A reader involved in state government writes about the death penalty

A reader involved in state government writes about the death penalty September 30, 2016

Been following your death penalty stuff as limited time allows, and I found your latest post interesting. My opening caveat is that, given my current position, some pretty horrendous crimes cross my desk and I’ve been at the table when justice officials were making decisions about whether to seek the death penalty in specific cases. The details of some of these cases would make you weep and vomit, particularly the crimes against kids. What you read in the newspapers about the worst cases only gives you a 10% glance into the heinousness of these crimes. As one prosecutor (who opposes the death penalty) said about a recent case we handled: “If ever there was a crime the death penalty was designed for, this is it.” But for me, at this point it doesn’t come down to what the Church has put forward infallibly vs. otherwise, but rather a couple basic questions:

1. Once a person has been apprehended and convicted, are we as a society capable of protecting the citizenry from that person without executing him? The answer is yes (though it means in some cases we must accept long, perhaps even life-long, prison sentences without the possibility of parole, and in certain cases some type of solitary confinement may be necessary).

2. How can someone who espouses constitutionally limited government and the rule of law in good conscience grant the state the power to execute a man? I don’t see how that’s possible. It never ceases to amaze me that people who complain incessantly of the state’s total ineptness somehow think that it can, without error, decide who lives and who dies. Lest someone is tempted to say “but don’t we do that in war?”, I would respond that the act of declaring war against an enemy that poses a legitimate and active threat to our territory and citizenry is fundamentally different, at least if we’re attempting to put just war theory into practice. But the last 15+ years of U.S. foreign policy has so warped our sense of what war is that it’s no wonder we can’t seem to make such distinctions anymore.

As always, I appreciate your efforts to dig into complicated and controversial issues.

Thanks! I have nothing to add and agree with you completely.

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