The death penalty is a contentious issue. It polarizes people, it stymies discussion, and few are ambivalent. Not every crime, even murder automatically warrants the death penalty. Only capital cases warrant the death penalty. A capital case is a specific type of crime where the accused is on trial for a heinous crime. Treason is a capital crime. Genocide is another, and there are certain other crimes which we as a society consider to be so dreadful that the only option we see open to us is the death of the accused.
People who are pro the death penalty have created a series of arguments why the death penalty should be acceptable to us in the US.
The argument is that the killers in this class have committed a crime so conscienceless that any other punishment would be insufficient a penalty when compared to the crime. It is a persuasive argument, but it loses sight of what it does to us as the executors. Life is either sacred or it isn’t. Effectively taking a life for a life reduces society.
Another main idea in support is that people will not commit crimes this dreadful if they feel that by doing so, they may endanger their own life. Clearly, this argument doesn’t work. People still are the victims of dreadful crimes. There are no figures to support the position that states with the death penalty have markedly lower crime rates than those without it.
This is a cleverly wrapped argument. It seeks to distinguish between retribution – a concept where the punishment fits the crime – and revenge. Apologists would argue retribution is proportional and appropriate, whereas revenge they would argue knows no bounds. Revenge is different, but if life is sacred, becoming a monster to fight monsters is counterproductive.
The next big argument is about getting it wrong. The issue is that an innocent person may be executed, which incidentally equated to sanctioned murder. If they have done nothing wrong and we take their life in a pre-meditated way we are committing a murder.
The apologists would argue that the system has sufficient checks and balances, such as trial by jury, which would mean that only the guilty were executed. But we have all read the stories about innocent people being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being wrongly indicted. The proof requirement is only beyond a reasonable doubt. The problem raises a mighty specter when we come to the ill-educated and the poor who don’t get the representation they need. It is too easy to make an irrevocable mistake.
These are not the only arguments. The ones about race and cost deserve consideration in their own right, as does the one which concerns the idea that the Founding Fathers included the possibility, therefore, it is a priori constitutional.
Even in this short discussion, all of the arguments sound thin and too easy to rebut. The death penalty says much about the people who implement it.