Criminal Justice System

How Long, Not Long: Why the Death Penalty Serves No Place in Today’s Society

We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience . . . That will be the day of man as man.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

These words by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were spoken during the Civil Rights Era. Their sentiment can be felt as much today as it was then. However, instead of only keeping them within the context of race I feel they ultimately can provide meaning and insight into another subject that Dr. King was very outspoken about – the death penalty.

Death for Death in Texas

The shortsightedness and inanity of the death penalty makes me ashamed of our society today. In fact, the very term “death penalty” has become the focal point much to the detriment of the men and women living on death row. By encapsulating the argument we block out of our minds and forget the individuals at the mercy of the sentence. We gloss over the death by focusing only on the penalty.

However, death for death is not a motto or creed that we should adhere to. Hammurabi’s Code should no longer have a place in our society.

Yet, that is the very culture we inhabit and allow to foster. Not because we believe the death penalty is necessary; but because we allow a singular emotion – fear – to drive the way we think. We fear what might happen at the very possibility of a killer somehow returning to society. So, evidence be damned. Kill them all. Kill them all faster!

In law school I had the pleasure of taking a class entitled Ethics for the Criminal Law Practitioner. For the final we were to write a paper examining the question of whether a prosecutor in a death penalty case should be an advocate for justice or for death. This was the first time that I ever made a concerted effort to learn about the death penalty, its repercussions beyond just the condemned, and the effects it had on juries and those that try the cases. It opened my eyes and made me question just what it was that I condoned and affirmed for so long.

You see, like many other young people growing up in Texas I trumpeted the death row “express lane” that was so prevalent in my state. I am very proud to be Texan for a great many reasons – this fact now makes me ashamed.

Hypocrisy from Death Penalty Advocates

And it is not just the fact that the death penalty is so outrageously inhumane. It also has to do with those that are so fervent for its continued existence and the hypocrisy that comes with them. Not to point fingers, but those who have no problem fighting to keep the death penalty are some of the same folks that are crying out to end abortion. If it is wrong to end life at point A, then it is equally wrong to take life at point Z.

This argument was brought up – albeit in a different context – during the most recent Republican debate. Chris Christie said, “I think you need to be pro-life for more than just the time in the womb . . . It gets tougher when they get out of the womb.” Christie, of course, was talking about what needs to happen to first-time drug offenders in reference to the topic of marijuana use in our county. But, the sentiment should be the same no matter what the crime.

Life is life. Halting one life for the taking of another is contradictory to a pro-life argument.

Along those lines, I have for years been fascinated at the responses I receive when I pose a simple question to people that are pro-life but also in favor of the death penalty. That question is basically,

“In your mind, would it be acceptable to abort a baby if it was 100% certain that the baby would grow up to become a murderer?”.

Watching the nature versus nurture argument unfold as people stumble over their words just shows the ridiculousness of the death penalty.

In my eyes, we are in the final stages of the death penalty in this country. Last term the Supreme Court looked closely at the act, and they are set to do so on at least three occasions this term. Enough is enough. It needs to cease. So, if you ask me how long the death penalty has left I will say that I hope not long because the death penalty is disgustingly inhumane in its finality and it no longer deserves a place in our society.