Monday, November 06, 2006

To Hang Or Not To Hang

These are the days when the debate on capital punishments is intensifying again. For me, it is a strong remembrance of my blogging history, with my first post being on the execution of Dhananjoy Chatterjee. Since then, I have come a long way, both in terms of time elapsed as well as the lengths of my posts. Coming back to the point, in my first post, I didn't actually deal with the deeper questions regarding capital punishment, which I plan to briefly deal with in this post. Whether or not a person should be hanged till death is a question that necessitates division into two parts. The first part is concluding whether or not the crime has been committed by the accused, and the second whether the crime is heinous enough to warrant capital punishment. The scope of this post is solely the second question: When it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused has committed a felonious crime. I say "beyond a reasonable doubt" as one of the first tenets of rationality is never to be very sure; and I mention felonious crime as I feel that anything lesser would hardly ever qualify as one of the "rarest of the rare" cases when such punishment is prescribed.

The arguments against capital punishment are varied, detailed, and when seen in separation from the arguments in favor of capital punishment, very convincing. Avoiding the fallacy committed by the opposers, it would be preferable to briefly state their arguments. The arguments include the barbaric nature of the act, the questioning of government's responsibility towards the society, the right of a government over a person's life, that violence begets violence, and the very basic principle of criminal code: To try reforming rather than punishing.

Firstly, let us discuss whether or not the government has a right over a person's life. While this should be exercised with utmost caution, the fact remains that in order to protect the sovereignty of the country, this right is exercised at the borders of nearly every country. While those acts are against citizens of other countries, it is considered a country's right to kill those who perpetrate crime internally (like the terrorists). Just like the duty to protect sovereignty, it is the duty of every country to protect its society from criminals. Often. this is done by detaining/jailing them for a term that will either be sufficient for their reforming, or will allow specific social processes to continue without hindrance. An example of the first would be a pick-pocket, and that of the second would be a goon in preventive detention during elections. In rare cases, the court of law finds the offense committed to be so grave that it awards [sic] the maximum allowable punishment - Death penalty.

Many people find this act of court (on behalf of the nation) barbaric, though this is hardly the case. The capital punishments pronounced by the courts cannot be considered barbaric as the whole process is carried out in a free manner, with the accused getting his chance to plead and prove innocence. Also, the system assumes the person to be innocent until proven guilty, and even when the verdict is pronounced, the accused can appeal to successive higher courts to get justice. So while the argument that this is an extreme step remains valid, it is definitely not barbaric. Also, while it is highly debated whether such harsh punishments act as deterrent against further crimes, violence causes more violence if it selectively targets a group of people. That the government is punishing an arbitrary group of criminals will most certainly not lead to any increase in violence.

The next argument stems from the fact that the government's responsibility is to reform, rather than punish. Again, while for most of the crimes the sentence pronounced is to reform the criminal (whether such sentences are effective is beyond the scope of the post), only is extreme cases, when this is unlikely to get the result in a reasonable time frame, are such heavy punishments given. A question can always be asked how can the courts be sure that the person would reform or not, and here the problem begins as it not transforms to a subjective evaluation. While it is wrong to kill a person who can reform, it is also wrong to allow a criminal to roam freely in the society. Those favoring the middle-path would say that the criminal be kept in detention(jailed) until s/he reforms. But again, the government has to justify keeping a criminal alive on taxpayer's money. The previous sentence may have come as a blow to a lot of people for its super-objective evaluation of a person' life. But the government does not run on subjective emotions of the populace, and when incidents like IC-814 are a reality, it becomes even more difficult to justify the act. So when it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused has committed a felonious crime, the jury finds it unlikely that the criminal would reform, being indeed the rarest of the rare cases, there is nothing wrong in awarding capital punishment.

Note: While I agree to death penalty in principle, I also hold the view that if possible, it should be the right of the criminal to decide how s/he should be hanged.

Recommended watching: The life of David Gale

No comments: