Maryland Repeals Capital Punishment: A Positive Step?

Last week, the Maryland legislature repealed capital punishment in favor of life sentences with no parole for the most heinous crimes.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.

About Tony Escobar

Tony Escobar is publisher of LibertyBlog.org and owner of the digital media company AMTG Solutions. He's also a decorated combat infantry veteran of the U.S. Army. If you liked this post, you can follow him on Twitter at @EscoTony.

34 comments
Arkanabar
Arkanabar

I tend to think that executions should be approached about the same way as just war.  Recidivism does fall 100% after an execution.  But just war is not a place to push the envelope, and IMO, neither would executions.

Arkanabar
Arkanabar

I tend to think that executions should be approached about the same way as just war.  Recidivism does fall 100% after an execution.  But just war is not a place to push the envelope, and IMO, neither would executions.

leo_nugent
leo_nugent

k_yoder EscoTony A very positive step. I hope it's gone for good everywhere and soon!

PaulWilson34
PaulWilson34

Have to disagree with you here, Tony, at least in principle, although in current practice we agree. Governments don't kill murderers for "revenge" or "punishment," per se - ideally, they kill to protect society from those who do damage to that society. Certain prisoners may be too violent or too important to safely keep alive - think Saddam Hussein in a troubled Iraq, or an extremely violent and cunning mass murderer known for daring escapes.

Now, of course, one can argue that modern methods of prisoner control in America have made the death penalty unnecessary, since it is possible to keep dangerous prisoners safely incarcerated. Indeed, it is probable that this is the case - hence the push by recent Popes to call for a ban on that death penalty. In a more "troubled" time - say the Middle Ages or the early modern era, where prisons were less defensible and societies less stable, the death penalty might well have proven more necessary to protect society.

Also, the Commandment "thou shalt not kill" is more accurately translated "thou shalt not murder." Otherwise, engaging in war and legitimate self-defense would be sinful.

http://forums.catholic.com/printthread.php?t=725855

I am shamelessly posting a piece I wrote on the topic of the death penalty here, in case you or others would be interested.

http://catholicgraymatters.blogspot.com/2012/07/catholic-death-penalty-dilemma.html

PaulWilson34
PaulWilson34

Have to disagree with you here, Tony, at least in principle, although in current practice we agree. Governments don't kill murderers for "revenge" or "punishment," per se - ideally, they kill to protect society from those who do damage to that society. Certain prisoners may be too violent or too important to safely keep alive - think Saddam Hussein in a troubled Iraq, or an extremely violent and cunning mass murderer known for daring escapes. Now, of course, one can argue that modern methods of prisoner control in America have made the death penalty unnecessary, since it is possible to keep dangerous prisoners safely incarcerated. Indeed, it is probable that this is the case - hence the push by recent Popes to call for a ban on that death penalty. In a more "troubled" time - say the Middle Ages or the early modern era, where prisons were less defensible and societies less stable, the death penalty might well have proven more necessary to protect society. Also, the Commandment "thou shalt not kill" is more accurately translated "thou shalt not murder." Otherwise, engaging in war and legitimate self-defense would be sinful. http://forums.catholic.com/printthread.php?t=725855 I am shamelessly posting a piece I wrote on the topic of the death penalty here, in case you or others would be interested. http://catholicgraymatters.blogspot.com/2012/07/catholic-death-penalty-dilemma.html

FergHodgson
FergHodgson

Keep these articles coming %s %s %s %s My response here: %s5%sent

The Stateless Man
The Stateless Man

A lot in a short article, Tony. :) My main concern with any punishment is that it often goes to the wrong people, as you note. That is why I do not wish to give the power of the death penalty to people in government. As LargeBill68 says, though, if one really had killed or raped in a public manner, no doubt remains, and the person seems to deserve death in return.

Regarding one's inalienable right to life, that is an important consideration. I guess the challenge people have is that *any* punishment will go against someone's right to property and liberty, so why not life as well? Presumably you believe that life is more inviolable property.

The Stateless Man
The Stateless Man

A lot in a short article, Tony. :) My main concern with any punishment is that it often goes to the wrong people, as you note. That is why I do not wish to give the power of the death penalty to people in government. As LargeBill68 says, though, if one really had killed or raped in a public manner, no doubt remains, and the person seems to deserve death in return. Regarding one's inalienable right to life, that is an important consideration. I guess the challenge people have is that *any* punishment will go against someone's right to property and liberty, so why not life as well? Presumably you believe that life is more inviolable property.

largebill68
largebill68

I think great majority of us can agree that death penalty as it is currently being administered is ineffective. The courts have imposed ridiculous appeals processes that can take as much as 20 years at untold cost. The deterrent affect of a punishment is lost if a killer hears he might receive a punishment 20 years from now. As far as the very rare wrongful convictions, well any case that isn't a clear cut case should not be a death penalty case anyways. However, when there is ZERO doubt of guilt punishment should be swift, painful and final.   Take for example the scumbag in Cleveland, Ohio sentenced to life yesterday. He openly admitted guilt and even wore a tee-shirt to court with the word killer written on it. He taunted the families of his victims and said he masturbates thinking of those he killed. He should have been extinguished painfully within days of his committing the crimes. Our desire to be oh so civilized has made us actually uncivil. Failing to adequately punish heinous acts leads to commission of more such acts. Only the most barbaric of civilizations would allow those crime to go unanswered.

