Thursday, March 03, 2005

U.S. Supreme Court on Death Penalty for Minors.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to abolish the death penalty for people under 18 comes after a series of decisions narrowing the class of people eligible for execution, having excluded the mentally ill 3 years ago and rebuked the lower courts for sending people to their deaths without the proper safeguards.

It is evidently good news for all those who are against capital punishment as it seems that the trend towards more regulation could in the end lead to the abolition of death penalty altogether. Yet this would be too big of a leap to make. It is important to remember that the US Supreme Court is supposed to make legal, not moral decisions. The Justices are bound to follow the 'will of the majority'.

Now it is interesting to look a bit closer at the reasons upholding the decision:

  • The decision was a close call was only a 5 to 4 vote. There was no consensus among the Justices themselves.
  • This reasoning for this decision is however based on "evolving consensus" with regard to what constitutes a violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution barring "Cruel and Unusual Punishment", saying that only a minority of states now execute minors. [In the meantime, that fact says nothing about the cruelty of the punishment, which is really a moral view]

In fact, this is a sign of healthy democracy for there is no will of the majority to support a ban of death penalty in the US. As a result, only a change in public opinion would pressure state legislators to abolish or at least hold a moratorium. The problem is that might take years [after all in 1791, when the 8th amendment was drafted, it was OK to most people to have 7 year olds executed. At this rate, it might take until 3561 to get rid of capital punishment altogether!]

  • The other interesting point is that Justice Kennedy acknowledged that international pressure has played a role.

"The opinion of the world community, while not controlling our outcome, does provide respected and significant confirmation for our own conclusions."
It is thus clear that some international pressure is needed. Very few Americans actually know that the U.S. is the only Western democracy that still has capital punishment.

The problem when arguing against death penalty is that it quickly turns into very a philosophical debate based on relative arguments and personal emotion. The best point I have found against capital punishment is the risk of convicting an innocent person. Since there is no perfect justice system in any human society, there is absolutely no way a society can make sure only the real criminals will go on death row. In practice it is impossible. .

Then the question becomes, is the death of real criminals worth the death of a few innocents? – and it then becomes a bit harder to find a majority of people backing up that idea.


At 12:55, Blogger Weary Hag said...

I found your blog through Gill (Sometimes it's Peaceful). Glad I did ... this is a very interesting piece. I always feel unjustified responding to anything of a political nature because I feel detached somehow, however what slays me with all the hubbub about the death penalty is that it sometimes appears to be farce anyway. It can take upwards of 15 years to finally be through with all the appeals and such before they make a final determination to actually get the job done. I have often wondered just how much capitol punishment is written into law for the sake of placating the masses. Just a thought.
In any case, nice writing job!


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