Monday, November 15, 2004

Crime and Punishment: Rethinking the Death Penalty

The verdict in the Scott Peterson case has brought the death penalty to the fore once again. I find myself re-examining my position, which is that I favor the death penalty for the most horrific crimes, such as murder and rape.

Every society has the responsibility to set rules for its members, and also to set penalties for those who don’t follow the rules. People who commit the acts listed above have earned and deserve the harshest punishment. The members of the society deserve not to be burdened by these vermin.

And so, I believe the death penalty is sometimes an appropriate punishment for the most serious crimes, fairly applied. Obviously, I do not consider the death penalty to be immoral, and in fact consider it a proper tool so long as the society has chosen it through a deliberative process.

However, since the death penalty cannot be reversed, it must be administered with great care. There is no greater error than for a nation to wrongly take the life of citizens. We have made some mistakes in the past, wrongly convicting people and sentencing them to death. If we are going to put people to death for committing crimes, we must be absolutely certain that they are guilty. Absent absolute certainty, the death penalty should not be imposed.
But there are other considerations for my rethinking the death penalty that are based in practicality. I believe that the death penalty carries with it a deterrent effect when it is swiftly applied. Waiting 10 to 20 years to execute a guilty criminal is not very effective. However, since some people really don’t care whether they live or die, the deterrent factor of dying for one’s crimes doesn’t matter to them.

There is also an imbalance in legal representation in death penalty cases: People with money can buy better lawyers than those without money.

But if we do away with the death penalty, or reserve its imposition only in cases where guilt is certain, the only acceptable alternative for those crimes is life imprisonment. But today, life in prison for those who have been found guilty of these crimes is inadequate. Prison life today often means cable TV; gymnasiums for body building; law libraries providing criminals the resources for all manner of mischief, including filing legal actions against the government; conjugal visits; and all manner of soft perks that are inconsistent with the concept of punishment for horrific crimes. If you are guilty of a crime serious enough that you might have received the death penalty, life in prison under the present system is not an acceptable punishment.

If we as a society want to completely do away with the death penalty, then we must implement a system of imprisonment for life that is very unpleasant. Cruel and unusual punishment is a concept that must be set aside when it comes to imposing punishment for murderers and rapists and others now eligible for the death penalty. These people ought to be sentenced to several hours a day at hard labor and the rest of the time in solitary confinement. These criminals ought to view death as the easy way out.

So until life in prison becomes the dire and unpleasant experience that criminals deserve, I’ll continue to support the death penalty, fairly applied, with guilt absolutely determined.


Vitriola said...

You put your case perfectly well. I can't agree with you. I live in a country where there is no death penalty, so perhaps you won't welcome my comment - but you asked for comments, so here's mine.

I don't understand how one can justify a death penalty when by inflicting a death penalty one is committing the very act that society chooses to condemn.

Society is right to condemn murder. It is wrong to take a person's right to life away from them. A person who decides that someone deserves to die, and has that judgment acted upon, is no less guilty of killing - this therefore means that judge and jury are responsible for a death. This is why I find the matter of capital punishment morally suspect.

That's my main point, to me the only point, requiring no further argument. I would, however, back it up with the thought that I don't think the crime rates in countries with a death penalty are any lower.

James Howard Shott said...

Thanks for visiting my site, and thanks for your comment. I welcome those who agree as well as those who do not. It is through debate that one best develops his philosophical system. Incidentally, if you have a site, I would like to post the URL, and ask you to post mine on it.

I see the taking of an innocent life as immoral. That is why I oppose abortion, in addition to outright murder. I make a distinction between murder and execution via the death penalty in two ways. 1) the lives taken through the death penalty (under the terms I outlined for its use) are not innocent lives. 2) I believe that it is proper for a society to determine its rules and punishment for breaking those rules. Our society regards murder as arguably the worst of crimes. Taking the life of one who has murdered is a fair exchange. His victim(s) cannot be revived, and there is a fair question of why should someone who takes a life should continue to live?

Our death penalty is a conscious decision, legally implemented, and with a rigorous legal process necessary before it can be imposed. I believe the foregoing argues favorably for there being a difference between the crime of murder, and the punishment of death.

Again I thank you for visiting my site, and I hope you’ll return often.


Vitriola said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vitriola said...

Hello again. Again, I understand your arguments, but to me, the possibility of error is too great a risk to take (in the case of innocent people being wrongly condemned) and also just cannot get past the belief that if killing is wrong then it is always wrong.

I also believe that abortion is wrong (not a very fashionable view, I think, particularly not amongst liberals and feminists, with whom I am frequently in agreement on other issues) but I don't think it can be outlawed without damaging consequences. But that's a whole other issue, I guess.

Thanks for receiving my comment so politely. It's nice to be able to disagree with someone without being insulted for it (I have recently been insulted for leaving my opinion elsewhere, and am still smarting a little!)

My page is at if you're interested in visiting. I intend to have a section of links to other bloggers soon, and would like to put you on it.

Sorry if there are two comments saying roughly the same thing - this is the second time I've written a comment and the first one doesn't seem to have appeared!

James Howard Shott said...

To Vitriola:

I tried to visit your site, but it would not load. Hopefully, only a temporary screw-up.

I am trying to post your address on my site, but I can't get that to save. Wierd!!

Huston said...

It is rare to know with absolute certainty whether or not a person in guilty. However, I support the death penalty because I respect life, which may be a surprize to your former visitor. Society has an obligation to rid the population of people who have so little respect for life that they are willing to end someone else's, and there is only one punishment that fits that particular crime.