“Even if you don’t believe in capital punishment, the legislature has said capital punishment is available for certain crimes,” Mr. Horan said, adding, “If this doesn’t qualify for the death penalty, what does?” – Quoted in the New York Times
This is something I just have to get off my chest. It drives me nuts to hear people, time and time again, justify seeking the death penalty by saying “If this doesn’t qualify for the death penalty, what does?”. In fact, it’s probably my second least favourite phrase (my #1 least favourite being “If I can do it, anyone can”, but that’s a whole different rant).
How many times have we heard this tired cliche trotted out by some vengeance-minded prosecutor, cop, or politician to help try and placate those who don’t support the death penalty, but might be able to be swayed in this particular case. The problem is, of course, that just about any case horrific enough to be eligible for the death penalty will also be horrific enough for people to use as an example of the “if this case doesn’t justify it, what does…” cannard.
This is yet another example of why we, as a society, need to decide if we’re going to view the death penalty as a form of justice, which I still think is a very shaky proposition, or if we’re going to acknowledge that it is social vengeance – something that, while not necessarily serving the purpose of justice, sure does feel good on a primitive level.
Trying to use the example of a particularly heinous case to support the “death-penalty-as-justice” theory actually tends to defeat the purpose. For the death penalty to be just, it would have to be applied consistantly under an objective set of standards, rather than subjectively and on a case-by-case basis as it is now.