If my friend ate my cookie, I would probably take her cake and gobble it up. No one should take something that I haven’t offered and expect to not lose something of theirs in return. In the same way, practically no one parks in a handicap parking space without a permit and expects to not get fined.
This is known as lex talionis, or the law of retribution, whereby the punishment “resembles the offence committed in kind and degree,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and it is found in virtually all cultures. In its essence, lex talionis is recognized as a universal law, because who doesn’t like a fair trade?
Actually, it’s not complicated at all. Nowadays, in states where capital punishment is still in practice, only the criminals of the worst kind are executed. If we apply the “eye-for-an-eye” principle, if I killed someone, my life should be ended as payment for the life I’ve taken—it’s quite an equitable exchange in my opinion.
However, many people argue that capital punishment is a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
In the past, execution was not limited only to beheading. Medieval British execution methods involved insufferable torture, such as burning at the stake, crucifixion, and a wheel that gradually pulled off the prisoner’s limbs. In contrast to today, just a prick of the American-invented lethal injection results in a painless, conclusive death.
Considering the fact that lethal injection is used even by people who choose to end their lives in the common practice of euthanasia—Greek for “good death”—in what way is this “cruel and unusual” as the Eighth Amendment prohibits?
However, there are people who are insisting that capital punishment is morally unacceptable. For example, in a 2016 New York Times’ opinion article, “What I learned From Executing Two Men,” Semon Frank Thompson wrote, “life was either hallowed or it wasn’t. And I wanted it to be.”
Most people would agree with Thompson that life is intrinsically precious and that it isn’t something any person can casually end, but do the murderers think so, too?
Let us look at the case of Douglas Franklin Wright, the first criminal Thompson executed in Oregon. In 1991, Wright lured five homeless men with promises of employment and shot four “in cold blood” (the fifth escaped). Two years later, he was convicted of “eight counts of aggravated murder, among other crimes, for three of the murders,” according to Oregon State government records. By the time he was executed in 1996, he had admitted to killing a 10-year-old boy, also. He had previously served time in prison for killing two women. Would Wright have killed all those people if he thought life was sacred?
Further, in a world where most people reasonably feel the lives of serial murderers like Wright are not sacred enough to defer execution, is it fine for the state to betray common sense and the people’s will?
Based on the Pew Research Center’s figures from last year, “54% of Americans favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 39% are opposed.” In reference to the killing of two police officers in Mississippi, President Donald Trump stated in May 2015, before he had announced his run for president, “The death penalty. It should be brought back and it should be brought back strong.” He recently said again that the death penalty should be applied to those convicted of murdering police officers.
Some are willing to give murderers like Wright a reprieve from capital punishment, saying that there are no statistics that suggest it’s effective at deterring crime. However, David Muhlhausen, a Heritage Foundation research fellow in empirical policy analysis, wrote in 2014 that although there have been studies with various conclusions about the effectiveness of execution deterring crime, “a 2008 comprehensive review of capital punishment research since 1975 by Drexel University economist Bijou Yang and psychologist David Lester of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey concluded that the majority of studies that track effects over many years and across states or counties find a deterrent effect.”
Then there’s the argument that trials for capital punishment are expensive, because of complex investigation processes and the like. However, Nebraska attorney Robert B. Evnen stated, “The existence of the death penalty as a possible sentence leads to guilty pleas that save the money spent on trials and limits the opportunity for appeals.”
According to Evnen, criminals want to avoid the death penalty, so they plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole. Not only does this save taxpayer money, it also removes the threat of potential murders the criminal could commit if he or she were released on parole.
New York is one of the most liberal states of the United States by many indicators and a core liberal value is individual liberty. But as the Epoch Times’ series “How the Specter of Communism Is Ruling Our World” puts it: “Liberty means responsibility.”
If one has the freedom to choose one’s actions, one should expect to be held accountable for the consequences. In Chinese, there is the saying “善有善報, 惡有惡報” (shàn yǒu shàn bào, è yǒu è bào), which means “virtue has its rewards, evil its retribution.” In the West, we have a similar saying: “You reap what you sow.”
So whether you believe capital punishment should be reinstated or not, if one sows the seeds of death, what grows from the ground, and should be rightfully reaped, is death—it’s the simple universal law of lex talionis, and capital punishment duly serves this law.
Grace Mo is a 12th grade high school student in Orange County, New York, who is researching capital punishment.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.