When I was a teenager, I identified as conservative. my dad used to joke that most kids start liberal and become conservative, so I’d probably become a liberal as I grew up. In a way, he was right. Over the past several years as I’ve become more immersed in libertarianism, I’ve some of my views on social issues have become more liberal. Most of these were because I found the “conservative” position to be morally wrong, such as banning gay marriage or the drug war. This was not the case for my changing view on the death penalty. For my adult life, I’ve supported the death penalty. Not because I thought it was a deterrent to crime (it isn’t), but because it was the ultimate expression of society’s revulsion at atrocity as well as the means to legally remove individuals who were too dangerous to society to be allowed to continue breathing.
I still believe in the basic morality of the death penalty. What has changed is that I no longer trust the government to properly apply the death penalty and to act with the due diligence these cases should require and in the best interest of justice.
Radley Balko of the Huffington Post (and late of Reason magazine) has pursued stories of people wrongly convicted of murder due to negligence and malfeasance by prosecutors’ offices. Barron has had several prosecutors show up in his State Sponsored Criminal Count. We are seeing what happens when a prosecutor is the head of a politically-motivated lynching attempt with the Zimmerman trial this week.
I don’t think that most of the prosecutors in the various state and federal systems are malicious, but rather they are responding to the political and economic incentives of their “business.” What’s worse, prosecutors have qualified immunity against those who would bring civil suit, and they’re rarely brought before their own governing bodies that is supposed to protect the populace against abuse. They have as much of a “thin blue line” as we’ve seen demonstrated when police protect their own bad actors.
Therein lies the rub. The death penalty is the one sanction by the state that can’t be reversed and/or compensated. If I really believe that there is a systemic problem with the method by which death penalty eligible cases are prosecuted and that bad behavior by the people responsible for those prosecutions isn’t being corrected or discouraged by punishments, then I can’t support the application of a punishment whose effects can’t be reversed or remedied.
This annoys me, because I know that there are plenty of people who need killin’. People who truly deserve to receive the ultimate punishment that our legal system can hand out. I’m not asking for a system that makes no mistakes, but one where I can reasonable expect there is a culture that demands the highest ethical standard for those entrusted with the power to destroy or seriously disrupt a person’s life. I expect that there should be a transparent and consistently applied system to deal with incompetence or malfeasance that ensures the public can have confidence in our judicial system. That may not be possible at this point in our culture/government. Until that happens, put me down as reluctantly opposing the death penalty. Damn it.