IS THE DEATH PENALTY MORAL?
Ever since I participated in a debate on the death penalty in high school, in 1963, I have opposed it for all the reasons articulated by Sunil Dutta in “Kill the Death Penalty” [Feb. 26]. I appreciated his juxtaposing total homicides–and the appallingly high rate of unsolved homicides–with the number of executions, showing the arbitrary nature of the imposition of the death penalty.
Death penalty opponents should focus on what it does to the soul of the nation that engages in the death penalty. Isn’t it a mark of our failure that we even engage in such a barbaric practice? Isn’t the most powerful democracy in the history of the world simply better than this?
Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.
Sunil Dutta states that the most moral and legal argument against capital punishment is that it leads to execution of the innocent. The simple answer to that is that only indisputably guilty criminals should be given capital sentences. No person of questionable guilt should be executed. In a just and humane society, the death penalty should be carried out as comfortably as possible with no animosity or emotion other than sorrow that the enormity of the criminality made it necessary.
Dutta’s arguments against capital punishment are primarily criticisms of an error-prone judicial system. But they have nothing to do with capital punishment. It can stand on its own merits. Going to medically induced sleep is far less barbaric than spending the remaining years of life in a cramped prison cell. It is only fair that capital punishment should get a hearing on its own merits.
WILLIAM N. McNAIRN
Buffalo Grove, Ill.
For me, the most compelling arguments against the death penalty include a discussion of the history of punishment. Just a few hundred years ago punishments were unimaginably cruel and very public. As human society continues to evolve, I hope we will see crime for the social illness that it is and treat it as we should be treating drug addiction.
Life in prison without parole is not, as Sunil Dutta argues, “an effective alternative,” and it is not “moral.” Life without parole is not moral because it strips those sentenced to that fate of all hope and greatly reduces the chances that public interest lawyers will take the cases of those who maintain their innocence. Judges also do not give the cases the same care on postconviction appeals, because they need not worry about upholding a death sentence. And many corrections officers detest the sentence, because it takes away the carrot of possible freedom for good behavior and reduces the stick of additional punishment. Nor does life without parole reduce murder rates. It insures that murderers remain incarcerated long after they could hurt society again–at great expense to the public. Life sentences with the possibility of parole after long years in prison are far more effective and far more humane to both the convicted and those who guard them. Yes, life without parole makes it easier for jurors to oppose death. But maximum security prisons are often hellholes. Progressives should oppose both the death penalty and life without parole. Neither killing nor throwing away the key is the answer, especially when we know that at least some of those sentenced are innocent.