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A just society ought not use the death penalty as a form of punishment: Isabel Patkowski

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Affirmative Case

Introduction

Case

“I have observed that it never does a boy much good to shoot him.” The words of President Lincoln on Roswell McIntyre, sentenced to death for desertion, have compelled me to affirm today’s resolution: A just society ought not use the death penalty as a form of punishment.

Comments

It's a cute quote. It's unlikely that anyone would ever challenge a quote, but negative could respond by saying that the point of punishing a criminal is not simply to improve the lot of the criminal.

Definitions

Just Society

Case

For clarification, I define: A just society is one that is equitable: implying justice dictated by reason, conscience, and a natural sense of what is fair to all. (Princeton wordnet). Is this a bad definition to use on Aff? However, this should not be taken to mean that a just society will always perform the right action, or is in some way all knowing, or perfect. A just society, by definition, is not the same as a flawless one. Indeed, should the assertion be made that a just society is free of bigot, mistakes or any other mark of human fallibility, it would only follow that the Affirmative could state that a just society is free of crime (an equally ridiculous claim).

Comments

It's not a bad definition, though there are some obvious ambiguities in it. It's not entirely clear what it means to say that justice is dictated by "reason, conscience, and a natural sense of what is fair to all." I'm not sure that you can do much better than that, however. The one thing you might appeal to us the definition of a "well ordered society" that Rawls offered in his Theory of Justice. I think it beat Princeton's wordnet. Rawls is relatively good in distinguishing a well ordered society from some sort of Utopian vision of a perfect society. Indeed, it was Rawls' hope that the well ordered society he described was one that real societies could become.

Ought

Case

Ought implies duty so ought not means that the society has an obligation not to utilize the death penalty, which is defined as punishment by death, as ordered by a legal system (Cambridge dictionary).

Comments

You could be a little clearer here. I know what you're trying to say, but I'm not sure your judge or opponent will.

One thing you'll need to decide is the degree to which you're willing to admit that the affirmative's burden is to claim that affirming allows no exceptions. Clearly, the affirmative cannot try to put the burden on the negative to justify the use of the death penalty in any and every instance. At the same time, it is unclear whether the affirmative can leave open the possibility that there might be some set of exceptional circumstance that might arise that might justify the use of the death penalty. You could finesse this situation, in much the same way that Rawls does, by stipulating that it doesn't make sense, in coming up with a theory of justice, to focus on societies existing in a condition of "relative scarcity." This would preclude the examples of incredibly poor societies that might not have the resources to imprison people indefinitely. I am sure this will come up in debates and you will need to figure out how to address it. The one argument that you should not consider is the "well, in those situations it's 'necessary but not just.'"

Observation

Case

The resolution calls for the Affirmative to prove why a just society ought not use the death penalty. Because it specifies that the society in question is a just one, the Affirmative can prove the resolution true by showing why the death penalty is UNjust. Alternatively, the Affirmative can prove why a just society simply ought not employ the death penalty, regardless of whether it is just or unjust. Finally, although the resolution does not call for the Affirmative to provide an alternative to the death penalty, if the Affirmative provides a better alternative that can be used in all instances where the death penalty was formerly used, this is also independently sufficient for affirmation, as it provides a clear reason as to why the death penalty ought to be discarded. I will affirm all three ways. If I need values I guess I could just put in just society protecting human rights. But, is there a way to make my burden structure sufficient as a way to weigh the round?

Comments

You're a little confusing here. Rather than saying what alternatives your have, it's better to just say how it is that you're going to prove the resolution true. I am also not sure that you want to argue that there will necessarily always be better alternatives to the death penalty, since that immediately opens the door to negative saying "what if there are not." The alternative of life imprisonment does, obviously, require a certain degree of wealth in society.

I think affirmative's best ground here is to argue not that the there's something inherently wrong with killing someone who has in fact committed a heinous crime, but focus on the important of limiting the power of government. Your burden, then, is to show that a just society is one that recognizes the danger inherent to giving the government unnecessary power. While justice might allow for the killing of some criminals, justice does not require it. If justice doesn't require a society to inflict the death penalty, then a just society ought not give its government the authority to employ the death penalty.

Values

Case

Comments

First Contention

Case

My first contention is that the death penalty is inherently unjust.

Comments

Is it?

