Saturday, November 17, 2018

For Then Against Then Maybe For Again The Death Penalty

Where I am with this issue is as follows.

I began favoring death penalty for horrific crimes. In such cases, my thinking is, the retributive pillar of criminal sentencing—the others, rehabilitation, specific deterrence and general deterrence—overwhelms the others. It rightly channels the community’s rage by the most grave and awesome act, the death penalty, the act that shows the greatest reverence for life in its ultimate response to the extraordinarily shocking taking of innocent life.

I’ve kept to that rationale but have worried over mistakes and condemning to death innocent accused wrongly convicted. That worry has formed the basis of my opposition.

But of late my opposition is getting jiggly and wobbly. The reasons are: my shuddering anew at overwhelmingly brutal homicidal crimes; the improvement of forensic evidence like DNA leading to absolute certainty of guilt in some cases and generally to a lessening of error; and this—calculated death seems built into certain policy choices so that raising or lowering speed limits, for one example, are guaranteed to save or cost lives; so why not the same reasoning with the death penalty? If an innocent life is lost that’s the foreseeable cost of a desired policy. I feel there’s something wrong with this last argument, something ghoulish in fact, but I can’t put my finger on it.

In all of this, though, my view of the moral appropriateness of the death penalty, its deontological rightness, hasn’t wavered. 

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