I was hoping to post this yesterday, I thought it would be a good segue from my euthanasia post, but it required much more thought. I used the title as a hook to what could be the most controversial topic possible, the death penalty, do you support it or are you against it? I will pose some ethical, psychological, and possibly legal points to consider. I hope it makes you consider both positions.
Ethics and morals can be viewed by the individual and how they work in society along with the way they interact with the law. People can find another person and their actions morally wrong but it does not make the act illegal, there are actions we define at the society level, at least civilized society as illegal, morally, and ethically wrong. The way people interact could be considered ethically wrong but if no harm was done to someone else or proved that harm was done then making it illegal is very difficult. Along with that people view morals and ethics differently.
When it comes to the death penalty we have a conundrum, both morally and legally. If a murder is committed and the judgment is the death penalty are we not also breaking the law by executing the criminal to justify the crime of murder? Is this the point where we start to shape morality and bend the law based on the situation. For some, there is never a point to take a life and the death penalty is both illegal and immoral. I can see their point. I am not one of these people but I can also fall on both sides of the fence, I will get to that in a bit.
I think we can all agree that murder is illegal and immoral. The real questions are how do we deal with it, but let’s take it a step further and why I made the title as I did. If you support the death penalty this point for you is moot, but if you do not support it, is there ever a point where the crime is so horrific, so evil that even the non-supports agree it must happen? Is there a point where it no longer is a question of morality and becomes a problem that has only one solution.
Looking at it from a psychological perspective, the supporters of the death penalty see it as simple checks and balances, correct a wrong so as a defensive mechanism we justify it. The morality issue does not come into play. For non-supporters I see it as more complex when the crime is so bad even they see no alternative. These people have to put their morality aside, justify their decision and cognitive dissonance (justify their beliefs based on some action or thought contrary to what they believe). It is complicated.
Legally how do we even define the law? Since ethics and morals always come into play and everybody has different ethics and morals how is it ever possible to define the correct points in which it is a capital crime that requires the ultimate penalty. Is one murder life in prison, do the circumstances matter, does it have to be more than one murder? Does somebody’s cognitive ability come into play and at what level? Are they insane? Insane is not of sound mind and can’t help in their defense. That complicates things and the insanity plea is very difficult to hold up.
The recidivism rate is 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide again. That is the lowest of all crimes. Is it due to the length of time or are they truly rehabilitated? This I do not know, but it certainly complicates the death penalty judgment.
The errors both at the investigation and prosecution level. We have all heard of people being wrongly convicted and set free after decades. There are organizations now and all they do is try to fix these wrongs. If we execute based on bad or incorrect convictions then what? You can’t fix that. One error is too much. Do we just simply justify it based on the fact we followed the evidence we had? Does the pressure to find and convict taint the methods?
Finally, I would say there are too many variables to rush to the execution but I do fall on the side that it must be done providing there is irrefutable evidence, good DNA matches, and admission of the crime. I would be fine with life in prison with no parole without solid 100% proof the correct person and the evidence point to guilt. It is a difficult and complicated topic that poses more questions than answers. Writing it and thinking about it has even changed my perspective a bit. I hope I am never faced with deciding any of these things but thinking it through and looking at the few things I mentioned here did help in my thought process. Hopefully yours too.