Tuesday, May 23, 2006
With an increasingly global trend towards the need for more humane treatment to all human beings, perhaps the most taboo subject of them all, if I may be allowed to put it, is perhaps the controversial death penalty.
It is the epitome of all punishments by secular state law: Not only is the offender not given the opportunity for reform through confinement, the person has forfeited his or her life to the state authority. No other law can be seen as being more archaic and cruel than the death penalty.
Countries who still practise this controversial law are mostly non-democratic, or theocratic in nature. Countries such as communist China, countries of Islamic rule (Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc) and pseudo democracies (E.g Singapore, Malaysia, etc) do exercise their rights to exerminate a criminal's life.
States that practise it in America tend to utilize poison injection, while the communist regime, well known for its deadly efficiency against all crimes against the state, do it with an unceremonious bullet from the back. Others, like puny Singapore, hang their prisoners. As the saying goes, there is always more than one way to slaughter the proverbial cow.
Crimes amounting to the death penalty vary. The common ones include premediated murder, espionage and other state and life-threatening crimes. Other less common crimes may include: Kidnapping, drug trafficking and corruption. In Islamic countries, being caught in a homosexual act can constitute a death sentence for the unfortunate offender.
Unlike other moral arguments, this is one argument that I feel is evenly matched: Both proponents and opponents of the death penalty have valid arguments to make, and due to the seriousness of this issue, I would like to take the trouble to present both views as succinctly and unbiasedly as I possibly can.
ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY
Proponents of the death penalty have put up credible arguments to defend this age-old punishment.
Most would agree, however, that the death penalty be restricted to violent crimes, mostly pertaining to murder, or at the very most, crimes pertaining to treason.
A summary of pro-death penalty arguments, followed by counter-arguments, as follows:
1. DEATH PENALTIES FOR SPECIFIC, SERIOUS CRIMES
For: Certain criminals who have committed irreversible crimes, such as rape and murder, ought to be executed by the state. The logic, it seems, stem from the biblical quote of "an eye for an eye". This, in the eyes of death penalty proponents, will discourage and deter would-be offenders from committing acts of murder.
Against: The purpose and logic of secular law is not to facilitate a tit-for-tat. a-la mafia style executions, against criminals. The purpose of punishment is to rehabilitate the criminal, not send them to their deaths.
To punish a crime with another crime, in the form of state execution, just cannot be justified, even if they seem to "even the odds", according to pro-death penalty supporters.
2. THE USE OF THE DEATH PENALTY AGAINST RECALCITRANT, DEADLY CRIMINALS FROM SOCIETY.
For: Extreme criminals, such as serial arsonists and serial killers, are a real manace to society, and ought to be gotten rid of for good.
Those who have not shown signs of remorse, and have blatantly and constantly flouted the law to commit heinous crimes should be executed.
Against: Again, the fact is that, once you execute a criminal, it is a irreversible act. Once he/she is dead, there is no chance of any kind of resurrection.
To determine who or who should not be executed is something that becomes a really dicey affair, since every nation has a interpretation of what is and what is not an "executable" crimes.
Sure, a serial killer deserves the death penalty, but could he or she been suffering from mental ailments of an unknown nature? If that is so, the killer may inevitably been a victim of his own delusions. How does one justify the state-sanctioned murder of a mentally-ill person? Wouldn't pyschiatric treatment, and constant monitoring of the criminal be a more fruitful preposition.
Besides, who is to say that some day, a person of high social status abuses the law and executes anyone whom he or she is not in good terms with?
For: Spending millions, or billions (depending on where you live) of taxpayer's money to feed and maintain crooks isn't a long term solution. We need to cull some of them so as to keep the country's fiscal year at an absolute minimum. The worst criminals, such as murderers and rapists, have no place in society, even if they are released.
Against: Criminals are not cows, chickens or poultry. Prisons and other reformatory services must understand their role of counsellors cum punishers. "Culling" criminals is just another inhumane way of placing people in gulag camps, no matter how valid the reasons may seem to be.
FUNDAMENTAL FLAW OF DEATH PENALTY: A WRONGFUL JUDGEMENT MAY LEAD TO IRREVERSIBLE TRAGEDY
Of course, the proponents of the death penalty do justify their points, as to the opponents.
One inescapable flaw, however, is the fact that wrongful judgements, no matter how minimal, becomes a travesty when an innocent man dies for the crime he never commits.
Unlike any other sentence, say, a life sentence, the accused, if wrongfully accused, still has enough time in his hands to make as many appeals as he can, while a man on death parole has a limited time to make his case, before he is summarily executed. In countries such as China, there may be no grounds of appeal provided by the courts.
And example of a wrongful judgement that very nearly caused the death of an innocent man:
DNA Testing Exonerates New York Man Who Might Have Been Executed
After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence. Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS. He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail. Prosecutors tried to block recent DNA tests that revealed that blood found at the crime scene could not have come from Warney. The test concluded that the blood belonged to another man, Eldred L. Johnson, Jr., who has since confessed to being the sole killer in the crime and is in prison for a different killing and three other stabbings.
Though no forensic evidence linked Warney to the crime, prosecutors used his false confession - which defense attorneys say was based on facts fed to him by a homicide detective - to overcome weaknesses in the case. During Warney's trial, prosecutors said that blood found at the crime that did not match the victim or Warney could have belonged to an accomplice, but that Warney was the killer based on his detailed confession. Despite providing details regarding the crime, Warney's confession was also filled with inconsistencies. According to trial testimony, Mr. Warney told the detective he had driven to the victim's house in his brother's car, although the brother had not owned the car for six years before the murder; he said he disposed of his bloody clothes after the murder in a garbage can, but none were found in a search of the can, which had been buried in snow from the day of the crime; he also said he had an accomplice, naming a relative who, it turned out, was in a secure rehabilitation center.
Warney joins a long list of people who have falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit. "The cops created a false confession by feeding nonpublic details to Doug. Their conduct was criminal, plain and simple," notes Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, one of the attorneys representing Warney. Based on the results of DNA testing and Johnson's confession to the crime, prosecutors have agreed that the charges against Warney, who is now in a wheelchair, should be dismissed. (New York Times, May 16, 2006)
Along with Warney, 123 Americans have had their death sentences revoked.
Given the dead-end, irreversible nature of the death penalty sentence, it would be prudent for nations who still practise the death penalty to replace it with life imprisonment. Failing which, placing severe restrictions on invoking the death penalty and limiting the number of crimes liable for state-sanctioned execution.
Given the liability of mistakes in the court of law, it is imperative that enough respect and leeway be given to convicted criminals, lest they become victims of the social system whose mistakes may never be eradicated.
To throw the gauntlet at pro-deathers: How do you justify the execution of just one innocent man, in the face of perhaps the deaths of numerous criminals who "deserve" their state-sanctioned deaths? Can society deal with this grave miscarriage of injustice? Can we live with "One mistake out of a thousand correct decisions" mantra, when lives are at stake?
No one wants to put an innocent person in jail, much less execute one. In order to err on the safe side, the law must justify its rulings with humane, reversible punishments.
According to the Independent/UK:
1. At least 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries in 2004, according to a report released today by Amnesty International.
2. China easily operates the most stringent capital punishment regime, with an estimated 3,400 executions.
3. Iran executed at least 159, Vietnam at least 64, and 59 prisoners were put to death in the US.
4. Singapore has the highest number of executions per capita (Approx. 70 in a population of 4 million).^ (From: Amnesty International." The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions)