"If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call. John McAdams - Marquette University/Department of Political Science,
“ on deterrence deed, the decision that capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases is an expression of the community's belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death." ~ Supreme Court of the United States of America
ACLU OBJECTIONS TO THE DEATH PENALTY
apital punishment is cruel and unusual. It is cruel because it is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace. Like those barbaric practices, executions have no place in a civilized society. It is unusual because only the United States of all the western industrialized nations engages in this punishment. It is also unusual because only a random sampling of convicted murderers in the United States receive a sentence of death.. The death penalty violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. It is applied randomly – and discriminatorily. It is imposed disproportionately upon those whose victims are white, offenders who are people of colour, and on those who are poor and uneducated and concentrated in certain geographic regions of the country. This is a fact of American judicial system but does in a way negate the fact relatives of victims see death penalty as appropriate punishment for the murder of their loved ones.
The death penalty is not a viable form of crime control. When police chiefs were asked to rank the factors that, in their judgment, reduce the rate of violent crime, they mentioned curbing drug use and putting more officers on the street, longer sentences and gun control. They ranked the death penalty as the least effective. Politicians who preach the desirability of executions as a method of crime control deceive the public and mask their own failure to identify and confront the true causes of crime. This is not evidence that death penalty is not deterrent to crimes. It is based on the subject judgement of those whose duty it is to enforce the law.. There are various bills making their way in the Nigerian national assembly advocating death penalty for some crimes like rape. At the same time, some people are calling for death penalty for corruption. Surprisingly, there have been very little public debates on bills making their way in the national assembly before they become law. No doubt, the crimes for which death penalty is being proposed for are heinous crimes with serious consequences. I am completely against corruption, murder, rape kidnapping, armed robbery and all other terrible crimes that violate individual autonomy, sense of self and fundamental human rights. To the natural mind, the case for death sentence for certain hideous crimes like murder is self-evident. Such a mind often argues that life is sacred and those who knowingly take the lives of others should lose the right to their own lives. This is a strong argument for death penalty which is difficult to dismiss without appeal to higher moral values and what the evidence reveal. Some of the arguments that persuades me against death penalty are the fact that no country which practices death penalty has been able to apply it to all those who deserve it and the fact that no country that practices it has been able to apply it for all murders for instance. In fact, studies in the US reveal that only a random sample of convicted murders receive death sentence. There is no doubt that this in itself is unfair and unsafe.
In view of the above, the question of what should be the right attitude of an enlightened, free and democratic society under the rule of law, to those individuals who are so deranged in their minds, as to commit crimes which a reasonable person without a deeper understand of crimes, punishment, true cost of death penalty and causes of crimes; would consider death penalty a reasonable punishment. It would seem that the answer lies in the reformation of the criminal justice system into a redemptive system to put the victims of crimes at the centre, ensure the conviction of offenders compels them to contribute to the cost of justice and compensation for the victims of their crimes. Such a penal system would offer the victims justice and the offenders, opportunity to make amends for their crimes and further make the society better.
With the way things are done in Nigeria, I am anxious about the recommendation and support of ACF and many responsible organisations, including religious, for the introduction of death sentence for corruption, rape and its retention for murder. My position on capital punishment is based on what the world has learnt about human behaviour and crimes and the fact that the way a society treats its weakest members and the value it puts on human life are the best indices of its development and enlightenment. As a society develops, it shows more respect for human life and becomes more humane in the treatment of offenders. It emphasizes the responsibilities of the state and the rights of individuals and attempts to find the right balance under the circumstance. This is because a developed society understands better, the many different variables that account for offending behaviour and often work harder to give people less reasons to justify their crimes. Even then, such enlightened societies refuse to allow evil to detect the way they treat human life, hence many developed and advanced civilisations and democracies in the west have outlawed death penalty.
In my discussions and readings, I have often found Africans particularly in favour of death penalty even though in countries like America, black people are more likely to suffer death penalty unjustly. In addition, rather paradoxically, religious people tend to be in favour of death penalty which they often justify with the writings of their holy books, while liberals and none religious people tend to oppose it. On the whole, liberal democracies tend to oppose death penalty while monarchies, authoritarian regimes, republican or conservative political organisations and corrupt democracies tend to support it. The question of the right, fair and just manner to treat our brothers and sisters who may be minded to choose evil and cause us great loss and pain remains unanswered.
At the moment, crimes are disproportionately punished in Nigeria. While an armed robber who steals 20,000 Naira will face mob justice by instantly being lynched to death and set ablaze with old tyres, or sentenced to death by hanging, a politician who steals 6.5 billion Naira gets one of the best lawyers to defend him, makes nonsense of the law and then walk free. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the rate of violent crimes have been on the ascendency the criminals more determined to use lethal force and cannot afford to fail. This obvious inability of the courts to deliver justice and the tendency for the rich and powerful to get away with murder is another reason why Nigeria needs to revisit its attitude to crimes and punishment.
