Assessing the Death Penalty

The Death Penalty also known as Capital Punishment is an issue that in my simple mind has been given far more debate than it deserves. I need to correct some misconceptions from previous articles.

First, the United States does not have the highest crime rate or murder rate in the world. Johannesburg, South Africa has been the murder capital of the world for two decades. There is debate but front runners Columbia, The Philippines, and Somalia are way ahead of the United States in terms of violent crime. I did some research and according to FBI statistics we may lead the world in computer crime and piracy of music and video but that is debatable.

Second, words of a child asking “Why do we kill people who kill people to teach them not to kill people?” sorry but its a point that is an abstract difficult for the mind of a concrete thinking child to grasp. My redneck Texas education taught me this. We shoot a vicious dog not to teach him but to prevent him from teaching others. Now, for those who never grew up around animals it may be difficult to understand but its mercy to put down an animal that is a danger to itself and others. Every nation has at one time or another used the death penalty. Those who outlawed it have gone back to it from time to time. Every religion (yes, even Buddhism, Siddartha thought the demon army out of existence) has accepted it as a necessary evil to protect the innocent. Morally, not a single culture has eliminated it and found a practical alternative. Name a culture in the last 2000 years that got rid of it? Now, did that culture go back to it? If it did not then I submit it lost out to one that did use it. To make a long point simple, it exists so that dangers to our society do not.

Third, DeCartes said it best, “It is not the punishment that deters crime, it is the surety of it.” So if a person is given a fair trial with a jury of his peers who found him guilty. Then another jury decided that his punishment should be death. I think waiting for more than a year is a denial of his due process and violates the amendment’s wisdom against ‘cruel or unusual punishments.’ Not a single framer of our United States Constitution opposed the Death Penalty. Trust me I have checked that one time and again to win many a bet against friends. Some actually wanted to take capital punishment out of the hands of the ‘mob’ and put in the hands of government to ensure its proper and judicious use. As an educator I see the sheep model work time and again. See one student at the beginning of the school year has to test the waters. If they arrive late to class and I give them a consequence in a judicious and consistent manner others of the herd will take note. Same applies to our society. If we execute a person for taking a life and it is open to the public I bet many would pause before trying that. DeCartes makes it clear, I will think before I act if I have a clear reminder or example of what such actions will cost me personally. The old joke goes, two little boys sit down at the breakfast table. Mother turns to ask what cereal older brother wants? “Aw hell, how about raisin bran?” Well Mother smacks older brother for his insolence and disrespect but the lesson is not lost on little brother. Mother turns to him and repeats the question. He thinks for a moment, “Well don’t know what cereal I want but bet your ass its not raisin bran!” Lesson learned clearly. I kid but the point is made. We are social creatures that seem to learn best when observing what happens to other members of the herd. If one walks over too close to lions and is eaten well, gonna stay away from that spot. Same applies to our laws. If one kills one must forfeit that most precious possession to pay for it.

A quick word on reform of those who commit crime. I would gladly eat every word of this essay if one could show me a program that actually works. Recidivism is rampant and unfortunately in the United States prisons are not places of correction but universities for turning out a smarter and more effective criminal. My stats are from FBI and Federal Corrections.

Now, I say this issue is simple because it like the abortion debate requires people to talk endlessly without taking any real meaningful action. No, I don’t mean killing doctors who perform abortions or any other extremist actions. I mean why not ask people of the nation in which they live what they want? Politicians talk about it without doing much of substance why not a national referendum to decide? Start with a simple should we have it yes or no? Then choose a method if the answer is yes. Next, eliminate the middle-man of lawyers turned legislators who cannot write a clear thought.

Try this on for size. When a convicted felon has been designated to die allow for three appeals. First, a review of the case in which the defendant was found guilty of the crime and subsequent sentencing trial or hearing. This review should be conducted by the next higher appellate court. Second, upon the approval of the first review that a sentence of death stands then another review by a second appellate court to ensure the case was properly tried, sentencing was according to proper procedure, and finally the first appellate court did its job. With this second review and a finding that the penalty is just the last stop should be the highest court in our United States the Supreme Court. What is the High Court’s job? Simple, if it feels something is amiss it can undertake a third review. The last caveat is this all three reviews need occur within a span of 12 months. Some may argue court backlog but, shouldn’t a person’s life take the fast track to administration of justice. The victim of murder is not afforded as much due process but at least in a democratic society founded on laws the defendant can be given merciful and fair consideration.

Now, should a governor or a President be able to grant a stay? No! what do they have to do with any case? They are a chief executive of a government that requires their efforts to administer and enforce the will of legislatures. I understand there was historic precedent set when Kings and Emperors could grant amnesty in capital cases but didn’t we get rid of our King about two centuries ago?

If one argues about the abuses of current administration of the death penalty it should be noted that regulations and procedures designed to ensure fairness have so muddied the waters that one on average waits 15 years to die after found guilty.

Finally, this is going to sound awful simple minded but I believe it has merit. If you are against abortion then don’t have one. If you favor abortion then have as many as you can afford and wish to have. Now, if that is not good enough why not ask the people? Same thing for the Death Penalty. Don’t want to be executed by the state? Fine, don’t do anything to make that possible. If you support the death penalty by all means get executed to your heart’s content. And if that is not acceptable to either side of the debate then again, ask the people. Please don’t misunderstand, there are occasions when the majority is not right especially when it runs over a minority group. However, if something remains unresolved for decades then isn’t better to finally and succinctly establish the will of our people? If such a referendum makes people uneasy don’t worry we can always add in a time limit on it.

In and of itself the death penalty is horrible. It means we as a species still fall short of our potential. Yet, evolution and theology both view death as a tool to move forward.