The Death Penalty (2)

Beyond expense and the lack of deterrence, the death penalty is meted out unfairly. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “The death penalty system in the US is applied in an unfair and unjust manner against people, largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place.  People of color are far more likely to be executed than white people, especially if the victim is white.”

But far and away the strongest argument for elimination of the death penalty is that it is unconstitutional and immoral. The ACLU states the case: “The American Civil Liberties Union believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law. Furthermore, we believe that the state should not give itself the right to kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, and when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.”

In sum, capital punishment does not discourage murderers. It is expensive, unfair, and an unacceptable denial of civil liberties, and it is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system. The United States is the only Western country to still use the death penalty. The United Nations General Assembly adopted in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2018 resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions, with a view to eventual abolition. Yet we maintain the death penalty.

It is long since time we joined the civilized nations of the world in banning capital punishment. Trump’s reinstitution of state killing reduces the status of the U.S. to that of a banana republic. It’s time for a change of administrations and a new president.

2 thoughts on “The Death Penalty (2)”

  1. 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 times 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, and 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.


  2. Thanks, Sandy. I’ve taken a couple of days to ruminate about your comment. Now I’m ready to answer. Your quoted as follows: “Allowing all murderers to keep their own lives diminishes the evil of murder and thereby cheapens the worth of the human being.” I argue that taking the lives of murderers diminishes the evil of murder and cheapens the worth of human beings. If it’s all right for the state to kill, why isn’t it all right for a citizen? In short, nothing justifies that taking of a human life. Revenge is not an admissible reason.


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