unemployment, but serious structural imbalances and serious socio-economic differentials, crime rates will go up.
It has been observed by sociologists, and statistics also prove, that stringent application of capital punishment has never brought down the number of murders. And, on the other hand, abolition of capital punishment is not known to have pushed up the number of murders. There are various causes of murder in the society. Some murders take place under severe provocation as well as emotional instability and some murders take place because of insatiable greed, property disputes and similar other causes. Some murders take place because of wrong notions of family honour and some murders take place because of sexual affairs with ones wife. In several Islamic countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan, honour killings are quite common. A daughter or sister is killed just because she wants to marry someone of her own choice or she enters into a love affair with a friend. In Pakistan, one woman was shot dead at the instance of her own mother, as she wanted to divorce her husband. Divorce became a question of family honour for the parents who hailed from Khyber PK which has strong tribal traditions of family honour.
Sometimes death penalty is pronounced by a thin majority of one, other judges dissenting. Thus a human life can be snuffed out even erroneously.
Some murders are planned and executed and such murders are referred to as ‘cold-blooded murders. Such murders are often out of personal vendetta or on account of property disputes or sexual affairs. Some times a film also becomes as cause for murder as it happened in Indian city Pune when five members of a family were murdered by some youth after watching a movie. They just wanted to imitate a scene in the film. Some murders are committed in a state of inebriation. Thus it will be seen there are varied causes of murder some deliberate and some beyond one’s control. Where murders are well planned, the assumption is that they will not leave behind any proof and will never be caught. Thus the murderers hardly have any fear of any punishment, let alone that of death punishment. They often think and do deceive the law. And those who commit murders under severe provocation or out of sheer frustration hardly have any control on themselves. It is for these reasons that retention or abolition of death penalty hardly brings down the rate of murder in the society.
Thus retention of capital punishment can hardly be an effective weapon of bringing down or checking the rate of murder in the society. Also, any judgement of the court, howsoever well arrived at, cannot be totally infallible. Judges are human beings and can err. Sometimes, death penalty is pronounced by a thin majority of one, other judges dissenting. Thus a human life can be snuffed out even erroneously. Both possibilities are there: An innocent person being hanged and a guilty escaping the punishment. But, in case of capital punishment, it is always better that a guilty be discharged than an innocent person being hanged. Also, much depends on quality and truthfulness of witnesses, their memory and their perceptions as well as their motivations. Often witnesses do not give testimony truthfully for fear of their own life. Some witnesses can be bought. The ability of defence lawyer or that of prosecuting lawyer can also make all the difference. A murderer, thus, can escape the clutches of law by hiring a competent defence lawyer and by purchasing the witnesses. An innocent person, on the other hand, can be awarded death punishment just because he cannot afford a competent lawyer and is unable, for various reasons, to marshal proper witnesses. Thus a death sentence can never be above controversies. Some murders are committed under ideological influences and it will be quite unjust to punish such a person with capital punishment.