Monday, November 14, 2005

Reflections on the Chamber

Albert Camus once wrote:
For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. Why? Because the instincts that are warring in man are not, as the law claims, constant forces in a state of equilibrium.
Today, WaPo reports that fewer inmates have been receiving the ultimate price for their crimes: Death.
The ranks of people sentenced to death and the number executed declined in 2004 as the nation's death row population kept shrinking, the government reported yesterday.
Naturally, the statistic has renewed arguments as to whether the death penalty is a deterrant to others that contemplate murder as an option. One proponent of death argued:
"There are less murders, less murder victims and less death sentences because, in our view, we have been giving this problem the right medicine," said Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento.
That medicine is hard to swallow for me, not only because it's unfeeling, but because it's most likely very wrong.

Everyone knows in the past couple of years many people on deathrow have been found innocent due to DNA analysis and whatnot. Also, we know statistically that the death penalty is disproportionately given to black offenders. In both cases, where's the justice in that. Nonexistent. Because of these inequities in the legal system, juries that have the option of recommending death or life-sentence, pick life in prison disproportionately.

Look I'm not absolutely against the death penalty. Quite possibly there are offenders that are just so dangerous, that even while incarcerated they pose an unacceptable risk to prison guards and fellow inmates. Although I can't see how solitary, maximum security confinement can't alleviate this problem. Maybe, even the slightest chance such an inmate can escape, warrants execution. The only person that immediately comes to mind in this case is someone like Ted Bundy.

Nevertheless, in the end, I'm uncomfortable with society having the power to kill off its own citizens, however viciously the offender ripped apart the most basic tenet of the social contract: Thou shalt not kill. But I'm also uncomfortable with some people's motivation against the death penalty as well. Many times I've argued over the death penalty with what I refer to as gooey liberals, and basically it's over my inability to absolutely rule it out in certain circumstances. The funny thing is a good amount of the time, a viciousness resides underneath that principled stance against the death penalty. It usually goes something like this: "Anyways, let them rot in prison for the rest of their life. The death penalty is too good for them. Too quick. Too merciful." I'm not sure if this is a outlook some liberals take to make themselves look strong or whether they succor their inner-sadist as much as everyone else. Probably it's a bit of both.

So here's my remedy and I don't think many will like it, but here goes. Everything being equal and ideal, people convicted of 1st degree murder should have the option of death or life in prison. Just as everyone has the choice to end their own life, so should 1st degree murderers. I know this suggestion probably offends everyone, but I can't rule it out and it seems the most humane option left. For people who don't want to stick around, let them end it. It will save the taxpayers money, while ensuring that those offenders that choose death will die peacefully. It also ensures that those who choose death won't ever kill again.

Individual choice is the most sacred thing to me and if possible, eveyone should have the right to pick how they should die -- whether that be at home nestled amongst loved ones, strapped down on a table awaiting the gas or the syringe or in a prison infirmary. Furthermore, the choice allows those that stole the most precious of all gifts -- life -- to contemplate just what they have done and whether they have the strength to take society's punishment, their freedom, or take the easy route out, euthanasia.

In the end I agree with Camus, that a just society never kills its own citizens no matter how grave the crime. Nevertheless, what if the murderer is willing to surrender his own life in retribution for his crime?

I can't rule out we take the murderer up on his offer, however constrained his unfavorable decision is.