Some Arguments Against

Justice Potter Stuart

In his concurring argument for Furman v. Georgia, Justice Potter Stuart said the death penalty was cruel and unusual only in the "same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual." In other words, the American justice system did not enforce the penalty equally across jurisdictions, and, therefor, could not fairly be enforced anywhere. In his words, the eighth amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, "cannot tolerate the infliction of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and freakishly imposed."

Hear an oral argument from 1971's Jackson v. Georgia, one of the Supreme Court cases consolidated in Furman v. Georgia MP3 (12.88 MB; 55 minutes)

Human Rights

Many who argue against capital punishment do so on the basis that it violates basic human rights. Groups like Amnesty International are known for this stance. Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson applied this principal when drafting documents like the American Declaration of Independence, which guarantees a right to "life,liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This argument rests on the belief that one does not forfeit this right, even when taking the life of another.

The Eighth Amendment

The eighth amendment of the United States Constitution states that all people have a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, or torture. Legal scholars and others have argued that capital punishment is a form of torture. Some argue that only certain forms of execution are torturous, while others, especially lethal injection, are humane. Anti-death-penalty groups have argued that even lethal injection is inhumane because the drug mixture involved causes great pain and that it is the method most commonly botched. Others argue that the psychological pain of being on death row is inhumane in itself.

Christian Opposition

While Biblical passages have been used to argue both against and for the death penalty, many who oppose it cite John 8:7, in which Jesus said "He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone..." Pope John Paul II denounced capital punishment as murder in his Evangelium Vitae. Also, Matthew 5:38-42 lends itself to this interpretation, with Jesus' saying "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Human Error

Many opponents of the death penalty, such as The Innocence Project legal clinics, argue that the justice system is fallible, and, inevitably, an innocent people will be put to death. As of May 2006, the project's lawyers have vindicated roughly 45 people on death row with DNA evidence unavailable at the time of their trials.