Disclaimer: The following article expresses my personal views on the death penalty and does not necessarily represent the editorial position of www.filipinofreethinkers.org. It was also originally published in my blog.
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I remember a scene from The Practice where Eugene Young, a defense attorney, was being interviewed by the Governor’s Judicial Council for the position of superior court judge. They wanted to know his stand on the death penalty.
Council Member: I can see your firm has handled several capital cases out of state, each time taking a position against the death penalty.
Eugene Young: Uh, we’re a defense firm. Our clients tend to disfavor being executed.
Council Member: Fair enough, but as a judge, would you impose the death penalty, should it ever become law in this state?
Eugene Young: No.
Council Member: Why not?
Eugene Young: One—I consider human life to be intrinsically sacred, and I do not believe the state should engage in the systemized taking of human life. Two—Our judicial system is flawed. We wrongly convict over 10,000 people a year, some of whom are sentenced to die. Now, you can always release an exonerated man from prison, but bringin’ him back from death has proven to be trickier. DNA has already cleared a hundred men, many on death row. Clearly, something isn’t working.
Another Council Member: And what would you say, Mr. Young, to the mother whose five-year-old daughter has been raped and murdered?
Eugene Young (after a long reflective pause): I would say, if it were my daughter, I’d like to kill whoever did it myself. And if I ever came face-to-face with the guy, I couldn’t guarantee any of you that I wouldn’t kill him. But if I did, it would be wrong. And for the State to kill reflectively, absent emotion, on ceremony, it is not right.
It appears that Eugene Young has implicitly differentiated homicidal rage over the rape and murder of one’s own child – from cold-blooded execution; the former being the spontaneous and emotional response of a seriously aggrieved parent, the latter being the considered and systemized, even ceremonial, act of the State after careful reflection, and without emotion. Although he condemns both as wrong, one is definitely a more sinister and graver ill than the other, because while a helpless grieving parent may have little to no control over his or her actions, the State, with all its resources and power to take away liberty and property, is expected to be more circumspect when it comes to taking away life.
And this is expressed best in an oft-repeated motto in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever:Do not hurt when holding is enough Do not wound when hurting is enough Do not maim when wounding is enough And kill not when maiming is enough