Death Penalty Mediaeval or Necessary

Two years ago, on the supposedly safe island of Jersey, my 20-year-old grandson was beaten up by four thugs, then kicked in the head while unconscious. Had he not survived the beating, then I am pretty sure I would have wished the aggressors to have been eliminated from society, preferably hung, drawn and quartered, with me helping out with the quartering bit. 

Luckily, he survived and recovered, although he still requires much dental work to be completed. Unluckily, the four pieces of garbage were given community service, (which begs the question: how badly beaten do you have to leave someone before receiving a custodial sentence in Jersey?)

No Hang - noose with "no" symbol

But if I move away from that close-knit family involvement, my true position concerning the ultimate judicial punishment is very different. I am not at all comfortable with the idea that the state, whose duty is to protect society, lowers itself to the level of the murderer. For a set of human beings to make that decision, even though it is backed by due legal process, goes against any claims that we are a civilised bunch. 

In any case, judicial systems are so prone to error. World-wide, there are countless inmates on death row that should not be there for a whole host of reasons. Wouldn’t it be better if governments actually tried to solve the problems of crime on their streets and in their homes, rather than just take the cowardly way out? To me, executing someone is a sign of weakness, a failure of policy.

That point of view may, of course, be naive. I have a friend from South Africa, who laments the abolishing of capital punishment there. He makes the point that life in prison is actually a better deal for many people brought up in the drug and gang-infested townships, where violent crime is something to deal with on a daily basis. Human life, he says, becomes cheap when there is no threat to your life as a punishment for murdering someone just to steal his car or his wallet.

As an aside, he asked me: “What other country would convict a terrorist and murderer, only for him to become a world-respected president many years later?”  An interesting thought, as capital punishment at the time would have changed the history of that place, and not necessarily for the better.

I can find no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more than any other punishment. In Britain, capital punishment was abolished in the 1960s, since when the murder rate has both risen and lowered, but to no great degree. Interestingly, public support for capital punishment continues to hover around the 50 per cent mark. I’m not in that group. Justice is one thing, but the death penalty is purely revenge.

Roger Bara

People often ask me how I get on with my cowboy co-writer Dean – we are, in fact, extremely good mates, although he knows I can’t take seriously his country that literally fries people to death; how mediaeval can you get?

Capital Punishment: medieval or necessary? 

This thing, capital punishment, I believe, came to us from the dawn of history. It basically is a case of the ‘eye to eye’ principle, a Roland for an Oliver. There’s an ancient tradition behind it in terms of law enforcement going from country to country, from one epoch to another, from culture to culture. 

Gentry member and death. Faux woodcut

Capital punishment to me is an effective tool to control real bad crime. Some people think, I agree with them, that the risk of it would prevent criminals from committing heavy crimes such as murder, rape, etc. It is one thing to commit something of this kind and go to jail to spend time there with a hope of release and another to be 100% sure you would be executed. Some dudes would think twice in this case. 

It depends very much on the context: the level of crime in society, social opinion, and national customs/traditions, etc. When it comes to Europe, capital punishment is ok to cancel as the general crime situation is favorable. But if we look at the United States, in many states such as Texas, there is capital punishment engaged because this is the tool to keep things under control. In 1990s, under Boris Yeltsin, Russia did follow the European way as a pre-condition to join the Council of Europe. Now, when Russia and Europe part their ways, I think capital punishment would be finally introduced one more time. Just because this is effective when it comes to fight bad crimes. 

There is an interesting exception though: Japan, with its lowest crime rate among the developed countries, still has it. I believe the custom to punish those committing very bad crimes is deeply rooted in the national tradition there. 

This is why I believe that capital punishment is ok to have as an option and there’s no sense to show mercy to merciless people if this is confirmed by court. 

Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergey

It is more of the effectiveness of courts and law enforcement system in general to rule out when innocent people might be executed.

Executioner with extra long RUSUK axe

Capital Punishment – medieval or necessary?

The Americans often come in for criticism for the death penalty. The majority of my clan (60%) are against the punishment, while 36% support it in the case of murder. Many folks from other countries are surprised to learn that only a few states actually carry out the penalty. In fact only a couple of states (Texas) are responsible for the overwhelming majority of executions.

In 2020, 18 people received the Death Penalty. Of those, only a small fraction will actually be put to death. During the same year, 17 people were actually executed. Yes, on the surface it looks like I just made conflicting statements. Not at all. See, there is about a 15 year lag between receiving the sentence and receiving the punishment. So the people actually put to death now have been through a long process and exhausted their last appeal some time ago. 

Pikeman and Death - Faux woodcut

The national annual number of death sentences has declined by over 80 percent during the past 25 years. If we go back 15 years and look, 126 people received the death penalty in 2006. If the trend holds at today’s levels, two people will actually be put to death in 2036. But two will not die. If current trends hold, none will be put to death. The US will be a country that has a death penalty but never uses it.

I agree with this trend and in fact, if it were up to me the last execution would have already taken place. I say this for four reasons:

  1. Advances in technologies have proved that a number of those put to death in the past were innocent. We murdered the innocent.
  2. The death penalty is not a deterrent. I don’t need to look this up, any thoughtful person would realize that a man who catches another man in bed with his woman is not thinking clearly. Even if it’s a cool execution style killing, the perpetrator believes he will get away with it. Punishment is not part of the thought process because if it was, you wouldn’t do it.
  3. I used to believe that the death penalty is cheaper than life in prison. Turns out that’s not true at all. It cost the taxpayer less to keep someone in prison for life than it does to execute them. That counter intuitive bit of business is because of the cost of all the legal hearings, court cases, and appeals that must (and should!) take place before the punishment is actually carried out.
  4. The most important reason is that we should not lower ourselves to the murder’s moral level. We should be better than those who deserve to die.
Photograph of Dean Lewis

So, like the majority of Americans, I am against the death penalty. It is a carry-over from a prior age and has no place in a modern society. Having said that, I wish to assure our European readers that it will certainly remain on the books, even if it’s never used, because of the horrid state of hate-filled partisan politics in the US today. That death penalty ain’t goin’ noplace.