The death penalty should remain legal

Zachary Nichol, Contributing Writer

In the last Merciad my colleague Zach Dumais wrote an intriguing article regarding the issue of capital punishment and why it should be abolished. I decided to respond with the opposite perspective. I shall discuss two crucial areas: the legality and the morality.

Legality: opponents of capital punishment tend to point to the 8th amendment and its banning of punishment that is cruel and unusual. The question is, therefore, whether capital punishment constitutes those criteria. Under American jurisprudence there is a simple answer: no, it is not cruel and unusual. But do not take my word for it, let us look to higher authority. The authors of the Constitution clearly believed that capital punishment did not violate the 8th amendment. The proof? One merely needs to look to the 5th amendment to see what they thought of execution. Our Constitution states there that no person, “shall be deprived of life liberty or property, without due process of law.” This means that those who wrote about banning cruel and unusual punishment also thought, through due process of law, there were situations in which a person could be deprived of life. That means execution.

The Supreme Court has ruled in numerous cases that the death penalty is constitutional. There have been cases in which restrictions on the death penalty have been placed, but those usually involve procedural issues, the manner of execution, or a person’s mental state. Never has the Supreme Court ruled that execution itself is unconstitutional. For example, public hangings were found to be cruel and unusual while hangings themselves were not. If execution was unconstitutional then our Court would have ruled so long ago. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, signed into law by President Clinton, established more than 50 federal crimes for which a guilty person could be executed. Regardless of policy preference, the death penalty is undoubtedly legal. The great scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas explicitly stated that capital punishment is a form of “lawful slaying.”

Morality: so, is the death penalty right or wrong? To answer this, I am going to ask some uncomfortable questions that might be harsh, but this is a harsh subject. Is all human life valuable? Is all human life equally intrinsically valuable? Is it always wrong to kill? Some may say yes to all of these but is that really the case? Some say that killing a killer makes us killers, but does it really? Hypothetically if someone breaks into your home with malicious intent, you have not only an absolute right but a moral imperative to defend your home, your domain. You must either use force or suffer the consequences. Most will defend themselves and their family. Thus, in this scenario we have developed the idea that one human life, the home intruder attempting to murder you or your family, is without or of lesser value. Other examples could include a mass shooting and how to immediately stop the shooter. What should be done? Granted, immediate action to stop further harm is one thing, but what of a prisoner who is already in the custody of the state? I just listed the above examples to show that clearly not all human life is always equally valuable.

There are situations in which we as a society, in which we as individuals and in which natural law itself deem someone to have forfeited their right to life. As for the death penalty, let us take another hypothetical. We have 100% unadulterated proof that a man committed a horrific act of violence, perhaps towards children. There is no debating it. He did it. DNA evidence, video recordings, murder weapon, witnesses, etc. all prove it. He has his fair trial, is found guilty of multiple counts of murder, and is sentenced to be executed. If a police officer had been at the scene of the crime and been able to stop it, they would have. Even if it meant taking his life. Most virtuous people would try to stop him by any means as well. The ramification of his barbarism is that he has forfeited his right to life. Therefore, the state follows through on this logic and provides retribution for the victims. This is justice.

The death penalty today is not used for traffic violations, low level drug crimes, or even physical assault. The death penalty is now almost exclusively used to punish murderers, and usually rather heinous ones at that. Serial killers, child murderers, mass shooters. These are the types that get the death penalty today. The death penalty is THE ultimate justice done towards those that commit the ultimate crime.