Every person has the right to be treated in a manner that is consistent with the individual’s intrinsic worth as a human being. The death penalty violates this right by inflicting a form of punishment that is cruel and unusual. Punishment is usually considered “cruel and unusual” if it is excessive, either because it is unnecessary or because it inflicts senseless and uncalled-for pain. Therefore, unless there is a good reason to punish a crime more severely, a less severe punishment is to be preferred.
Because the purposes of punishment can be achieved without the taking of a life, the death penalty should be regarded as the pointless infliction of excessive punishment. In our criminal justice system, punishment is intended to:
- inflict retribution on the wrongdoer,
- deter criminal conduct,
- protect the public from the criminal, and
- promote the correction and rehabilitation of the offender.
The death penalty does not allow for rehabilitation since death precludes the possibility of reform. Further, a death sentence does not meet the other three objectives significantly better than a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. This makes capital punishment no more than an act of revenge that is degrading to human dignity and without a place in a civilized society.
As participants in a society that allows executions, we diminish the value of all life, not just the life of the criminal. Capital punishment further desensitizes the members of society to the use of violence and implies that killing another human being is an appropriate solution to a societal problem. Moreover, instead of condemning and deterring murder and other acts of violence, the death penalty is a form of state-sanctioned violence that has a brutalizing effect on society. For this reason, the death penalty is bound to provoke violence and thereby produce the very effects it is designed to eliminate.