Justice: Capital Punishment

“The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens.”
~Thomas Jefferson (1816). [1]

“Texas Justice” has its own legacy, but it is now going through a process of being re-defined in the area of capital punishment. In fact, just “…Tuesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Heliberto Chi… In so doing, the court asked the state prison system to address ongoing questions about… lethal injection…”[2]

In the wake of this event, Rebeca Chapa, with the San Antonio News-Express, published a Wednesday commentary that starts off by outlining various facts regarding capital punishment in Texas, Kentucky, California, and in the past. It’s a very informative read.

Then, she adopts an editorial air. Chapa denounces all forms of capital punishment:

“At its core, the death penalty is fundamentally flawed. It leaves no room for human error and, more important, you do not kill to prove that killing is wrong. Now is the time for Texas to seriously consider a moratorium — if not an end — to the death penalty.”[2]

I have to disagree. Firstly, when she says “you do not kill to prove that killing is wrong” she misses a critical point. Death is a natural part of life. Last time I checked, there was no punishment for “killing;” just murder. Murder is the act of taking another innocent human’s life into your own hands; away from them. It is a violation of the most fundamental natural rights: the right to life. This is the reason that it is not only wrong to murder someone, but an offense within government jurisdiction.

When another’s rights are taken, it is government’s job to right the wrongs. The question, then, is simply what punishment to administer. I believe that execution is the best punishment to administer in the instance of clear murder.

What is ultimately lacking in Chapa’s proposal is a concrete goal that the justice system should pursue instead. As generally accepted, a successful sentence should promote three goals: 1) Compensation; 2) Punishment; and 3) Deterrence. Since compensation is impossible in the case of murder, we must look to uphold the second two goals.

A sentence must provide adequate punishment in order to maintain justice. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” That phrase is in the Old Testament at least three times; and every time it is used not as a justification for revenge, but as a standard for justice. “Let the punishment fit the crime” is the more generally accepted version. When the crime is murder, the only punishment that will fit it is death.

Finally, what is probably the most important goal of criminal punishment is to deter it from happening again. For most people, there isn’t anything more deterring than facing death itself.

If one looks at the issue in the light of the goals to be accomplished, we can see that, contrary to the opinions expressed by Rebeca Chapa, it is not time for a ban or even a moratorium on capital punishment, because it is still useful in our day to provide punishment and deterrence to the murderers that would otherwise terrorize our streets.


[1] Thomas Jefferson to Destutt de Tracy. “Political Economy,” (1816) in: Lipscomb and Bergh, ed. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Ed. (Washington, D.C.: Public Domain, 1903-04): 14, p 465. http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff0100.htm

[2] Rebeca Chapa. “Innocence is not the only issue in the death penalty debate” San Antonio Express-News. (October 3 2007) http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/stories/MYSA100407.02O.Chapa.2140242.html