Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Against the Death Penalty

Amongst the worst kinds of punishments meted out against prisoners since antiquity, the death penalty, or capital punishment, is perhaps singularly the most barbaric form of punishment; it deprives the condemned individual of life, and in many countries which still exercises this arcane punishment, the death penalty is sometimes justified by judicial systems to punish criminals of violent crimes.


There are a number of ways whereby a death row inmate can be put to sleep: Electrocution used to be practiced in many states in the US, but due to its sometimes messy nature (in blotched killings, parts of the face, or even eyeballs, can melt off due to the high voltage induced in the inmate's body.....yikes) , it is not a very popular execution method. Other more commonly used methods include death by firing squad (Communist China), hanging (Singapore) and lethal injection.

The Guillotine: A Fast and Efficient Way to Severe a Head from its Body (Shivers)

Go way back to the 17th and 18th century, and there is the guillotine (Named after Dr Guillotine), a crude device used to lob off the heads of condemned individuals. It was very popular during the French Revolution, and as a decapitation device it was thought to bring very little pain to the condemned. And who can forget those funky Romans, who would try condemned criminals in the circuses with the lions smacking their lips in sheer delight.


Quite inevitably, 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 where the crime is severe and the loss irretrievable, or crimes pertaining to treason.

A summary of pro-death penalty arguments, followed by counter-arguments, as follows:

1. "An Eye for An Eye"


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.


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 to send them to an early grave.

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. It is the basest and most archaic of reasoning; two wrongs don't make a right.

Besides, the death penalty cannot deter crimes of passion; if a would-be killer is hell-bent on murdering someone based on pure, unadulterated hatred, the last thing that will hinder his deviant plans is the death penalty.

2. Eliminating Society's Evil


Extreme criminals, such as serial killers, are a real menace 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.


The problem with this kind of argument is that, the death penalty, unlike imprisonment, is an irreversible act: Once you execute a prisoner, he or she cannot be reanimated back to life.

Hence, to determine who or who should not be executed is something that becomes a really dicey affair, since the legal system, with its judicial process and jurors and prosecution officers, have to determine accurately as to whether the accused is guilty of his crimes. Any mistakes incurred during the judicial process may lead to the execution of an innocent man or woman.

The judicial system in every country is not perfect: A prosecutor hell-bent on winning a case may, for example, suppress evidence in favor of the accused. Or the witness in the witness stand may be lying, or better yet, a mistaken identity because of circumstances that may have led to the witness mistaking the accused for a crime he or she does not commit. In sum, things can go awfully wrong, and while incarceration in prisons does allow the accused time to acquit himself, a death sentence may mean that the accused in question may very well have a short time frame to exonerate himself from a crime he or she may not have committed.



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.


Criminals are not cows, chickens or poultry. Prisons and other reformatory services must understand their role as counseling and rehabilitation institutions, not abattoirs to butcher and kill criminals.

There surely are better methods of keeping fiscal costs at a minimum: Feed inmates cheaper food, for example. This is not even a valid reason for the death penalty.


While it is a point of contention for both sides of the death penalty debate as to whether certain criminal acts deserve the retribution of death, one thing is for sure: A wronged execution can never be reversed.

Unlike any other sentence, say, a life sentence, the accused, if wrongfully accused for a crime he or she has not committed, 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.

An example of a wrongful judgment 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.

To throw the gauntlet at pro-death advocates: 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?

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. An eye for an eye is simply not a good reason to execute someone.


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)

No Perfect Judicial System

-Since I was a law student, I have been against the death penalty. It does not deter. It is severely discriminatory against minorities, especially since they’re given no competent legal counsel defense in many cases. It’s a system that has to be perfect. You cannot execute one innocent person. No system is perfect. And to top it off, for those of you who are interested in the economics it, it costs more to pursue a capital case toward execution than it does to have full life imprisonment without parole.

RALPH NADER, Meet the Press interview, Jun. 25, 2000