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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

Pawlenty neglects alternatives to death penalty

By Jaruwan Punyoyai
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 5, 2004

On Nov. 22, University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin disappeared, and Minnesota law enforcement and prosecutors are searching for answers and suspects. On Dec. 2, Crookston resident Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. was arrested in connection with her disappearance. Rodriguez was released last May after serving a 23-year sentence for first- degree assault and kidnapping. It is alleged that he is a repeat offender and responsible for Sjodins disappearance.

In response, Gov. Tim Pawlenty commented that he would support a bill reinstating the death penalty in Minnesota. Under Pawlentys rationale, putting convicted murderers and rapists to death would prevent tragedies similar to Sjodins. Minnesota Public Radio quoted Pawlenty on Dec. 2 as saying, "When you have somebody who is raping or attempting to rape a woman and trying to kill them or killing them, in my view, that's the type of individual that's probably not curable and shouldn't be out on the streets in a free society. So I'd like to see  I support the death penalty.

Pawlentys rationalization is the same closed-minded thinking that leaves us in the midst of pointless gay marriage amendments and false justification of foreign battle. It is this kind of simplistic approach to very complicated issues that is turning the world against America and turning Americans against each other.

Pawlenty asserts that executing possible repeat offenders would limit the possibility for repeat offense. This simple equation is easy to understand and difficult to challenge using such elementary logic. However, there are many more factors contributing to capital punishment than guilty versus non-guilty and right versus wrong.

Pawlenty does not consider alternative options to the final act of execution. By his rationale, couldnt we simply incarcerate possible repeat offenders for life? It accomplishes the same goals of capital punishment, but without the finality of death. This is not meant to sympathize with murderers and rapists, but to simply provide a safety net for a justice system that is not always perfect. In a world where innocent men are convicted of crimes they did not commit, there can be no finality. We must do all we can to provide them with opportunities for exoneration.

Pawlentys reasoning is flawed, naïve and ineffective. In fact, he uses the weakest of all arguments in favor of capital punishment. He argues for prevention: the same prevention that could be accomplished by life imprisonment. Had he argued for retribution or deterrence, he might have a stronger case.

Even with these though, there are alternatives solutions.

One of the most vocal pundits of the retributivist ideology is Igor Primoratz. In his book, Justifying Legal Punishment, Primoratz argues that murderers have sacrificed their right to life, and therefore, it is not immoral for the punishment to be proportional to the crime. Primoratz states that deciding to murder someone is an act of suicide, and by taking a life, the murderer is sacrificing the right to his own. This argument is highly philosophical, and actually quite unnecessary, despite Primoratzs efforts. While I do not argue that the murderer has lost his right to life, I ask supporters of this belief to consider those who are wrongly accused. Have they lost their right to life?

There are many documented cases of innocent people being put to death. It has happened, and will continue to happen. Primoratz talks vehemently about a moral right to life. Men and women who are falsely convicted still retain Primoratzs right to life, and to deprive them of that makes us no better than the murderers we intend to punish.

Still, some may argue for retribution on the grounds of vengeance. Simply put, the murderer has taken from innocent people, and now he must pay. I cannot argue with the notion of compensation. It seems cold-blooded to consider some means of compensation for the murder of a loved one. But thats what vengeance is: emotional compensation.

Perhaps there is a better way to compensate. If you execute a murderer for vengeance, nothing is accomplished but death. However, if you send the murderer to a labor prison for life, something productive can be salvaged from a horrible situation. The convicts profits can send the victims children to college, or go to charity in the victims name. Otherwise, all youre doing is ending death with death, hate with hate.

As for deterrence, there is no study that can firmly support the death penalty as a deterrent. Even Primoratz, a strong advocate for the death penalty, concedes, we have no reason to believe that, as a means of deterrence, it [capital punishment] is any better than a long term prison sentence.

What it comes down to a simple analysis of our priorities. Are we a society that values a guilty mans death over an innocent mans life? We must ask this, because as long as we put guilty people to death, we will fail in our judgment and do the same to innocent people. Who is more important to you?


Contributing Writer Patrick Bottini is a first year from Sartel, Minn. His major is undecided.


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