Tuesday, August 09, 2005

CNN.com - Justice: 'Serious flaws' in death penalty - Aug 7, 2005

I think my opinions on the death penalty (pretty much against it) hasn't changed much since I made a short speech (as part of a class activity) back in ACS(I) when I was Secondary 2. Prior to that I was pretty much ambivalent to the claims of the death penalty, it would hardly affect me after all. But on the back of an issue book on capital punishment from the library, I decided that I couldn't really support this particular system of punishment after all.

In a prior post I listed a series of questions on what I thought ought to be the major underpinnings of any decision with regards to capital punishment. Interwoven in these questions in the original post were personal opinions/answers which were removed for brevity's sake (never thought I would say that did you?).

1. On what basis are you basing your theory of the general part of the criminal system on i.e. a theory of punishment and responsibility? Is it retributivist or utilitarian?

2. On what basis are you basing your theory of the special part of the criminal system on i.e. what acts ought to be criminalised?

3. What's the basis for a state's right to kill? Does that right extend beyond the right of self defence into criminal law? If so, why or why not?

4. Even assuming that it is justifiable (I believe in using it for convicted terrorist for example), does it do more harm than good?

5. Even assuming that it is good and justifiable for say murder and terrorism, does the same logic (philosophical or empirical) apply to crimes that do not directly take lives, say drug trafficing and corruption (admitted only countries like China and Vietnam are doing it)?

6. And even assuming points 3, 4 and 5, what about the possibility of executing an innocent person? Does the possibility justify the usage of the punishment ever?

Till now, I haven't seen anything that demonstrates that the death penalty is indeed an effective deterrent. More effective than say enforcement. In fact having read Freakonomics, I pretty much more convinced than ever that punishment plays a pretty small role in determination of whether a crime would be committed.

My concern with what Justice Stevens says (coming from what can be garnered from the article) is that it is limited to the legal procedures and processes that lead to the condemnation of a person's life. If so, the obvious question is whether it is inconceivable that a system cannot be designed that could overcome these flaws. But more than that, it neglects to address the theological and philosophical underpinnings of this peculiar mode of punishment. Granted, as a utilitarianist, I don't give much of a fig but still...

But when a Supreme Court Justice comes out to speak on a particular issue, it never hurts to listen. So with that remarkable bit of understatement I'll end this little post.



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