Informal Logic: PHI103 instructor April, 2013
The Death Penalty: Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right
Some crimes that a person may experience in their lifetime are too horrible to put into words. How can one be punished for a crime so unthinkable? Capital punishment could be one way, but how ethical is it really? The first capital punishment recorded on our land was in 1608. The hanging of George Kendall in Virginia’s Jamestown colony was for the offence of “spying for the Spanish.” In the following four centuries people will killed for crimes such as murder, rape, theft, witch craft, and many others (Bedau, Cassell, 2004). Innocent people are killed by capital punishment proving the age old saying “two wrongs do not make a right;” if a person murders another person that person should suffer the punishment of life imprisonment with no chance of parole and not be given an easy way out.
Over the last century 139 countries have abolished execution for any crime starting in the 1940’s. The only eight countries had abolished capital punishment and six of those countries were in South and Central America (Sangiorgio, 2011). Abolishing capital punishment really took flight in the 1960’s and over the past two decades and least one country a year has abolished it leaving 58 retentionist countries often practicing capital punishment (Sangiorgio, 2011). In the mid-1990s, an average of 40 countries were known to carry out executions each year, at the beginning of this century executions were reported in 30 countries on average. Recently, 25 countries allegedly executed prisoners in 2008, while only 19 countries, the lowest number ever recorded by Amnesty International, did so in 2009 (Sangiorgio, 2011). Though the support for abolishing the death penalty rises, in our country, Americans steadily favor it.
Even though many Americans are for capital punishment not many of them know the realities of a person sentenced to death row. “Innocent people have been sentenced to die based on such things as mistaken eyewitness identiﬁcations, false confessions, the testimony of partisan experts who render opinions that are not supported by science, failure of police and prosecutors to turn over evidence of innocence, and testimony of prisoners who get their own charges dismissed by testifying that the accused admitted the crime to them” (Bedau, Cassell, 2004 p153). Logic shows us that none of these incidences, alone, are good enough to sentence one to death. “Even the guilty are sentenced to death as opposed to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole not because they committed the worst crimes but because of where they happen to be prosecuted, the incompetence of their court-appointed lawyers, their race, or the race of their victim” (Bedau, Cassell, 2004 p153). In some places one could be sentenced to death simply because they are considered not mentally competent (WMJ, 2012). Former Illinois Governor George Ryan use to be for capital punishment until further examination of the system found the demons and errors of its ways. “In 2003, Governor Ryan pardoned four people who had been tortured by police until they confessed to crimes they did not commit and commuted the sentences of the remaining 167 people on Illinois’s death row for reasons that he eloquently sets out elsewhere in this book” (Bedau, Cassell, 2004 p154). It is cases like these that show anyone could be on death row without just cause. “18th-century Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria believed the death penalty was neither useful nor necessary: The certainty, rather than the cruelty, of the punishment was what counted most” (Massimo, 2007 p5). One should be alive to achieve the certainty of the punishment. “Those against -- the abolitionists -- argue that the death penalty does not help to deter crime, contending that there is no objective evidence to support the claim that the death penalty