Capital punishment is something that has encouraged debate for years, even as it has become less and less prominent within democratic society. Many liberal and forward thinking nations have abolished it entirely from their judicial process, whereas many states within the US themselves no longer support execution as a consequence of criminal conduct. Though it is a diminishing concept, its existence still draws strong and divided opinions, especially as to whether it has any place at all in a civilized society.
The Dangers of Capital Punishment
Despite the increasing redundancy of capital punishment, there are those who still campaign for its place in the contemporary world, and cite the perpetual rise of violent crime and anti-social behavior as a basis for their arguments. Not only this, but it is promoted in some quarters as a resolution to overcrowded prisons and correctional facilities, especially as a method of dealing with criminals who may be beyond rehabilitation. The supporters of capital punishment make a clear distinction between those who are civilized and those who are not in a democratic society, and see execution as a way of protecting law abiding citizens.
These arguments are hard to dispute on certain levels, as capital punishment certainly would have a physical effect on reducing the criminal fraternity’s number, while also making a concise statement that the safety of well meaning citizens is above all else in society. However, there is far more dispute to be had on an ideological and factual level, especially in terms of the attitude it cultivates within society and its effectiveness as a deterrent of crime. Above, these raise serious concerns as to the place of capital punishment within a democracy.
Firstly, a concept as extreme as capital punishment can have a gradual and divisive effect on society, and does much to darken the waters surrounding crime, punishment and retribution. In short, it sends an undefined signal to citizens as to what is acceptable in society, and teaches that a life for a life is suitable punishment in certain instances of murder. While law has specific points of order however, the human conscience is entirely unique to each individual, who may interpret the suitability of capital punishment to a crime through their own perception and seek out personal retribution.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt?
Another issue with capital punishment is its finite and unswerving nature, which sits at odds with the liberal and fairly considered principles of democracy. For example, if an individual is sentenced to life imprisonment for a crime he his subsequently exonerated of, then his sentence can be quashed before he is pardoned and returned to society. However, in a state or rule where capital punishment is supported, an individual’s sentence is irreversible regardless of any latterly proven innocence. This means that innocent and mistreated parties will pay the ultimate price for another’s crime, even in an age of such advanced science and technology.
A famous quote once opined that ‘it is better that 10 guilty men walk free than an innocent man hang’, and this assertion is at the foundation of any dialogue concerning capital punishment. In a democratic environment, it can surely not be prudent for innocent individuals to die for a crime they did not commit, but we must accept this is inevitable within any region that employs capital punishment. If we consider that any judicial system may be vulnerable to miscarriages of justice, regardless of the stringent policies it adopts, then it is logical that execution will claim the life of innocent individuals.
Although all individuals are afforded a fair and even handed trial, and the evolution of forensic science is making unfair incarceration increasing rare, human nature and error dictates that wrong imprisonment will remain an omni-present factor in judicial law. Even the structure of democratic justice is not set up to fully support capital punishment, either through the process of a jury of peers or the presiding concept of reasonable doubt. Given the definitive nature of capital punishment, surely a reasonable or even a seemingly unreasonable doubt should be enough to spare an individual from its ordeal.
Opposing Democratic Rule
If we consider these facts, then the values and reasoning of capital punishment are clearly opposed to those of democracy. This does not mean that they are entirely undemocratic, but more that their final consequence far outweighs their original purpose. Indeed, if capital punishment is used as an aid to protect citizens, then history tells us that it is more likely to create a gradual decline in moral values rather than deter potential criminals from their deeds. Elizabethan England was a key example, where an over utilized death penalty served to devalue morality and also frayed the core of social fabric throughout Britain in the 1600’s.
With all of these things in mind, it is very difficult to support the existence of capital punishment in any fair minded and democratic nation, especially where errors and legal anomalies are a small but significant part of the judicial process. While laws in democratic systems are scarcely straightforward or concise in their wording and purpose, capital punishment is exactly the opposite and therefore more suited to a forthright and almost totalitarian method of rule. This is a contrast which makes capital punishment ultimately unsuited to democracy, regardless of its perceived benefits in resolving steeping crime and violence.