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.

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

ADDENDUM I

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21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Quite true. Article 377 has to go.
"The State has no place in the bedroom of the nation" -- Trudeau

Just Kiddin said...

Hello saar,

Nice fundas. I like.

Mohanlal

ludwig said...

[anonymous] Amen. Wonder if there's any sort of systematic effort in progress to petition for the scrapping of Article 377.

[just kiddin] Saar, hamaare Kerala main ek kagaavath hai. Kisi ke saath ek-do kiss prograamme main jaane ke baath, ye vo ho jaata hai aur vo yeh ho jaata hai.

Ram said...

I like the timing of your post 11:11 PM. Also, why do they call it capital punishment? Did communist countries have capital punishment?

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post! Completely agree with you on
"The death penalty is wrong simply because it doesn't have an 'Undo'/'Ctrl + z' type facility"
As long as one is alive...

-Indu

ludwig said...

[ram-bo] Its wonderful that you are able to comment on the important things about the death penalty in general ("capital punishment") and my post in particular. Most perceptive :PP

[indu] Hello, stranger! Long time... My only reader in Texas! We must needst catch up...

Indu said...

Catch up we must! I will be back in Dec. May visit Hyd.

Ram said...

Oh thank you, but I am not able to help it, my mind works in mysterious ways....

Apu said...

Ram: here is the info for the origin of the word
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12565a.htm

Apu said...

Likey likey the long posts...

I don't like the "fairness" argument against death penalty. Extension of the argument would mean no punishment at all.

here is an sidebar to this argument.
Is "opposition to death penalty" and "support for abortion rights" compatible? The Catholic church is against both death penalty and abortion. Most/many evangelicals support the death penalty (State as an agency of God has a right etc.) but are against abortion. The liberals (in US) are against death penalty but support abortion including the late-term ones. Is there a need for consistency here ?

Ludwig said...

[apu] Thanks for the capital punishment link. The Catholic Encyclopaedia, eh? Good reading. (The bit that said "...During the Middle Ages, in spite of the zealous humanitarian efforts of the Church, cruel punishments were commonly employed..." was kind of funny, though!).

Re: the "fairness" argument, you refer to the Manu Sharma bit in the post? Ultimately, in the strictest sense, you're right, it should extend to every kind of punishment. Very likely there are a number of poor sods who're in prison or worse, simply because they couldn't afford better lawyers (or perhaps even judges :P), and the fact remains that the system is manifestly unfair. However the solution to that problem has to do with large-scale tinkering of socio-economic systems, which we may not see in our lifetimes, but doing away with the death penalty would atleast be a start (especially because of the lack of 'Undo'...).

> Is "opposition to death penalty" and
> "support for abortion rights" compatible?
...
> Is there a need for consistency here?

Hmm... Interesting. There would definitely be a need for consistency, if the reason why you supported one or the other could be equally applicable to both cases. Suppose that one of your axioms was, "Taking a life is a sin that should not be committed." In this case you would be forced to be consistent and be anti-abortion and anti-capital punishment. The (I suspect) why most liberals are anti-death penalty and pro-abortion are very different, probably orthogonal. The one is about irrevocability and unfairness, and the other is about a woman's rights and so on (Must confess to being very ill-informed about the pro- and anti-abortion arguments!). I don't think the liberals will see any inconsistency there, it will be about rights in both cases or something like that.

Equally, your evangelicals could satisfy themselves with similar arguments. The assumption there would be, "Taking the life of a sinner is acceptable and sanctioned by God, wheras taking the life of an innocent is a sin." And off you go. Green light for Timothy McVeigh and red light for unborn babies, and so on.

Ram said...

apu: Thanks for the link, not only it was informative it was also a humorous read! Looks like God has not just condoned but even prescribed captial punishment, so why mortal men have to worry about it?! You have rightly pointed out the abortion issue. The debate there is very muddled. When can a parent opt out of parenting? I think that is what should be the debate and not about sanctity of life. Similarily for the capital punishment, I think Ravi has rightly pointed out that the reversibility (or the lack of it) is the issue.

Ph said...

"What then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be an equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal, who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him, and who from that moment onward had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life."

-- Albert Camus

Ludwig said...

[ph] Brilliant. L'etranger has hit the nail squarely on the head. Though the pro-death types will say it has nothing to do with equivalence, of course.

You are well, one takes it? Or propagating rectilinearly towards wellness?

Ph said...

We are crawling our way there. I miss the drugs though. Like I said, buzz without the hangover. Verrryy niiice it was.

Anonymous said...

You are featured here

Ludwig said...

[ph] Welcome back!

[anonymous] Thanks for the pointer.

Opaline said...

Ludovicious. =)

Srin.

Ludwig said...

[srin] Gosh! You exist? Where have you been? Last we checked, your blog had been overrun by the Golden Horde of Chengiz Khan. Welcome back!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ludwig said...

[anonymous] Got that, thanks a bunch. Will get in touch.