“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”Such are the words of the Eighth Amendment to our constitution, part of the Bill of Rights that guarantee the liberties of the individual. However, more than 200 years later, controversy still persists over the issue of capital punishment.
The case of Troy Davis in Georgia on Sept. 21 has become a major point of contention in the death sentence debate; his execution by lethal injection is a harbinger of the storm arriving in the gray areas of justice. Several organizations, including Amnesty International, which has ceased to be a club at this school, have actively organized petitions against Davis’s execution.
In 1989, a policeman was shot while trying to break up a fight outside a fast-food restaurant. Two years later, Davis was convicted of this crime. Since then, Davis has had three narrow elusions of his execution. However, his fourth encounter on Sept. 20, 2011 turned out to be his last when the Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal for a stay on the execution.
The question is: do those who choose to commit such crimes forgo their rights as individuals? Does the deterrence theory apply to justice? Is it worth taking the life of one possibly innocent person to supposedly save the lives of would-be victims?
What’s noteworthy about this case is the lack of concrete physical evidence pointing to Davis as the one who pulled the trigger; the majority of the prosecution thus far has been based off of witness testimonies alone, and several of these witnesses have recanted since. A request for a polygraph test (essentially a lie detector) was denied by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole the day of the execution, declaring that they would not reconsider the case despite the more-than-630,000 petitioners to the Board. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court remained silent throughout the execution. These three poorly handled matters gathered many opponents to the death penalty, one of whom being me.
The sanctioned killing of criminals is hypocritical in the sense of attempting to save lives by taking lives. While forensic technology is ever improving, there are still cases in which the innocent are not vindicated and put to death. Justice is not served through executions; rather, it taints the foundations of liberty with which this nation was built. We cheapen the value of human lives when we treat matters in such ways. Other less costly options are available in the place of capital punishment. The death sentence is the ultimate punishment, entertaining no possible methods of rehabilitation.
Moreover, the belief that the capital punishment is fully efficient as a deterrent of crime is flawed. For example, consider statistics on violent crimes from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2006, per 100,000 population, the 12 states that have outlawed capital punishment and Washington D.C. had actually a lower average number of violent crimes than the 38 states that retain capital punishment. While the precision of statistics may sometimes be disputed in small margins, it is difficult to say, under this light, that punishments prevent crime. The deterrence model has had many shortcomings in other institutions to boot. Even in the modern era, authoritarian regimes such as those in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia fall in governing by principle of fear. What happened to the deterrence model, as applied to the development of nuclear arms during the Cold War?
Mahatma Gandhi’s adage “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” may be trite, but that doesn’t mean it lacks truth.