THE ULTIMATE ARGUMENT AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY
BY STEVEN FRENCH
BY STEVEN FRENCH
There are many arguments surrounding capital punishment. These arguments often centre upon ethical positions and issues regarding prevention and retribution. This article does not do that - it focuses upon something far more profound and which all rational individuals must agree.
It must be realised that this argument is not the only argument against the death penalty, or that other anti-death penalty positions are wrong, but that this argument trumps them. This argument trumps other arguments by pushing pro-death penalty activists into a position that they almost never attribute to themselves - that their pro-death penalty stance is based upon primal blood-lust and vengeance, as oppose to their claimed positions of justice and deterrence.
Let us at first dismiss the idea that the death penalty deters murder - study after study has shown that places with the death penalty DO NOT suffer less capital crimes than those places without the death penalty,
Now that is dealt with we can proceed with the argument promised above:
Firstly, let us ask ourselves what position would all pro and anti-capital punishment supporters agree upon? It must surely be this:
Murder and other capital crimes are bad and that those that commit such crimes should be stopped from committing such crimes again
Rationally all individuals who believe the above statement and support statistically based evidence (as above) should therefore support any position that stops such crimes and brings the perpetrators of such crimes to justice i.e. by imprisoning them or killing them.
The problem is with capital punishment however is that it lets the guilty go free.
People oppose the death penalty for all sorts of reasons, religious, ethical, political and so forth. It is a common misconception that juries must find someone guilty if they think the evidence against them is beyond reasonable doubt. This is not the case. A juror can find someone not guilty for any reason they so wish and they do not have to justify their not guilty stance. In fact juries play an important part in a free society as they are the last bastion of checks and balances against unjust laws and state authoritarianism i.e. they can find people not guilty of unjust laws, or save them from unjust punishment, even if they believe the evidence shows them to be guilty of a crime.
Jurors may also innately, even if they do not have clearly formulated political or ethical ideas against the death penalty, be in a situation whereby they cannot bring themselves to find someone guilty (who may face the death penalty) even if there is overwhelming evidence. They may feel the evidence is strong but they do not wish to have ‘blood on their hands’, or face the prospect of changing their mind in regards to the verdict sometime in the future. Even if the evidence is overwhelming they err on the side of caution, or on the side of their own moral fears, and find the accused despite facing hard evidence ‘not guilty’.
In both these cases the issue is this. When an individual commits a crime and there is strong evidence against them, because the death penalty exists as a potential punishment, jurors either:
one, because of strong political or ethical beliefs,
or two, because of their own fears,
find a guilty person innocent. In other words they would rather risk a guilty person go free than risk condemning an innocent person to death.
Even if the pro-death penalty enthusiasts state - ‘that will only happen in a tiny minority of cases’ - the fact is that it still will happen and a guilty person will go free purely due to the existence of capital punishment.
The pro-death penalty supporter is therefore left in an uncomfortable conundrum. If their belief in the death penalty is related to their own conception of ‘justice’ how can they support a system of ‘justice’ where more guilty people go free? Surely their main interest should be the removal of guilty people from society as oppose to what happens to the individual after they are removed from society? Ultimately the pro-death penalty stance leads back to the position of irrational vengeance, revenge and blood-lust as oppose to any concern with removing the guilty from society.
The jury has given a verdict - capital punishment is totally irrational