Thoughts regarding the death penalty…


Today I recalled a conversation that took place some days ago with a couple of friends, whether the death penalty should be applied in certain cases. Most of people are against the idea, and European states don’t apply it anymore.

Some blame the fact that it is morally wrong, that taking someone’s freedom is enough, that we are a society that should not apply punishment through retribution and society in itself would turn into a perpetrator by taking the convicted person’s life. I do agree that some systems as the ones in someUSstates or other extremes, such asChina, are not examples to be followed. But there are cases, based on extreme factual circumstances, that should not be overlooked.

I woke up this morning, reading in horror, how the death toll following the Norwegian shooting, rose from 4 people, to 84 persons. 84 young men and women, students, shot cold bloodedly by a person disguised as a police officer. Now after such events, how can someone or a society even imagine that imprisonment is sufficient? Most European states apply 20-25 years imprisonment for homicide. In countries, such as Romania, the cumulative prison sentence cannot exceed 30 years[1], with all aggravating factors combined. So it doesn’t matter, how many previous convictions you had or how many lives you took, you are forbidden to be sent to prison for more than 30 years. (the life imprisonment section unfortunately does not apply here).

Now I ask myself, what kind of society can let this happen? There is a progression of core human values. First is life, followed by freedom and property. The taking of 84 lives does not equal the taking of someone’s freedom. Period!

My opinion is, and I have always sustained this through my university years, that in certain circumstances the death penalty should be applicable. Many people argue that it is impossible to arbitrarily define such circumstances; what if it is not 100% sure that the convicted person is the actual perpetrator and so on. Here are my arguments:

–         the taking of 84 innocent lives, by someone, where there is no doubt whatsoever that the detained person is the perpetrator would classify as such an extreme case

–         84 lives cannot be weighed against someone’s personal freedom. It is not right, just, it goes against everything a society stands for.

–         The evidence in such a case is irrefutable. It is not someone who fled the scene of the crime, someone who committed it a year ago and police has to gather sometimes questionable evidence. The guy was arrested on spot, he will also most probably confess.

–         Society as a whole should be able to punish in an adequate way and 30 years in prison is anything but adequate. The guy will be out by the time he is 30 and it is questionable whether he will regret his deed or not.

–         It seems to me that no-one cares about the victims and their families anymore. It is always about the right of the convicted, of whether he will have a TV set or not and a gym facility. Does anyone ask the question, how will the families of these people ever recover? Will sending such a man to jail ever offer proper satisfaction to the victims and their families?

–         It is morally wrong for such a person to be sent to prison, to breathe air for the rest of his life. To eat, sleep, exercise on someone’s tax money, behind bars.

–         Many argue that imprisonment should have a correctional role, that perpetrators will change, will find redemption. How can such a person be ever redeemed? Some people just don’t change, especially someone like him.

–         I do not believe in the insanity argument. That he should be sent to some asylum. Why? Someone who can plan and plot such a heinous crime, someone who can disguise himself as a police officer and gather people in one spot to shoot them is not an insane person. He might be a lot smarter than you and I and is in the complete knowledge of his acts. He might be twisted, but not insane. An insane person does not know the consequences of his actions. This person clearly did.

–         If a police officer, the representative of a society’s law and order, is allowed to shoot someone if fired upon, then it means we have already given the right to certain members of society to take the life of someone. Why should it be different in the case of subsequent punishment?

–         And lastly, put yourself in the position of a family member of one of the victims. Would you feel that imprisonment is still acceptable and sufficient?

I will probably defend my arguments from now on as well. I find most of the European systems inadequate when it comes to punishment for serious crimes. I do advocate for capital punishment in certain extreme cases. I know it is hard to define such circumstances, but someone should. It is morally wrong to put a guy behind bars for 30 years, after killing 84 people; it is the sign of a society that is not able to adequately punish anomalies within it and no matter how many arguments you can find against these, no-one will raise the dead and there will never be proper satisfaction for the families.


Maastricht, 23 July 2011

[1] The maximum prison sentence that can be applied is 30 years, with all aggravating circumstances and previous crimes combined. Homicide shall be punished with 10-20 years imprisonment, and premeditated homicide from15-25 years.


3 responses to “Thoughts regarding the death penalty…

  1. Devils advocate

    From the outset its important to make clear that I accept the arguments you have put forward and find it hard to disagree with you. I loath paying tax, especially when it goes towards providing “comfortable” facilities for those who treat society with disdain.

    However, I feel you have missed a core argument against the use of capital punishment, namely the moral and societal dilemma. You touch upon it briefly at the beginning of your piece, although appear to get distracted by the true monstrosity of recent events to sideline the moral problem. Put simply, I would submit in response that if we value the protection of a human life as a core tenet of our society then it is not justifiable to punish some one by taking away their life without contradicting ourselves and appearing hypocritical. If we value human life we cannot then turn around and take it away. Murder demonstrates a complete disrespect for human life and I wonder whether this lack of respect thereby makes any state authorised killing (as advocated by you) immoral.

    Just a thought…

    • gashicsavargo

      I know what you mean Sean, but it depends on what life you take. My dilemma is that, yes we value life, but society would not take the life of an innocent person, but of someone who took away the lives of innocent people….Also, I have the impression that we create more and more abstract notions of whether it is moral, imoral but lose the essence of punishment. A society should punish misbehaviours, depending on the values that were touched by such actions. 84 lives is just too much to comprehend and how a prison sentence would actualy be able to serve as proper deterrence. I do not agree that every homicide, especially when there is still a reasonable doubt present, should receive the capital punishment. But it is just wrong to overlook such mealous behaviour. You just cannot punish in the same way someone who for e.g. murdered one person, 5 years ago, and everything is based on subsequent evidence, as someone who goes on a shooting spree and kills tens of people and there is no doubt whatsoever that he committed these crimes….I would not say it is a hypocracy, because protecting innocent lies also means properly punishing those who took them.

  2. Devils advocate

    I sense we are at cross-purposes here. My point is solely to highlight the double standard inherent in taking someone’s life because they took another’s life. I accept that there should be a punishment befitting of such a monstrous crime (what that is I do not dare to suggest). But, “properly punishing” should never equate with contradicting the standards which you aim to protect.

    Perhaps it could be suggested (and often is by proponents) that this individual, by committing such a heinous act, should not be entitled to benefit from the core principles of a modern society (namely a right to life) because they have chosen to not be a member of society through his actions. However, this is an arbitrary line to draw and the contradiction still stands as society still takes the life against its own principles. I do not think you have argued this but thought it better to rebuke now just in case.

    I must make it clear though that I think this guy should be punished accordingly and killing him is probably befitting. However, I am troubled by the immoral double standard, which I myself find no way to circumvent if we are to stay true to the principles that bind and protect our society.

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