Friday, June 27, 2008

The Limits of the Death Penalty

If the death penalty is the state's most extreme punishment, it should not be administered to rapists. My economics training teaches me this because murder is a marginal crime to rape, and if the maximum punishment is used to deter rapists, the state has no additional means to discourage the more heinous act of rapists murdering their victims to evade prosecution.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed with this point as it declared the use of the death penalty unconstitutional as punishment cases that do not involve murder. The majority opinion declared, “We cannot sanction this result when the harm to the victim, though grave, cannot be quantified in the same way as death of the victim.” (Full Article Here).

Because I agree with the logic that rape should not be a capital offense, I was surprised to see that the Justices I tend to agree with were united against this decision. If I had thought beyond stage one, perhaps I wouldn't have been so surprised. I agree with this particular policy, but the broader issue is whether the Supreme Court should have veto power over laws it views as bad policy. My reading of Knowledge and Decisions leads me to believe it should not.

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Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty