The following was a post I made in relation to a question posed concerning the use of proportionality (the notion that a punishment should fit the crime). I believe very much in the political process and it’s relevance to lawmaking and criminal justice. I raised a lot of eyebrows with this as it was my first post in that particular class and I expect it may raise some here as well; however, do try to be objective in considering my stance.
I apologize beforehand as I believe this may be a somewhat controversial viewpoint:
I believe proportionality has no real moral or ethical basis. Should a community believe that the best way to condemn a behavior is to assign it a death sentence then they are well within their right to do so. For example, many South East Asian nations execute for drug trafficking and I fail to see a moral issue therein.
The idea that punishment must fit the crime is a fallacy as from one culture to the next and one person to the next the severity attributed to a given crime would vary somewhat. In all truthfulness both a murder and a theft are breaches of the law and hence illegal, we then assign weight to them in subjective manner. In a very real sense, all crimes could very well be punishable by death as it is a breach of the codified standards of a community and again, this would be morally righteous; albeit detrimental to society.
In the constitution of the United States of America, we find the eighth amendment bars punishments which are cruel and unusual. Historically, this likely meant that the original authors were opposed to painful, drawn out, and tormented deaths (Samaha, 2008). I do not see any correlation between the desire to treat a convict humanely in his or her execution with a concept of proportionality in punishment.
Therefore, it should be entirely up to a state’s lawmakers the degree of punishment they can enact for a given crime. If the state has the monetary resources and the people so loathe shoplifting that they wish to codify any shoplifting as a felony punishable by not less than 10 years in prison they should be well within their rights to do so.
From a criminological standpoint this would be completely asinine as the costs would be astronomical and some other method of deterrence would better suit the community or state’s needs. We also know that the likelihood of recidivism drops off considerably with age, so again, it would make more sense to give lower sentences; however, it still should remain a community’s (and therefore legislators) choice whether or not to listen to criminologists and their findings (Schmalleger, 2009).
As to the topic of the applicability of the death penalty for minors and the mentally handicapped, it seems odd to me that there are so many children and mentally handicapped individuals that fully understand what is right and what is wrong. The idea that these two groups should not face execution seems to me rooted in rational choice theory; however, there are so many other behavioral theories that apply to morality that I believe barring the option of the death penalty unduly restrains lawmakers based on a single criminological theory (Brasswell, McCarthy, McCarthy, 2008 & Schmalleger, 2009).
I’m not particularly for the death penalty within these groups as studies indicate murderers who are released on parole have extremely low rates of recidivism; however, it should still remain up to communities and their representatives whether or not these groups should be eligible for execution (Schmalleger, 2009).
Thank you for reading, please feel free to comment. As I mentioned before, I recognize that my statements will be controversial so feel free to pick apart my logic and interject criticisms.
Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2008). Justice, crime, and ethics, 6th ed.. Newark: Andersen Publishing.
Samaha, J. (2008). Criminal Law, 9th ed. Belmont, California: Thomson Wadsworth.
Schmalleger, F (2009). Criminology today: An integrative introduction. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson Prentice Hall.