Thursday, January 24, 2008

Courts as an Emotional Outlet

In a previous post I made the statement that the Supreme Court should not abolish the death penalty based on the argument that the person being executed might feel pain while being executed.

I thought I should drop a second post to note that I would oppose a court re-instating the death penalty on similar emotional appeals.

One common appeal for the death penalty is that executing criminals give the victims (and the families of the victims) closure.

I believe in supporting victims. However, if we falls into the belief that executing criminals is some sort of benefit to victims; then we will find ourselves with all sorts of problems.

The biggest problem is that only a few cases end in execution. If we held that execution is a necessary thing for the victim, we will end up with a large number of unfulfilled victims.

Other problems happen in a culture where people have different emotions. What happens with people who do not find closure in execution, or for people who actually find emotional duress in the execution process? A person dedicated to nonviolence might become distraught over the execution of the criminal who did them wrong.

It is possible for the execution of the criminal to cause emotional duress to victims and survivors.

Strangely, when I examine my personal emotions, I find that I would prefer being executed to being stuck in a cage for the remainder of my life. If I were the victim of a heinous crime, I would prefer the perpetrator to languish behind bars than to have the immediate release that comes with a quick death. My emotions say that a life in prison would be worse than a quick execution.

I've tried the argument that I being against the death penalty would make me morally superior to "those people" who are for it. The argument on my part falls short because moral conviction actually ends up subjecting people to the worst of the possible punishments for a crime.

Should the decision to execute or not execute be based on the disposition of relatives of the victim? If the disposition of the victims is the determining factor in the decision to execute; then how does one judge the disposition of the victims? Do you put it up to vote? If it is up to vote; then who should vote, and how much weight should one give to individual votes?

Making the emotions of people affected by the crime the primary factor in the outcome of death penalty cases leads immediately to the situation where the victims are put on trial and where death penalty cases degenerate into ugly emotion-packed political campaigns.

The application of the death penalty becomes even more capricious than it already is. Social divisions around the application of justice become wider.

Making emotions the primary factor in death penalty cases leads to all sorts of social unrest and magnifies the damage done to society by the crime.

In my opinion, the court system should hold the goal of being objective and unfeeling. The court should strive to apply the law as written and should avoid the temptation of becoming the outlet for emotion.


While the court should try to avoid becoming an emotional outlet, emotional arguments have a place in setting laws. Emotions are important. However, one must find the right outlet for emotions.

The elected legislature and not the appointed judiciary should be venue for weighing the emotional arguments.

That said, I think a legislature will find purely emotional arguments for and against the death penalty to fall short. Everyone has different emotions.

This sounds harsh but I think the decision shouldn't be about what is most emotionally satisfying, but should be about what is best for society.

1 comment:

Jason D'Avignon said...

I find it somewhat disturbing the company the US keeps in regards to capital punishment. No other western government kills its own citizens. Generally, the company we keep are those nations we criticize for poor human rights records.

I aslo find it amusing that those who yell the loudest about god-given "inalienable" rights are those who support the alienation of the right to life through capital punishment.

Regardless, I'd agree that emotional arguments have go place in discussing the legality of capital punishment. However, I think it has a place in ethical arguments.