5 Death Penalty Questions

5 Death Penalty Questions


First off, let me just say that I despise what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did – the tremendous damage and pain he (and his evil brother) caused, the innocent lives he took and/or severely harmed, etc. There’s no excuse for any of it whatsoever, and society is 100% correct to make sure he never harms anyone again. Having said that, I have serious problems with the death penalty, and also a bunch of questions about why people support it. Here are five that spring to mind.

1. Many on the political right say they are “pro life,” yet they simultaneously support the death penalty. How, if at all, can they logically reconcile that? Got me, other than they are really against a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, and that this has very little to do with being “pro life” in any blanket sense.

2. Many/most on the political right (including some “libertarians”) say they don’t trust the government to do much of anything, yet a lot of them appear to be fine with giving the government the ultimate power of life and death. Again: how, if at all, can they logically reconcile that? Again, got me.

3. What is worse, life in Supermax hell or a quick, painless (that is, if the execution drugs or electric chair works properly) death? Clearly, the former, by all accounts I’ve read or otherwise heard of. So then why wouldn’t people interested in vengeance favor the former over the latter for the Tsarnaevs of the world? Seems like they’d suffer worse there, so wouldn’t that be “better” from a vengeance standpoint? Just sayin’…

4. Most on the political right want the government to spend less, so then why do they support capital punishment, when it costs more than life in prison? Hmmmm.

5. Given zero evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, plus the fact that it costs more, is applied inconsistently and in a racially biased manner, etc, etc., what’s the public policy argument for using it? Got me.


  • independent in arlington

    The difference between abortion and the death penalty, for a pro-life person, is that the criminal has done something to “deserve” death, while the fetus has – obviously – done nothing wrong.

    I can only speak for myself here, obviously, but the death penalty is about justice, not deterence.  There are simply some crimes for which the perpetrator deserves death. So whether life in prison is better or worse is not a dispositive issue. For example Jeffrey Dahmer deserved to die for what he did.  Similarly, one can take the position that for this crime the perpetrator deserves death.  In this case there appears to be little doubt about guilt, though there can always be disagreements about motivations, etc.

    In principle, I think the death penalty is just and easily justifiable (in fairness, a principled stand against the death penalty on the grounds that the state should not take life is also sound and justifiable).  In practice, the death penalty is much more messy (difficulties in ascertaining guilt, racially-conscious use, etc.).  It is very difficult to administer fairly and in a timely fashion.  So while in theory I am in favor of the death penalty, and feel it is completely justified and appropriate in this case, if I were in charge I would probably abolish it.

  • Jeb Stuart

    I would agree that an unborn child has a right to life but the right to life is something that can be forfeited later in life.  A person who murders another forfeits his or her right to life. Given that the process is indeed messy, and people do make mistakes, I’d be willing to limit the death penalty to persons who take more than one life, or who commit a second murder.  Which happens far too often.

    My comfort with the thought that these individuals will be locked away for the rest of their lives disappeared when the Briley brothers broke jail in Virginia.  Some people are so depraved, so dangerous, they just need to be disposed of.  That probably does not include everybody on death row, but it most certainly includes the young man just sentenced in Boston.  

  • http://www.scottsurovell.org Scott Surovell

    (1)  There are significant racial disparities in how the death penalty is applied.  If often seems there is little consistency as to who gets it and who does not, and who prosecutors choose to seek it against.  Additionally, a defendant’s income/wealth often plays a factor into their legal team and whether a death penalty is imposed.

    (2)  Juries are fallible and the death penalty is a permanent decision that can’t be taken back once it has been implemented.  Obviously, guilt wasn’t in doubt in the Tsanaev case, but it often is in other cases.

    (3)  The rest of the world has moved past us on this issue and many see it as a matter of human dignity.  Only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are head of the US.  We also execute more people than Pakistan, Yemen, North Korea, Vietnam, Libya, and many other states.  Our international peers have largely abolished this practice.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Study after study have shown that the death penalty is given almost exclusively to people who are poor, minority, mentally ill, or incompetently represented by legal counsel. If you are white and well-off, able to afford the best lawyers, you won’t get the death penalty, no matter what you do. That alone makes the death penalty unjust. We can justify the death penalty by saying it should be reserved for the most heinous of crimes or to satisfy a need for revenge for the loved ones of the murdered, but as long as there is not fairness in its application, there is no justice. After all, synonyms for “justice” include “fairness” and “equity.”

    I have always felt the Catholic Church was, at least, consistent in its opposition to both abortion and capital punishment. However, the church doesn’t stress eliminating capital punishment. My own opposition to the death penalty is both moral and political, just as is my opposition to war except for defensive reasons. Having the state murder someone in my name is not morally right.

  • Fairfax Voter

    I am anti-death penalty across the board, but the defense’s “which is really worse” line of argument (death or Supermax prison) question was well-handled, I thought, by the prosecution in Boston.

    They essentially pointed out that death was considered, under the law, the maximum penalty; life in prison, under the law, was a lesser sentence. It’s like 40 years is simply considered a more severe penalty than 30 years, in some other cases. That’s not up for debate, even if “in real life” 30 years is (hypothetically, for some complicated reason) actually tougher on the person.

    So, if death is the legal maximum penalty, did this guy deserve the maximum penalty? Since the jury was “death qualified” (okay with the death penalty), that must have been a fairly easy question to answer.

    This kind of case is so different from the usual (or once-usual) American death penalty case that it’s irrelevant to a lot of the serious issues related to death penalty cases as a whole — no question of innocence, no systemic racial bias, no lack of good lawyers, and so on. But I simply don’t support the death penalty in any case, so for me, the same applies here.  

  • loudoun independent

    There is a large segment of those on the left who are pro-death penalty, just as there are at least some on the right who are opposed.

    This is an issue that doesn’t neatly fit within partisan lines.