Driving home this afternoon, I heard a short snippet from the SCLC about the ballooning costs of the trial of the death penalty trial of Brian Nichols (you may remember him, he was the Courthouse Shooter here in Atlanta who gave Ashley Smith her 15 minutes of fame).
Seems the defense team claims they need an astronomical amount of money due to the high-profile nature of this case and Fulton County is having a fit, since they are always broke and don't want to fork it over. Plus, the DA in the case is convinced the trial judge is dragging his feet to assist the defense team.
Be that as it may, Joseph Lowery and the SCLC has decided that the financial mismanagement that is going on is one more reason to abandon death penalty trials and capital punishment in general. To their credit, Lowery points out that they also opposed the death penalty in the case of Martin Luther King's killer. So, at least they are consistent.
Anyway, this got me thinking, are there really rational arguments for the death penalty anymore that would justify it?
The classical pro arguments are that it:
- Has a deterrent effect - certainly this is true on the one it is imposed upon. But, if we were assured that the recipient would instead never be released from jail for any reason, is there really a deterrent effect on others?
- Has a measure of morality - the old eye for an eye idea. I guess this is where I have the most issues with the death penalty. As one who is pro-life in the case of the most innocent, is it morally consistent to be pro-death for the least innocent? Is it acceptable for me, or society to extract our vengeance on the murderer? I have to admit, I find this somewhat disturbing that we would use this for a reason to justify society taking a life (innocent or not).
I actually think some of the anti-capital punishment ideas have some merit:
- It is not a deterrent - I am open to arguments on this either way. But, I have to agree philosophically with some of the anti crowd that the death penalty would seem to do little to deter. Does the rational murderer actually consider that he might be put to death after a trial when he commits his crime? I have to think he worries more about the cops killing him while trying to aprehend him, if he thinks about the consequences to himself at all. The only people rational enough to consider this would, IMO, choose not to do the crime in the first place. And, wouldn't the killer who knew he was faced with death, just become a more determined killer? What would stop him? Little. Something to consider.
- It is morally wrong - I think this is their strongest argument - the New Testament clearly teaches us all about forgiveness, and, don't we need to show that we can do what God has already done, and offered his forgiveness to worst sinners amongst us? Don't we owe the killer the time to repent and seek God's grace? Who are we to short circuit that by ending the life now? I don't know, but I'm evolving.
- The risk of sending innocent people to the death chamber - Now, I have seen it before that no anti capital punishment proponent can point to a specific case where a demonstrably innocent man was sent to his death - proving that the appeals process works. Maybe this is so, but is it in keeping with the highest principles of our judicial system?
- It's too expensive - I can see merit in this one, too, although I don't think the Brian Nichols case is the best example. But, let's face it, after the death row inmate exhausts all his appeals, it's usually many years later, at a tremendous cost to taxpayers, thus denying us the benefits of speedy application of this form of justice (and the expense of housing these killers), and tying up our courts unnecessarily, and, frequently, giving Liberals icons to praise and use as props (like cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal). I say, let's deny them that. If guys like Mumia weren't poster boys for the anti-death penalty Left, they would be rotting away silently in prisons with no friends, and would be no cause celebre.
So, I'm torn on this issue. is it wrong that I lean towards the moral argument against, yet, if I thought we could apply justice quickly (saving money), and perhaps, publicly (which I think would provide a good dose of deterrence), I could be persuaded back the other way.
Anyway, I am on the fence.