largebill68
largebill68

I think great majority of us can agree that death penalty as it is currently being administered is ineffective. The courts have imposed ridiculous appeals processes that can take as much as 20 years at untold cost. The deterrent affect of a punishment is lost if a killer hears he might receive a punishment 20 years from now. As far as the very rare wrongful convictions, well any case that isn't a clear cut case should not be a death penalty case anyways. However, when there is ZERO doubt of guilt punishment should be swift, painful and final.   Take for example the scumbag in Cleveland, Ohio sentenced to life yesterday. He openly admitted guilt and even wore a tee-shirt to court with the word killer written on it. He taunted the families of his victims and said he masturbates thinking of those he killed. He should have been extinguished painfully within days of his committing the crimes. Our desire to be oh so civilized has made us actually uncivil. Failing to adequately punish heinous acts leads to commission of more such acts. Only the most barbaric of civilizations would allow those crime to go unanswered.

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar moderator

@Arkanabar Thanks for your comment. There's definitely some food for thought here. But I agree, just war and executions aren't places to push the envelope.

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar

@Arkanabar Thanks for your comment. There's definitely some food for thought here. But I agree, just war and executions aren't places to push the envelope.

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar moderator

@PaulWilson34 Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Paul! I'd say there's definitely a problem with executing someone just because they are too violent or pose a threat to society. Every man has the ability to repent and reform, it doesn't seem right to strip anyone of that chance. Especially today (versus the Middle Ages, where you make a good point). I also believe that all human life is sacred and must be defended. I'm actually pretty shocked about the commentary St. Thomas Aquinas offers on the issue.

Overall, I don't think government should have the power to execute the death penalty. Government is extremely imperfect, from abuses in the Middle Ages to modern times. Government having that power opens the flood gates to abuse of it against innocent people if it ever goes too corrupt.

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar

PaulWilson34 Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Paul! I'd say there's definitely a problem with executing someone just because they are too violent or pose a threat to society. Every man has the ability to repent and reform, it doesn't seem right to strip anyone of that chance. Especially today (versus the Middle Ages, where you make a good point). I also believe that all human life is sacred and must be defended. I'm actually pretty shocked about the commentary St. Thomas Aquinas offers on the issue. Overall, I don't think government should have the power to execute the death penalty. Government is extremely imperfect, from abuses in the Middle Ages to modern times. Government having that power opens the flood gates to abuse of it against innocent people if it ever goes too corrupt.

EscoTony
EscoTony

FergHodgson garyccoulter maggenelizabeth k_yoder Thanks for your comments, Fergus. Much appreciated. As you say, more good to come. ;)

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar moderator

@The Stateless Man Thanks, Fergus. It's precisely government having that power that I argue against.

I do think life has a more sacred place to uphold than liberty and property. Dignity of human life is lived with liberty and property, but life can still be lived without them. On the other hand, there's no liberty or property without life.

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar

The Stateless Man Thanks, Fergus. It's precisely government having that power that I argue against. I do think life has a more sacred place to uphold than liberty and property. Dignity of human life is lived with liberty and property, but life can still be lived without them. On the other hand, there's no liberty or property without life.

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar moderator

@largebill68 Thanks for your comment, William! It's true, the current way it's being administered is indeed very ineffective, just like prison systems and the war on drugs. Although, abolishing capital punishment doesn't make us uncivil. I think it's deeper than that and touches upon an understanding of every man's right to life, as an individual. It would be barbaric to let these heinous crimes go unanswered, but they don't (life in prison, no parole).

As a fellow Catholic, I say the ten commandments spell it out perfectly. "Thou shalt not kill." I don't think it matters whether it's done by the individual or the state. Obviously, killing in the moment of self-defense is different than seeking revenge or punishment.

Tony Escobar
Tony Escobar

largebill68 Thanks for your comment, William! It's true, the current way it's being administered is indeed very ineffective, just like prison systems and the war on drugs. Although, abolishing capital punishment doesn't make us uncivil. I think it's deeper than that and touches upon an understanding of every man's right to life, as an individual. It would be barbaric to let these heinous crimes go unanswered, but they don't (life in prison, no parole). As a fellow Catholic, I say the ten commandments spell it out perfectly. "Thou shalt not kill." I don't think it matters whether it's done by the individual or the state. Obviously, killing in the moment of self-defense is different than seeking revenge or punishment.

maggenelizabeth
maggenelizabeth

Great post. You're right, short and sweet! EscoTony FergHodgson garyccoulter k_yoder

k_yoder
k_yoder

@EscoTony Great piece, Tony! Made me think - was interesting to hear a libertarian perspective. I also agreed with @PaulWilson34's points.

k_yoder
k_yoder

PaulWilson34, I'd never describe you as arrogant - except maybe as a prank. Right, burch_kathleen? ;) EscoTony, You're welcome, anytime!

PaulWilson34
PaulWilson34

EscoTony k_yoder Some of us are arrogant enough as it is without the feedback of awesome people. :-)

EscoTony
EscoTony

k_yoder Cool, thanks for the feedback. PaulWilson34 knows his stuff!

k_yoder
k_yoder

EscoTony Great piece, Tony! Made me think - was interesting to hear a libertarian perspective. I also agreed with PaulWilson34's points.

EscoTony
EscoTony

maggenelizabeth FergHodgson garyccoulter k_yoder Thanks, Maggie.