Thursday, April 17, 2008

Drawing the Line

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a case to determine whether the state of Louisiana is legally allowed to execute a man convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter.

I say do it.

Let me step back a moment. I do have major reservations about the way the death penalty is implemented in this country. The statistics show that its use leans heavily against black men, especially if their crimes were against whites. And that's a real problem. However, I think that at a philosophical level there are crimes for which one deserves to die. Some crimes are so heinous that mere imprisonment isn't enough.

The obvious retort at this point would be to say that sure, philosophically it may make sense, but we exist in the real world and we have to consider how things actually look in reality. Which I agree with. So let's take a look at what the court is actually examining here.

As I read it, the court is not looking at whether or not the death penalty is justly instituted by society. They are working from the assumption that the death penalty is acceptable. The only question is: for what crimes is death an acceptable punishment?

There is no question in my mind that this crime rises to that level. It is heinous, it shocks the conscience, it has no place in any civilized nation. The victim will now live with severe emotional trauma for the rest of her life. Not to mention the extensive internal injuries she suffered. The perpetrator of this crime, found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of his peers, is asking for mercy. Mercy is a virtue and forgiveness is divine. But at some point you need to draw a bright red line and say that we don't tolerate anyone who crosses it.

In making their decision, the court will be considering the "evolving standards of decency" as they decide what crimes can be punished by death. I would contend that any standard of decency that does not say we should mete out the maximum punshment available for a grown man who violently rapes his 8-year-old stepdaughter can hardly claim to be decent at all.

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