Capital Punishment is a Farce and other thoughts

Allright, so a while back, I saw an item in the news, and suppressed an urge to post about it. That item was the execution of the thousandth death row inmate since the moratiorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1976. I was pretty sure that I was going to post about it eventually, but wasn't entirely certain that my arguement was fully formed and didn't wish to set an artificial deadline for myself based on a construct devoid of any real signifigance. That it is ultimately a high-profile case that brought this out of me is not lost, but for my part, the reason I'm writing this now is because of what I read at Girl on the Blog

To take a life is to operate outside of one's rights as a human being, and infringing upon the rights of another. I hope against hope that we can all agree on that unequivocally.

That having been said, we constantly and often for good reason operate outside our rights, and when the rights of one conflict with the rights of another, a decision has to be made.

Simply put, there needs to be a reason.

When a hostage is held at gunpoint, there is a reason.

And in the case of the death penalty as it stands, there isn't one. At all.

There are, depending on how you looking at it, two or three potential reasons for the death penalty. They are deterrence, punishment, and vengeance. The latter two can be lumped together, and in the case of mainstream politics, vengeance is never on the table, though is sometimes referred to dressed in punishment's borrowed robes.

I submit that punishment is only an issue if you are dealing with someone who may be reintroduced to society. Thus, it is irrelevent to anyone for whom the death penalty is a consideration.

Let's look at vengeance. I am not at this point in time absolutely clear how I feel about it personally. There is a strong part of me that feels that it is a legitimate motive, and another that suspects that part of me to be somewhat antiquated, or even primative. That debate is an age old one which I doubt will be put to rest in our lifetimes. For the purposes of this writing I shall assume it to be a worthy concern. The short way to deal with it in this context is that it doesn't apply. Vengeance is personal. The legal system is not. But let me take it further.

The death penalty is not an effective vessel for revenge. It takes years in a process that is about the perpatrator rather than the victim, and ends flatly. This is not to be taken as a criticism. It is necessary for the state to act in a humane way; vengeance is not its concern. The question I'm raising in this matter is, "what is its concern in the instance of the death penalty?"

Logically, the only thing remaining is deterrance. In fact, every politician in favor of the death penalty does so using this arguement. The problem with it is that the numbers have utterly failed to show it. There is of course the chicken and egg debate that supporters raise to attempt to set aside the fact that the crime rate is higher in states with capital punishment, but I would say that the concept, at least in its current incarnation, is not supported by logic either. Deterrance is, to paraphrase Doctor Strangelove, the art of producing in the mind of the criminal the fear to kill. For the very reasons mentioned above, the death penalty does not evoke fear unless one is already facing it. Thus, it does not deter.

Moreover, it has been proven that the death penalty has claimed innocent life. Once an execution has taken place, there can be no expunging of sentances. At least in the case of life in prison there is some oppertunity to right a wrong. I agree with John Adams in that I would sooner see a thousand guilty men live than one innocent man die.

All told, there are some who will say that some people simply deserve to die. Those who have read Tolkein have an easy response to this in the words of Gandalf:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

However, I've gotten to the point where I don't end my arguements with that, because upon further reflection there's yet another layer.

All told, the subset of murderers who would without a doubt be better off dead are the ones who can get away with it.

Am I saying that violent vigilantism makes more sense than the death penalty? In a word, yes. It fufills the Punishment and Vengeance reasons in ways that are fairly obvious. The thought that someone could come out of nowhere and put lead between your eyes is terrifying. Not that I'm saying that I know for a fact that it would be a deterrent (obviously there are no numbers to support my claim), I'm just saying it makes more sense.

The other thing is a matter of trust. I don't trust the judicial system to decide who lives and who dies. I don't know that I trust anyone, but I'm sure as shit that I don't trust the courts. If I saw a murder, I'd certainly trust myself more.

Of course, it isn't feasible. There's the whole matter of who watches the watchers, so I'm obviously not advocating vigilantism per se. But I certainly think it makes more sense than capital punishment.

I'm eager to hear what you people have to say about this.


  1. I firmly believe that life imprisonment without a chance for parole is a far greater punishment, and might be a detterent if not allowed "priveleges" such as no library, TV etc


  2. I've been lurking on yer site for a couple of days. This is a thoughtful post. I generally do not favor prisons or courts, being something of an anarchist. To my way of thinking justice needs to happen swiftly.

  3. You are right, there is no proof at all that the death penalty deters anything. It is an empty thing we do when we chose to take the life of another human being and we don't have that right. In general what do you expect of people who believe that their god let his son be crucified though.
    Justice not served and lessons not learned. Again and again and again.

    The termnator...yup.

  4. Pia: I really don't think that making the circumstances of punishment for the crime of murder worse (whether by excecution or what you have suggested) is going to act as a deterrent at all for the simple reason that one generally carries out the act with the thought that he won't get caught.

    Ticharu: As one well read of Hunter S Thompson I understand the reasons to advocate anarchy and to some extent sympathize, but the fact of the matter is that as a system it is unsustainable and would inevitably degenerate into mob rule followed by mornarchy. That having been said, it is a tradition in America that when the rules don't work, they are broken. What I am saying is that the existence of a government does not preclude individual responsibility for justice.

    Alice: You'd think that Jesus' crucifixion would be the ultimate arguement not only against the death penalty but also in favor of seperation of church and state, because the guy would never have been served up to the Romans if the San Hedrin hadn't captured him first.

