The clash over death penalty in US-European relations



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Tartu Ülikool


Right from the start, it was clear that the issue of death penalty was complex and, all in all, included more factors, controversies and facets than comprehensible. As exploring the subject more, this suspicion was quickly confirmed, and as I tried to navigate all the information on the subject, decide what is more important and what less, I tried to keep my focus clear. This meant making choices in which aspects to discuss. I made this choice based on my own logic and common sense. In my personal opinion, capital punishment is far too shrouded in controversy to be used in the standard criminal justice cases in the US, or elsewhere, for that matter. The issues with racial and class bias, in any context they may appear, are not to be taken lightly. Even though there is no definitive research proving this bias in all the US states still using death penalty, the confirmed bias in some states and the general issues with racial discrimination, conscious or not, by both the police, juries, and civilians are enough to raise suspicions. The fact that many death penalty cases date back to times before the collection and analysis of DNA and other modern advancements in investigation, begs the question how many people are on death row that would today be found to be innocent, if there would be evidence to analyze. All this is troubling, to say the least, and to me, a clear sign that death penalty is not working like it's intended to. I believe to have found ample evidence to prove my argument of differing ethics being the root cause of the clash. European policies are very clear on death penalty – the right to live is universal among humans. The US' policies say “Yes, BUT”. This is the essence of the clash. Even though out values are more similar than different, other factors, including cultural and sociological ones, impact the way those translate into ethics. Thus, the clash becomes more complicated in a way – it's not so much a complete disagreement on the basics as it is in the details. We agree to an extent, but when we don't, we lose complete track of how the other side could interpret the same thing so differently. The human feeling that retribution is necessary is understandable, even to the abolitionists, I'm certain. However, I'm equally certain all would agree that even retribution must be carried out in a way that is just, and carries little value when enforced in any other way. The question behind the root cause of the clash, as I would interpret it, is IS capital punishment just, or even CAN it be. It would appear to me, the statistics and research prove it might not be. The abolitionists say this means it shouldn't be used. The retentionists say it's worth the risk. I hope I have succeeded in what I set out to do – focus on the most important aspects of this complex topic, bring forward what causes the clash and how it manifests. I sincerely hope the research on this topic continues, both academically and in terms of field work. As people's lives are at stake, it's certainly worthy of attention.