Subpoint One

Case

My first subpoint it is that implementation of the death penalty leads to the execution of innocent individuals. Amnesty International writes, “Since 1973, more than 120 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 innocent defendants were released from death row.” It is frightening to imagine how many innocent people may have been actually been killed. Even the mere possibility of executing an innocent person ought to be enough to condemn state sanctioned execution, because the taking of innocent life is the most morally reprehensible action. It acts in complete disregard of human worth, and unnecessarily deprives and individual of all their rights--for no reason. All the killings of guilty people in the world do not bring the one innocent person back to life.

Comments

It doesn't help you that you can't cite a single example of an innocent person being put to death. Negatives will likely turn your evidence on you pointing out that the release of innocent people shows that the system works. What you need to do is argue that there's no reason to take the chance of an innocent person being killed. You will need to appeal to the maxim that it's better than ten guilty go free than that one innocent person be executed.

Subpoint Two

Case

My second subpoint is that the death penalty denies the due process of law. Because the death penalty is by definition irreversible, it forever deprives an individual of the benefits new evidence, or new laws with a different stance on execution, might present. Justice is best achieved in a court setting, because it is only in an impartial environment that all sides are given fair hearings and a (hopefully) objective body to determine their verdict. Because the death penalty denies this right it cannot be declared just.

Comments

I like this point. You've explained it well. This is probably the argument that you present which comes closest to proving that the death penalty is inherently unjust. The only problem with it can be that taken to its logical conclusion it could put too heavy a burden on society. Your argument is that the state is obligated to preserve the life of the criminal indefinitely to insure that due process rights. However, suppose there were to people: a convicted murderer and an innocent child. Suppose both are in need of a vital organ of which there is only one available. Could the murderer claim that denial of the organ could constitute a denial of due process rights? Could a convicted murderer sentenced to life in prison complain that imprisonment would harm her ability to defend herself and that she should be allowed out to pursue appeals of her conviction? However, this said, if you do want to argue that the death penalty in inherently unjust as opposed to just morally imprudent, this and the argument against punishment of the innocents is probably your best bet.

Subpoint Three

Case

My third subpoint is that it is unacceptable for society to take a life of its own. I feel like this is kind of important to prove but I have no clue how.

Comments

I don't think you can prove this. There are undeniably some instances when the state can justly kill one of its own citizens, but these will be cases when the state, in order to protect innocent lives, have no choice but to use deadly force. The police sniper who arrives at the scene of a crime and sees a gun toting lunatic threatening a classroom of children acts justly when he shoots the lunatic rather than waiting for the lunatic to start picking off children. Police officers, similarly, obviously retain a right of self defense and can justly, when acting in the line of duty, use deadly force to preserve their own lives or the lives of others. Of course, what distinguishes the death penalty from these examples is that there criminal who has been captured and imprisoned no longer poses an immediate threat to anyone. Some negatives will argue that there are people who constitute a perpetual threat to society and that can never been trusted not to kill again, but there remains a difference between a perpetual and an immediate threat. Whether that difference is morally relevant is subject to debate.

Second Contention

Case

My second contention is that it is detrimental to a just society for it to employ the death penalty.

Comments

Sort of wordy. Try for something a little pithier.

Subpoint One

Case

My first subpoint is that at the point where a government can take its citizens’ lives it has too much power, leading to danger of corruption. When individuals agree to follow laws, they necessarily give up unlimited autonomy. However, they do fully retain one right—the right to exist. When a government turns this right into a privilege, they have complete control over an individual, rendering him utterly defenseless. If a government can arbitrarily dispose of life, it has lost any check on its power, and can assume complete control of its people. Although the government of a just society is most likely itself a just one that would not aim to pursue such dictatorial rule, it is a government made of people that are not without faults or weaknesses. A just government must be aware of these weaknesses and take care not to be taken over by them. The power of executing citizens is too susceptible to corrupt use for a government to allow itself that right.

Comments

Again, I'm not sure you can reasonably say that a government does not have a right to take its own citizens' lives. Also, I think you could make a stronger argument here by arguing not that the death penalty causes corruption but, rather, that it's on account of the possibility of corruption that a just society would not entrust the government with any more of a right to kill that would be necessary. Realizing that there is always the danger of corruption, a just society would limit the power it gives to the government to kill. The point you need to emphasize is that the topic discusses a just society would recognize would want limited ant not absolute government. A government with the power to kill prisoners is a more dangerous and potentially more unjust government government than one that does not have this power. A just society would also be aware that its government's judgments could make mistakes and look to minimize the potential damage that these mistakes could cause.

