What if you’re on death row and there’s only a few days left to prove your innocence? What if all efforts are not enough and you cannot escape the fate that the justice system has meted on you? Such was the radical idea of the film ‘The Life of David Gale.’ A man on death row convicted for raping and killing his friend. The irony of an anti-death penalty activist ending up to be on the other side of the fence is where his case’s appeal lies. The shocking ending thus seems a little too over the top maybe because of its cinematic nature. But the fact remains that it could and it might happen in real life.
At the end of the film we are presented with what really occurred. The movie’s plot led to the fact of the coercion of two people with nothing to lose and a point to prove. David and Constance plotted to make the ultimate sacrifice by giving up their lives to make the ultimate statement and vindicate their advocacy. So we are faced with the concept of the more than probable possibility that innocent people do end up getting capital punishment for something they are innocent for. The film seems foolish yet enlightening at the same time. Such is the case of the argument against capital punishment.
Den Haag argues that capital punishment is imposed on people who committed crimes to summon their guilt which is something that is believed to be personal. That it is not an issue of race or of equality but rather a moral penalty that is nothing but the mere issue of justice. We are again back to the concept that it is a major conflict on the evident fact of commonly supposed racial injustice. It reverts back to the matter of discrimination which is a delicate topic to argue about and would not be sufficiently substantiated on this paper. He is convinced that justice does not hold bearing over inequalities in distribution (Den Haag, par.7).
Let me call it the “OJ Simpson Syndrome.” What Den Haag proposes in that argument is the age-old assumption that more African-American convicts end up on death row than white people. With the risk of sounding racially insensitive of the times, it seems that this is not the case anymore. It was the basic argument for the absolution of OJ Simpson. He represented the thousands of innocent people executed before him because of the color of his skin. Let us no longer delve on whether or not he is guilty as this is an issue all on its own. This became subordinated because of the hype that surrounded the case. He in turn became a representation of all the injustices committed against his race. Granted that there were others much more deserving of the allusion than him, but what took place was something that may or may not have been predicted because the time calls for it.
This cloud of injustice in the criminal system is one that is not common to this country alone and has existed for decades. It may be true then but this is no longer the case. Racial stereotyping may still happen but not to the same extent as it was before. The air of prejudice that has been embedded in us is slowly deteriorating. We have already transcended the connection between death penalty and racial discrimination. We are now more sensitive to these issues as history and literature already opened our eyes to sensitivity. More than anything, this is a time when equality is on its easiest grasp.
The integral lapses that may be constituted in the justice system is one that is an infallible argument against death penalty. A survey conducted by Michael Radelet and Hugo Adam from the years 1900-1985 found that 35 out of the 7000 people executed were convicted only to be proved innocent afterwards (Den Haag, par.10). The percentage may seem measly in proportion, but nonetheless, those are lives of 35 people erroneously taken. That number multiplied to the number of their loved ones and those who were affected are all tarnished because of an irregularity in the implementation and carrying out of quite debatably an imperfect system. Those are lives that would forever be in the conscience of the authorities involved and most especially, it is blood in the hands of the United States of America. It is a crime committed by an entire country to one of its own citizens.
A number of reasons may be attributed to this. It becomes apparent that more people who are of lower social standing get convicted than those who can afford to pay exorbitant lawyers. Can we honestly say that the defenders provided by the state can give the equal amount of persistence with ones that the machination of monetary compensation can provide? I think the answer is obvious and the answer is no. We have to consider that the justice system is expensive. The effort of proving one’s self in the court of law comes with a price tag. It is necessary to afford a lawyer, more so if a good one needs to be availed. The amount of time exhausted on proceedings is also nothing but tedious. It may take years before a case is decided and then there are still a number of steps that can be utilized to further extend the process.
The major point for the implementation of capital punishment is its perceived capability to deter crime. Den Haag himself is not convinced of the case of deterrence as a justification for capital punishment. He argues that more than anything, retribution is the primary purpose of it. The intimidation of death as punishment for would-be murderers would not be enough. The finality of death is what instills the fear beyond imprisonment. “Sparing the lives of even a few prospective victims by deterring their murderers is more important than preserving the lives of convicted murderers because o the possibility, or even the probability, that executing them would not deter others” (Den Haag, par.13).
A wrong can never be corrected by another wrong. Retribution in the form of execution sounds to me as nothing short of barbaric. The idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is something that was apparent only during the time when there was no cohesive set of rules or mores that people govern by. In terms of our impartiality, we are all human beings and the biblical argument that no one can take lives away except for God may appear constricted but it remains true. We are in no position to decide when or how to take another person’s life because we are not the supreme authority to decide. It is not in the proper order of things because capital punishment is a conscious concerted undertaking that is imposed by a group of people who are given the authority to do so. And the fact that it is given by individuals no more or less than the others appear to be an irony.
‘Dura Lex Sed Lex,’ the law may be harsh but that is the law. The law is harsh if the people decided it to be. It should be kept in mind that it is the people who put a chosen few to govern upon them. These people are all but representatives selected by virtue of election, appointment, ability, etc. but it has to be remembered that they are in position to protect and preserve the rights of the people. If this function is jeopardized because of crimes then they are no longer effective. But being that there really is no tangible data that supports that capital punishment deters crimes then this law takes no point in being implemented. It serves absolutely no purpose.
Den Haag, Ernest Van. The Ultimate Punishment: A Defense. 1986. 18 October 2009 .