Another Look at Capital Punishment

This post is essentially a repeat of arguments I made some months ago.  I believe the subject deserves another visit.

Liberal-progressive opinion today is strongly opposed to capital punishment, and conservatives tend to have mixed feelings.  Most European nations have abandoned the practice, and many American states no longer impose it.  Slowly, inexorably, it appears that capital punishment is being eliminated.

The present practice in the United States with regard to criminal executions is indefensible.  There is no consistency in the way death sentences are determined around the country.  In one state an individual might be sentenced to death for a single murder in a crime of passion   At other time and in another place, a person guilty of the most heinous crimes, involving multiple murders, avoids the death sentence.  Your fate is largely dependent on where you are tried and what sort of legal talent you can afford.  Indigent defendants with no access to good legal talent are more likely to be condemned.  Those with high priced attorneys are almost never put to death.

Once a murderer is convicted and sentenced to death, he or she is likely to spend years on death-row as the case goes through an extended appeal and review process. By the time execution takes place, if it ever does, the general public often has little memory of the crime for which the person is being executed.

All of us should cry out against this barbaric system.  It is cruel and unfair, and sometimes innocent persons are executed. In the name of justice, we must push for reforms.  But reform does not necessarily include elimination of capital punishment.  There are instances when the very enormity and cruelty of a crime seems to call out for execution of the guilty.  Only then can there be true catharsis.

I propose the following:

  • The death sentence should only be imposed for the most heinous offenses, to include serial murders, multiple or mass murders, or brutal torture of a victim or victims followed by murder.
  • Capital punishment would require that the evidence of guilt be virtually incontestable and include physical evidence of the charged person’s involvement in the crime. Circumstantial evidence alone should not suffice for a death penalty, and the death sentence would not be applied if a person was not involved in the actual commission of the murder or murders.
  • Severe punishments would still remain available for other persons convicted of murder, up to and including life without parole.
  • After conviction, any trial resulting in a death sentence should be subject to expeditious review by a special court established for that purpose. After review, there would be no further appeals, and the execution should be carried out forthwith.

These are simple and straightforward reforms that would remove inequities in our present system. Of course, these changes would need to be enacted on the state level, and it is unlikely that all states would adopt identical legislation.  

Many insist that we eliminate capital punishment altogether.  They see it as a barbaric holdover from an unenlightened age.  Some think it cheapens the state, and others agree with Pope Francis that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

On the other hand, I agree with the person who wrote that “Allowing all murderers to keep their own lives diminishes the evil of murder and thereby cheapens the worth of the human being.”  The wrongful, deliberate taking of innocent human lives is the pinnacle of wickedness, and it calls out for retribution. 

In 2007 two evil men entered the home of a Connecticut physician and proceeded to torture, rape, and murder his wife and two young daughters.  Then they set the house on fire.  The grieving husband and father said, “I think when people willfully, wantonly, without any remorse take someone else’s life, they forfeit their right to be among us.” He was right. There are certain monstrous criminal beings who should be separated from human society forever.   

If we eliminate the death penalty, I suggest that we bring back dungeons. 

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