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Capital Punishment – Wrong Or Justified?

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Death Penalty

Back in college, I took a philosophy class that focused on argument construction and fallacies. It tied into public policy and politics, which was my major. It was a great class and I enjoyed a lot of the topics that were discussed. One of those topics was the issue of the death penalty. Was it justified? The class was split into two groups, with one tasked with arguing for the death penalty, and the second group taking the adverse position.

It was a great exercise because not only did it show how people construct their arguments for or against a hot-button issue like the death-penalty, it also gave us opportunity to assess whether some of these claims even made sense. I can’t remember all the arguments that were presented, and I burned my notebook in a celebratory, post-graduation barn-fire regrettably no longer have notes from the class. Here, though, are some of the points I can best recall:

Argument in favor:

  • The right to live is the most important right a person has to live, so when a person commits murder, he/she is taking way the victim’s most important right (the right tot live)
  • In order for society to function, there needs to be a rule of balance. This balance must include consequences
  • When a person kills (takes a right to live), his/her right to live should be taken away
  • Capital punishment takes the right to live from the person who kills

Argument against:

  • If it is wrong for an individual to commit premeditated murder, then it is wrong for the state to commit premeditated murder
  • Capital punishment is premeditated murder by the state
  • Life without parole both protects society as a whole, and punishes the individual

I think the above premises covered the typical framework around which arguments, either for or against, were built. I’ll let you decide how you feel about those points and determine which side you fall on. Personally, I’m against the death penalty. I think it’s an embarrassing aspect of our justice system. State-sponsored capital murder? That has a pre-Enlightenment ring to it, if you ask me. I don’t see how executing a person makes the victim’s family feel better, nor do I see how it restores balance and order in society. If that’s the case, why do people still commit murders?

There’s another legitimate point used to question why the death penalty is still in place. I came across an article on Huffington Post that floored me:

In his final hours on death row, Cameron Todd Willingham and his attorneys tried frantically to show the governor of Texas a new scientific report proving his innocence. The evidence was apparently ignored, and Willingham was executed on February 17, 2004.

During his trial, he refused prosecutors’ offer to give him life in prison instead of the death penalty. He told them he was innocent, and he wouldn’t agree to any deals. As he was strapped down in the execution chamber, just before the lethal injection began, he proclaimed his innocence one last time.

An extraordinary new investigative report in the New Yorker shows that Willingham was telling the truth. He was innocent. David Grann’s report, in the September 7 issue, exhaustively deconstructs every aspect of the case and shows that none of the evidence used to convict Willingham was valid. Since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1974, Grann’s report constitutes the strongest case on record in this country that an innocent man was executed.

Wow. This, folks, is a MAJOR reason why I am against the death penalty. The fact that there are instances where innocent people are being executed for crimes they did not commit is appalling and extremely sad. Why condemn somebody to a sentence as absolute as death when there is even a sliver of possibilty that he/she may be innocent? It’s a flawed, fallible system.

What’s Texas to say now? Oops?

In a different case, Troy Davis and his supporters are currently in a fight for his life. He was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1989. However, the evidence is suspect, the facts are murky, and witness-testimonies have been called into question. I seriously hope this happens. World leaders, even former president Jimmy Carter, have called for clemency.

(To find out more about Troy Davis’ case and efforts to get his sentence overturned, visit Amnesty International USA)

That’s my opinion on the death penalty. What’s yours?

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Written by PJ

September 2, 2009 at 6:47 pm

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