Brown: The trouble with the death penalty


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Capital punishment is by far the most severe legal punishment that can be imposed on a person and one of the few justifiable instances in which a human life may be taken without repercussion. The implementation of the death penalty is decided by the state and varies among jurisdictions, but there are constants taken into account when determining the necessity of an execution. The use of the death penalty has seen somewhat of a decline in modern times. Traditionally, the execution of a guilty party was far more prevalent, a great deal less humane, and required fewer criteria for implementation. However, gone are the days in which people are burned at the stake or publicly beheaded. That is, in the United States anyway.

In the modern context , the use of the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous of crimes perpetrated by those deemed no longer conducive to society at large. However, the use of capital punishment is beginning on an alarming trend that threatens to undermine decades of progress towards a more humane and just society.

Given the seriousness and permanence of a capital punishment, many aspects must come into play when determining if a death sentence is the most appropriate decision. Mental competency is a pivotal decision factor because it is difficult to ascertain the fairness of executing people unable to understand the implications of their actions.

Recently, the case of Scott Panetti of Texas has made headlines. Panetti “shot and killed his in-laws at their Texas Hill Country Home, showering his estranged wife and 3-year old daughter in blood,” and his execution has been set for today. Panetti’s mental competency has come into question with many questioning his sanity and, by extension, the validity of his execution. A Supreme Court ruling on Panetti’s case made an additional requirement that Panetti must have a “rational understanding” of his punishment. The argument being made is not whether Panetti is guilty but rather what makes a person eligible for being legally executed by the state. As a society, we have a duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves, but where does the attitude stand on an issue such as this?

The use of death as punishment has been around for centuries, but as society evolves, so must the measure used to maintain the structure of said society. The methods used to execute criminals evolved from the crude, extreme to the more humane such as lethal injection. I believe by extension the grounds in which the state chooses to implement capital punishment must evolve as well. There will always be circumstance in which people prove themselves consciously unfit to maintain a place in larger society, but unless that can be proven beyond an irrefutable doubt, capital punishment is not the answer.

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