Last week, the Maryland legislature repealed capital punishment in favor of life sentences with no parole for the most heinous crimes. This repeal makes Maryland the eighteenth state to ban capital punishment. But for libertarians and other liberty advocates, what could be wrong with capital punishment?
For one, the Constitution permits capital punishment if there’s “due process” of law. However, this punishment is inconsistent with the “unalienable” right to life that the Declaration of Independence articulated:
[A]ll men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Also, Ron Paul once aptly said, “Government should never be able to do anything you [as an individual] can’t do. If you can’t steal from your neighbor, you can’t send the government to your neighbor to steal for you.” This guiding principle, although perhaps imperfect in application for such situations as jailing murderers, can be applied to capital punishment. If individuals can’t kill for revenge or punishment, then the government shouldn’t be able to do so.
Furthermore, states have imposed capital punishment on some innocent inmates. Just consider Kirk Bloodsworth, a Marylander convicted in 1984 for raping and killing a 9-year-old girl in Baltimore. He spent nine years in prison, serving two on death row. In 1992, he arranged for DNA testing, which revealed his DNA didn’t match the DNA found at the crime scene.
Lastly, capital punishment by a state isn’t necessarily a “just” punishment for murderers. At the very least, as Murray Rothbard argued in The Ethics of Liberty, the victim’s heirs and not the state should decide if the murderer should receive death as punishment.
Maryland and other states continue to violate the right to life in other ways, such as with legalized abortion and euthanasia. However, Maryland’s repeal of capital punishment is a positive step.