Friday, April 29, 2011

My Thoughts: The Death Penalty

As a Libertarian, I am usually arguing on the Republican side in today's political climate. The Tea Party has served to somewhat realign the conservative movement with limited government, at least in rhetoric, and so I'm often asked what issues separate me from a prototypical conservative Republican. The majors I identify are drug legalization, licensing laws, general government nanny-ing, and certain foreign policy issues, but another I recently got into a debate on is the death penalty.

After much consideration and the hearing of the facts, I am opposed to the death penalty. Unlike many, I do not base my objection on inhumanity or unconstitutionality: I don't think it's "cruel and unusual" in the context in which the constitution was written, and I would be fine with it if it served a valid purpose. My objection comes instead from the realization that it is simply not necessary for the government to do. Anything which has no practical purpose, and has practical downsides, shouldn't be done by the government. Here's my logical progression in reasoning that the death penalty should be abolished:

1. I believe that the purpose of the government is to protect the rights of its citizens. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect those rights from being encroached on by other citizens, namely, criminals.

2. It is sometimes necessary to restrict the freedoms and rights of criminals in order to do accomplish this end. However, the government should not encroach upon these rights any more than is necessary to protect the populace.

3. With that in mind, the death penalty serves no purpose, because it does not help defend the populace from the criminal being sentenced any more effectively than does life imprisonment.

4. The notion that lifetime incarceration is hurts taxpayers, who have to foot the bill for "keeping him alive", is just plain false. Numerous studies done by the Kansas Department of Corrections, Duke University, and various other state governments have shown that death penalty cases, from start to finish, cost far more than life imprisonment, due to legal fees, more appeals, more lawyers, more thorough juror examination, a substantial incarceration time waiting for the execution, and eventually the execution itself. It is a readily accepted fact among informed circles that ending the death penalty would save taxpayers money.

5. The notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent is equally contested, but even if it does, I don't feel this justifies the death penalties existence. I feel it is unjust to punish an individual criminal more harshly than is necessary to prevent HIM from becoming a threat to others again, merely to send a message to others. He is not responsible for what others may or may not decide to do, and should not have a heightened penalty because of it.

6. With these traditional supports removed, the reason one might support the death penalty is sheer vindictiveness or hatred of the criminal. For some of the unspeakable crimes that are committed in this country, such hatred is understandable, especially for the relatives of the victim. But that does not make it a just or desirable government policy. The government should not be in the business of making moral evaluations for us, outside of those necessary to achieve it's core function. Morality is subjective, and just as it should not tell us "you cannot drink alcohol because 51% of us think it's immoral", or, "you cannot practice Islam because many people don't like it", or "we're going to tax you and give it to charitable causes we like instead of allowing you to donate to the charitable causes you like", it should not tell criminals "we don't need to kill you to protect others, but we're going to do it anyway because we think you deserve it".

7. Additionally, our court system is not perfect. Dozens of convicted felons on death row have been cleared of their charges via DNA evidence or other emerging truths, some just a week before he was set to be executed. That is an intolerable injustice, and, unlike a sentence of life in prison, an irreversible injustice. During the Salem witch trials, one conscientious objector noted that "It is better that 100 guilty witches be let free than that one single innocent person be burned a the stake." So it is today: it is better that 100 evil people who genuinely deserve to fry are made to live out their days in prison than that a single innocent person be put to death for a crime he did not commit. Abolishing the death penalty is the only way to ensure that does not occur.

In conclusion, the right to life is the most basic of all the unalienable rights, and it should not be taken away from any citizen unless it is neccesary to protect the rights of others. The death penalty is not necessary for such a cause, and thus, it should be prohibited.

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