Under Penalty of Death

I came in to work today thinking about how I would write this post. Watching too much Law & Order with my fiance got me thinking about the death penalty and I realized I didn't have a solid position on the subject.

First reaction is revultion. I don't really like the idea of state sponsored killings. On top of that, the inequity with which the death penalty is applied brings me to the conclusion that there should be a moratorium on the death penalty.

That, of course, is the easy way out. I've come to a logical, moral, and defensible position without really making an evaluation on the absolutes of the issue. I'm uncomfortable with current state of the death penalty. Does that mean that in some other iteration, I'd be willing to accept it?

We've established that the poor, minorities, mentally disadvantaged and other societal 'outsiders' are disproportionately represented when it comes to prisoners on death row. What if there were a way to have the death penalty applied fairly?

First, I think that the idea of the death penalty as a deterrent has been sufficiently disproved. I will not argue that having the death penalty on the books discourages crime. That said, it's a useful tool for prosecutors. "Well take the death penalty off the table if you..." is an effective way to get confessions, information, whatever. Of course it's only useful if there's the real possibility that the person in question will be executed. This at least shows that capital punishment is effective in securing convictions, if not preventing crime.

Next, the question of application must be addressed. All murderers are eligible? Just multiple murderers? Rapists? Repeat Rapists? How do you determine which crimes deserve to be ones punishable by death? I think that just saying "you took a life, you lose your own" is a bad framework to set up. Does a drunk driver have the same culpability as someone who waits for a victim in hopes of killing them and taking their wallet? That said, does the person who kills his wife and her lover (a la Shawshank Redemption) in a fit of rage have the same culpability as the person who kills for the thrill? The serial killer who kills repeatedly? As a concrete example, the DC Sniper who killed for sport/shock? And this ignores the tricky issue of rape, especially for repeat offenders.

The greatest problem I have with capital punishment, however, is the shocking finality. As humans, can we ever be so sure of the guilt of any offender to deny him or her any recourse?

I don't have a resolution for this entry. I'm very conflicted. There are terrible crimes that deserve capital punishment. That said, I don't know that I'm comfortable allowing any humans, no matter how 'good' the system, to apply a punishment that is completely final, with no recourse. I don't know that it's good that a person, possibly innocent, is executed in my name.

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