26 June 2008

Supremes Overturn Death Penalty But Miss The Real Point

It's reasonable to debate what crimes should qualify for the death penalty. Personally, I don't have any more sympathy for a child-rapist than I do for a murderer. My opposition to the death penalty, though, is not based on sympathy for the defendant.

My opposition to the death penalty is based on two principles: human fallibility and limitations on state power. I don't want any possibility that we could execute an innocent person. I don't want my government to be in the business of execution.

These principles get sorely tested in almost every capital case.

In the overwhelming majority of capital cases, it seems rarely if ever argued that the defendant "didn't do it". Of course, we do have plenty of examples of overturned cases where DNA or other evidence has proven just that.

One example should be enough. I recognize that many disagree with this principle. Fine; that's at least something we should be able to debate intelligently and rationally, even passionately.

Legal appeals in death penalty cases almost never consider the innocence or guilt of the defendant. Those appeals tend to test my second principle: the idea that our government shouldn't be in the position of executing the guilty.

Neither of my principles is based on sympathy for the defendant. I reserve that for the rare cases where the defendant has been proven innocent, which are quite rare.

The Supremes missed both principles by focusing on whether child rape is sufficiently heinous to merit the same penalty as murder. That's not going to help the debate, because we cannot in good conscience have sympathy for a child-rapist.

If the death penalty is ok, I have a hard time understanding why it's not ok for a child-rapist. Of course, I don't think it's ok. But, this is still disturbing logic, or lack thereof.

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