Capital Punishment, the word capital coming from the Latin word ‘Capitalis’, literally meaning “regarding the head” or a coy reference to losing your head by sword. It is a very touchy subject and in times of great crimes and atrocities the pendulum of favour swings more towards the advocation of the death penalty and further from the condemnation. Todays blog is listing some facts regarding capital punishment and lacing them with some opinion (of which I am still undecided), I will leave a poll at the end to garner the opinion of my readers.
In the world today there are 58 countries who practise it and 60% of the worlds 7 billion strong population live within a country that has a judicial law allowing the death penalty. Of these countries that favour it are the four most populated countries in the world, the USA, China, India and Indonesia. Although it would be of note to say that the death penalty is rarely practised in India, Indonesia and many American states. Europe itself expressly disfavours it and has forbid any E.U country to have the death penalty under their charter of fundamental rights. I must admit I was surprised at just how many countries in the modern world still carry out executions as part of their justice system. The crimes usually reserved for capital punishment are murder, espionage, treason or military injustice. However in some countries sexual crimes such as rape, adultery, incest and sodomy carry the death penalty and in some Islamic countries apostasy carries the death penalty. (Apostasy meaning the turning away from the states religion)
Formal execution as part of a judicial system stretches back through recorded history right back to the earliest tribesmen. The Jews in ancient times followed the Torah which allows the death penalty for murder, kidnapping, magic, violation of the sabbath, blasphemy and sexual crimes. The ancient Greeks in the 7th century BC had a legislator called Draco who was the first person to identify in his set of laws the difference between manslaughter and murder and have his laws enforced by a court system. Islamic people also accept and accepted in ancient times capital punishment however in Sharia law the victims family may choose to spare the life of the killer. Christians themselves tend not to support the death penalty and instead favour the teachings of Jesus Christ and his message of turning the other cheek. Although it is not without mention that some Christians do support the death penalty and cite the Old Testament as justification for their beliefs. Ancient and modern China have used the death penalty and one form in particular is disturbing, ‘Death by a thousand cuts’, which literally meant cutting the person all over his body with thin slices till he bled out. This was actually only abolished in China in 1905. Also in China people of higher classes who were sentenced to death could be given the ‘mercy’ of taking their own life instead. Medieval Europe used the death penalty as a general form of punishment and it is estimated that in King Henry VIII’s reign that 72,000 people had been executed. I wonder how many of those 72,000 were genuine crimes deserving of taking a humans life?
This would be my biggest reason for not supporting the death penalty, innocents wrongly convicted. Moses Maimonides said “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent man to death.” He believed that executing people on anything but absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof and eventually but lives down to the whimsy of a single judge. It is certainly true that in the western world at least that many have been executed and sent to death row who were later found to be innocent either whilst on death row or posthumously. 15 death row inmates have been exonerated in the US since 1992 whilst 39 or more have been executed who may have been innocent. Indeed the abolishment of the death penalty in the UK was part because of the wrongful execution of Timothy Evans in 1950. Derek Bentley another British man executed for murder was also later found to be only executed because the actual perpetrator of the crime was too young for the death penalty. It might be thought of callous but good housekeeping to accept one or two innocents death for the sake of hundreds who did commit their crime but I couldn’t prescribe to that belief. For If it were I sitting on death row even though I knew I was innocent and that the justice system had failed me it would give me no comfort in the statistics saying that the next time they will be right.
The modern world has trended towards replacing inhumane executions with less painful and quicker practises such as long drop hanging, the electric chair and most recently death by lethal injection. The Roman republic in 1849 was the first in the world to abolish capital punishment by law, the UK in 1969, Canada in 1976, France in 1981, Australia in 1984. In China up to 4000 people were executed last year, 360 in Iran and 43 in America and 18,750 are sitting on death row as of the beginning of 2012. One in around three hundred murders results in execution.
I think the death penalty should be allowed but only in the most extreme circumstances, I’m talking about multiple murders committed by a person of sound mind, child molesters and/or abusers/killers make up the worst society has to offer and thus I don’t believe could offer anything to society even IF they could be rehabilitated. But there is clearly a bias in the system with 41% of Americas death row inmates being black and 1.7% being women, is this reflective of the society or could it be bias in favour of women and racial attitudes towards blacks? Could a single judge and group of 12 peers ever give a person a truly fair trial in every part of the world? Because if not then the consequence is that an innocent person will eventually be put to death and I don’t think that is acceptable.
In short I believe the death penalty should be kept for only the most extreme convictions and that the trial should be as thorough and widely scrutinised as possible. For it could be a slippery slope to decreasing burdens of proof as Moses Maimonides once said.
But what do you think?