Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Death Penalty: Justice for victims

Trying to get rid of the death penalty when it has such social support is like building sand castles to stop the rising tide. It’s a waste of effort. So how can those who want the death penalty be satisfied and those who oppose it, at least any who feel that way for the reasons I do, also have some satisfaction?

I would propose that when a person is convicted of a crime that would legally qualify for the death penalty, that executing the person by any level of government be abandoned. In its place, the person’s life should be awarded to the victim, or to a survivor of the victim, or another aggrieved individual.

That person must then either personally execute the convict or remand him or her to the penal system to serve a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Of course, the aggrieved person would have to do the deed in a manner that excludes torture.

There would undoubtedly be other safeguards to work out, as well. 
Some would say that this proposal is barbaric. I might agree, but I find it less barbaric than state murder. Further, it satisfies certain other criteria, which make it superior to existing death penalty laws.

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The responsibility for the death of the convicted criminal is totally that of the individual executioner; the rest of us are out of the loop.

The actual execution involves a true moral choice on the part of the executioner. Some secret, sterile governmental process, by people hidden from the light, would not do it. The person either would or would not do it and would have to live with the consequences.

Even if this kind of justice is barbaric, it would be no less barbaric than what we have now, and at least it would be a real, human kind of justice.

Today, there is little justice for victims and the survivors of victims; everything is out of their hands. Nothing, outside of perhaps a rare little bit of monetary compensation, is ever done for them. In the area of justice, as well as other areas of life and government, it is all done in the name of society. This must change, and my proposal is one small step in that direction. It is putting an element of humanity and control back into the hands of the citizens, where the moral choices of the individual can matter, even if that moral choice is for revenge.

The punishment for premeditated (first-degree) murder should be life in prison without possibility of parole. Murderers should do productive work in prison in order to pay for their room and board and to make financial restitution to the families of their victims. We should return to the notion of “life at hard labor.” It should not involve the cruelty of meaningless work– breaking big rocks into little rocks–but productive labor and an effort to make amends. Such an effort can restore to a family at least some of the financial support it lost when a parent was murdered. In the case of a murdered child, it might enable the family to establish a scholarship fund or other memorial so the child will not be forgotten.

We should also have longer prison sentences for second-degree murder and manslaughter, including “crimes of passion.” A light sentence almost suggests contempt for the victim. It is as though the murderer forgot to pay his hunting license fee and is allowed to pay it after the fact. Some say that people involved in crimes of passion are unlikely to kill again. Yet if they become jealous in another romance or marriage, what will discourage them from killing again? A minor penalty is an invitation to repeat the crime.

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