Capital Punishment: Justice or Murder?
The empathetic, burning tears streamed down my face, poignantly stinging my cheeks before plummeting down onto my shirt. The closing credits to The Green Mile were scrolling emotionlessly down the screen as if unaware of the travesties that had occupied the very same space just a few moments earlier. A very large, compassionate man had been brutally executed for a crime that he had not committed. In fact, he was actually trying to help the victims of the heinous act of violence for which he was later accused. Although it was a fictitious and somewhat extraordinary story, I began to wonder if such misunderstandings actually do occur and whether or not the death sentence is really humane. Is capital punishment truly justice, or is it merely socially accepted murder and vengeance?
A notoriously controversial and oft-disputed topic, thirty-eight states in the U.S.A. continue to utilize the death penalty as a form of sentencing offenders. Arguments in support of such harsh penance in the United States include that it provides deterrence and retribution. An October, 2005, Gallop Poll indicated that sixty-four percent of Americans support the death penalty (Walker). Although lower than previous numbers, I was alarmed at the amount of public support in favor of the punishment. The United States remains one of sixty-two countries, only fifteen of which are democracies, which continue to administer the death penalty (Chen). There are several persuasive reasons why a person, especially a surviving member of a victim’s family, might support capital punishment, but is taking more lives really judicial?
There are numerous people who oppose the death sentence. “Life is the most fundamental human right there is,” explains Stephen Bright. “The death penalty is like torture-it’s beyond the pale. Most people say it’s not right to cut a thief’s fingers off. But it’s OK to cut off their head?” (qtd. in “Does the U.S. Abuse Human Rights?”). Perhaps the most common objection to capital punishment is the innocent people who have been condemned to death. Largely responsible for such doubts about the reliability of the system is DNA evidence exonerating more than a hundred Americans who were wrongfully sent to death row (Kuttner). Another argument in opposition to the death penalty is that it is not necessarily an effective deterrent to murderers. Killers are, generally, anti-social outsiders who usually don’t respond to capital punishment as a form of behavioral disincentive not to kill (McCloskey). As far as whether or not it provides retribution, that is a harder aspect to measure. Richard L. Nygaard, a judge, maintains that, “The death penalty is a legal and constitutional way of making revenge . . . people must try to renounce this form of retribution” (6).
The inept ability and misuse of capital punishment as a relevant form of justice is well-captured by James McCloskey:
The death penalty is an ineffective deterrent to murder that costs vast
sums better spent on more successful preventative measures, that takes
innocent lives, and that corrupts the justice system. Innocent people are
routinely killed under the death penalty, even when their innocence is known,
because no one in the justice system wants to take responsibility for
reversing or commuting a sentence. Politicians seek to proclaim
themselves ‘tough on crime’ while eyewitness evidence, pervasive perjury, an
imbalance of resources, racism, and suppression of evidence compound the
problem. (“The Death Penalty: A Personal View”)
While I can certainly identify with both sides of the issue, I must conclude that capital punishment falls far short of being an effect means of enforcing justice. If I were faced with a situation in which someone I loved was murdered or raped, there is no doubt that I would like nothing more than to see their offender killed for his/her actions. However, although defiant of human nature, I believe that revenge is not a humane, nor a Christian, virtue. I do support the belief that we need a strict judicial system, but murder is still murder. I think that Jesus Christ summed it up best by stating to the people who were about to stone an adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” As a society, we would be sensible to adhere to such wisdom.
Beaudoin, Jack. “Does the U.S. Abuse Human Rights?” Scholastic Update (December 8,
1997): 2. General Reference Center Gold. InfoTrac. Montana Library Network
Academic Libraries. Flathead Valley Community College Lib., Kalispell, MT. 20
April 2006 .
Chen, Michelle. “Global Action on Death Penalty Unlikely Soon.” Inter Press Service
(December 28, 2004). SIRS Researcher. SIRS Knowledge Source. Flathead Valley
Community College Lib., Kalispell, MT. 20 April 2006
Kuttner, Robert. “Reasonable Doubts: The Growing Movement Against the Death
Penalty.” American Prospect (July 2004): A1-A23. SIRS Researcher. SIRS
Knowledge Source. Flathead Valley Community College Lib., Kalispell, MT. 20
McCloskey, James. “The Death Penalty: A Personal View.” Criminal Justice Ethics
(Summer Fall 1996): 2. General Reference Center Gold. InfoTrac. Montana
Library Network Academic Libraries. Flathead Valley Community College Lib.,
Kalispell, MT. 20 April 2006 .
Nygaard, Richard L. “‘Vengeance is Mine,’ says the Lord.” America (October 8,1994):
6. SIRS Researcher. SIRS Knowledge Source. Flathead Valley Community College
Lib., Kalispell, MT. 20 April 2006
Walker, Carol. “Death Penalty Remains Subject of Debate in United States.”
Washington File (December 2, 2005). SIRS Researcher. SIRS Knowledge Source.
Flathead Valley Community College Lib., Kalispell, MT. 20 April 2006