Subpoint Two

Case

My second subpoint is that the death penalty encourages crime. One study, published by Bowers and Pierce, in Crime & Delinquency (1980) showed that in New York, from 1907 to 1964, months immediately following an execution showed a net increase of two murders. The reasons for this are manifold. One possibility is that it presents killing as an acceptable practice, through the absurd practice of killing to show why killing is wrong. Another possibility is that it essentially gives the criminal a status of martyrdom, as his execution is sensationalized. A third possibility is that it simply angers fellow criminals, leading to more reckless and angry behavior. Whatever the reason, it seems clear that a society ought not condone a practice that increases crime, and thus makes the society less safe, and more open to rights violation.

Comments

Frankly, I just don't buy this. I am not sure you've shown a clear cause and effect relationship. I really don't think criminals go around thinking to themselves "Well, heck, the state just executed someone, I guess that means it's OK for me to kill." I think it's fine to argue that the death penalty may increase crime and cite this statistic, but it may be better to keep this card ready for rebuttal if the negative relies heavily on the argument for deterrence. You statistics is also a bit vague. When you say that the "months immediately following an execution show a net increase of two murders," what do you mean? What's a "net murder"? Two murders in how many months? How many months were there ordinarily per month in New York? Is two additional murders statistically relevant? This study simply sounds bogus.

Subpoint Three

Case

My third subpoint is that the death penalty drains the state financially. The September 1st 2007 issue of the Economist writes: “It is now far more expensive to execute someone than to jail him for life… Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, says that, but for the death penalty, his state would have been $22.4m richer since 1978. That money would have paid for 500 extra policemen for a year, or provided drug treatment for 10,000 addicts.” Undoubtedly, the safety and well-being of individuals within a society ought to be a primary focus of state budgeting; however it is questionable to suggest that the execution of one individual will better protect a society than extra police officers, or the rehabilitation of thousands of individuals. A society ought not impose unnecessary burdens on taxpayers, because doing so simply impoverishes the people and ultimately leads to economic crises. To impose such taxes is especially unnecessary when doing so does not lead to a better or safer society, but rather to a worse, more dangerous one.

Comments

If it were cheaper to execute someone would it then be just? I think this argument is better saved for rebuttals when negative argues that the cost of maintaining the lives of criminals is too great. If they argue that, then you bring up this evidence. If the negative then says they want to reduce the cost of execution, then your due process arguments come to the fore.

Third Contention

Case

My third contention is that life sentencing is a better option than the death penalty. Even if the Negative can prove beyond a doubt that the death penalty is moral, or that it somehow enhances society, there is no reason to use it when another option exists that somehow surpasses the death penalty in terms of benefits to society, or moral standing. Im really unsure of how to write out this contention. I don’t want it to be really repetitive and say stuff like “life sentencing doesn’t discourage crime, life sentencing is cheaper, life sentencing allows for innocent individuals to appeal etc etc” because then it just ends up being the first two contentions except the opposite.

Comments

It's unclear what you're trying to do here. Earlier you suggested that it was your burden to show that there was always a better option than the death penalty. However, you also proposed that the death penalty is inherently unjust, which would suggest that it would be unjust even if there were no "better" option available. I think this is something you need to clarify in your own mind before the round.

Personally, though I think the death penalty is in all likelihood inherently unjust, I'm not sure I could prove why. I would argue, along the lines you are here, that when there is an alternative to giving the state the power to kill a just society ought to take it. This, effectively, brackets the question of whether the death penalty is inherently unjust. The alternative of life in prison without parole is one worth focusing on, but I think its greatest advantage lies in justifying a limit on state power. Let's face it: there are people out there who death it's hard to shed a tear over. There are people who commit crimes so heinous that it's hard to imagine them having any reasonable claim to retain their rights to life. At the same time, histories greatest crimes were committed by those who acted in the name of the State. Who would you fear more? Jack the Ripper or Hitler? The Son of Sam or Joseph Stalin? Charles Manson or Pol Pot? Negative might respond to these examples by pointing out that no one would claim that Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or the Khmer Rouge's Cambodia were just societies. Your response: what was is that made these societies unjust? Governments that had too much power! Though there are some who would argue for a societies' collective guilty, and postwar Germany has struggled most with its past, realizing that Hitler had too many willing henchmen to absolve German society of responsibility for Nazi atrocities. However, what was it that turned Germany from a just society to an unjust one other than the concentration of too much power in the hands of too few people? The problem of Nazi Germany was the problem of a government run amok.

