Social Question

Lve's avatar

Can the death penalty ever be justified?

Asked by Lve (1497points) March 18th, 2010

A few days ago police found the body of a 12-year old girl that had been missing for about a week buried in her neighbor’s backyard. He admitted to killing her. It makes me so sad and so angry when I think about this. It has been in my mind quite a lot these past few days.

The rational part of me has always been against the death penalty, mainly because it is irreversible. There have been cases in the US where people were found innocent after they had already been put to death, which is awful in my opinion.
However, truly horrific acts like this one always make me feel that the death penalty would be a just sentence. (we do not have the death penalty in my country)

How do you feel about the death penalty? Is it ever justified? Anyone else conflicted on this?

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58 Answers

ShiningToast's avatar

Your own morals facilitate whether it is justified or not. If you believe in an eye for an eye, then sure it is.

judochop's avatar

You should ask this question to my daughters mother. She was being stalked by a guy that raped and killed her sister and then killed her mother by stabbing her with a letter opener over 70 times in the face alone. I’d like to kill that dude, very slowly. It would take months for him to die.

wundayatta's avatar

If you think justice is about punishment or revenge, it’s easy to justify. If you think justice is about preventing future crime or rehabilitating criminals so they can contribute to society, the death penalty probably can’t be justified. Even the most depraved person may eventually reform.

ShiningToast's avatar

@wundayatta GA. You expressed what I could not.

UScitizen's avatar

There is never a time when it is justifiable, or moral, for a corrupt government to execute a citizen. The issue is not with the death sentence. The issues is with giving this power to a corrupt government.

Lve's avatar

@wundayatta I am not sure if those are the only options. When somebody kills another person they will most likely get life (if the death penalty is not or cannot be given) Rehabilitation is not the goal in the case of a life sentence. What is left are only moral arguments against the death penalty. But imagine if it was one of your own family members that got brutally murdered. Would you still feel the same?

tinyfaery's avatar

Nope. Deciding someone should die is not much different than killing that person yourself. In both cases the life of another person is not considered. Plus, when you kill the killers, you become what you hate.

wundayatta's avatar

@Lve That last is a good question. And to use it is to appeal to someone’s emotions, not their thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t think we should make policy based on emotion. It is very tempting, but, so often, it gets us into trouble.

People, even lifers, reform in prison, and can still do good work. Some lifers do help other prisoners in various ways—educating them, helping them spiritually, counseling them. That’s useful when you think about recidivism.

There can be a long time between the crime and the punishment. Some people become model citizens in between. They are no longer the person they were when they committed the crime. Essentially, we are not putting the criminal to death because the criminal already died.

We say we do it to deter other criminals, but I don’t believe the data support the proposition that it works. In the US, putting someone to death is far more expensive than imprisoning them for life. The legal costs are enormous.

So, if my wife or son or daughter was killed in a horrible way, yes I would feel homicidal towards the killer. Would I want the killer put to death? I honestly don’t know. I think prison might make them suffer much more than death, and I would probably want them to suffer. Death is really very easy. It’s life that’s hard. Believe me. There have been times when I felt like I couldn’t go on—to the point where I was trying to plan my own execution.

CMaz's avatar

It is every time we throw the switch.

Snarp's avatar

@ChazMaz Wow, really? Do you actually imagine that with the enormous flaws in our justice system and the number of people who have been released due to DNA evidence proving their innocence that it was justified every time it was done in America? Even every time in the last 20 years? I think it would be pretty naive to believe that innocent people have not been wrongly executed. Or maybe you have a different definition of “justified”?

Lve's avatar

@wundayatta GA. I hope that filthy excuse of a human being that admitted to killing the girl will have a long life filled with suffering. In prison of course. Thanks for helping me think of this.

CMaz's avatar

“imagine that with the enormous flaws in our justice system”
It is the best it can be. Hope it continues to get better. But the loss of the few innocent is what allows so many more bad people to go to jail. No system is perfect.

There are over 1 million people in jail. From a statical point of view. It is a small number that are innocent.
It sucks, it is shitty and I can see the wrong. But you have to draw a line somewhere. But I will side with you. A guy brutly kills someone, in front of 100 people and admits to it.

I say put him to death.

