Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thoughts on the Death Penalty: The Ultimate Sanction

Gone are the days when the heads of those the state had executed adorned the tips of pikes or the walls of a castle or city.  Gone are the days when those heads symbolized what would happen if you violated a law of the state or committed a crime against the state.  Or so I thought.

Now we have politicians basking in the light as they tell us how many death warrants they have signed while governor.  We have audiences at debates cheering as these same politicians extol the virtues of the ultimate penalty for a crime: The death penalty.  In imagery, these politicians are placing the heads of those executed by the state on the walls for everyone to see.

I believe that there are some crimes that deserve the ultimate sanction of the state: Treason and Murder.  The problem, as the death penalty as currently applied, it is not a just punishment and does not further the ideals of justice.  Instead, we have turned execution by the state into an act of vengeance by the state on behalf of the citizens of the state.  There is no more justice in this ultimate sanction.  There is no more deterrence in this ultimate sanction.  There is only injustice and revenge.

If we are going to continue, in this nation, to sanction the execution of traitors and murderers by the state, we must make fundamental changes to the system.  We must instill true justice and true deterrence into the system.  We must vanquish any concept of revenge if we are to do so.

We must ensure that we do not accuse on the basis of race, sexuality or economic station.  We must ensure that prosecutors cannot hide evidence that might exonerate the accused.  We must ensure that counsel for the accused has the same resources as the state.  We must ensure that counsel for the accused be competent and robust in their defense.  We must ensure juries truly are made of the peers of the accused.

We must ensure that plea bargains must not be used to procure witnesses for the state, that immunities not be forthcoming for co-conspirators.  We must ensure that all evidence is tested and untainted.  We must raise the bar from beyond a reasonable doubt to beyond all doubt to ensure that not one innocent person is executed.  We must ensure swift automatic appeals that look at all aspects of the trial, not just those brought by counsel for the accused.  And when that terrible time comes for the state to execute the justly convicted, it must be televised for all to bear witness to the ultimate sanction of the state.

If we can ensure all of these things, not just one or two, then we can once again call the death penalty a deterrent and a just sentence.  Until that day though, I think there should be a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and all of those currently awaiting their deaths at the hand of the state should have their sentences commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  That, right now, is the just thing to do.

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