Eliminating Executions a Capital Idea

As some of you may know, Connecticut recently abolished capital punishment. While the new law will not impact the fate of the men currently on the state’s death row, it will prohibit anybody from being sentenced to die in the future. This makes New Hampshire the only remaining New England state to still have the death penalty, though it has not executed anybody since 1939. The Northeast seems to have become a bastion of anti-death penalty sentiment, with Pennsylvania being the only other state in the region where capital punishment is still allowed. Much of the Midwest has also ended the death penalty, with the South and outer West being strongholds for execution. I myself oppose capital punishment. The Pope also opposes capital punishment, but this is not a good reason to support it. The biggest reason that I am against it is moral absolutism. I believe that killing another human being is wrong, except in self defense or to protect someone else. Since murderers on death row are already incarcerated, self defense/defense of others is not a legitimate reason for killing them. Linked to this is a distrust of government. When we choose, as most states in the union have chosen, to give any government the right to execute someone, we are giving the government the power to do something denied to ordinary citizens, no matter the circumstances. As Radley Balko of The Agitator pointed out last year, the death penalty is a government program. If you favor the death penalty, you trust the government to do what you and I are prohibited from doing. And hopefully, you trust them to do it without error. Because, of course, once an execution is performed, you cannot hit an undo button. This is very important, because death penalty advocates may be inclined argue that the death penalty would deter murder and cost less money if authorities performed it quickly, rather than allowing people to sit on death row for such a long time. The problem with this idea is that, irksome and tedious though it may be, the appeals process is an important safeguard in making sure that innocent people are not put to death. For instance, after being convicted in Texas by an all white jury, African American Clarence Brandley was on death row for nine years before finally being exonerated. Unfortunately for supporters of capital punishment, only speedy executions are likely to prevent homicide, and even then the outcome is not certain. For instance, supporters of the death penalty like to point out an increase in homicide in the years 1972-1976, when the death penalty had been suspended nationwide by the Supreme Court. What these supporters fail to mention is that the homicide rate had been increasing since 1966. While it continued to increase in 1972-1974, it dropped slightly in 1975 and noticeably in 1976. After the death penalty was reinstated, the homicide rate rose for the next four years. The problem is that many people are convinced that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder, and politicians speak out in support of it as a result. Since anti-death penalty, ACLU member Michael Dukakis lost the United States Presidential Election of 1988 by a landslide, not a single Democratic presidential nominee-not Clinton, Gore, Kerry, or Obama—has opposed the death penalty. Bill Clinton staunchly favored capital punishment and arguably used the issue to garner votes. John Kerry changed his previous opposition to capital punishment when he ran for president, stating that he favored the execution of terrorists. With Barack Obama having favored limited use of the death penalty throughout his presidential career and having fought tooth and nail to build up a reputation as being tough on terrorism, it is unlikely that he will ever reverse his position on the issue. Of course, one should keep in mind in the case of terrorists that executing them runs a severe risk of making them martyrs in the eyes of their comrades. However, despite this risk and the fact that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports life imprisonment rather than execution for terrorists involved in 9/11, public opinion seems to be behind the death penalty for these individuals. It is my hope, however, that supporters of “limited government” will consider my argues on the statist implications of capital punishment and that other Americans will rethink their support for what I believe is an outdated, barbaric institution.

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