Silhouette's avatar

I’m for the death penalty especially when there is an admission to the murder. I am not conflicted on this. I think the death penalty is justice and it is about preventing future crimes. My brother in laws little sister was murdered, the guy who did it had just been released from prison after serving time for an earlier murder. You see, he had been reformed, rehabilitated and he made an early parole. He killed 2 more girls after his release. The guy has been sitting on death row for 26 years so far. Will he be rehabilitated again?

b's avatar

In general, I support the death penalty and do not feel conflicted about supporting it. I do not believe people have the ability to reform after performing such terrible acts. However, people should not be put to death in certain circumstances. If the murderer is determined to be mentally ill and unfit for trial, they should be locked up for life in a place where they can no longer harm anyone. Also, there should be irrefutable evidence that the person committed the crime. I thing we should make it more difficult to hand out a death sentence, just to add that extra layer of protection to potentially innocent individuals. But we should also speed up the process for the type of people that Silhouette has mentioned.

Nullo's avatar

Sure it can be justified: “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

HungryGuy's avatar

No, the death penalty is never justified. There’s always a chance, however slight, of executing an innocent person. Life without parole will protect society from criminals as well as the death penalty, and you can always free someone who’s been wrongly convicted and vindicated.

iphigeneia's avatar

I agree with everything @wundayatta said. I don’t believe that any punishment is just, except punishment as a deterrent. True, the death penalty is a very strong deterrent, but I want to draw the line before it for several reasons. The first is mercy: some may say that, in some prisons, death would be merciful, but that is very subjective, and the problem there lies in the prison system anyway. The second is the irreversible nature of killing someone. The third is that the types of people who are not deterred by a lifetime in prison are unlikely to be deterred by the death penalty.

I hope that if such heinous crimes as to warrant the death penalty (and if I were to live in a country where capital punishment was still performed) were committed against myself or the ones I love, I wouldn’t let the resultant sort of emotion get into the way of my ideals.

filmfann's avatar

I am a Christian, so I hope everyone can find the Lord, forgiveness, and redemption.
In the same moment, I can’t imagine letting cop killers, child molesters, or many of the other scum of our civilization live.

HungryGuy's avatar

@filmfann – But you can’t ever be absolutely 100% certain that you’ve convicted the right person. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a reasonable standard for sending someone to prison, where they can be released if they’re exhonerated later, but “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not an acceptable standard for executing someone.

As a Christian, you should know that it’s wrong to kill an innocent person, which you will do some fraction of a percent of the time if you execute criminals.

If you want to protect society from violent criminals, you can accomplish that with life without parole. The only reason to advocate the death penalty is for vengeance without regard for justice. Don’t mean to offend, but that’s the truth. Being a Christian that you are, I’m sure you’ve faced being accused of being offensive for speaking the truth.

thriftymaid's avatar

We all have our own feelings about legal killing. Mine is that it is wrong.

filmfann's avatar

@HungryGuy I said I was conflicted about this.

loser's avatar

No. The death penalty is a mixed message.

Nullo's avatar

The Mosaic Law required the testimonies of a minimum of two eyewitnesses.
On a side note, the Christian worldview maintains that nobody is innocent.

Snarp's avatar

@loser GA! It’s not effective to teach a child not to hit by hitting them. Nor is it effective to teach people not to kill by killing.

@Nullo On the side note, it’s not the Christian worldview, it’s a Christian worldview.

Nullo's avatar

@Snarp In order to not have this in your worldview, you’d have to scrap important bits of Scripture (like Genesis 3, Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8 etc. and removing the basis for the Gospels) making you a heretic.

HungryGuy's avatar

@filmfann – But you shouldn’t be conflicted at all, was my point.

@Nullo – Even one hundred eyewitnesses can be wrong. There was a thing on 60 Minutes a few years ago about a guy who was in prison for rape. The victim swore in court that he was the man who dunnit. A few years later, the real rapist was identified by a blood test, who was an identical likeness to the innocent man. Nothing is 100% reliable, and when someone’s life is on the line nothing less than 100% is justified in sentencing someone to death.

As for Mosaic law, you’re speaking of guilt of original sin. If you’re trying someone in court for rape or murder, you’re trying them for crime “A.” If you’re trying someone in court for sin, then you’re trying them for crime “B” and you’re usurping God’s judgment.

Nullo's avatar

That’s why there are multiple eyewitnesses, who would be grilled separately to make sure that the stories match.
In smallish communities such as were being set up, the odds of getting the wrong guy are pretty slim; not every murder has the same uncertainty to it that your Evil Twin guy had.

Mosaic Law is much more complex than you seem to be thinking. Yes, parts of it deal with sin. But the civil portions deal with crime, punishment, public health and safety, and so on.

HungryGuy's avatar

@Nullo – Still, “pretty slim” does not equal “100% certainty.” To me, the death penalty is unacceptable for anything less.

I assume Mosaic Law is based on the commandments handed down by Jehova to Moses (the deal with the burning bush and all that)?

