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Scarlett Nation » Justice » Presumptions and assumptions: of life, death, innocence, and guilt

Presumptions and assumptions: of life, death, innocence, and guilt

I awoke this morning to discover that the state of Georgia had gone ahead with the execution of Troy Davis, a man that was sentenced to death for the murder of policeman Mark MacPhail in 1989. This execution brought with it much controversy as it was thought by some that there was sufficient reason to doubt the original conviction. Many others have written on the nature of the death penalty, why it doesn’t serve as a deterrent, why it is cruel and inhumane etc. Indeed, many others who would do so better than I could. What I want to do is approach a different question. The death penalty is repeatedly referred to as “the ultimate punishment”. Why?

I’m not entirely sure that the death penalty is a punishment. In fact, nobody can say for sure whether it is due to the nature of death. Our assumption is based on all that we know of life, and that surely then to be deprived of life is a bad thing. The problem is that this assumption is based on the idea of either the nothingness of ever after or perhaps the idea of Hell, the burning fires and eternal torment. This is however all that it is, an idea. We have no certainty of what lies on the other side. Death may be a wonderful thing. It may lead us to a wondrous and magnificent place. It may not.

We have no knowledge of whether death is a punishment to the deceased. The dead cannot speak and tell us what has happened to their soul (if you believe in such a thing). We only know what is in this life, and so our association of death and punishment comes from the experience of death by the living. That association is what makes us presume the punishment aspect of death, there is no basis in evidence for this. Death, from our point of view, is hurt. It is grief. It is loneliness, longing and pain.

To us.

We know nothing of what it is for the dead. Death is no certain punishment to the dead, but it is certain punishment to the living. It is punishment to those who have been left behind. This is of what we are certain. It is us that feels the pain that death brings, it is us, the living that yearn and miss the dead, that are certainly punished by the death penalty.

It is important to me that regardless of my personal religious beliefs, all actions that impact on others must be based in evidence and logical reasoning. Therefore, without being certain of the nature of death, I can only punish someone to an extent that is within this life. However it would appear that the same cannot be said for the justice system of Georgia, which seemingly does not require certainty of the punishment, nor in fact, of the conviction.

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  • Kipling Bear

    I’m pleased to see a new discussion on what is an age old debate, and it raises some interesting points. how often have we heard of suicide watches in prisons, suggesting that death is not the ultimate punishment in the eyes of the prisoner. Indeed, I should image death has a different appeal when one has spent 11 years on death row – depriving someone of life as a punishment is rather dependent on the life in question…