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The Debate on the Death Penalty – Certainty of Guilt

  • Category(s): Death Penalty Essays
  • Created on : 10 August 2015
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


There is a little subterfuge in this harping on about certainty of guilt. The argument about certainty of guilt is being used by some to hide their distaste for the Death Penalty and its ending the convicted murderers life, albeit lawfully. Some find it very difficult to accept the circumstances of a judicially decreed execution by hanging ever being lawful, even for coldblooded murder.

1. Preamble

I argue such certainty is fundamental to our criminal justice according to our Rules of evidence and procedure. Once we have the guilty verdict we must have the confidence to apply the proper sentence, whatever the crime, be it sexual assault, robbery, fraud or murder itself, or its associated crimes. The sentence depends upon the findings of fact implicit in the Jury’s guilty verdicts or verdict. Many regard life terms as “lifeless” imprisonment thereby justifying the eventual release of the lifer for humane reasons. Indeed the European Courts have favoured this approach. In the USA and Canada life means life literally, and such prisoners would not expect to see the light of day once convicted.

2. The Nature of Proof

Essentially there is no such thing as an “open and shut” case. There may be a suggestion of contamination of the forensic evidence in collection or storage or error by an expert witness who has used an incorrect formula or drawn the incorrect conclusions. The Director will not bring a case where the verdict depends to a significant extent on one man’s word against another’s. It is now mandatory for the Defence to supply a statement of its case in the Crown Court before Jury trial to be seen by the Judge, Jury and Advocates. When this is filed the Director may rarely be deflected and offer no evidence. Sometimes the accused will not agree to answer questions in the Police Interviews maybe on legal advice. One way or another, the Director will become aware of the Defence case.

In the days of the 1970’s there were no Defence Statements, although alibi Notices were required of the Defence from the late 1970’s. Proof is objective, but it requires the Advocate and Judge to apply their own professional judgement to achieve the result through the Jury’s verdict and affirmation of Prosecution Counsel’s case or Defence Counsel’s argument. Any case that falls short will be stopped by the Judge or on a submission of no case by the Defence Counsel.

3. How “Proof” Has Bedevilled Our English Murder Trials

It is a familiar cry – you cannot be sure of guilt, thus Capital Punishment is unthinkable as an innocent life may be taken in the gallows. This point has a superficial attraction. Man’s justice is imperfect – it is not God’s. Nevertheless are we to leave all convicted murderers on minimum life terms, under the status quo, for the sake of the theoretical innocent man who may be hanged under the Death Sentence regime I seek to usher in? That “theoretical innocent man” case is used to stop tens of murderers being hanged for terrible murders. Thus our justice is strangulated and emasculated by this constantly repeated mantra: Don’t let the innocent go to the gallows.

I say let us have the strength to act on guilty verdicts of murder and pronounce the Death Sentence properly by the trial Judge’s discretion. If convicted by the Jury the Judge will not go behind that verdict of murder and spare the Defendant the Death Sentence because of foibles over the evidential proof of murder. Such sentencing to death or being spared will turn upon the gravity of the crime and remorse, with the career history of the convicted murderer.

4. The Conundrum Further Examined

Any Defendant who denies his guilt in the Police Station is subject to proper investigation of his denials by those police under the Director’s guidance in cases of murder, or the lower echelons of the Crown Prosecution Service in lesser cases. If the accused makes no reply in the Police Station his silence can be used against him at trial as a sign of inconsistency. This has been the case for decades. The chances of a miscarriage have thus narrowed. The accused will have the benefit of a solicitor in the police interview. This interaction between the interrogating police and the accused has always been pivotal nowadays more so than ever. The Jury trial is absolutely crucial nevertheless. The Crown Court murder trial is not a game of hide and seek. The public should have confidence in our Director and the police and Crown Counsel with the prosecution experts, to secure the murder conviction at Jury trial if there is a contest. The forensic evidence and tools are absolutely incisive and heavily relied upon by the Director quite rightly.

5. Conclusion

In life we must do our duty to the utmost, even though we may be prevented from carrying it out. e.g. the British soldier injured seriously by an explosive device in Afghanistan when our regiments were serving there. Defence Counsel or Crown Counsel may find the verdict goes against him, such is a Jury trial. Captain Scott made it to the Antarctic Pole but perished on the return journey. Thus I argue in criminal justice we should accept our imperfections and resign ourselves to the remote possibility of an innocent man being convicted of murder, and possibly sentenced to death. This is Christian acceptance. It is also humility and not turning back short of the summit. We must plough on in the resolve of our teamwork and the strength of our criminal justice. Thus the Death Sentence should not be dismissed out of hand on the altar of human fallibility.

We can never beat God. We should not raise ourselves above God and submit we know best. Yes we may err, I concede, and if we truly admit that possibility of error, yet advance to the Final Penalty, we will be following God’s lead for all the reasons in my various essays. To pursue the present Death Sentence regime is to say God cannot inspire our Death Penalty policy, and we will shelter and hide like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they had eaten of the forbidden fruit. Do not take matters in to man’s hands – put them in to God’s hands. The likelihood of the miscarriage, if we went back to the Death Penalty, is the fig leaf which does not truly mask Adam and Eve’s nakedness. Let us believe that Natural Law is God’s Law and that Natural Law has always espoused, as is well known, the Death Sentence for murder since the time of Christ and before.

I say do not put man’s justice before God’s Law. If we do we aggrandise ourselves and say we know better than God. It takes humility to follow the Law of God to which I speak. God is in charge of murder trial justice, and He demands the discretionary Death Sentence for murder regime should be put to the Country at the very least.