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Volume 68, Issue 98 , Tuesday, February 18, 2003


Death penalty needs reform

Richard Whitrock
Opinion Columnist

Todayis examination of the death penalty will focus mainly on the way it should be used. For those who missed Thursdayis column on capital punishment, this is part two: Part one was the theoretical justification for its use.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of how the death penalty should operate, I feel it is important to address many of the issues that its protestors bring up so we can move beyond the traditional debate that doesnit solve anything.

The first and most common argument against the death penalty is the "what if the person were innocent" bit. Despite how good it sounds, this is not a valid argument, for two reasons.

First, it is not an argument against the death penalty but about the justice process. If an innocent person is punished through a law process that found him or her guilty, it is not the punishment that is at fault for the wrongful convicted, it is the system.

Abolishing the death penalty will not fix the problems with the justice system, and it is ludicrous to think it will. The same thing goes for arguments like "the trial was unfair" or "the death penalty is administered unfairly or in a racist way" -- they are all attacks against the system and not the death penalty itself.

Second, abolishing the death penalty because of the logic that someone might be innocent is entirely useless. Using the argument that "someone might be innocent," all punishment is unjust. A parking fine for a person who is innocent is unjust, but we arenit just saying, "Aw shucks, guess we canit enforce the law; I hope we can rely on the good faith of every individual not to break it."

Realistically speaking, any debate about the death penalty (or any other form of punishment) must assume guilt (for purposes of debate, not for practice -- people should stay innocent until proven guilty).

The second argument opponents make is that the death penalty is more permanent than any other form of punishment, and it is impossible to make amends once the person is dead. This is a more valid argument, but is still flawed.

First, remember that for debate, guilt is assumed -- therefore the issue of giving someone his or her life back would never come up. Second, the logic that a punishment can be undone is flawed to begin with. It is no more possible to return 40 years spent in prison than you can a person's life. Finally, there should be an appeals process in place that would give ample time to prove innocence (although it should have limits that keep it from being a perpetual stay of execution).

Now that those arguments have been addressed, it is time to move on and examine how the death penalty should work.

Most people would be surprised to find out that I do not believe a single murder is enough to justify the death penalty. I believe the death penalty should be used more sparingly.

The crimes I believe do deserve the death penalty are as follows: multiple murders (serial killers, genocide, multiple killings in the same instance, etc); serial rapists (rape is a greater crime than murder as far as Iim concerned and should be treated at least as severely); torture and forced scientific testing that cause irreparable damage; and treason in times of war (if only because the act of treason costs multiple American lives).

Furthermore, I believe it should be tougher to get sentenced to death. There should be overwhelming evidence of the criminalis guilt before the death penalty is considered.

Finally, all executions should be carried out publicly, both for the deterrence boost it would give and to allow the criminal to suffer as much as possible before his or her death.

Humiliation should be an integral part of the death penalty -- the victims didnit get to suffer with dignity; why should the criminal?

Whitrock, a sophomore architecture major, can be reached at


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