I don't think you could argue that the death penalty will necessarily lead a society down the slippery slope to tyranny, but consider for a moment that Governor George W. Bush oversaw 152 executions during his tenure as governor, more than any other American Governor other than his successor as Texas Governor, Rick Perry. During his time as Governor, in fact, Bush oversaw more executions in Texas than took place in all other the other United States combined. Is it a coincidence that under President George W. Bush's watch the United States has run Abu Ghraib prison the and illegally detained foreign nationals without due process in Guantanamo Bay and argued that people detained there should be subject to military tribunals and potentially sentenced to death?

Negative Case

Introduction

Case

"If Capital Punishment is state sponsored murder, then any lesser punishment is a state sponsored murder of Justice." The worlds of Maryland State Senator Saqib Ali have compelled me to negate today’s resolution. okk so ive had problems before with quoting people I don’t know much about, I tried to use kruschev on the UN topic and everyone laughed at me… I looked up ali and he seemed ok-is there anything like glaringly weird about him?

Comments

I don't know who this guy is, but he's making the argument that I really think the negative ought to avoid: that the death penalty is morally necessary.

Definitions

Just Society


Comments

I'm not sure it's worthwhile making these points on the negative. On the negative, you just need to be prepared if the affirmative offers abusive definitions. The negative simply needs to insure that there affirmative accepts that a just society will have a reasonably just government. I don't imagine many affirmatives disputing this, but you need to be prepared just in case.

Ought

Case

Ought implies duty so ought not means that the society has an obligation not to utilize the death penalty, which is defined as punishment by death, as ordered by a legal system (Cambridge dictionary).

Comments

This is a good definition for the negative. You should be prepared to expand upon its implications.

Values

Case

Because the resolution aims to establish what a just society ought or ought not do, my value premise is just society. A just society determines a course of action based on the needs of the society as a whole, not the individual members. This is true for two reasons. 1st: To value one individual above others is to say that they are more worthy of respect and more deserving of rights protection, than everyone else, going against the definition of just “giving each their fair due.” 2nd: A society is a cohesive group, not an assortment of independent individuals. Individuals gain a great deal by entering this society- for example, they can expect not to be killed, in return for not killing. These sorts of rules bind society together, and it is necessary to protect society as a whole in order for individuals to reap the benefits. Thus, my VC is maximizing protection of society.

Comments

Sheesh, this is wordy. You're not saying anything particularly controversial here. Do you really need to spend so much time saying it?

First Contention

Case

My sole contention is that the option of capital punishment is necessary to best protect society as a whole.

Comments

I'm not sure I'd argue it's "necessary." Obviously, if it were necessary it would be just, but you may be able to take on less of a burden of proof here and still negate. All you need t prove is that a just society is not morally proscribed from using the death penalty. Rather than arguing there is a moral obligation to execute some people who have been convicted of crimes, it would be easier for you to argue that under certain circumstances it simply would not be unjust for a society to use the death penalty. That is, rather than saying that the state ought to execute some people, you would be arguing that under certain circumstances a state might choose to execute a criminal.

The state, for instance, would need to be fairly certain that the criminal was mature, sane and had been given a fair trial. The person would have to have been found guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. The crime the person was accused of would have to have been particularly heinous. The death penalty ought not be used for crimes that do not involve the loss of innocent life. Under these circumstances, a state might justly use the death penalty.

One thing that I would make a point of establishing on the negative is that a just society has an indisputable right to kill. It might even, in some cases, have an obligation to kill. For instance, a just society would war off invasion from an tyrannical neighbor. A just society will not tolerate genocide and would fight to prevent it from happening either within its own borders or outside of them. The members of a just society have a right to collective self defense that's no different from the right they each possess as individuals. It is not unjust to kill in self defense.

