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Deadly Justice

Deadly Justice

*Sensitivity Warning*

By: Chase Owens

Some people deserve to die. Within each and every one of us lies a judge, jury, and executioner. When someone commits a crime, we take it upon ourselves to decide a punishment that provides justice for the victims. But what does justice look like? Depending on the crime, for some people it may be a night in jail, a hefty fine, or hours spent cleaning the median of a busy interstate. But what if the crime crosses a certain line, challenging our societal morals and angering our hearts. What if the crime at hand is pedophilia, rape, or murder? Is there a form of punishment that truly reaps justice for the victim in these cases? As a race, we have decided that yes, there is a penalty that levels the ground between victim and sadist: death.

Walked to the gallows, beheaded before a crowd, electrocuted in a wooden chair, suffocated within a gas chamber, brought to kneel before a firing squad, or lethally injected with a serum that burns from within until death saves them. Human creativity is unmatched when it comes to finding new ways to take one’s life in the name of justice. Circling back to the idea of our own internal justice systems, however, raises a few questions. Humans are a blemished species and none of us are perfect. So, do we have the capacity to judge truly and fairly? Is death a fair punishment for heinous crimes, or does it lower us the level of the criminal we are trying to penalize? Do we become blinded by our hatred for rapists and murders, pedophiles and domestic abusers, pushing us to need to see them put to death? There are many factors that go into sentencing someone with the death penalty, but there is always the risk that someone may be defeated by circumstance and put to death for a crime they did not commit, which is murder in and of itself. Do some people deserve to die, or is this just an idea born of our obsession with vengeance? Looking back through the records of history proves to be an effective way to discover how the roots of capital punishment have become so entangled with our justice system.

Royal Blood

In the early hours of January 21, 1793, the city of Paris awoke and took to the streets. You see, January 21 was a special day to French revolutionists around the country: this was the day that the treasonous former king of the French Republic, Louis XVI, would be beheaded before the city. Four days prior, the disgraced monarch had been unanimously convicted of high treason against the Republic. As the city’s residents flocked to the Place de Révolution, Louis was transported through a failed rescue attempt to the plaza, surrounded by officers armed with guns and a crowd sporting pikes. Louis was walked up the steps and shoved to his knees upon the guillotine’s bench after trying to proclaim his innocence to the roaring crowd. The High Executioner bound the fallen man’s hands and cut his hair, before swiftly dropping the blade through his neck, decapitating him. The executioner raised Louis’ head to the revolutionists as they cheered and shoved forward, eager to collect a drop of the regal blood staining the cobblestone as a souvenir (McLean, 2023).

The execution of King Louis XVI is just one of many famous instances of the death penalty. Other examples include the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, in which women were burned at the stake for being accused of using witchcraft. What set the French execution apart, however, was the excitement of the crowd at putting a man to death. In the French Revolutionary era, 17,000 people were executed, leading to this period becoming known as the Reign of Terror. Each execution was a moment that captivated thousands of city residents, becoming a popular form of entertainment. But why were so many people put to death in a period lasting only eleven months? The most popular crime cited was being a threat to the new republic as a breach of the Law of Suspects, an order permitting revolutionary tribunals to punish anyone convicted of being against the French Revolution to death (The Law of Suspects, 2023). This is an example of everything wrong with the death penalty: out of those 17,000, how many people were wrongfully sentenced to death in the name of politics?

A Matter of Life or Death

Capital punishment has long since changed from the times of the gallows and guillotines, evolving to more “civil” forms, such as lethal injection, but the result remains the same. In modern times, the death penalty is debated more than ever, being a recurring topic any time a high-profile crime reaches the courtroom within a state that allows for capital punishment. Some people demand that a murderer be put to death, while others argue that he should rot in prison until the end of his days. The biggest issue with the death penalty in our current day, however, is the risk associated with putting an innocent person to death. Skewed justice has become an issue in courtrooms across the world with a 4% wrongful conviction rate in capital cases (Research Resources, 2023).

4% may seem like a small percentage, but each of those cases involve the risk of death to the defendant. No innocent person should lose their life, and this fact brings the morality of capital punishment into question. If we cannot guarantee that every person put to death is 100% guilty of the crime they are being charged with, then should the death penalty even be an option? Our justice system is incredibly reliant upon the people of the country to deliver verdicts that punish those who deserve it and liberate those who do not. But human beings are just that: human. Our imperfections are what make us all equal, but they may get in the way of fairly judging another person. Prejudice or feelings of disgust towards a person charged with a crime leads to the risk that some facts could be overlooked in the name of punishing an act.

But what if, in some cases, there is no punishment more fitting for the crime? Human beings were born with instincts, and the need for justice is one of them. In some cases, evil people commit evil crimes, and we feel responsible for making sure that these crimes do not go unpunished. Naturally, this leads to a need for balance. In the old world, law was simple: a thief loses a hand, and a murderer loses their life. Some people commit such hateful acts against others that death seems to be the only way to exact vengeance upon them. A more recent example is the serial killer and rapist, Ted Bundy. Bundy confessed to 36 murders, although his total victim count is unknown. For all the suffering that Bundy caused, he was seated in the electric chair for execution in 1989 (Picotti, 2023). This is why the debate between life and death is so controversial; a man like Bundy was connected to and convicted of such horrible things that no time in prison would have been enough to bring justice to the victims.

Putting someone to death is an irreversible action, and one in which many factors play a role. There may not be a right or wrong answer when it comes to the existence of capital punishment, but there is a moral struggle within this matter of life or death.

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