Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Additional Punishments that Follow a Murder Conviction

Murderers and Cruel and Unusual PunishmentI woke up on Tuesday morning last week excited for the day and I didn’t really know why I was so excited. As I began to get ready to leave for work, I started to think about why I was so excited. And that’s when I remembered that the biggest criminal trial in the last six years in the county where I live was scheduled to start that day.

The trial involved a man who stabbed his friend 54 times and beat him in the head with a hard object until he stopped moving. The man claimed to have done the stabbing and beating out of self-defense, but the State did not buy the claims and charged him with murder. His trial was scheduled to occur each day that week and I was excited to go to the courthouse for a few hours each day to catch bits and pieces of it.

I wasn’t excited that anyone died or that family members had to listen to lawyers give gruesome evidence about the death of their son/cousin/grandson/brother/friend, but I love watching lawyers in action in an intense courtroom setting and there is no more intense courtroom setting than a murder trial.

As I sat there in the courtroom and watched the lawyers, I glanced at the defendant and wondered what was going through his mind. What would it be like for him to know that he wasn’t going to be able to go to his family’s house to watch football on Thanksgiving? There would be no live sporting events to attend. He wouldn’t be able to run out and buy the latest TV technology, and he wouldn’t be able to catch the latest and greatest movies on the big screen. The next 45 to 65 years of his life could be spent behind bars without any freedom whatsoever.

I’ve been mistakenly locked in the local jail with clients for longer periods of time than I wanted and I can tell you firsthand, it is a very unsettling feeling to know that I couldn’t leave the room no matter how much I wanted to. The punishment of having to sit in a prison cell for 50 plus years almost seems like it could be cruel and unusual.

Earlier this month I watched a documentary about Russia’s toughest prisons. Some of the prisoners in Russia go without human contact for 23 hours a day and only get 30 minutes or so of walking time in a concrete room. The rest of their time is spent locked up in a cell where they aren’t allowed to lie down and they only have access to books as entertainment. There they sit for the rest of their lives and I believe that pushes the limits of what the human mind is capable of handling.

My wife knew I was excited to watch the trial and it came up in a few discussions.  We talked about the Russian prisons and she believes that’s what prison should be like, but I don’t know if I agree. People who are willing to kill other people certainly deserve to have a very severe punishment, even if that punishment is life in prison, but to sentence that person to solitary confinement with no access to anything more than a few books and their own thoughts? It seems too mentally excruciating. I’m not willing to say that such a punishment should not be given to people, but it does make me pause to think about the mental anguish that these people have to suffer.

If the mental torture is enough to give me pause, what does the death penalty do? Politically I am more on the conservative side and that means I should probably be for the death penalty and other severe punishments for criminals, but I don’t know if I do support the death penalty. Is it really appropriate to capture another human being, place that human in a cell where he/she cannot do any other harm to another person, and then kill that human  It just seems inhumane. It seems like killing people for killing people is, well, killing people.

There’s no doubt many criminals deserve harsh punishments. Many of them have no remorse for ending the lives of others and taking the life of another human should bring serious consequences, but do those consequences justify death? Will the death of the criminal really repair the damage that was done, or is it simply a chance for the victims to get vengeance?

Fortunately, I haven’t lost any family or friends to such actions and until I do, I don’t know if I can come to a solid opinion on the subject.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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