    Never thought I'd see you quote the Terminator.

  5. Yeah, I like your argument. I don't advocate anarchy as a system, I advocate no system, no organizations, nothing larger than an orchestra!

  6. I agree to you to some extent... but when you have been in the shoes of a family that has gone through the torture of a loved one who was murdered... you may rethink your views. I for a long time was SOOOO against the death penalty until my cousin was murdered... The man who killed her had murdered 2 other women... Raped them and brutally tortured them... In my eyes he deserves to die and no amount of words will ever change the way I feel about that... specially when seeing the pictures of what he did to them.

    All-in-all a good post... even though I agree to disagree with the "WOMBAT"! :) Sorry the Batman theme just ran through my head... LOL!

  7. Mr Batman...
    Well I really liked your post first of all. It made me think a lot. I also liked what ticharu said both times and as usual totally rethought what I was going to say after reading GOTB's comment-Why she does this to me everytime I know not...I was going to say you pretty much convinced me-but I have known many people that have been murdered and raped. I was dealing with friends being raped from age 13. To be kinda biblical and sorta agree with you lets say we "turn the other cheek." Once in sunday school my teacher asked me what I thought that meant. I explained "If someone does something to you that isn't nice then you walk away or offer the other cheek...And if it happens again you hurt them ten times worse than they hurt you and teach them a fucking lesson they will never forget when they wake up in the hospital." Needless to say I was much more violent then, but it got a few laughs before he told me to leave the room. There are many positives and negatives to the death penalty, just like there are many quotes from the Bible and other sources that are pro or anti-death pentalty. I mean doing onto others as they have done unto you-that means kill um in my book, and yes I am taking poetic freedom to change this quote to fit better for me. Maybe if the system would change to a swifter punishment without all the fru fru's of most prisons, and make all inmates in jail or prison earn their cost of living instead of having tax payers waste their money on it, we could have a good country. But the way it is sucks. Death Penalty or not, it doesn't work at all. I am all for Alice's idea-castrate the bastards that rape people, and as far as the death pentalty goes-when there is DNA evidence and the charge is murder 1-the day after they are found guilty a shooting squad would be nice and would cost almost nothing. As vengeful as I am about small things, I don't think I could handle knowing someone that killed anyone close to me was being allowed to live. I might have to go vigilante on their ass. Does anything really work as a deterant that is humane?

  8. GotB: Well, I can't pretend to know how you feel about this. Or how I would feel. I wholeheartedly agree that such a person deserves to die.

    From there there is a bit of a dichotomy in my thought process. Part of me repeats the mantra, "mercy is the mark of a great man." The other would have me pull the trigger myself if I knew for a fact on whose head the blame lay.

    I just don't feel that I can trust the current system to deter, to avenge, or even to apply the penalty equitably (it's been proven that innocent people have died as a result of it, as well as that minorities are more likely to be executed)

    I desperately hope I never find out for myself how I would feel or act if it actually happened, and am deeply sorry that you did.

    Good to hear that we can disagree on something so serious and personal and still end it on a laugh...

    Chris: I really hate it when the Bible finds its way into these arguements, because everyone who uses it twists it to fit their side.

    The problem with swift justice is that there needs to be no doubt whatsoever. For my part, if I'm going to take a life, or call for a life to be taken, it had damned well better be something I saw with my own two eyes, or percieved in a way no more fallible. Life is just too fucking valuable to waste due to a mistake.

  9. I guess I feel that with probable cause, no aliby, and DNA evidence-that basically is like seeing it with my own two eyes if someone is found guilty, or esp if they admit to it. Sorry to bring in the bible-I agree-that is a cheap tactic.

  10. Oh yeah, I linked this discussion to my post about the death pentalty, hope that is ok. It's nice to see a healthy discussion of an important issue.

  11. I generally disagree with the whole idea/concept of the death penalty, although I have a history of utopian ideals (in this case, the ideal of creating a society where such a thing is not necessary...somehow assuming I have the answers to make this so, while in the mean time denying the existence of various problems altogether...)...which I have since gotten rid of in favour of more realistic/materialist views of the world.

    I'm no longer utopian, as I have felt that raw kind of "primal" motivation a person can feel to kill another out of vengeance. If someone were to hurt or kill or brutalize my son in any way, I'd be the first to want the perpetrator's blood on my hands. It complicates things horrendously when the system is responsible for enacting such vengeance, which is usually such a personal and internal emotion.

    In Western Canada, we've been experimenting with a new justice system, although it is still in its fledgling stages, and it only exists behind the scenes....i.e. it is far from being institutionalized. This system brings the perpetrator and victim and/or victim's family into close contact. It facilitates meetings and interactions between the two, depending on how dangerous the perpetrator is and on the mental state of both parties. This has produced some profound healings...on the part of the perpetrators AND the victims.

    What I'm saying, basically, is that the more we can cut out all the bureaucracy, the better the "system" will be. I believe that the "system" is more humane when the two parties can be allowed to carry on uncensored communication in a safe environment.

  12. i agree with you pretty much completely. there will never be a reason for the death penalty good enough to convince me.


  13. Vesper: Yeah, I've kicked utopia too. I'll have to read up on that. I think I may agree with you there.

    Crys: good to hear