Justice, loosely defined, is a framework of logical justifications that manifest that society’s core tenets into a groundwork for acceptable social (and to varying degrees, moral) interactions. Historically, a legal system is one of the first established institutions of any society, and for good reason – without a functioning and central judiciary, the course of law, and thus the nature of that society’s productions (in almost any industry or field in which value is quantifiable) is subject to whomever has the strongest arm.
In the United States, our judicial system was founded on secular principles (which resonate in many religions as well). Its common law, adopted from the Brits, addresses fundamental dissonances in the fabric of social harmony – such as robbery, murder, rape, theft, arson – and from there it extrapolates laws to cover the depth and breadth of the crimes that it is asked to resolve. The individual states have their own constitutions that can cover anything that doesn’t conflict, or has already been established by, the federal Constitution or federal statutes.
That being said, capital punishment (alternatively known as the Death Penalty, execution, or the Big Bad Wrong) has historical roots as a tool used for suppression or Machiavellian-esque elimination of political opponents, and it has only been until recently that nations have been banning it. The United States reserves the use of the punishment, but uses it somewhat sparingly – in fact, approximately two-thirds of all inmates on Death Row have their sentences overturned, and are usually commuted to lesser ones.
But as the logic of the Death Penalty exists primarily in the extent to which the nation’s jurors will permit themselves the liberty of premeditated murder in a retributive sense, the existence of capital punishment serves mostly to satisfy sentimentalities. Many people still operate on an ‘Eye for an Eye’ judicial scale – if you kill someone, you should be killed. While nowadays more people in the US are willing to see that person sentenced to life behind bars, for more horrific crimes – such as multiple murders, rapes, tortures, any crimes involving children – people are more inclined to see that criminal as a repugnance on society that needs to be excised.
And that’s the chief reason why the Death Penalty is still in existence today. For instance, all the legal wrangling it takes to get someone sentenced to death, and the ensuing wrangling on behalf of the convicted to get it commuted ties up the legal system more than it already is. It isn’t for the benefit of the law that capital punishment exists. In addition, there isn’t much consistency in the sentencing, and there are reports of harsher judicial sentences – which includes capital punishment – as correlating with certain ethnicities. In this regard, along with the judicial wastefulness, and the risk of accidentally killing an innocent man whose legal case can’t afford to beat his impending execution, and et cetera, the American Bar Association (ABA) has called and renewed calls for a moratorium on the Death Penalty.
While the Death Penalty can sometimes be satisfying to deliver, an effective and reputable legal system is one that relies on logic and rationality. Justice is logical; capital punishment is emotional. And as appealing to our emotions as it can be to put a four-time rapist to his death, we do a disservice to our own credibility and sense of elevated ‘modern’ justice by continuing with such a system of erratic vindictive slaying of the creatures that are partial creations of the same society we hold in such esteem.