As I've mentioned before, I'm against the death penalty. I'm writing now to explain why that is and give my general thoughts on the matter.
While there are many justifications offered for the death penalty, I think they all boil down to two basic arguments: deterrence of future crime and vengence.
There are two types of deterrence against future crime: specific and general. Specific deterence would seem to be inarguable (and almost trivial), in that it refers to the fact that when you execute someone, they can't commit any further crimes. Yet is it really inarguable? I'll get to that in a minute. (And no, zombies are not involved). General deterrence is the idea that, if potential criminals know that they could be executed for a given crime, that they'll think twice about doing it in an effort to preserve their own lives. This is very arguable. Particularly because there doesn't really seem to be any good evidence that shows the death penalty is particularlly effective at creating general deterrence. This is probably in great part because most people don't commit crimes with the expectation that they'll be caught and convicted. And probably those who do have the foresight to recognize the liklihood of being caught don't commit crimes in the first place, even where there is no death penalty.
Thus, I don't really see deterrence sufficient to justify the intentional killing of an otherwise helpless (due to incarceration) human being.
Then there's vengence. I can understand the want for this. I have children. I'd want to kill anyone who even layed the slightest hand on them. Rape or murder them, and you won't survive being in a room alone with me. But that visceral, emotional reaction doesn't justify the death penalty. Because, as I said, I'd have that reaction if you just hit one of my children, and no one wants the death penalty for assault. Vengence seems a rather primitive and blood thirsty thing to make it part of the official "justice" system.
Which brings me to the argument that shows that even specific deterrence doesn't necessarily work. The reason that doesn't work is not because executed criminals will rise from the grave and commit further crimes as zombies - the reason it doesn't work is because it presumes you've actually executed the right person each time, and if you haven't, if the real perpetrator of the crime is free while you execute an innocent person, then all that you've done is guaranteed that the guilty one will never be held accountable (and thus you've freed him or her to commit crimes again). The reason for this is the extreme reluctance of anyone to officially look into already-executed criminals to see if they were actually innocent. No one wants to admit they had a part in executing an innocent person. They'd rather accept the cognitive dissonance of insisting an innocent person is really guilty in an effort to avoid feeling guilt. So this makes it almost impossible for such a case to be reopened to go after the true guilty party.
This gets down to the argument by the pro-death penalty people, that the system is so perfect that an innocent person has never been executed. They point to the lack of evidence of exoneration for any executed person. Of course, this fails to take into account the above-mentioned reluctance for any official involved to want to admit they killed someone innocent. On top of that, all of the mechanisms involved to adjudicate such things stop completely once someone is executed. The dead need no criminal due process. Thus, it is no surprise that there has never been any official exoneration post-mortem - the gears that would show such a thing stop completely at death. Its sort of like how you always find something in the last place you look - after you find something, you stop looking!
But despite this, there is very strong indirect, statistical evidence that a great number of executions were of innocent people. That's from DNA evidence. At this point, the pro-death penalty people will say that DNA proves the system works because hey, look at all of the multitudes that have been released from death row from DNA evidence! See, all of the exonerated ones went free, proving that only the truly guilty were sentenced to die. The problem with that is that, first, not every crime involves DNA evidence, so those wrongful convictions that did not involve it won't be overturned by DNA. And second, DNA testing is a relatively new science - for two hundred years it didn't exist at all. So every single conviction for two centuries that was wrongful and could have been exonerated with DNA instead ended with an execution (barring some other unlikely event). For some reason, the pro-death penalty people I've talked to seem to think that wrongful convictions never happened before DNA, and that they only happened afterwards to the extent that DNA testing has already exonerated some. Which, of course, is so unlikely and ridiculous that it bears no rebuttal.
I've read it in at least once place that the big thing that DNA testing has done for the criminal justice system is pry away the lid and take a peek at how it effective it really is at discerning who is guilty and who is not. For a brief window of time, as convictions that happened before DNA testing could have prevented them work their way through appeals, we get to peek, at least partially, at how well our system did. Because they provide a definitive way to know when a particular case was decided right or wrong. This window will soon close, as now DNA testing can be done before trial, and so in those particular instances where it could exonerate (which is not true in every case - most cases have no DNA evidence at all) the exoneration would happen before trial. This does not mean that there won't be plenty of wrongful convictions, those just will be the ones without DNA (or mostly without, as defendants will still be stuck with mostly ineffective defense counsel).
That peek into the effectiveness of the system should give everyone pause. As I noted before, it is funny how those who have no problem with the system and seem to think that it is 100% effective at adjudicating who can be executed also don't trust the government system at all when it comes to things like delivering mail or handling a civil case against a corporation. Which just goes to show that ideology, for many, trumps reason.
I like to think I'm consistent. I think the system has a lot of problems. I worry more about criminal cases because the stakes are higher (freedom versus money) and also because so many defendants in those cases are at such a disadvantage, with poor counsel with little to no resources.
I simply don't think our system is good enough or fair enough to ever trust it with the decision of life or death. As an added bonus, it would save money not to execute, because the appeals can be so expensive, far more so than it would cost to simply leave someone in jail for life. Plus, as noted above, not killing someone would mean that the system would be more open to examining things that lead to exoneration which could in turn lead to finding the actual guilty party in those cases of innocents being convicted. If people wrongfully convicted are in prison for life, then, there is at least a small chance the guilty one will be brought to justice some day. If innocents are executed, that chance evaporates, because no one will want to admit that level of mistake.
Finally, there really is no need to kill anyone. We can lock people up for life. Most offenses are not life offenses anyway. What causes our prison budgets to explode isn't capital crimes, like murder, it is consensual crimes, like drugs, and those are just plain stupid. But that is the subject for another post.
4 years ago