Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the bombing of the Boston Marathon. This is not without precedent, and this was not unexpected. Hell, it might be the most predictable news story of the day.
There are a number of reasons to find the death penalty unjust. Some see the massive racial disparity, some see the sheer number of innocents who accidentally get murdered by their state, some see the torture possibly inflicted by unverified drug cocktails, some straight-up do not believe the State, as such, has the right to murder.
On the other hand, there is the Hammurabi/Old Testament/Kant case for equal punishment for equal crimes: a conviction that is indeed plenty popular and not without merit.
Truth is, though, I think the death penalty is wrong for one simple reason: It’s final. I find it contrary to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, even if the Supreme Court, and even the Founders disagree. Hell, it wouldn’t be the first, second, third or fourth occurrence of the framers of the Constitution not thoroughly thinking through the consequences of their values. Yet, this very phrase is in a way self-contradictory: “…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….”
With due process of law comes a right to appeal. But if you’re dead, you cannot appeal. If you’re dead, you cannot be exonerated. If, for some reason, the Supreme Court once again finds the death penalty unconstitutional, your sentence cannot be commuted, because you’re dead. How is that the promised due process of law?
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a fucking criminal and should probably get as good as he committed. And the base sense of justice demands the same pain he inflicted. We all know he murdered people. We watched his traitorous plan succeed, and we watched it inevitably fall apart. But, to bring back Kant, we can’t treat him any differently than the hundreds of other murderers who face judgement for their sins, and a just criminal justice system needs to make absolute certain its convicted are truly guilty and punished justly. And that’s impossible if the state kills them.