Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Capital Punishment

Sgt. Hasan Akbar has been sentenced to death by lethal injection after killing 2 of his officers and wounding 14 other soldier during a grenade attack in Kuwait in March 2003.

There was a discussion of capital punishment over at QandO a week ago. It is worth a read.

For the record, I have no problem with the morality of the death penalty. If a man kills another man, there is a certain elegant reciprocity to taking his life in retribution. Morally though, I think when people start speaking of human life as if it were of infinite value, I get concerned.

I've written about this before. Life isn't cheap, but it also isn't of infinite worth. This is especially true when weighted against other lives. I've noticed that when a society says that the state may not enact the death penalty out of moral considerations, soon after they begin restricting things like self-defense rights in kind. After all if the life of the criminal is of paramount importance that the state cannot legally execute someone, how can we allow some gun-wielding hick to take it without even the hint of a trial? This seems like a silly argument, but when you look at countries like Britian who have banned capital punishment, you see this sort of rhetoric flying about all the time.

I do have some concerns over the practicality of the death penalty though. As many know, it is very expensive. It is often stated that permanent incarceration is cheaper than the death penalty due to the mandatory appeals and court costs. I can believe it. However more importantly is that capital punishment, in order to be accurate, must also be slow to ensure accuracy. Nobody wants to see an innocent man hang. But slow justice is bad justice from the perspective of deterrance. Punishment must fit the crime, but the populace must also see that it does and the longer there is between when the crime is committed and the sentence is carried out, the worse the deterrance.

One final note: There are those who, after applying modern forensics to old death row cases, have come to the conclusion that the death penalty cannot be trusted. "Look at all the people who are being cleared!" they say. If all these people are being cleared then we have to stop using capital punishment.

This logic is faulty. Improved forensics is not a reason to throw away the death penalty. What they are showing is that modern forensics are much better than older methods, so we are capable of more accurately applying the death penalty than ever before. Those people being found innocent on death row would never even be tried today. So how can this be a strike against the death penalty? It can't.

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