Confronted with a murderer who the state may fear to be a continuing and perpetual threat to those around him, a state might decide that it would be better to put a permanent and to that threat than to simply hope that they can keep the murderer from killing again behind bars. Similarly, while there is no certainty that the death penalty deters crimes, it is not unreasonable for s state to think that it might. It may very well be circumstances when a state might reasonably think that the use of the death penalty can deter crime. Similarly a just government might similarly reason that use of the death penalty might provide society with a not immoral feeling that justice had been served.

Similarly, the negative can point out that just societies are not always rich societies and while it may be that today there are few societies that cannot find alternatives to the death penalty, one can nonetheless imagine circumstances when the death penalty might potential be the best form of punishment available to a society.

Much would depend on circumstance, and the negative can probably concede that the death penalty is a penalty that a just society would no use often if at all. However, for us to affirm the resolution, the negative can argue, we would need to be certain that under no set of circumstances could a just society use the death penalty.

Indeed, if the affirmative argues, as you did, that the death penalty is inherently unjust you need to be prepared to push the affirmative on that point. If the death penalty is inherently unjust, the negative must press, wouldn't that have to mean that under no circumstances would it be morally acceptable for a just society to employ it?

Some affirmatives will try to weasel around on this point and argue that an exception doesn't prove the rule, but the negative has to continue to press here. Surely the negative isn't obligated to argue that the death penalty should be an ordinary form of punishment invoked in less than exceptional circumstances. This is a debate about exceptional circumstances, the negative will argue, and that while it may be that the a just society would rarely if ever use the death penalty it would be wrong to say that a just society is morally obligated to never to employ it.

Subpoint One

Case

My first subpoint is that respect for the law must be valued more than the criminal. In J.J. Rousseau's The Social Contract written in 1762, he says the following: “Every rogue who criminously attacks social rights becomes, by his wrong, a rebel and a traitor to his fatherland. By contravening its laws, he ceases to be one of its citizens: he even wages war against it. In such circumstances, the State and he cannot both be saved: one or the other must perish. In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy.” If a crime is particularly heinous, or presents a particular threat to society, the death penalty is justified because it weighs the good of society (through upholding the laws that protect it) over one murderous individual. The ultimate punishment must be an option so that the law is protect upheld. If used sparingly, the death penalty allows a society to show its disapproval of the most severe crimes.

Comments

This line of reasoning is good since it appeals to a right of self defense. In the end, you're arguing, a state that refrained from killing at the expense of its citizens rights would have failed its duty to its citizens. At the same time, I would not go so far as to say that the state needs to periodically kill to show its disapproval of certain crimes. I think you're on much stronger ground arguing that when the state sees someone as clear and perpetual threat to the law and the lives of innocent people that a state may justly put that person to death.

Subpoint Two

Case

My second subpoint is that prisons are not always a viable option. Prisons are often overcrowded, and unable to support the vast numbers of people put through them. When a serial rapist or mass murderer is placed in an overcrowded environment, he is more likely to kill or rape again. The John Howard Society of Alberta writes in a 1996 report: “Competition and conflict over limited resources often lead to aggression and violence.” If offenders of less serious crimes suffer these effects, it is frightening to imagine how a murderer might react in such crowded conditions. In addition, in an overcrowded, understaffed prison, even maximum security prisoners will be under less scrutiny, meaning that they have a greater chance of escape, or of harming other prisoners. If prisons are not available, such as in nomadic societies, a society is justified in executing the prisoner, since the only other alternative is setting the prisoner loose, thus putting society as a whole at risk.

Comments

Why not just build bigger prisons? Or, even better, stop putting people in prison for non-violent crimes? I think you shouldn't appeal to developed countries in making this argument. I mean, it's hard to argue that the United States needs to employ the death penalty in response to prison overcrowding. Keep in mind, the United States has over two million people in prison. There are currently about 3,200 people on death row. Killing every single person on death row would have little or no effect on prison overcrowding. It would seem you're arguing that because prisons are overcrowded that we have to put murderers to death. That doesn't sound too good. I also don't think you can just throw in a sentence on the the nomadic societies and expect the judges or your opponent to understand what you mean. It might be a line you pursue in cross examination:

Q: Suppose a society simply didn't have the resources to erect a maximum security prison? Then what?

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