The Straits Times
Published on Jan 08, 2013

Answer lies in ascertaining guilt, not reducing punishment


THE argument against the death penalty based on "inconsistency in outcomes" is flawed ("Death penalty for heinous crimes not the answer" by Maruah; last Friday).

There is no single standard penal code for all countries in the world, so why should there be any expectation of "consistency in outcomes"?

There is also no compelling argument that life imprisonment is more fitting for those responsible for the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. Some of their surviving victims have to struggle just to keep alive. Many would be crippled physically, emotionally and financially for the rest of their lives.

Maruah's second argument that no system is foolproof fails to distinguish between the suitability of the punishment and the reliability of the conviction. The innocent should never be convicted even if the punishment is not severe. The area to work on is to ascertain guilt, not to reduce the punishment out of fear of wrongful conviction.

Finally, Maruah denounces using emotive cases to justify the death penalty.

While one should not decide on punishments based wholly on emotions, we should remember that it is human emotions, the sense of justice and sympathy that led to the establishment and development of the justice systems and penal codes throughout the ages. Emotive cases are what led to the abolition of unjust laws in the past, or the repealing of unsuitable punishments.

Chen Junyi