‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ is a famous quotation taken from The Code of Hammurabi, a law code designed by Hammurabi, a Babylonian king. The code was written in the Akkadian language and has been deciphered later. It is a set of laws, which suggests punishment methods depending on the type of crime. Many years ago, if a person killed someone, he or she would be executed in the same way. Despite the fact that The Code dates back to about 1772 BC, an eye-for-an-eye principle is widely applied nowadays. In modern society, people still sometimes resort to killing people as the way of punishment.
As people started joining in communities and building a society, there have always been perpetrators, so the necessity to establish some ground rules arose. Abiding by law creates a level playing field and helps people live a normal life. It is a well-known fact that if one poses a threat to a society, he or she will be punished. If one commits a crime, like destroying someone's property or harming someone in any way, a person must pay a fine or go to jail for a particular time, depending on the severity of the offence. The rule is simple and fair; an individual may lead any way of life, but he or she cannot harm others. The problem appears when it comes to a murder. It is difficult to evaluate what punishment is appropriate for taking the most precious gift a human being has, a life. On the other hand, it is questionable whether anyone can eliminate the threat without becoming a criminal oneself. It goes without saying that killing a person is immoral, unethical, and cruel. The phenomenon of life and death remains a mystery for humanity; thus, people are not allowed to interfere with it. Of course, murderers cannot be allowed to live in the peaceful society, on the one hand, and on the other, they cannot get away with the same punishment as, for example, thieves do. For a fraction of a second, it may seem that the only fitting penalty is taking a life in return, but there are also people who say this is basically committing another appalling crime.
No matter how cruel both homicide and the death penalty may be, some claim that the latter does not always suffice to teach the offenders a good lesson. Sometimes, it is suggested that an execution is too merciful, and the murderers do not deserve such treatment. However, the question what can be more pitiless than killing than raises. Of course, it is dubious, but there is one thing, which may seem to be crueler, and it is a life sentence. On the one hand, it is a far cry from simple imprisonment, because one is deprived of the last thing an imprisoned person has, and it is hope. A criminal stays behind the bar knowing that he or she will never be free again. On the other hand, in spite of being not free, murderers continue to live their lives. They are regularly fed, they are taken care of, and they socialize. It is fair to ask whether they deserve it; and why should society keep and look after someone who harms others. There is one more thing open to question. In theory, punishments were designed to eliminate any danger and to keep people under control. Therefore, if the society decides to condemn a perpetrator, it does so to secure its citizens. Nevertheless, if it is claimed that any kind of penalty is not cruel enough, the whole notion of punishment is changed. In this case, it serves to quench human desire for vengeance.
Apart from bringing satisfaction for those who think execution is too merciful, life sentence gives the last chance and hope for those who suffer from the law system inaccuracy and have been wrongly condemned. According to the information provided by the Death Penalty Information Center “a total of 69 people have been released from death row since 1973 after evidence of their innocence emerged” (n. p.), and the number of faulty accusations is getting worse. Anyways, any judicial inquest is supposed to be a matter of unparalleled importance; on the other hand, it is a well-known fact that many mistakes are made. This may be due to prosecutor’s negligence, or to the narrowing of an appeal process, or weak evidence, or due to the pressure on the police, which is asked to find the killer as soon as possible. As the number of crime cases requiring penalty as a sentence grows, the amount of innocent people being prosecuted is getting bigger. The statistics really gives a pause for a thought. It means that, in case of capital punishment, all these people may have been killed without having done anything wrong, and this is no longer “an eye for an eye” principle. In accordance to the same law, someone should be punished for such a situation. The point is that any innocent person could be condemned and executed.
On the other hand, there are many cases of real criminal’s prison breaks. A lot of maniacs and serial killers do not confess and do not change; they escape and continue to kill people. Supposing that capital punishments are handed down, this will not happen. Therefore, it is a difficult ethic choice between the death penalty and life sentence. To opt for the first one, one must be absolutely certain that the accused is definitely guilty of a crime. If one chooses the second variant, one might satisfy those who consider execution to be too merciful, but there is always a chance of an escape.
Nevertheless, no matter whether society decides on the death or life sentence, there are some cases when criminals don’t get to their due. By this, I mean that, in many cases, a victim is not simply killed. It might have been kidnapped, held in captivity, raped, and severely tortured before death. Humanity also knows many cases of mass murders when one person takes away two, three, or even more lives. Consequently, if people put a murderer to death, the eye-for-an-eye rule will not be followed. Consider, for example, the case of Imette St. Guillen, a 24-year old woman, who was brutally killed in 2006:
Initial investigation revealed that St. Guillen had died of suffocation, in this case her assailant or assailants had bound her hands with wire, tied her feet together with shoestrings, stuffed a sock in her mouth and wrapped her face with clear packaging tape. Her hair had been cut and she had marks or wounds on her chest and her genitals were lacerated, indicating to law enforcement that she had been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted and sodomized. (Zandt n.p.)
The question whether this means that someone has to do the same to a criminal arises. Naturally, the nearest and dearest of the victim want the murderer to be in the same pain as the sufferer was; thus, the offender must be tortured before execution. It, however, should not be forgotten that the main goal of punishment is to secure the society and not to fulfill the desire for revenge. Torturing the criminal will not bring a victim back and there is no need to be cruel in return.
To sum up, the issue of death or life sentence is very controversial. Some are convinced that it is enough to imprison a killer for life, others think the eye-for-an-eye principle is more suitable. All things considered, I believe that capital punishment is more appropriate with the proviso that the accused is definitely guilty. In this way, we can avoid future threats against the society because no criminals will escape and everyone will think twice before killing someone, since they will pay for it with their own lives.