Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Death Penalty

I'm going discuss my personal views on the death penalty, but first lets see what the Catechism says. I believe my views are in line with the Catechism, but I'm open to correction.
The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.

Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

In a country like America there is hardly a need for the death penalty. Crime rates in America have not actually gone up with the decreased use of the death penalty (from any statistics I've heard). But I have very particular views on when it should be used:

1st: The death penalty may be necessary for more murder cases in third world countries, where prisons may be less of a viable option.

2nd: In a country like America, with secure prisons, the death penalty still must be kept as an option for severe (and murderous) crimes against our justice system itself, or for people who are dangerous even while in prison. By this I mean the murder of witnesses, jurors, judges, or police officers involved in your case should result in the death penalty. Also, leaders of criminal or terrorist organizations may be too dangerous to hold, because their followers may commit crimes in order to seek their leader's release.

3rd: Reserving the death penalty for the murders most harmful to our justice system may help serve as a deterrent for those who are facing a life sentence and might otherwise feel they have nothing left to lose.

4th: the death penalty should be reserved for cases where a person is convicted not just because there is no reasonable doubt, but only when guilt is abundantly clear. I have heard too many disturbing cases of (mostly Southern) prosecutors who cared more about convictions than about guilt, and callously sent men they believed to be innocent to prison.

For these reasons(and possibly others), I believe the death penalty needs to be kept on the table, but that it needs to be used rarely.

It's also important to note that this is considered a "life issue," so I want to quickly add that the Church sees legitimate uses of the death penalty as possible, but does not approve of any case of abortion. The killing of a criminal and an innocent child are very different matters. This has been the teaching of the Church since the beginning.


dudleysharp said...

There are a lot of probelms with 2267.

First, it conflicst with 2260-2266.

2260: "For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning.... Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image." "This teaching remains necessary for all time."

2265: "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm."

Both secular and religious governments are responsible for defending the lives of their citizens. "The common good" "requires" that an unjust aggressor be rendered "unable to inflict harm".

The definitions of "require" and "unable" are clear in meaning and in context.

It is a rational truism that only dead murderers are "unable to inflict harm". Unable to inflict harm is the same as impossible to inflict harm, only possible by the absolute incapacitation of the aggressor - by definition, the death penalty.

Secondly, 2267 conflcist with about 2000 years of biblical, theological, traditonal and rational teachings on the death penalty.

Thirdly, 2267 is based upon the secular condition of prison systems, as opposed to the foundations of providing sanction, which is based upon justice.

"Death Penalty Support: Religious and Secular Scholars"

Harvey H said...

@dudleysharp. I think you're confusing what 2267 says.

Firstly, making an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm obviously doesn't imply the death penalty. I say 'obviously' because, in this country, the average length of time that someone is on death row is 14 years; and during those 14 years prisoners aren't inflicting harm. Good incarceration is at least as good as an execution.

On your second point, 2267 does not conflict with over 2000 years of theology. 2267 isn't saying that the criminal doesn't merit the death penalty, or that society doesn't have a right to carry out the death sentence--that would conflict with history, tradition, reason, etc. What 2267 does is remind us that modern incarceration technology allows us to share in God's mercy. He wouldn't destroy a city if there were 10 people innocent people there; maximum security prisons allow us to spare a convict if we can find 10% good in him.

Thirdly, even if prisons were just a 'secular condition', they play a role in Justice (and, thus, in Mercy). Prisoners, and implicitly prisons, have a value when it comes to the currency of salvation. Afterall, Jesus commanded us to visit the imprisoned (Matt 25:39). Jesus was wasting His breath if there weren't prisons.

dudleysharp said...


Thank you.

You have helped to identify additonal problems.

Making an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm does not imply the death penalty it requires it.

Unable means impossible.

The only thing that can do that is execution. Living murderers harm and murder in rpson, after escape and after improper release.

No one denies that. It probably occurs hundreds or thousands of time a day.

Incarceration can never be as good as execution.

Please review:

"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

There is a major conflcit with 2267 and 2000 years of Catholic teachings.

2267 attempts to replace biblical, theological and traditonal truths with the secular, horribly uneven, security of the prison systems.

"Death Penalty Support: Religious and Secular Scholars"

"Pope John Paul II: Prudential Judgement and the death penalty"

Harvey H said...

What if, in an attempt to make an unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm, we break their neck, dull their teeth, and extract their voice box. The mute quadriplegic felon is now unable to inflict harm upon others.

This is what ''good incarceration'' mimics. First world countries have this kind of incarceration available to them. More is expected from those who are more able. Ergo, first world countries ought not to resort to the death penalty.

In the future, perhaps incarceration technology would improve to be like the movie Demolition Man, where prisoners are cyrogenically frozen. Granted, we are only called to answer the moral questions that are asked of us, but this would be an interesting answer: what would the future Catechism say of such a procedure? My bet's on it saying exactly what it says now.