Nullo's avatar

Well, I think that letting someone that you know committed murder go on living is unacceptable, so there.

Mosaic Law was dictated by God to Moses in the same session as the Ten Commandments, atop Mt. Sinai.
The burning bush incident is at the other end of the story of Moses, while the Israelites were still in Egypt. It was, AFAIK, in a less iconic portion of the wilderness.

mattbrowne's avatar

Not if prisons are totally secure and really dangerous murderers stay in prison until they die (preventive detention after a life sentence).

CMaz's avatar

“Not if prisons are totally secure ”

What do you mean by that?

Nullo's avatar

So you want them pampered on your dime for life? What kind of punishment is that?

gorillapaws's avatar

@Nullo I don’t think you can describe prison life as “papered” no mater how hard you try. I once heard someone make the point: “If they open up all the doors to prison, how many people will run out, and how many will run in?”

I agree with others that a very long life deprived of freedom, possessions, and joy is a pretty miserable existence—which is exactly what a murderer deserves. Also, I’d be perfectly comfortable forcing labor on prisoners to help control the cost of keeping them there.

HungryGuy's avatar

@Nullo – So if I (and a few other people alogn with me) witness someone commit a mugging and murder on the subway, and he looks exactly like you, and happens to be dressed like you (rare coincidence, yes, but rare coincidences do happen), and afterward we all happen to see you walking down the street minding your own business and point you out to a cop, you deserve to be executed? You agree that you deserve to be executed because I (and the rest of us) know that you did it?

Nullo's avatar

You’re missing the whole bit with the trial. That’s when you give the testimonies, you know.
I never said that the minimum two eyewitnesses were the sole factor, did I? I don’t think that I did…

@gorillapaws It’s called “hyperbole”, GP. They do get room and board, cable TV, computers, Internet, video games, books, free medical care (and if they grouse loudly enough and with the right words, they can get elective surgery, too), most get visitors, etc., and in some states, they even get paroled.
In any case, it is still possible to be pampered and prefer freedom. It is freedom that prisons do not provide, freedom and little else.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ChazMaz – If a murderer escapes/leaves prison and commits murder again, the death penalty would have prevented that. To me it’s the only valid pro argument. If a murderer is executed and ten years later it turns out he’s innocent nothing can bring him back. Among others this is one the most important con arguments.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Nullo – Being in prison for many, many years is very hard. The notion of pampering life prisoners is obvious sarcasm. I’m glad to pay taxes in a death-penalty-free country. Check out this map and you’ll see certain US states are in “good” company

Lybia, Sudan, Syria, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Belarus, Somalia, China…

CMaz's avatar

@mattbrowne – I see your point. Try not to get me wrong. I am with you.

My problem is there are more legitimate bad people doing bad things then innocent peopled being punished for crimes they did not commit.
We have to decide which side of the odds we want to be on. Since nothing is perfect and it is never an easy decision.
In our desire and obligation to make sure no innocent people go to jail we take the risk of allowing more bad people to slip through the cracks.
Justice is blind, but she also has a scale to try to keep balance.
As far as glad to pay taxes in a death-penalty-free country. I am almost with you there. Except that the prison system is corrupt, also having its flaws, and like Libya, Sudan, Syria, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Belarus, Somalia, China…

Incarceration is nothing but torture for most of the inmates, and their families. So we have to decide, based on how the system currently runs. Slow or quick death?

It might be Cliché, but it has always come down to the sacrificing of the few to save the many. It’ just life. Like you, I don’t like it. Always try to better yourself and society, but also be realistic and practical. Dirty decisions are made every day so we can enjoy the life we are living. The truth sometimes is hard for many to handle.

gorillapaws's avatar

@ChazMaz do you think a failed suicide bomber would prefer a swift execution or a long life locked up with prisoners that hate him?

CMaz's avatar

“a failed suicide bomber would prefer”

I don’t really care what he/she prefers. And, I have no interest using torture as punishment.
Insecurity and vengeance are not good tools to make decisions with.

If they can’t be fixed or rehabilitated. They become nothing more then a burden.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ChazMaz – Good points, indeed. Well, personally I actually think that a true life sentence i.e. prison till death is a much harsher punishment than a quick way out on the electric chair. I think child raping murderers deserve the most severe punishment available: locking them away forever. But they are still human beings. No torture in prison. Just a lack of freedom.

CMaz's avatar

“No torture in prison. Just a lack of freedom.”

Is not life (human nature) about the pursuit of freedom and happiness? To prevent that, is to torture. As they look out into a world that they can’t be a part of.
Do we call it self imposed torture? Now we are just kidding our self. If they are locked up for the rest of their life. They are nothing more then a burden satisfying our need for vengeance, and pacifying our guilt.

