Posted by: trickyguy | October 10, 2008

Death Penalty — A Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

(I must admit that I stole the idea for this post from another blogger who posed the question on a day designated as “World Day Against The Death Penalty”.)

But back to the post.  This is, for me, one of the toughest questions of all related to government policy and society.

I can discount the fire and brimstone quotes from the bible: an eye for an eye.  I would point out to those who feel that way that almost every major organized religion in the world does not support application of the death penalty.

And I can also discount those who would say that God takes care of the truly guilty in his own way.  I am sorry, but one can point to too many cases where a murderer was set free only to kill again.  What would you say to the family of the killer’s last victim, knowing that the state had a chance to prevent that crime?

But for me there are two clear arguments that cannot be explained away, one for the death penalty and one against.

Society is obligated to use rule of law to protect against those who would harm its members.  It is similarly obligated to establish penalties that are in keeping with the seriousness of the crime and are severe enough to deter its commission.  In this area, many people have a problem with application of the death penalty to non-violent crimes.

Yes, penalties are used to deter commission of the crime.  But, as written previously, what happens when one commits the crime, serves the sentence, and, upon release, commits criminal acts again?  Didn’t the state have in place penalties severe enough to ensure that this wouldn’t happen?  What about individuals that are so sick that what would normally deter the criminal behavior has no real effect on them?  Isn’t the state still obligated to protect against this?

This is, I believe, why most people are for the death penalty.  Clearly when someone is executed, they cannot reoffend.  For sure, the state has met its obligation to protect society against danger.  This is an argument for the death penalty that is hard to refute.

What about an argument against it?  That’s nearly as simple.  Try as hard as we might, justice is imperfect.  People are wrongly convicted all the time, regardless of carefully the crime is investigated and how fair a trial they receive.  And it happens a lot where, shall we say, justice is not quite as strong a focus.

The ability of a someone convicted of a crime to appeal is granted in nearly every society.  There are errors in judicial process, in analysis of evidence, and witnesses whose testimony is flawed.  However, one thing’s very clear about the death penalty: appeal is not an option.

I daresay that relatives of the convicted criminal that was executed and where exculpatory evidence was later found, have just as good a case against the state’s application of the death penalty as do the relatives of the victim of a criminal who reoffends have a case for it.

And, perhaps more philosophically, if we give a person a right to clear their name for a relatively minor crime through the appeals process, shouldn’t we even more certainly allow those convicted of serious crimes the same right?

Now what you can see is that there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the issue.  Myself, I continue to be torn.  Nearly daily you’ll see stories of how society or an individual was ill served with by the application of the deathy penalty, or the failure to apply it.

What are your thoughts?

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