I think the best reason not to use the death penalty is found in the Lord of the Rings:
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
In my opinion, the largest problem with death penalty, compared to for instance life time imprisonment, is that death penalty is final. There is no going back from it. Once someone has been executed you cannot say, oops, we killed the wrong guy, sorry, here’s a settlement… If the wrong person gets imprisoned, even for many years, the wounds can still be healed, the person still be compensated, and life can go on.
Who should kill the killer?
There is also a logical reason against death penalty, and a moral dilemma as well:
If we would agree that killing is wrong; in a system with death penalty, who should perform the killing of the killer? Why is that person’s action suddenly not wrong? And can a state actually use the death penalty, in effect killing people, and still claim murder is wrong? What message does that give to the citizen of that state?
Any parent will tell you the kids do not do as you say, they do as you do. Why should there be any difference when comparing a state to its citizens? Because we’re talking about grown ups? Children grow up and they still do as their parents do.
God/my religion grants me the right to revenge/mandates the death penalty
I’ve understood the religiously based right to revenge is used as a corner stone in US lawmaking surrounding the death penalty (I may be wrong).
Does God grant you the right to revenge? Romans 12:19-21 says:
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
John 8:4-7 supports this:
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
Unfortunately, as always, it seems there are a bunch of alternative interpretations/know-it-alls out there ready to contradict something as simple as this, and the jury still seems to be out on the question of whether the death penalty is OK or not with Christianity. (Read more here: “Does Christianity support the death penalty?” – deathpenalty.procon.org)
In the case of Islam, it seems the Qu’ran both support and prohibit the death penalty:
“[5.32]…whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men…
[6.151]…do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirements of justice; this He has enjoined you with that you may understand.”
Read further on “Does Islam support the death penalty?” – deathpenalty.procon.org.
The same seems to be the case for Judaism – although apparently Israel only executed one person – Adolf Eichmann, and Judaism in general claims their religious texts are designed to prevent death penalty altogether… (Read further on “Does Judaism support the death penalty?” – deathpenalty.procon.org).
In both Islam and Christianity there are a pro-con discussion on the matter – even though the religious texts of both Judaism, Christianity and Islam per se seem to both allow, or even mandate it, and prohibit it at the same time… so the question comes down to interpretation… and guess what? Hummies are bad at interpreting…
Then there are obvious religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism that are non-violent, and given many practitioners of these religions are vegetarians for the simple reason that they do not wish to take lives, it would be hard to see how the death penalty could be practiced.
However, I must confess there’s a bunch of other religions out there that I do not have a clue about either if they allow death penalty, nor if their practitioners practice death penalty with such fervor as some Christian and Muslim countries (truth be told, I may have gotten myself into deep water even on Christianity which is what I grew up with… but hey, it’s religion, kind of what to expect… deep water over head and all). I would still not be surprised if neither one of these other religions claimed killing as a punishment for killing is right and good… I get the general feeling that most religions can be boiled down to: humans=dumbasses=need for saving=send God+holy text to try to make humans≠dumbasses…
If you’re a Christian and say the bible says “an-eye-for-an-eye” then consider this:
As a Christian you believe God sent his only son, Jesus, to earth to save mankind from sin. Why did mankind need saving? The old testament existed for thousands of years before Jesus, and God gave it to man to live by (and an-eye-for-an-eye is part of the old testament). Was it perhaps because the old testament was wrong?
Jesus never preached an-eye-for-an-eye, he preached turn the other cheek. The new testament says revenge belongs to God (see above), and should not be dealt out by mankind. So if you cite religion as a source for death penalty, you’re walking in the shoes of the people that caused God to have to sacrifice his son once. Wonder how God will feel about having to sacrifice another kid… hmmmm…
Now, in the case of Islam, God had to have another talk to Mohamed in order to set things straight. I haven’t figured out if it was a “set things straight” of the same magnitued as the Christian “send Messias”, but given that there are three different religions based on “old testament” texts, I feel pretty confident that there are various differences between Islam, Judaism, Christianity on one side and the Old Testament on the other.
But sure, I’m no theologian, and I don’t even believe to religious texts, so I’m probably not entirely right here!
Nature grants me the right to revenge
I simply cannot understand what’s going on with this one. No animal I’ve seen ever revenges the death of a peer. You simply do not see a hoard of Gnu or Gazelles or whatever take vengeance on a flock of lions because grandpa ended up on the dinner table. They just wont roar in rage and stampede the lions to death or any other silly thing.
Oh, wait… unless this stems from Disney? Oh, I guess I could see a hoard of Gnu/Gazelles/Bambis attack lions in a Disney movie… This actually explains a lot… hmmmm….
One argument that could be used in an attempt to show that nature grants death penalty would revolve around a sense of balance in the world. After winter comes summer, etc. However, from a societal point of view killing one citizen because s/he killed another citizen seems like if you have two sandwiches and drop one on the floor, throw the other one on the floor as well… to create balance… or perhaps along the lines of this old drinking joke; if you start getting wobbly on your legs from too much drinking, it’s probably because you’re having a Schnapps one too many in one leg, have another one for the other leg! Cheers!
What would I do if someone did something horrible to one of my children/siblings/parents?
Sometimes personal feelings are used as a reason for harsh punishments. What would I do if someone did something horrible to my children, my siblings, my parents? Oh… I’d… Grrr… Froth… Gnash… etc….
Simply asking this question and trying to use the answer as a reason for killing people is, in my humble opinion, a sign of immaturity and a strong indication of a fundamental lack of understanding of the rule of law in general and democracy in particular.
I’m going out on a limb here and saying that in any democratic country where a relative, parent, child, etc to a victim (or perpetrator) is in a position to perform any kind of trial function, this person will be excused from those proceedings. (The correct term being “disqualification”). All democratic law systems in the world recognizes that a judge and jury must as far as humanly possible be impartial to the victim and perpetrator. It is recognized that having any form of ties to either side is a reason to automatically disqualify that person, and declare him or her as non-objective.
And still we ask, what would I do if someone did something horrible to my children? In a democratic country you wouldn’t be legally allowed to do a single thing. Well, part from witnessing then, but you would not be allowed to be part of the trial process or perform any form of sentencing. I guess you might be allowed to take part in the punishment if for instance the perpetrator is sent to a jail where you work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were procedures for keeping victims or relatives to victims and perpetrators apart even when dealing with prison personnel.
A final note
I purposefully used the word kill and killing when I should have used the words execute, simply because I feel the word execute is a cowards way of trying to make up a difference between a cold blooded murder and… another form of cold blooded murder. To me there’s no difference between killing a person as a profession or killing a person as a criminal.
However, I do recognize the need for a police force and that a police officer may sometimes have to use deadly force to protect him/herself or other people against imminent danger. I.e. I do not equal murder or execution to causing someone’s death in self defence. Self defence law does not allow for many seconds of delay between threat and lethal response, or the killing will be ruled manslaughter at least. Spending 10 years in trials and retrials before the right to “self defence” is exercised is laughable at best.
The jury is still out on the need for military, but since I live in a country that had war last time, some two hundred years ago, I don’t feel qualified to have an opinion… uh or perhaps I am very qualified? Ah well…
Most laws in the world makes a difference between calculated, planned, murder and impuls/rage/dunken murder. Execution falls under the former and should be called “Murder 1” if the world was fair.