Opinion: moral justification for the death penalty

Regarding capital punishment in a just society, the theologian Thomas Aquinas observed that a person threatened with immediate death is more likely to repent for the benefit of his immortal soul and that others “may be dissuaded from committing a crime by fear of death. [same] Punishment.” (Summa Theologica.) For nearly 800 years, his teaching on moral philosophy has been recognized by legitimate governments as good and sound reason for criminal executions.

Some will say that all criminal penalties are uncivilized and a form of revenge. But incarceration or execution are not revenge. Indeed, the victim of the criminal act, or his survivor, can neither decide on the sentence nor execute it. Rather, criminal cases are brought by the state on behalf of its citizens – all of them. A surviving victim is a (albeit important) witness who is called by the state to testify in order to prove the government’s case.

Traditionally, the death penalty has been limited to the punishment of those convicted of the most ruthless crimes, such as armed robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder. However, over the years the Supreme Court has come to limit capital punishment to cases where the crime was intended by the perpetrator to result in and in fact resulted in the death of the victim. The court’s decisions limiting capital punishment are based on the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment” and, among relatively recent additional reasons, “evolving standards of decency that mark progress of a maturing society”. , and other cases involving “social consensus” against sentencing, a Louisiana court’s death sentence against a man convicted of raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter was overturned in 2008. (Kennedy v Louisiana, 554 US 407 (2008).)

Despite “the progress of a maturing society” in determining just punishment, the innocent people who suffered violent crimes and the families of the murdered dead are and will continue to be living victims.

Violent crimes are committed by violent people who do not stop being violent just because they have been incarcerated. The just punishment of the most violent is not always applied in this state or, I would say, anywhere else in the country. Those with ties to law enforcement or the justice system and anyone who regularly reads the news (print and electronic) know of cases where death row inmates have been released from prison and again committed violent crimes. , often including armed robbery, kidnapping, rape or murder.

Perhaps more than anecdotally, on August 11, 2022, the AP reported that a Louisiana man who had been convicted of two brutal murders and sentenced to life in prison had been released after 42 years. According to the report, “He [had] avoided the death penalty as part of a plea deal, pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in exchange for life without the possibility of parole. Supposedly rehabilitated, one of the telltale terms of the killer’s parole included his “leaving Louisiana and not returning without the permission of his parole officer.”

Painful to recall, in Memphis last month, two young children lost their mother in a murder by a man who had a criminal history of rape and kidnapping at gunpoint. He had been released from prison earlier. From his DNA, police discovered that another victim’s rape was committed by him last year. Nothing in reason can explain why this wicked man lived free.

By today’s standards, the execution of those who commit heinous, brutal and ruthless acts can constitute cruel and unusual punishment. But, in another sense, isn’t it cruel punishment of the victims when the law releases malevolent monsters who have literally or figuratively taken the lives of those victims?

Reports that emerged last summer on the violent histories of mass shooters from New York to California, Minnesota to Texas, Florida and elsewhere show how flawed modern social and legal philosophies are when it comes to justice and justice. punishment. Brutally dangerous people must be permanently removed from society. I think, at least, that “permanently” means imprisonment without the possibility of release. . . already.

It is up to the law and to those who make the law, to those who apply the law and to those who uphold the law through their judicial decisions to do their duty and protect those who live lawfully. Pray to God for wisdom to do so.

Chip Williams is a Northsider.

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