There are two ways of approaching analysis of the death penalty. They are the practical and the moral. It’s the latter that most concerns me, but it’s important to note that the two can and do run together. A sole focus on practical considerations can lead one to justify anything and everything as long as the consequences can be shown to be positive by standard. An example relevant to the topic at hand would be the notion that genocide or torture is justifiable as long as it reduces crime. An argument frequently employed with respect to the death sentence.
Without the practical line of attack represented by disputing whether capital punishment reduces crime or not, the ethical dimension enters in the foreground. The primary ethical objection to the death penalty, I have, is that it represents state or government sponsored blood vengeance against a person largely rendered defenseless. It’s difficult to distinguish from murder, because the individual doesn’t have to be threatening or carrying out an aggressive attack against anyone during the process of killing them. An equivalent act in principle would be shooting a POW rendered non-threatening in the head.
Another important ethical consideration with respect to capital punishment pertains to the manner in which it energizes the warfare state. One of the awful things about the “War on Terror” is the manner in which it has normalized extrajudicial killings on presidential whim. This kind of summary execution is the absolute worst form of the death penalty. It’s conducted with zero legality or objective accountability. It has contributed to the deaths of countless people.
The final moral consideration to seriously consider is how it creates a warped entitlement to kill mentality among police forces. The numerous unjust shootings one can read about in the libertarian and left press confirm the existence of said outlook. It’s the whimsical militarist presidential worldview brought into the realm of nominally civilian policing.
Despite the big focus being on the morality of capital punishment, there is an important practical consideration that does relate to practicality. That would be the potential of killing an innocent person. There is a new study showing that 4 percent of death row inmates are innocent, so this is no idle concern. It’s better for a guilty person to escape death than for an innocent individual to die, because the proper role of the law is to protect the rights of all rather than to kill them. Let’s work to make sure the law sticks to that.