Redemption and Capital Punishment
In 2005, a man named Stanley Tookie Williams was sentenced to death by the State of California after being convicted of murdering four people. While waiting for his execution, Williams attempted to make amends by writing children’s books that warned about the dangers of gangs and violence. Because of these acts, many people believed that Williams’ sentence should be reduced to life in prison. The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, did not believe he truly regretted his actions, due to the fact that he laughed and bragged about the situation while on trial, and rejected his plea for clemency. Was the governor’s decision to execute Stanley Williams morally permissible? Should his attempts at redemption allow him to have a lesser sentence? It was morally right of Governor Schwarzenegger to uphold the decision to execute Stanley Williams.
According to Social Contract Theory, the morally right action is the one that adheres to the set of rule a person has agreed to follow. In this situation, the United States Constitution is the social contract that governor Schwarzenegger had to abide by. Although it does not explicitly say what should be done in cases involving capital punishment, the eighth Amendment does ensure that a person cannot be deprived of their life, liberty, or property without a fair trail for the crime they are accused of. Williams was given a fair trial and he was found guilty. As a result, the state of California had the right to execute him. Even though he tried to amend his situation, it does not change the fact that he was convicted of four murders. If Governor Schwarzenegger had granted Williams’ plea for clemency, he would have broken the rules of the social contract. This could potentially cause other criminals on death row to do some sort of charity work with the motivation that they, too, could be given a lesser sentence. There is no room for exceptions in the social contract, so therefore no exception can be made for Stanley Williams.
The Categorical Imperative states that right actions must be carried out regardless of what our particular wants or needs are. This concept plays a vital role in defining Kant’s form of ethics. Kant believed that there was a maxim, or rule, that could be applied to every situation. These rules are universal and indisputable. In regards to justice, Kant’s ethics believes that criminals should be given a punishment that is as severe as the crime they committed. With this knowledge, the conclusion can be drawn that the categorical imperative would not allow Governor Schwarzenegger to lessen Mr. Williams’ sentence. The punishment of life in prison is not equal to the crime of murdering four people. Furthermore, the categorical imperative does not believe that redemption is related to justice. The fact that Williams wrote books for children does not change the crime he committed, and therefore it should not change his sentencing. If Governor Schwarzenegger were to give Stanley Williams a less harsh punishment, he would be universalizing this action. As a result, all murderers who tried to seek redemption would be given life in prison instead of an execution.
According to the text, Ethical Egoism is the moral theory that says that the right action is the one that produces the most favorable balance of good and evil for oneself. This means that in every situation, ethical egoists ask themselves which action will create the best outcome for them. Because ethical egoism is so individualized, it is impossible to state that all ethical egoists would agree with Governor Schwarzenegger’s decision to execute Stanley Williams. If an ethical egoist was living in California while the drama surrounding Mr. Williams unfolded, it can be assumed that this specific person would want him to be executed. They might think about how their safety would be compromised if Williams was allowed to live. There would be a chance, however slim, that Williams could escape from prison and terrorize citizens of California as he had before. They could also think about what impression the situation would leave on society. People could see this as an opportunity to act recklessly because they believe that they may not receive the full punishment. This would cause a serious strain on everyone in society, including the ethical egoist.
Because of Social Contract Theory, the Categorical Imperative, and Ethical Egoism, Governor Schwarzenegger’s decision to execute Stanley Williams was justified. Rules have been created for situations like this one, and if those rules are not followed, the consequences can be severe. The stability of society should not be compromised in order to cater to the wants of a single criminal.