The Constitution of the United States protects its citizens from punishment that is cruel and unusual. Is it cruel to take someone’s life? It certainly is becoming more and more unusual as all Western industrialized nations except the United States have abolished the death penalty.
Archaic and Out-Dated
When kings ruled, they claimed to govern by “divine right” which, they believed, gave the government (the kings) possession of their subjects’ lives. As other countries have shifted toward secular and non-monarchy governments, they have relinquished the claim to determine the life or death fate of their citizens because of a growing recognition that government, a production of man, is not a divine instrument.1
Other early-day practices such as slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments are now considered barbaric and are no longer practiced – yet the ultimate corporal punishment of death
Because of serious questions about the use of firing squads, hanging, gas chambers, and electric chairs, most states, including Montana, have adopted lethal injection as their sole means of execution. In order to execute people without “inflicting torture,” states would have to employ licensed doctors to administer the chemical cocktail. But medical professionals are bound to an oath to do no harm, and are ethically unable to participate in executions.
As of January 12, 2007, there were 10 of 39 states (including the December additions of Florida following the botched injection of Angel Diaz, California, and Maryland) which had shutdown lethal injections until questions about whether it violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, protecting against “cruel and unusual punishment” are answered.2
Evolving Standards of Decency
Evolving standards of decency nationally and internationally are moving toward the abolition of the death penalty.
“Evolving standards of decency … mark the progress of a maturing society.” -– The United States Supreme Court3
A recent study by the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission published on January 2, 2007, found that “There is increasing evidence that the death penalty is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.”
Currently, 124 countries do not use or have the death penalty. Of these, 74 have abolished the death penalty since 1976, including our neighbor to the North, Canada, in 1998 and our neighbor to the South, Mexico, in 2005. The United States is currently the only Western industrialized nation that retains the death penalty (the only Eastern industrialized nation that retains the death penalty is Japan).
Every American territory, the District of Columbia, and 14 states, including our neighbor to the East, North Dakota, have abolished the death penalty.
North Dakota also consistently enjoys lower homicide rates than Montana (or any of its or Montana’s other neighbors).4
Corporal punishments are no longer acceptable in our society. Montanans want a system that is just, fair, and appropriate. Giving offenders life without parole provides a safe alternative that removes the offender from society permanently, costs less, and ensures that innocent people are not executed.