“Dead man walking”. This phrase resonates in the minds of inmates as they approach the destination of their execution. But should it? Arguments highlighting the morality and constitutionality of capital punishment swarm the media and commands answers. The current issues facing lawmakers today finds relevance in Athens trial against Socrates.
An article that surfaced in Newsweek titled “Innocent Until Executed” attacked the ethical issues surrounding the death penalty, as well as the lack of rights criminals have to proving their innocence with DNA testing. The post conviction DNA exoneration of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man accused and executed for alleged arson, has the media in an uproar about the potentially innocent people who face the electric chair. But as I scanned the words of the article trying to form my own opinion about the debate I found myself calling upon the words of Socrates. “Doing people harm is no different then wrongdoing”(Plato, 50c). From this statement I formed my new opinion (previously I had been in favor of execution with the “punishment fits the crime” attitude); execution does not seem morally correct. As Socrates explains, inflicting wrong unto a criminal doesn’t make the punisher any more innocent. The execution process breaks the very law that it tries to enforce. However, Socrates multifaceted definitions of harm make me question if he thinks not all crimes should go unpunished. By Socrates refusal of exile he finds it is just for him to accept the penalty of the court because he failed to argue his innocence. The same approach can be taken on the capital punishment. If the court rules he is indeed guilty of breaking the laws then it would be a crime for the criminal to not pay the consequence. Currently all but 13 states have the death penalty. If a criminal is sentenced to death in a state that has a death penalty, Socrates would probably argue that they carry on with the execution because by living in the state they were in agreement of the laws and penalties. But Socrates first argument on harm makes me to believe that two wrongs still do not make a right. So rather then legalizing it further, states without capital punishment should enact penalties that are within moral limits and that set an example to discourage further lawbreaking.
So as I came to the final paragraph of the Newsweek article and the unanswered questions resounded in my mind, Socrates answered. Within the Crito, I found logic and reason to believe that capital punishment is unjust. Just as it is not within the rights for a criminal to take a victims life, it is not within a jurors to take life away. So while activist groups continue to argue the questions of capital punishment, they should consider calling upon the opinions of past executes. With that they would certainly find that Socrates would have mouthful to say.
http://www.newsweek.com/id/214833 ( article reference)