And if we make them too comfortable and safe. Then there better be a cell for me. I would love to kick around all day. Getting my “two hots and a cot.” :-)

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, but the pursuit of freedom means respecting the freedom of others. Rape restricts the freedom of others. So does murder. The free people need to protect themselves from the people who are a threat to their freedom. A life prisoner can still pursue happiness. For example by showing true remorse. Asking the victims for forgiveness. Find a job inside the prison. And maybe after 20 or 30 years the President can approve a petition for mercy. This is what happened recently in Germany. You’ve probably heard of the

Two former members appealed two our Bundespräsident. One was approved (remorse was genuine) and one was denied (no remorse or fake remorse).

CMaz's avatar

“A life prisoner can still pursue happiness.”
No they can’t all they can do is survive. Making the “best” of it.

“For example by showing true remorse. Asking the victims for forgiveness.”
That is nice, but they still have to survive in prison.

“Find a job inside the prison.”
For the lucky few. And while working still have to “keep their back to the wall”

“And maybe after 20 or 30 years the President can approve a petition for mercy.”
At that point, hopefully, they are all out of piss and vinegar. Going back into a world that does not want them, no longer having (if ever had) have the skills to survive.
But hey, it sure will make you feel good. Believing they now have a chance.

gorillapaws's avatar

@ChazMaz Your definition of torture is very different from what most people believe (water boarding, the rack, ripping out fingernails, forced sleep deprivation, etc). Plus a prisoner isn’t COMPLETELY devoid of happiness, he might be able to befriend an insect, read a book, or have pleasant dreams. Just because a prison isn’t a fun place doesn’t mean it’s a torture center.

CMaz's avatar

“Your definition of torture”
Yes, nice how we make it fit how we feel. Patato/Potato
It is the same difference.

“he might be able to befriend an insect,ect…”
That is called getting by or making the best of it. You see it as pleasure, because you do it on your couch eating a bowl of ice cream.

gorillapaws's avatar

@ChazMaz There’s a term for making your definition fit your argument instead of using a standard interpretation. It’s called the Fallacy of Definition.

“You see it as pleasure, because you do it on your couch eating a bowl of ice cream.” Says the man who’s arguing that it’s ok if the occasional innocent is executed for the “greater good.” Imagine if your wife/son/mother etc. were executed in the electric chair for a crime they didn’t comit…

I wonder if they renamed “life in prison without parole” to say “Death by natural causes/God” if more conservatives wouldn’t join the anti-death-penalty camp…

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, real torture is very, very different.

CMaz's avatar

“There’s a term for making your definition fit your argument”
I understand your point. So you are saying torture is suppose to be quick and aggressive?

“Says the man who’s arguing that it’s OK if the occasional innocent is executed for the “greater good.” Imagine if your wife/son/mother etc.”

Hmmmm, I see your point there. Just so happens my son is doing 25 years. Ya know what. They are all innocent. To every wife/son/mother etc.
“Fallacy of Definition.” you use to fit your argument. I just watch as a boy turns into a damaged and broken man as are his fellow inmates. Taking his family with him. Knowing that when (if) he gets out he will have nothing to look forward to except a broke and broken mother.

Forgive me if I am wrong. But the difference between my perception and yours is I am in it. You can postulate, I see if up front and close.

I have this opinion, only because I avoid the emotional aspect. And you never really remove the emotional aspect.

And it is my opinion, as I respect yours. :-) This is all good stuff.

Getting back to the original question. It comes down to do you let your over emotional side get the best of you. Because if you do. Then let them all out. Remember “wife/son/mother etc.”
Or do you decide where to draw the line? You have to draw it some where. Where ever it is. It will never be fare and the end result should be for the good of most. It will never be for all.
Just on the grounds that people like to be safe and free. They just do not like the dirty work that is involved in getting it.

@mattbrowne – “Real torture is very, very different”. Inmates just get use to it. And you don’t see it. So getting beat down, raped, extorted and abused by the guards is not “real” torture. Just part of the sentence? Spending all your time watching your ass to avoid as much as possible. Not torture? You should see what it does to people.

HungryGuy's avatar

@Nullo – Okay, I’ll add the bit the trial…

Revision: ...if I (and dozens of other people along with me) witness someone commit a mugging and murder on the subway, and he looks exactly like you, and happens to be dressed like you (rare coincidence, yes, but rare coincidences do happen), and you happened to be walking down the street at about the same time minding your own business and the police arrest you for the murder, and later that day everyone who witnessed the murder all identify you in a police line up, and then every one of us identifies you at your trial and we all say under oath that we know without a doubt that you did it—you agree that you deserve to be executed because I (and the rest of us several dozen witnesses) know that you did it?

