The Death Penalty in the Life of David Gale

Ethical discussions surrounding the Judicial System can be a delicate subject. Personal bias and emotions can stand in the way when the preservation of human life is the topic. The death penalty is seen by some as an appropriate punishment, while others view it as a crime against humanity. The arguments for the death penalty can be seen as clear and clean cut, stated simply as an eye for an eye. The governor in the film, The Life of David Gale, showed an example of this type of thinking with his response to a concerned interviewer about too many executions in a three-day timespan. He offered a cold response about bringing the criminals in and strapping them in the electric chair. The ethical arguments against it are much more complicated.

The following points will consider human life, innocence, and socialization. The fact that any percentage of people sentenced to death for First Degree Murder are exonerated is concerning. Eliminating the death penalty could provide a chance for those who are innocent and a chance for those who are guilty to be rehabilitated and offered the assistance and counseling services they deserve. Organizations are currently in place to help protect the innocent and wrongfully convicted, but that is not enough. Innocent people continue to be convicted. Ethical arguments for the preservation of human life can help to continue the conversation and raise awareness for those whose lives are at stake.

Human life is not ours to end. This ethical statement could be viewed through a religious lens, instead, viewing it as a system of beliefs opens up the discussion further. Seeing life as a human right is a compassionate perspective. Some may see this as challenging because of personal agendas. The Life of David Gale presents an exaggerated situation of a false rape accusation at the beginning of the movie. The student accusing David Gale of the rape was upset about her grade at the university. These personal feelings led to her plan to set him up. Even though this is a theatrical example, it speaks to the possibility of human emotions clouding judgment.

Not only are humans deserving of their lives, they are imperfect. Because of the possibility of interfering issues, we can not be expected to remain completely objective when determining who deserves to live. This ties back to separating from the religious belief that God is the one who can determine when someone lives or dies. Other examples of clouded judgement include police correction for monetary reasons or expert witnesses being persuaded to testify in favor of one side for payment or under threat. Considering the possibilities, the ethical stance can be made that the our minds are too malleable to make decisions about ending the life of another.

Innocent people deserve a chance. The jury is supposed to give their findings after seeing evidence and testimony that proves guilt without a reasonable doubt. However, people are capable of making mistakes, having biases, and being misled. Jury selection is one way the Judicial System attempts to avoid placing people on juries who are at risk for biased decision making. The procedures are not foolproof, and some are able to hide their personal opinions until it is too late. Ultimately speaking, the margin for error is too great to risk human lives on these procedures. Giving a life sentence instead of the death penalty offers those who are innocent the time to prove their innocence.

Humans should not die because of being a product of their environment. This ethical statement is one side of the nature-versus-nurture discussion. Are we born the way we are, or are we influenced by our environments? Socialization is acting how we are taught to or believe we should. This can be seen to shape our lives and how we interact with the world in the society we are a part of. The way this unfolds could be due to traumatic experiences from one’s past or the absence of something which should have been provided for healthy human development: love, compassion, connection, etc.

These experiences and/or deficits could also impact decision making in the heat of the moment. For example, if someone is angry and feels violated or abandoned by a cheating spouse, then they might kill the person who is seen to be in the way of their happiness. It might be the wrong decision to make to kill someone, but that might be the only way the person knows how to handle the situation. In The Life of David Gale, at one of the protests speeches, a point is made about individuals seeking the death penalty. They are described as seeking revenge. Even in the movie, the ending of a life with the death penalty does not satisfy the needs attempting to be met to get revenge. Whether the choices for action are made when the crime is committed or when the penalty is decided, ethically it can be argued that humans make choices because of the knowledge they have or the experienced that have shaped them. Rehabilitation and counseling can only be offered to those who are still living to receive them.

Ethical arguments against the death penalty include a complex set of beliefs. Life is a human right. Individuals with power in the Judicial System and juries selected by appointed individuals should not hold decision-making power to end a human life. Potential for error in criminal cases places lives at the mercy of those who make the final decision, regardless of biases and influences. Perspectives on nature versus nurture can also be used to add weight to ethical arguments. Environmental influences are seen to affect all of society, not just those committing crimes, but also the ones making decisions in the Judicial System. After looking at the points made, one could conclude that the way to protect the innocent from the death penalty would be to intervene proactively and do away with it all together, which would provide the opportunity for rehabilitation for those justifiably convicted and time for appeal and exoneration for those falsely convicted.