The controversy surrounding capital punishment is once again in the news. It is one of the most complex social issues in America.
There are compelling reasons why a society might feel the need to have a protocol to kill members of its community for commission of heinous crimes. Correspondingly, there are legitimate reasons why an advanced and highly educated society should denounce the killing of anyone for any reason.
This essay will present both sides of the capital punishment issue.
The arguments for capital punishment include a strong desire to root out the most dangerous members of society. Hammurabi, a Babylonian King, indicated in 1755 B.C. that a legal system should be based upon an eye for an eye. If you kill someone without cause, you should be put to death. The principle is based upon revenge against others that have done you harm. So, a person who takes the life another without cause does not have the right to live.
The whole concept of fairness and retribution is particularly important to survivors of a crime, specifically family and friends. I suspect that an individual who is appalled by capital punishment would change his mind if a relative or friend was to become a victim. Giving closure to someone whose life has been destroyed by a senseless crime would appear to be a justifiable and noble ending.
Keep in mind that capital punishment is reserved for the most outrageous crimes against humanity. They include premeditated murder, kidnapping, serial killings, torture, child abuse etc. Capital punishment is not justifiable for lesser crimes, which have a far less impact on individuals and society in general.
The second issue is the value of life. If a person has made a career of murdering others, what use is he to society? Is his life important to others? Do we really want it to be possible for a murderer to have an opportunity to be freed in the future and kill again? Wild animals are captured and killed if they are a danger to society.
A murderer certainly has the same impact on the community. Execution is the only way to be sure a rogue is no longer a threat. Of course, if it is determined that the convicted murderer is not guilty in the future, his execution would have been a terrible mistake. There are no mulligans for capital punishment.
The execution of serious criminals is as old as man himself. From the beginning of time, individuals were put to death for crimes. Nevertheless, there is a lot of moral and religious precedent supporting societies that believe that all killing is sinful, but capital punishment advocates have significant legal history supporting their perspective. Have societies around the world suddenly awoken with a new sense of mortality about killing a rogue member of society.
Probably the worst outcome is a situation wherein a man is not put to death for murder, for whatever reason, is released from captivity at some point and ruins another life and family. To be soft on crime is potentially disastrous.
If an individual, including a policeman, kills someone who killed another unjustifiably, he is likely to escape prosecution. So, there is a loophole for those who kill for their own protection or that of others.
One final comment about executions is the long history of wars between countries. Millions have been killed in battle for causes right and wrong. Seldom do soldiers get prosecuted for killing when ordered to do so.
Let’s turn to those who oppose capital punishment. There is a long list of objections that the opposition has accumulated overtime. Here is a short list:
- You cannot reverse an execution.
- Evidence may arise later that vindicates a convicted killer (new science).
- Killing is not sanctioned by any legitimate religion.
- Capital punishment is more prevalent among people of color. It’s unfairly applied in our society.
- The judicial system is more favorable to white criminals than criminals of color.
- Legal representation of people of color is not as proficient as counsel for white people.
- Revenge does not undo the acts of a criminal.
- A sentence of life imprisonment is just as effective as an execution.
- Capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment period
- The whole system of capital punishment and the years of jockeying before the final event is a waste of time and money.
The people who decide to mete out capital punishment, juries, have no legal experience to make such a grand decision. What can be done to make this situation better for our society? Frankly, the easier road is to ban capital punishment because it is generally applied unfairly in America. Letting someone live but in confinement for life for a serious offense is safe for everybody. The criminal has lost his freedom and can no longer hurt others. And perhaps, our society should a eschew Hammurabi forever.
On the other hand, there are many Americans who favor capital punishment. They say the people involved are generally bad actors and to make an error about their lives would be no big loss. This perspective is abhorrent to the author. But I do not believe capital punishment should be banned without further investigation.
If SCOTUS reiterates that capital punishment is constitutional with proper controls, executions will continue. If SCOTUS says it’s up to states to make their own decisions, capital punishment will continue.
In this case, it would be worthwhile to have judges decide whether to apply capital punishment rather than laypeople. At least we would be giving the appeal process head start.