HungryGuy's avatar

@ChazMaz” has always come down to the sacrificing of the few to save the many…”

I don’t want the government to murder me even if the chance is 0.0000000000000000000000000001% of a mistake. I take offense at your belief that I should have any chance of being executed for the sake of your blood vengeance! You too, @Nullo.

The thing is you don’t have to sacrifice anyone to save anyone else. Life in prison without parole will protect society from evildoers equally well as execution.

Nullo's avatar

@@HungryGuy Like i said, the witnesses aren’t the sole factor, but rather are a healthy part of a balanced breakfast. I’ve got my own witnesses and alibis and expensive lawyers, after all.

Dost mine eyes deceive me, or is this a Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy?
Because Lybia, Sudan, Syria, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Belarus, Somalia, China… are incapable of getting anything right.~

mattbrowne's avatar

@ChazMaz – Getting beaten down, raped, extorted and abused by the guards in prisons is real torture. It’s also highly illegal. Would something like this happen in Germany, the whole world would accuse Germany of reintroducing Nazism and Nazi prisons. Therefore real torture in German prisons is very rare. Monitoring is extremely important and done with extra care. We still have to prove the rest of the world that we are a decent country.

Is it really that bad in the US? How do you expect criminals to turn into honest citizens when the honest citizens running the prisons become criminal themselves?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Nullo – You are correct. From a logical point of view we can’t conclude that the US is a bad country because bad countries use the death penalty.

CMaz's avatar

“The thing is you don’t have to sacrifice anyone to save anyone else.”
I really love that way of thinking. I really do. :-)
But it is unrealistic. It is not how we got to where we are. And there is no sign of it changing in the future. It’s just part of the process. You don’t have to like it. But it is what it is.
That is why you sit at home while you/us send someone else to the other side of the world to pull the trigger. Because the dirty work has to get done. Just because you are not pulling that trigger, don’t think (kid yourself) that it is not happening.
Even something as simple as driving a car. Kills. So you are doing it too, every day you go to work. It comes down to priorities.

@mattbrowne – “It’s also highly illegal.” I worded it wrong. The guards just abuse the inmates.
That sound nice, that it is illegal. So lets report it. Now that inmate has to be put in confinement (and they can still be gotten to) because the population sees him as a rat. NO ONE is going to say anything. When it comes to abuse in prison. The inmate (that was harmed) will just deny it. Because they have to stay in it. We just armchair quarterback. Rat’s get killed if they are lucky.

“How do you expect criminals to turn into honest citizens”
First, it is that bad everywhere. Administration manages the prisons. The inmates run it. If you do not allow them “control” they snap. They will riot and loose control. Sort of a human nature thing, so you have to “allow” it.
And they don’t become honest citizen. 75% of ex convicts will end up back in jail. The longer you are in the great chance you will fail.
Because we don’t care. Not because we don’t but because we don’t want to know. And no one want to invest in “bad” people.

Bottom line we have more “important” things to spend our money on.

So do we pacify and kid ourselves in believing we are being just? So we can sleep at night.
Because that is what the discussion is all about. You kid yourselves to think you are making a passionate/compassionate decision. But really it is about our own guilt, and insecurity.
You know… No one is going to label me a “bad” person.

Lets be realistic.

But all good stuff. :-)

HungryGuy's avatar

To Nobody In Particular:

I think I got a little hot-headed in my last post. I never meant to be rude, and I try not to be, but when people announce that, to satisfy their lust for revenge, innocent people should be put to death if, by chance, they’re mistaken for a heinous criminal, the sheer evil of that gets my blood boiling.

HungryGuy's avatar

As for the Christian sub-issue:

While anyone who knows me knows that I’m no saint (I write erotic/thriller/horror/sci-fi stories for a hobby), but I do believe in God. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus said to ”...turn the other cheek.” And in John 8:7, he said, ”...he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I like Jesus, he’s a good guy :-) Furthermore, in Romans 12:19, God (which God? I’m not sure… Jesus? Jehova?) said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” A few lines later, he added, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So when I see Christians in forums like this collectively espousing opinions that it’s acceptable to occasionally murder innocent people to satisfy their lust for revenge against evildoers,well, quite frankly, it gives me doubts about the credibility of Christianity.

And when I see Christians (some, but not all, of course) arguing in favor of murdering the occasional accidental innocent, well, quite frankly, it also makes me ask myself, “Do I want to consider myself one of these people (i.e., Christians)?”

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