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Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky


Death penalty or life imprisonment?




The following text was translated from the Russian original by the computer program

and has not yet been edited.

So it can be used only for general introduction.




"Everyone has the right to life. Death penalty, until its abolition may be established by the Federal law as exceptional punishment for especially grave crimes against life..."

(from the article 20 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation)





First of all agree on their original positions. We are not going to challenge the scale of penalties proposed by the current Criminal code of the Russian Federation. To date, the death penalty is provided for the second part of the 105th article, and a list of possible crimes that may be punished by death, this article gives a very full. This murder:

- two or more persons;

- the person or his relatives in connection with implementation of a given person of service activity or performance of public debt;

- persons, obviously for guilty being in a helpless state;

- combined with kidnapping or taking hostage;

- women, obviously for guilty being in a state of pregnancy;

- committed with particular cruelty;

- committed publicly dangerous method;

- committed by a group of persons, by a group of persons upon a preliminary collusion or by an organised group;

- mercenary motives or hire;

- is paired with robbery, extortion or banditry;

- out of hooliganism;

with the aim to conceal another crime or facilitate its committal;

- accompanied with rape or violent sexual actions;

- on the motive of national, racial, religious hatred or enmity or blood feud;

- in order to organs or tissues of the victim.

There in the Criminal code and other articles that can be assigned to the death penalty (277 - "Psagatulla on the life of a state or public figure", 295 - "Encroachment on the life of persons engaged in the administration of justice or preliminary investigation", 357 - "Genocide" and others), but, ultimately, all of these "private" crimes covered by comprehensive 105th article. Here and maniacs, and terrorists, and unbelted killers-nationalists of all persuasions, and thugs and killers... Deven the overly jealous husband, Zaruba axe his unfaithful wife and her lover (i.e. committed the murder of two persons), can theoretically be according to this article were shot.

We will not delve into the issue, more or less lenient sentence deserves a jealous husband in comparison with the killer or a terrorist. Part 2 of article 105 gives great "plug" - from eight to twenty years, or life imprisonment, or death penalty. And if the notorious husband was almost in a state of affect, and if the killer he repented and went to cooperate with the investigation... the Number of options are limitless, so the final determination of penalties, of course, remains in the competence of a particular trial. Can "give" and below the lower limit envisaged in the relevant article, the penal code "in exceptional circumstances" (article 64) allows.

The question we are going to discuss here is different: for the most serious of all possible imaginable and unimaginable crimes under any existing or draft articles of the Criminal code, the death penalty or life imprisonment? In the Constitution of the Russian Federation (article 20) States that the death penalty may be established as an exceptional measure of punishment until its abolition", - isn't it time it completely and permanently cancel? Or Vice versa: whether it is necessary to lift the moratorium on the death penalty, existing now in Russia?

It is no exaggeration to say that the question no one can remain indifferent. Everyone, learning about those or other horrible crimes, as a rule, at least for a moment think about the death penalty for those who committed these crimes. And think very emotional: "And as such holds the land?" "And this bastard is still alive?" "And the monster of the human race is in jail instead of lying in the grave?" "Would give this geek me, I'd..." Future versions of what would happen to the offender if he would "give up", as a rule, depend only on the wealth of imagination and vocabulary.

But it is characteristic that such emotions arise not only on terrorists, serial killers, murderers, rapists and other such. For example, say honestly, hand on heart: who of us never thought something like "give it me, I would..." on the Swiss air traffic controller, a mistake which killed over lake Constance dozens of people, mostly women and children? And who of us at least mentally, at least for a moment did not justify vigilante justice on this controller, perfect Vitaly Kaloyev, who lost in the plane crash the whole family?

The fact of the matter is that emotions are only emotions. Sometimes they go still further: even in a completely harmless quarrels sometimes hear words like "wish you were dead", but it is usually taken only as an insult, but not as a real death wish.

Therefore, all will try to think clearly, and not to be led by emotions. So, for the most serious of particularly grave crimes, the death penalty or life imprisonment?

Religious aspects of this problem we touch here will not, as concerning the death penalty is possible to very different interpretations of any creed, and the range of options here would be simply immense - from Tolstoy's "non-resistance to evil by violence" to order "Kill them all in a row, God in heaven knows his (the latter often sounded in the middle ages, in response to a question, as in the capture of a city to distinguish between Muslims, Jews or Protestants from "good Catholics").

