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I feel like the death penalty is just as wrong as the original crime committed. I don't believe that the killing of another human being can be justified by a reference to the wrongs committed by the victim.
To put it in perspective: It is illegal to take the life of another even if said person has wronged you. That is to say, you may not, legally, avenge the murder of one by murdering another. Then how is it that it is considered acceptable for those who are charged with enforcing the law to completely disregard it? Isn't the death penalty an act of avenging the death of one or more by killing another?
In theory, the death penalty is a fine thing. Certain crimes are so heinous that the people who commit them do not deserve to live. But the problem comes in the administration of the death penalty.
Some crimes deserve death. But which ones? This question ends up coming down to a jury or perhaps a judge. In either case, fallible human beings are making the choice of life or death. When this is the case, all sorts of prejudices can come into play.
For example, it is well-known that blacks who murders whites get the death penalty at a higher rate than any other racial combination. Could this be due to prejudice? It is likely that other prejudices come into play as well. A person who kills a well-loved member of a nice family is going to look worse in the eyes of the sentencer than someone who kills a rival gang member, even if it is in cold blood. In other words, killing a more sympathetic victim is likely to get the death penalty more often than the killing of someone else, even though the crimes are morally the same.
So while the death penalty is fine in theory, there are clearly problems with administering it fairly.
The death penalty is such a polarizing issue, that it is doubtful anyones thoughts/arguments will convince others. Personally, I have always been a firm advocate of the death penalty; but in my later years, have begun to fight a losing battle within myself to support it. My major problem is that it is impossible to separate the death penalty from revenge; which is hardly a worthy substitute for justice. Secondly, there have been incidents, one with which I am personally acquainted, when innocent people were executed, primarily because the thirst for "justice" (interpret that as revenge, again) outweighs the probative evidence against the accused. All too often, one hears murmurs of disappointment when one is found innocent of a heinous crime, not so much that the evidence indicated the contrary; but that intuitively we would rather punish a person whose guilt is problematic than risk letting a culpable person escape. Ironically, we often argue the opposite position; yet in theory, we as a society prefer the "case closed" approach. The final problem I have is a social one. The United States is the last western country to practice capital punishment. In like fashion, we were the last western country to practice chattel slavery. The parallels are undeniable.
I am still on the fence about the death penalty. I am not sure it is morally or ethically the right thing. However in the Bible it does say "an eye for an eye". I really do not think it has served as a big of a deterrent to violent crimes as people thought it would be.
The death penalty if carried out expeditiously would cut down on prison overcrowding and the cost of housing prisoners. In addition the quick execution (pun kind of intended) of the death penalty might work as a deterrent while bringing faster closure to victim families. The only real downside to the death penalty is that it is a permanent solution, and it is possible that an innocent person could be put to death before innocense was discovered.
I agree with the legal idea that some crimes warrant the death penalty, or that by itself, capital punishment is not inherently unconstitutional. But I do think the policy as we currently have it is inherently flawed, and has an element of human misjudgement and error that makes it untenable. Any death penalty law we design is going to be imperfectly applied, because it is administered by humans in a legal system biased against minorities and the poor. So I think we should abolish it altogether.
The death penalty provides people with an answer to the horrible, unspeakable things that people do to one another another. We are filled with such a sense of pain and disgust that we need justice to make things right. However there is a fine line between vengeance and justice. The bottom line for me is that the death penalty is irreversible.
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