The Death Penalty

In the same way that deciding on abortion presents a difficult dilemma, so too does deciding on the death penalty. I could list all the usual reasons why people object to the penalty, like its irreversibility, its barbarity, its lowering us to the level of murderers. These are all valid points, but on balance I have no moral problems executing the worst offenders. I do, however, have some problems with the administration of the penalty. On balance, given today’s legal and courtroom standards, I come out against it.

Illinois’ governor made some news recently when he took every death row inmate off of death row. He had finally reached a point where he had so lost confidence in the administration of the penalty that he could not in good conscience continue it. And he was originally a death penalty supporter. There may have been other motivations, he has his share of legal problems, but I agree with him on this point.

I’m not trying to be merciful here. With some of these creeps, rather than killing them and putting them out of their misery, I’d like to throw them into a cage and damn near literally throw away the key. Except to remove their body after they die. But that always leaves open the possibility that some guilty party will somehow manage to get their conviction overturned and get out of the cage. Plus the more squeemish among us would protest even more than they do now.

Over 100 death row inmates have been exonerated. DNA gets most of the credit, but it actually has been used in maybe only 10% of these reversals. The other reversals have been due to prosecutorial bad behavior, new witnesses, new confessions and so on. But the pattern I see is that if you must rely on public consul, your chances are much higher that you will end up on death row. Almost nobody who can afford a private attorney ends up there. Should money be able to buy this much justice?

I am also bothered by the execution of mentally deficient or damaged people, as well as quite young people. Have we no mercy at all? There are other ways to remove dangerous people from our midst rather than killing them.

February 24, 2003

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