Is the death penalty morally justified? This is one of the most hotly debated topics in today's society - from courtrooms to classrooms, from law schools to bar stools. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this topic. But what are the real issues at the heart of this matter? How do we answer the question of moral justification? Philosophers have pondered this question over the ages, and only a few systems have stood the test of time as being viable methods of discerning moral and legal issues. Utilitarianism and duty theory are the main systems that are most often applied to the issue of the death penalty. Though both of these systems could make a very strong argument for the idea of the death penalty, neither of them can support the death penalty as it is currently applied in the United States. .
The death penalty is the most extreme method of punishment. Punishment is an attempt to apply justice. To attempt to justify the extreme nature of the death penalty, one must first state clearly their theory on punishment and justice. The main theories of the purpose of punishment are deterrence, rehabilitation and retribution. The definition of justice is widely debated and depends on one's views on many other topics. However, justice as seen in terms of the application of punishment usually rests on whether or not "the punishment fits the crime." In other words, does the effect of the punishment match the gravity of the offense? The expressed purpose of the death penalty is to exact justice in the form of punishment as retribution, and to act as a deterrent from future criminal acts. Crimes punishable by death vary from state to state, but typically include murder, and special circumstances in crimes such as robbery, torture, kidnapping, treason and rape. Proponents of the death penalty hold that punishment by death is the only punishment that could possibly be equal to these offenses. .
Utilitarianism is an approach that is concerned with the consequences of any specific moral action.