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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

Reincarnating the death penalty

If your wife or daughter is raped or murdered, would you not want to kill the culprit?”

This is the leading question usually asked by advocates of the death penalty by way of confronting those who are against it. “Of course I would want to” would be my ready answer. But that’s my answer, because the question solicits an emotional response.

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The question is no different from this: “If you are punched in the face, wouldn’t you feel like punching back?” I will not only punch back, but I will also kick and stomp on the offender in vengeful anger.

When it’s the government that’s confronted with the question, however, the query becomes secondarily an emotional inquiry, and primarily a probe into policy. The objective of obtaining retribution or revenge in behalf of the victim’s family remains a crucial purpose in imposing a penalty against the offender. But the overriding consideration for the state is whether the penalty imposed is an effective instrument of deterrence against future commission of the crime.

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There’s an abundance of research findings showing that the imposition of the death penalty has never been an effective deterrence against heinous crimes. These findings are validated in studies across nations.

Death penalty supporters rely on two grievously wrong assumptions.

First, they sweepingly assume that criminals are always caught red-handed, or the evidence against them is airtight. However, so many cases are filed based mainly on testimonial evidence. Many policemen are either indolent in gathering forensic evidence that is more reliable than verbal evidence, or they have inadequate equipment, budget and training to gather such evidence. Consequently, judges rely on “he said, she said” evidence that is so prone to manipulation.

It’s very difficult to distill truth from oral statements laden with the imperfections of the witnesses’ behavior, education and morals, as well as the competence or incompetence of the lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

Second, death penalty advocates fatally assume that our courts are infallible when they convict a criminal and impose the death penalty.

However, our Supreme Court has essentially revealed that our justice system is a dreadfully imperfect institution unworthy of being given the power to divine life or death for accused criminals. In the case of People v. Mateo (July 2004), our Supreme Court disclosed that in 71.77 percent of lower court decisions imposing the death penalty, the judges were wrong. That’s a staggering number of errors.

The Supreme Court made these revelations: “Statistics would disclose that within the eleven-year period since the re-imposition of the death penalty law in 1993 until June 2004, the trial courts have imposed capital punishment in approximately 1,493, out of which 907 cases have been passed upon in review by the Court. In the Supreme Court, where these staggering numbers find their way on automatic review, the penalty has been affirmed in only 230 cases comprising but 25.36% of the total number. Significantly, in more than half or 64.61% of the cases, the judgment has been modified through an order of remand for further proceedings, by the application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law or by a reduction of the sentence. Indeed, the reduction by the Court of the death penalty to reclusion perpetua has been made in no less than 483 cases or 53.25% of the total number. The Court has also rendered a judgment of acquittal in sixty-five (65) cases. In sum, the cases where the judgment of death has either been modified or vacated consist of an astounding 71.77% of the total of death penalty cases directly elevated before the Court on automatic review that translates to a total of six hundred fifty-one (651) out of nine hundred seven (907) appellants saved from lethal injection.”

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So why do the President and Congress insist on giving our courts the power to impose the death penalty, when our highest court has confessed that hundreds of lives came very close to being erroneously put to death?

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TAGS: capital punishment, death penalty, Flea Market of Ideas, Joel Butuyan, Supreme Court
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