Why I support the Death Penalty
In part because of my other interests in the death penalty, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the need for capital punishment as part of a healthy criminal justice system. This has led me to several conclusions, but all leave me firmly in favor of the death penalty and disturbed by how it is used in the United States today. To start to explain why I believe in capital punishment, I have to explain something I believe is true about nearly every individual in the world.
While I am not a psychologist, sociologist, or theologian, I’ve spent years as a human and a member of society, and have a reasonable understanding of how we work, in a large part from extrapolating how I work to the rest of mankind. From this I’ve come to understand that, often at a a subconscious level, before we take an action we evaluate our responses to a series of questions.
The first question is “Is what I’m doing wrong?” Obviously, this is never a simple question, and different morals makes this a much harder question. If the answer to this question is “No” then the person will proceed with the action. Probably a more precise wording would be “Will [*] consider what I’m doing wrong?” where [*] is replaced with various individual and group entities, such as God, me, my wife, my parents, my friends, the state, etc.
The second question is “If I do this, how likely am I to get caught and punished?” Again getting caught depends on who would consider the action wrong. This is not a simple yes or no question, so its answer largely feeds into the rest of the questions.
The third question is “If I get caught, can I tolerate the punishment?” This question implies the additional question of “If I get caught, what is the punishment going to be?”
Capital punishment is necessary for several reasons. First, there is a small, but significant, number of people who will do “really bad” things and not think that they are wrong. People like that are a virus on society and need to be eliminated. If someone falls into that category it is very unlikely that any punishment will really teach them right from wrong.
Second, there are people who will decided that what they are doing is wrong, and that they are likely to get caught and punished, but that they can handle any period of incarceration. For at least some of these people, the fact that they are likely to be executed will be sufficient to prevent them from committing the crime
Finally, there are people who will still commit serious crimes even in the face of an almost certain execution. The simple fact that any society in history that has had a death penalty has had to use it makes it clear to me that there are people who will not be deterred. Since nothing will deter them from their act the first time, then they should be prevented from having any opportunity for a second time.
Now one thing that I think is wrong with how the death penalty is used in the United States near the beginning of the twenty-first century is that there is a fairly strong believe that people won’t get caught and punished, or at least not punished by execution. There are several reasons for this. The small number of capital murderers that ever get executed is one of them. The disconnect between the crime and the execution, when executions happen, is another. In many cases by the time someone is executed, they are better known than their victims.