Questioning judgment

Matt Haws

Governor Branstad has once again brought the death penalty debate to the table of Iowa lawmakers. With the prevalence of crime and violence in our society, there is an understandable demand for something to be done. But when state executions become the formula for deterrence, doesn’t the morality of our justice system come into question?

A popular argument for the death penalty is the “eye for an eye” biblical passage which seems to lend righteousness to this form of punishment. Advocates are quick to accept this perceived gift of ultimate judment whether or not they are religious. The dilemma lies in our obligation to seek justice for the victims while maintaining our humanity in the process. Those who favor the death penalty are succumbing to an emotional response that is natural toward crimes such as murder. They want revenge. They fail to see that we cannot ethically legislate vengeance.

The deterrence doctrine is also flawed. How many murderers remind themselves of the state penal code before committing the act? Of those, how many commit murder believing they will get caught? Premeditation eliminates a penalty threat. The severity of punishment is not an adequate deterrent; the certainty of arrest and conviction is.

Another belief is that it would be cheaper to execute murderers than to keep them in prison for life. Aside from being callous, this is also a myth. Since those who are sentenced to death are almost exclusively poor, years of appeals with court appointed attorneys occupy expensive court time with prosecutors, judges and a host of other judicial support employees. A life imprisonment sentence would protect society from the criminal just as well as a death sentence, and we could keep the extra tax dollars and our humanity in the same pocket.

As Americans, we pride ourselves as the humanitarians of the world and place the sanctity of life among our highest values. How can we demand respect for human life, yet kill people who lack it? Capital punishment fails in all areas of necessity, deterrence and justification.

Let the death penalty die and allow our humanity to live.

Matt Haws


Civil Engineering