The Death Penalty Is Indefensible in an Imperfect System Capable of Error

Any system, regardless of the intentions of individuals or the design of the system, is vulnerable to error. Errors happen not only because of venal and dishonest people, but because we are imperfect beings. Well-intentioned people make mistakes.

Any fair system includes procedures to rectify those mistakes, reverse those inevitable errors, and provide some remedy to those who ave been harmed.

While these errors might upend lives and unfairly stigmatize individuals, they can be reversed. Unjust decisions and sanctions can to some extent be undone.

Only one grievous error in a criminal justice system — the execution of an innocent person — is completely irreversible under any circumstances.

No subsequent discovery of  a mistake or an error can be reversed after a person is dead.

Of course, a perfect system incapable of error could — at least theoretically —  include an irreversible sanction. But such perfection is impossible. Perfect systems do not exist.

Thus, it is impossible to have a death penalty in any  imperfect  system that sincerely aspires to fairness.

7 thoughts on “The Death Penalty Is Indefensible in an Imperfect System Capable of Error

  1. Troy Davis was one of many men executed in our imperfect system. If he was truly innocent, we may never know. He took his last breath at 11:04 pm tonight. I watched as execution eyewitnesses on CNN described his final moments. To them, it seemed, it was just another execution. They displayed a cold and unmoved quality. To his family and friends, it was a great loss and a case of pure injustice. For Troy Davis, this was the very end. There is no turning back or undoing of what happened tonight. Is our system to blame? could more have been done to save his life?…Then again, who wants to save a murderers life? I call him a murderer not because it is what i believe, but because it is what we were forced to accept. That label is the one thing that could have been reversed if anyone had cared enough, and now it is too late.

    – Brittny Wilson
    Social Problems in Media and Culture student 399

  2. I have been following this sotry and really trying to wrap my head around after the execution took place last night and this post really has helped me do that. Couldn’t agree more.

  3. Albert Camus once said something along the lines of “Capital Punishment is the most premeditated of murders”. To me this is a very thought provoking and I agree with the quote in terms of having the ability to kill an innocent life legally.
    But I am wondering what if the individual that the court system condemns is actually guilty of the murder. Does the old saying “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” bring closure to the victim’s family? I don’t think when the individual is given “X” amount of years in prison would bring justice to the victim’s family. All in all justice must be served to those who are harmed and also wrongfully accused.

    Alfred Ying

    • You really cut to one of the core questions, one not easy at all to answer.

      What constitutes adequate justice, what will bring something approaching closure, to the family and friends of a murder victim?

      You really got me thinking.

      Thanks for your comment,

  4. I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. Sometimes, I feel that it is just and some criminals deserve it. But, at the same time a lot of those criminals are innocent. Also, if a loved one of mine was killed and the criminal was under trail- I would rather have him or her be in jail for the rest of his or lives rather than be put to death by lethal injection. I think it is far more a punishment to have a criminal live a jail cell, alone, pay his time, and think about what he or she has done.

    Another point that I would like to bring up is that I think the death penalty is a tad hypocritical. It is basically saying to the criminal you’ve committed murder and murder is illegal, that is why you are being put to death and being killed. It does not make much sense to me when it is put into that light…

    -Kimberly Woodhall (social problems in the media-mondays and thursdays).

    • Kimberly: Many years ago I had mixed feelings.

      But now it seems so simple.

      Our system makes mistakes. Our system should have ability to rectify mistakes.You can’t rectify death penalty mistake.

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