When I discuss this issue with other people, strong feelings take over, and often emotion prevails. This is understandable; I cheer when the bad guy dies in the movies, and I’m happy Tim McVeigh and Osama bin Laden are no longer around.
The problem is that there is a balance to be met when dealing with the law: While you should not be Mr. Spock, ignoring your emotions, you cannot also be Dr. McCoy, letting your emotions overwhelm your logic. Yes, some people deserve to die.
The problem is this: Who makes that decision?
Some people would like to see rapists put to death. Others think anyone who commits a murder should automatically be given the death penalty. There are probably people who think drivers who don’t turn off their turn signals should get the death penalty.
If we say that it should only be applied in the most heinous of cases, then we still have that problem. Who decides that the crime is so terrible that the death penalty applies? Well, a jury first, of course, and then a judge. But wait a minute — that’s what we have now.
And this is where we meet the real problem: Our system of justice is not perfect.
Trust me, I do this for a living. Innocent people get found guilty all the time (and guilty people get found not guilty, too). I don’t think I have to cite all the cases of people on death row who have later been found to be innocent (including some who confessed — although usually the confessions were coerced or they have mental problems). And who knows how many we have already executed who we’ll never know if they were innocent because no one is researching their cases like they’re doing with those currently on death row?
So long as we have a system of justice that is not 100% perfect, we should not have a penalty that is 100% irreversible.