The current state of Nigeria characterised by official and institutionalised corruption and the attitude of the government to corruption, gives common criminal more justification for their crimes. It hardens criminals and makes them more desperate. Studies have shown that death penalty does not lead to criminals committing fewer crimes but makes them more determined to succeed and do everything possible not to be caught. Societies are not made better by allowing emotion and vengeful attitude to determine the treatment of criminals but by allowing knowledge to inform policies and making sure that all criminals, irrespective of their crimes; are subjected to due process in a criminal justice system that is both deterring and redemptive. The criminal justice system which the English bequeathed the world seems to have mutated into a system that is often abused by the rich and criminal minded. It has become a system which often works in the best interest of lawyers and criminals. Often the rich can buy the justice they want by paying lawyers who are able to manipulate the laws and misuse psychiatrists to help offender avoid justice. In Nigeria, the use of lawyers by politicians to frustrate their prosecution comes to mind. Often, judicial process becomes an attempt to frustrate due process and ensure that the offender is not held accountable. Faced with a situation like this, it is not surprising that people would find death penalty and summary executive attractive, acceptable and justifiable.
In Nigeria, the poor are roasted with tyres for stealing 1000 Naira, without a chance to face justice, while the real criminals, who destroy the future of the country fly in private jets, live hill top mansions and walk free as respectable people. No society whose laws respect persons has a future. This is unfair and an unacceptable way to develop a society. The nature of our society, its unfairness, its inequality, its tendency to worsen the fortunes of those with natural disadvantage, its corruption, and its inability to deliver real justice to the poor make the approval of death penalty unfair, and in fact, immoral. In a country like Nigeria, such a law becomes an attempt by those who have benefited unfairly from the corrupt system to protect their ill-gotten wealth and this is tyranny. I would seem that the right would be for Nigerians to have a debate
about her criminal justice system with the view to making it effective, at catching criminals, responsive to the needs of the victims of crimes and redemptive to offenders. This will involve the government taking the responsibility to make the necessary social investments that would enable those currently drawn to crime to work towards a better future and enable the police conduct fair investigation to prevent our laws from working in the best interest of criminals and lawyers. No government can reduce crime and make the society better when the people see daily the evidence of the corruption of the leaders.
We also need to look seriously at the ways prisoners are treated in our prison with the view to making our prisons a more humane but austere places and a deterrent to those who may be minded to commit crimes. We can start by stopping the use of legal technicalities to dismiss cases. There is no reason why a criminal should escape prosecution because a particular procedure has not been followed or an error made in the filling of the papers. When this is the case, the people who made the mistake can be fined and then allowed to correct the mistake and the trial will then proceed. I cannot see how allowing for such mistakes to be corrected can be inimical to the cause of justice. A good criminal justice system should be able to allow for the correction of technical mistake for due process to take its course rather than using such mistakes to enable criminals escape justice. Why should a criminal go scot free because a Lawyer has not followed a particular procedure? Why should the procedure be more important than the process?
In addition, we can look at the way politicians exercise power with the view to streamlining them. For instance in Nigeria, the president, Vice president, President of the senate, Speaker of the national assembly and governors can order the arrest of citizens. This is wrong, undemocratic and the clearest evidence of the autocratic nature of the Nigerian democracy. To make progress and make our democracy accountable and protective of individual liberty, Nigerians should amend the constitution so that only the police can decide to arrest individuals after they have investigated complaints or allegations against them and decides that they have a case to answer and this must be done strictly according to existing laws. Politicians should have no power whatsoever to order the arrest of any citizen. This a gross abuse of power and evidence of the primitive attitude of Nigerian leaders to power. There is a lot more we can do to make Nigeria a better place than adding the barbarity of death penalty and legitimising autocracy.
Death penalty dehumanise human life. It derives form a primitive concept of justice rooted on an eye for an eye and vengeance. Such an approach to justice only diminishes humanity and would leave many blind. When one life has been lost, nothing is gained by taking another, rather, the focus should be on making the best out of the bad situation and killing another human cannot be the way forward even though it takes one criminal out of existence. It dehumanises and brutalises the living and in the process diminishes all. Justifying the killing of another human does not make any person better. All it does it hardens the person in the face of murder and cements the assumption that there is a good reason to kill. The truth is that, there is never a good reason to kill another person which is why those who wrote the Bible said God said “thou shalt not kill”. In view of the above and more, Nigerian should join the community of developed nations and change its attitude to crimes and punishment and ban death penalty. This would be real progress.