Analyzing of Article “Death, Reason, and Judgment: the American Experience”, by Ronald J. Allen

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In the article “Death, Reason, and Judgment: The American Experience”, which was posted on the ‘Filosofia Politica’ website (1), Ronald J. Allen (2) argues in a high academic level on the meaning and nature of errors in the imposition of capital punishment. Ronald J. Allen is the John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law at Northwestern University in Chicago. This paper will analyse and discuss the theories of the article and address two issues raised by Allen: the utilitarian and normative components of capital punishment, and the costs of errors of capital punishment. Allen debates firstly on the utilitarian arguments and thus possible benefits of the death penalty. Accordingly to Allen capital punishment is a deterrent and an understandable reaction of those who have been affected by the homicides. However, the significance of deterrence is unclear. Studies result only minimum support for deterrence as a consequence of executions, or what Allen in other words is trying to say: death penalty is to discourage or, scare if you will, the people from committing a murder (the death penalty in the U.S. today in practise, only applies for murder) (2), and does not have any effect. “Capital punishment remains a freakishly rare punishment” says Allen. This is a reaction to the following, if capital punishment has indeed barely sufficient deterrence or caution effects like what was just argued, it can just as well be an argument for its increased use instead of its decreased use. People do not feel alarmed enough for the consequences to prevent them from committing a murder. Clearly, it is difficult to understand the arguments from deterrence and finding a way to interpreted them sufficiently. nother utilitarian consideration that Allen makes is “the significance of capital punishment for the sense of justice of the secondary victims of homicides”. With this consideration Allen is referring to the family and friends of the deceased. As an example, an important aspect of punishment is the legitimation and vindication of personal feelings of vengeance. This means that we have to keep in mind the mostly angry, furious feelings and emotions the secondary victims have against the offender. Basically, they want him to suffer in the way their loved one suffered. Punishment of the offender can help the secondary victims to cope, even in the littlest way, with their loss and feelings. Similarly like they have to restore their personal balance towards their sense of justice, and their faith in the community. However, the extent to which capital punishment has these effects is difficult to say, as claimed by Allen. Next Allen continues with the more general costs of capital punishment, with firstly the direct financial implications. He explains that capital cases are expensive due to everlasting appellate and other processes, which in most cases does not even result in actual execution of the offender. These are unnecessary costs to make, and above of all wasting time. He supports his argument with a study by The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts about the experience they have with the death penalty. “One conclusion is that the extra costs to the North Carolina public of adjudicating a case capitally through to execution, as compared with a noncapital adjudication that results in conviction for first degree murder and a 20-year prison term is about $329,000, substantially more than the savings in prison costs, which we estimate to be $166,000. We note that a complete account must also include the extra costs of cases that were adjudicated capitally but did not result in the execution of the defendant. All told, the extra cost per death penalty imposed is over a quarter million dollars, and per execution exceeds $2 million”. Secondly, there is a good reason to assume that the existence of capital punishment has distorting effects on both substantive and procedural law, believes Allen. Namely because of many judges disapprove the...
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