Larry May is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Law, and Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of many books, including After War Ends (2012), Global Justice and Due Process (2011), and Genocide: A Normative Account (2010).
Dr. May writes:
One can be opposed to the death penalty for many good moral reasons that are grounded in principle, such as the principle that the right to life must be respected, or that the state should never intentionally kill one of its own citizens. But often today people express a different type of reason for why they are opposed to the death penalty, namely, a concern that the institutions responsible for the death penalty in America cannot be trusted to make sure that only those who deserve to die are the one’s who are executed. This is a contingent objection to the death penalty in its current form and as it is currently administered and it is the position I also support. I don’t see the criminal justice institutions in the United States reforming themselves, or being reformed, sufficiently in the foreseeable future to make it likely that these institutions would guarantee that only those who deserved to die are the ones who are executed.
Specifically three facts are worth mention: 1) the current tendency for prosecutors to engage in wrongdoing so as to get a conviction and to thereby enhance their own prospects of attaining higher political office within their states [See Larry May, “Missouri’s Death Row Cases,” Journal of the Missouri Bar, March/April 2003, pp. 72-79]; 2) the likelihood that the defense attorney representing the accused will not be as skilled, or have anything like the same resources, as those of the prosecutor; and 3) the fact that prosecutors often react to certain kinds of killing in a visceral way, rather than in a reasoned way. Such facts have caused me and many others to lose faith in the promise that only those who deserve to die will be executed. And this is also a reason to have a moratorium on the administration of the death penalty.
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