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Argument for the death penalty using rational choice/deterrence theory

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             We are now debating on the use of death penalty as a form of state punishment. The Rational Choice Theory provides us valid reasons for the proposition of death as penalty.  It is based on the utilitarian assumption that human beings are calculating animals who carefully think and weigh their ways and their reasons for their acts. Precisely because offenders calculate, the state must sway people to weigh the means and ends in such a way that they will not commit a crime.

The Rational Choice Theory is basically focused on preventing crimes. People will be influenced not to commit a crime because of punishment. The concept of deterrence emerges from this theory. If the offender is punished, Rational Choice Theory thinks that it will be deterred from committing the same mistake. Other people would also be deterred from committing the crime of the offender when they learn that in the very crime, punishment was made certain. Punishment is meant to increase the risks. It must also lead to difficulty in committing the same crime. Lastly, it must reduce the rewards of crime.

             Following this theory, death penalty should be upheld for the following reasons:

             1.) Death penalty is a punishment for motivated offenders. Criminals have calculated their ways and reasons. They made the decision to pursue the act of crime that for them, serves a purpose. Based on their decision, they must be prepared to receive an according response.

             2.) Death penalty is a severe punishment to prevent the same crime committed by the same offender. If the crime is grave, the punishment must also be severe. This punishment will definitely lead to difficulty in committing the same crime. The idea of deterrence will apply to the offenders because they will permanently be incapacitated.

             3.)  Death penalty is a severe punishment to prevent the same crime to be committed by other people. Here we stress the role of publicizing grave criminal cases. The idea of deterrence will apply to other people as almost all cases (if not all) that are in danger of receiving or have already received death penalty is subject to public opinion. The death of an offender makes the expression to the public that for a particular grave crime, they would receive death as a severe punishment.

            4.) With death penalty, the risk in committing a grave crime is high. The reward of the crime may be subjective but everyone will agree that the cost of death is high.

            5.) With death penalty, punishment is quick and certain. People would think twice about committing a crime if they do not want this quick and certain response.

             6.) Most people have hierarchical preferences as to what punishment they would receive. Most people would choose fine over imprisonment, and imprisonment over death. If there are crimes to which being fined or imprisoned is neither a sufficient punishment nor an option, people would think twice in committing a crime since death is an unlikely preference.

            The state must enforce public order even at a high price. Death penalty serves not only to enforce retribution. More than that, it is an effective means in crime prevention. Inasmuch as we want to preserve life, we also want to protect the majority of citizens. The law must address the many. Death penalty may lead to taking one’s life as a form of punishment but it will protect many lives through deterrence.

             In sum, if a state wants a way to prevent a grave criminal offense, the Rational Choice Theory provides a popular view. Human beings are rational beings. They manifest an action on a certain purpose. They may not readily agree to what is right from wrong. But, they know cause and effect. They know actions and consequences.  There is no better deterrence than for death to be the consequence of an act. Therefore, I believe and strongly recommend that death penalty be accepted by the state as a form of punishment.


Beccaria, Cesare.  [1764] 1963.  ON CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS, trans. Henry Paolucci.  Indianapolis, Indiana:  Bobbs-Merrill.

Jervis, Robert, “Rational Deterrence: Theory and Evidence.” World Politics Vol. 41, No. 2 (January 1989) (1989b)

Liska, Allen. 1987.  Perspectives on Deviance, 2nd ed., Prentice-Hall.

Messner Steven and Richard Rosenfeld. 1994. Crime and the American Dream, Wadsworth, 1994.

“Rational Choice Theory”. 4 August 2006. Retrieved 11 Aug. 2006 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_choice_theory

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