Is there ever a good reason to take a human life? If one of your relatives were murdered, what would justice look like to you? Is it wrong to take an eye for an eye? Or is it more painful, and just, to let the guilty individual rot in prison for the rest of their life?
According to U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, today more than 900 individuals in the state of California have been sentenced to death row since 1978. But only 13 of them were executed.
This afternoon’s Los Angeles Times article reported on how Carney scrutinized this apparent flaw in administering the death penalty. He ultimately ruled that lengthy delays and resulting uncertainty as to when or even if an inmate will be executed are in violation of human rights regardless of incarceration. Carney declared the state’s death penalty is “dysfunctional” because sentences have been reduced in essence to “life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”
The average convicted murderer sentenced to death spends approximately 25 years on death row because of endless appeals that drag things out through the court system. The U.S. Supreme Court can still overrule Carney. “Delays are not a violation of the rights of the defendant,” Kent Schneidegger, a pro-death penalty advocate and legal director of Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told NPR. “They are the violations of the rights of the victim and they are no reason to set the death penalty aside.”
There are many moral dilemmas we face daily, and judgment is often wielded haphazardly on those who either feel strongly for or against the death penalty. But what if the murderer was a relative of yours? Would you want to see them executed? What if this particular person was your best friend? Would you attend their execution? Could you? Human life is a delicate gift, and anyone who snuffs out an innocent life ought to be punished. But to what end?
Perhaps we ought to go watch The Purge, a recent theatrical release that reflects upon the human inclination towards violence. The movie depicts a seemingly utopian future in 2022, where crime and unemployment rates are at an unprecedented low. But once a year, a cathartic discharge of negative emotions is released for a 12-hour period. Frustrated citizens with pent up aggression are allowed to go “postal.” Rape, murder, you name it, it’s is legal. I’ve not seen it so don’t worry, I won’t give away the ending because I intend to watch it, too. But based upon the trailer I’ve seen and the synopsis I’ve read, the movie reflects on the darker side to human nature. It begs to ask the question: What would happen if we were allowed to act like animals? If total anarchy were allowed for one day, and if you could murder or commit horrific acts of violence and not suffer the consequences, would you? Could you?
Everyone wants to immediately feign innocence and state that they could never hurt a fly, but it’s another thing entirely if we find ourselves unfettered by law and consequences for our actions, a la Lord of the Flies. It’s quite interesting that the movie provokes the audience to sincerely answer the whole “What would you do if…” question with blatant honesty.
Unfortunately we’ve yet to find solution for the increased gun violence in America especially among our youth. Meanwhile, in 2010 the U.S. ranked No. 1 out of 57 countries for rape crimes (84,767) and is ranked No. 1 out of 170 countries for the most gun ownership per resident, according to NationalMaster. In 2010 the U.S. ranked 9th out of 86 countries for murder, and in 2010 it was 7th out of 14 countries in intentional homicides. The United States also placed 10th in 2012 in murder by firearms out of 48 countries.
As of 2003, we’re ranked number 1 out of 164 countries for having the highest amount of prisoners (715 per 100,000 people). The U.S. spends about $57 billion per year on their correctional system. Death penalty proponents might argue that prison overpopulation is evidence that the death penalty serves a purpose. Never mind that the vast majority of our nation’s prisoners are incarcerated because of drug crimes. Additionally, data shows that defending a death penalty case can actually cost four times as much as defending a non-death-penalty case. Law enforcement experts have also said that the money spent on trying death penalty cases can be better used towards mitigating crime in the first place. So, really, the death penalty can often come down to socio-economics, and that is not the kind of balance that our justice system is designed to ensure.
Sometimes people are just evil, but more often the criminals in our midst are the result of a flawed youth, where educational opportunities were hard to come by or their parents were abusive. Accountability for one’s actions is paramount in a democratic society, but so, too is compassion, and an honest attempt at rehabilitation.