Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Das Kapital (Punishment)

Wrote this over in the comments section of Mango Indian's post on a recent death penalty case, realized that we haven't posted in ages, and that the comment itself is long enough to count as a post, so copium pastum est.

Moné [Moganlal accent here], the death penalty is wrong. Period. No matter who the accused is or what the circumstances are. This is not coming from an ethical/moral or crime reduction standpoint ("We don't have the right to give life, so we don't have the right to take it." and the "Death penalty really doesn't deter capital crime" type arguments which have varying degrees of merit in themselves). The death penalty is wrong simple because it doesn't have an 'Undo'/'Ctrl + z' type facility.

The death penalty is intended to be used in the 'rarest of the rare' cases. Also courts constantly take cognizance of extenuating circumstances when deciding on a sentence, and often enough we see a lower court's 'gallows'-happy decision being overturned in a higher court. Does that mean that this person is suddenly not that guilty? Tacitly the system is admitting to the possibility that it was wrong the first time it sentenced someone, so what's to say it couldn't be wrong a couple of more times (Supreme Court, the President)?

The point is that you never know when extenuating circumstance comes to light. What if you pop off some sucker in what seems like an open-and-shut case and find out later that he was being blackmailed (in some suitably coercive manner) at the time that he committed the crime? Almost certainly this would've been seen as an extenuating factor, had it been known before, and perhaps the sentence wouldn't have been as harsh. If the person is alive, at the very least, the state/society can attempt to compensate him/her for loss of liberty etc. If he/she is dead, you can do precisely diddly squat.

There are any number of such scenarios that could happen. Isn't US judicial history is littered with cases where people were pulled off death row after years because something new came up?

The other argument against the death penalty (and also against other punishments) in India is the manifest unfairness of the way in which it is awarded. We're yet to see the Manu Sharma types (to use an example) swaying delicately in the monsoon breeze on a gibbet, whereas the Dhananjay Chatterjees who can't afford snazzy legal teams seem to be baalti tannify-ing more regularly (Is there someplace where we can get a consolidated list of all the death penalty executions in India, with case details?) This is a whole other can of worms...

Finally, there is the argument (that reeks of Taurean ordure) that you hear from the morally indignant and outraged "tax paying public" (of the sort you see on "We The People" on NDTV) that the society and their precious taxes oughtn't to be paying for keeping a slimeball alive, why waste that money and so on. The right way to look at it is that it isn't a case of the taxpayers money going towards keeping some manifestly evil person alive; it should be treated as a cost that society collectively agrees to pay to ensure that some potentially innocent person is never done away with. We keep paying 'preventive' costs of this sort all the time (for example, we pay people who guard politicians), and there's no reason why we shouldn't do it in this case.

Really, its a totally open-and-shut case. The fact that the death penalty's got to go is as trivially obvious as the fact that Article 377 has got to go.

Last year, we were fourth and this time we managed to slime into 3rd place. We must be getting better...at picking teammates.


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