The punishment half of crime and punishment has always been meant to be a deterrent. Since people started living in groups we have believed that if someone does something wrong and he is punished, and the punishment is publicly known, then that punishment will stop the perpetrator and many other people from repeating that act. That theory has been in practice since the inception of civilization.
The death penalty is thought to be the ultimate deterrent. In the United States we reserve this form of punishment for those who commit only the most heinous crimes. Murder is one of the crimes whose penalty is usually death. There are two distinct problems associated with state administered executions.
First is the act itself. There are many people who believe that state executions are murder themselves. If we look at the definition of murder it may give us some insight. The Free Dictionary defines murder as the unlawful killing of one human by another, especially with premeditated malice.
If we dissect that definition we see that almost all of it applies to state executions. The convicted person is killed. The killing was done by another human. It was premeditated. Finally the killing was done with malice, which is to say it was done to do harm to another person. The only part of the definition that does not apply is the unlawful part. Indeed state executions are legal. That is what protects everyone responsible for the execution from being prosecuted themselves.
We can place the legal aspect aside because our laws change at the whims of our respective legislators. Everything else being equal, we can surmise that state executions are indeed murder themselves. We justify these murders however, by reasoning that the state is removing a known murderer from society. While that is true, it does bring about the old adage that two wrongs don’t make a right now doesn’t it?
The question of “right” comes into play. Is state administered execution right? That is the question that each person must ask and answer themselves. There can be no question that the punishment fits the crime since they are the same. But there are concessions made. Apparently the populous is not content with the method of state executions.
Over the past few decades the method of execution has shifted to the more humane. For years the electric chair was the recognized standard device for execution. But Ole’ Sparky has dropped out of favor. Lethal injection is now accepted as the more humane method. It is quieter, calmer, and less violent. It makes us feel better about the gruesome deed of doling out death.
We offer the convicted a last meal of their choice, keep them calm, and allow them final visitation with their friends and family. It seems that if we were sure death was the right and just solution, then we would not need to find more humane ways of doing it. We would not have these final day ceremonies.
The judges in the old west were far surer of their decisions. They heard the case, took a little time for review, made their judgment, gave their sentence, and had the sentence carried out all in the same day. The gavel fell and off to the gallows the convicted went. We don’t do things like that today. We are not as sure. We are not as sure because the prosecution has been proven wrong.
The second issue that must be addressed when considering the death penalty is that the method of prosecution for the accused persons is imperfect. Not everyone who has been found guilty of a capital crime is indeed guilty. According to USA Today, “Since 1989, there have been 213 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the USA.” DNA testing has changed the rules. Prior to DNA testing a convicted person filed appeal after appeal. At the end of the arduous task few if any convictions were overturned.
The death of one innocent person reveals a flawed system. Understandably the convict is still in jail, which is not the ideal environment, while he waits for a final decision on his case, but he is alive. A person who has been executed wrongly can get no reprieve. That person has no appeals system. If it is brought to light that the person was indeed innocent, the State would say that mistakes were made. While that admission would make a government official feel better, it is of no consequence to the person who was executed or his family.
So what does society do with those convicted of capital crimes? The answer must lie in prevention of the crimes. Throughout history people have been put to death for high crimes. They have killed in the most horrendous ways imaginable. Although we have employed incredible methods of death designed to extract the maximum amount of human pain and suffering, people still commit the crimes. Obviously the motivation to commit the crimes outweighs the punishments for those crimes.
In fact the maximum security prisons, the ones designed to hold the most dangerous felons, in our country are near capacity. These people are facing death, and if given the chance, they would kill again. Surely these people’s though process is far different from the majority of our population.
The death penalty should be abolished because it is an imperfect system. And in its imperfection innocent people have been put to death.
There is a mass of people who staunchly support the death penalty, and they are well within their right to do so. However, if we are employing the death penalty as a state, then the entire state should contribute to its operation. If you want to see how convicted the pro-death crowd is, pass a law requiring every adult person who is a citizen to take a turn putting a convicted person to death. Then you would see how convicted they are in their beliefs that capital punishment is right.
Outrageous you say? We require the voting public to take part in jury duty. That is the mechanism for conviction. Why stop there? If the public has a hand in convicting and sentencing a person, then they could reasonably be asked to see their sentence through.