Troy Davis and the Death Penalty

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Current Events, Philosophical Debris

As far as I’m concerned there is only one argument worth looking at when discussing yesterday’s execution of Troy Davis.

Since 1973 at least 121 people have been released from death row after being cleared of their conviction because of new evidence.  That’s more than 10%.

In the case of Troy Davis, in spite of what the prosecution insisted, there were obvious problems with the evidence, witnesses who recanted their testimony and a victim who protested his innocence to the bitter end.  Given the 10% chance of error, putting this man to death was barbaric.  My guess is that this had more to do with protecting people’s reputations and careers than it did with justice.

I am not necessarily100% opposed to the death penalty.  In a situation where the evidence is incontrovertible, the crime is heinous and the criminal is incapable of ever being released back into society, I can see an argument for the death penalty.  I can even see an argument for its use as an ultimate deterrent, -although research shows that this is not the actual case.  A Charles Manson or a Paul Bernardo might deserve the death penalty.  Maybe even a Russel Williams.  However, if there is any question of guilt, it cannot be justified.

Perhaps there should be a national committee with strict standards who are required to review each case on death row, and where there would be a unanimous verdict needed to send someone to their death.  Others would have their sentences commuted to life in prison.  Perhaps this committee needs to be present at all the executions.

But really, what purpose does capital punishment serve?

1.  Deterant : But the research shows that those who are likely to commit a murder are almost never deterred by the threat of punishment.  They either feel that they are unlikely to get caught, or they are obliviously caught up in the moment and not thinking at all.

2.  Saving money:  Keeping someone incarcerated for life is an expensive affair.  Why should the state and the public be required to pay for this?  While there is some validity here, remember that we are talking about less than 1000 individuals in the past 35 years (in the U.S.).  That’s not going to make much of a dent in the prison budget.

3.  Revenge:  This is an argument which is oddly proposed by the members of the religious right, who have embraced the Levitican “eye for an eye”, while apparently forgetting the Christian “turn the other cheek” and compassion.  Putting people to death simply to make other people feel better is not the sign of an enlightened society.

And so, while I don’t have any moral repugnance to the death penalty, I just don’t see the purpose or the need.


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