In a recent ruling, Judge Cormac Carney of California ruled that the death penalty system in that state was: "a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional." While only describing the capital punishment system in one state, his words could easily be used to describe our terrible, barbaric system that 32 states in our country cling to, despite the fact that no other first world country still uses state approved murder as a method of punishment. America is alone in the first world, putting us next to countries with brutal governments like Iran and North Korea.
Like abortion, the death penalty is an emotional and divisive issue because it deals with life and death, and like that issue, reasonable people can be found on both sides. While I obviously am deeply opposed to using murder as justice, I can understand the pro death penalty argument: it's reserved for only the worst criminals who have killed one or more people in brutal fashion, and it allows for closure for the friends and family of the victims. It also serves as a deterrent to other possible murderers. But, starting with that last point, why then does the US have more homicides than other industrialized nations that don't have a death penalty. And even in America, states with capital punishment do not have lower homicide rates; North Dakota, without a death penalty, consistently has one of the lowest homicide rates, while death penalty using Louisiana has one of the highest. The deterrent argument just doesn't add up.
I personally feel that the use of the death penalty can add to a culture of violence, not prevent it. In the constant debate our society has on the effect of violent media on children, we rarely ask the question, "what does the use of capital punishment tell them?" That some people deserve to die? That it's alright to kill some people? Is that really the message we want them to receive? That barbaric vengeance is sometimes necessary?
Add to that the arbitrary unfairness of it; obviously the state you commit a crime in can effect whether or not you face the death penalty, but even worse is the wealth of the defendant can play a big role in that possibility. Like so many things in our country, our legal system is heavily slanted towards the rich, with those who are able to pay for a good legal team running a much higher chance of avoiding capital punishment than a poor person with a court appointed lawyer. How corrupt is our system? Consider that the American Bar Association pointed out the flaws of the system in 1997, and then called for a moratorium on capital punishment in 2001, and these are people who work with the system constantly.
|Guillotines, in a museum where they belong|
And poor legal representation leads to the single main reason I am against capital punishment: mistakes are made. There is no one in the world who can look me in the eye and guarantee that they are sure that every person on death row is absolutely guilty. And that every person who has been put to death was guilty. And that every person that ever will be put be death will be guilty. It's impossible. There is no doubt in my mind that innocent people have been and will continue to be killed by our government in the name of justice. And when an innocent person is killed by the state, then every taxpayer in that state becomes an accomplice to murder because their tax dollars pay for the machinery of death.
Capital punishment was struck down by the US supreme court from 1972 to 1976; since then, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, 143 innocent prisoners have been exonerated from death row. Many of them came very close to being executed. How many innocent people have been killed? We have no way of knowing, but it's obvious that once an execution is carried out, there's little incentive to further investigate the case, so it's safe to say that mistakes are made.
And that's the bottom line: I think it's a fair trade off to have the absolute worst criminals spend the rest of their lives behind bars rather than run the risk of innocent people being killed. An innocent person wrongly jailed can eventually have his or her name cleared, but you can't overturn a killing.