Just look at all the possible arguments "for" and "against" on the level of elementary human logic.




Under part two of article 43 of the Criminal code, the punishment is applied to restore social justice, and for the correction of the convict and prevention of new crimes".

Supporters of the death penalty usually caused by the "social justice" as an argument in favor of their position. The arguments here are approximately as follows: "This monster tortured and killed so many people, including many children and so many women, but he only got a life sentence?"

Let us call things by their proper names: in this context, the notorious "social justice" is nothing more than a desire for revenge.

We will not deal with moral aspects of revenge: they, as a rule, are closely related to religious beliefs, and we agreed that religion will not lead it. Let us desire for revenge as a kind of reality inherent in many people (perhaps even most - at least in their minds).

But what does "revenge" in our case? For example, the offender had killed so many people, and caused his innocent victims of unimaginable suffering... And if he is a "little life imprisonment," so what - shot? A shot for the "restoration of social justice" (i.e. to satisfy the thirst for vengeance) is enough? He tortured and killed so many people, but for him it is just a bullet in the neck?

Consequently, the death penalty in its current form is still in no case will not satisfy those who favor such a "social justice" in relation to "very serious". Then it must offer not just a shot, but a return to the medieval practice - quartered at stake, alive cook in boiling water... NOh, glory to God, yet that such proposals do not sound - anyway, seriously.

More than that - one has only to go on this track, and it can get very far. The desire to "restore social justice" is a logical consequence: suppose a large Kommersant underpaid state taxes on so many millions or billions of currency units. For these millions, billions could be used to build and equip a few children's hospitals. And because of the fact that these hospitals are not enough, die each year many children, whose number is far greater than the same numberPTB suex maniacs together.

So what is - and the businessman shot in order to "restore social justice"? A corrupt senior officials, the damage from the "activities" which is equally great, - with him? And if the maniacs in the name of the same "justice" should be put to death agony, then the tax evasion in especially large sizes - even more painful? Those stake, and these cook in boiling water? Or Vice versa?

The middle ages, when it was popular such "logic", fortunately, are gone. The company has since increased other factors, holding citizens from crimes (education, cultural level, social responsibility etc), and to intimidate people barbaric painful executions are no longer necessary.

And if the death penalty in the form of modern "humane" execution not restore social justice" in relation to any of particularly serious crimes and would not satisfy the thirst for revenge any of its supporters (especially fathers and mothers, whose children died at the hands of maniacs, terrorists and other criminals), this argument is a need to introduce the death penalty as an instrument of restoration of social justice" - is untenable.




And yet, even if to distract from the issues of revenge, the main argument of the supporters of the death penalty is that the fear of death can lead to a reduction in the number of serious crimes. The same argument is usually given in favor of any increase penalties: criminals should be frightened and stop steal, Rob, kill...

Maybe criminals and frightened. But if they cease to commit crimes?  Again, remember the middle ages: in all the squares were scaffolds and gallows, fires burning, mass executions were carried out almost weekly, but how crime was lower than in our time?

People like led and leads to the crimes of many factors (first of all, of course, the social disorder of society), and stop potential criminals not only and not so much the fear of punishment as the inevitability of punishment.

Here is a simple example. Suppose, in a country thousands of pickpockets. What is more effective - to catch and put in jail for a few years all of them (and then again inevitable to jail if you don't stop stealing, or to catch a dozen other and demonstration hang on the red square in the hope that others will be afraid?

The first way is more complicated, the second is easier. But the second way a negative proved in the middle ages. Apparently, that's how the human psyche: if caught and executed not you then fear for too long, and then begins again: "Now I am not caught, and next time they will not catch me, so I will powerul..."

I might ask no better time to go both ways, i.e. to catch, and it is significant to execute all-all-all thieves? So to say, completely eliminate all the "thieves ' rock'?

Yes, this is possible in theory. And then you can not execute revealing - eradicates something all too and still...

But then the question arises: many drivers and pedestrians violating traffic rules, ie and risk their lives and the lives of others. Surely, this must be fought. So don't shoot it (or at least to plant ten years) and for any violation of traffic rules? Then on the road, you see, and the order will come...

And if we shoot for illegal re-planning of apartments and violations of the rules of gas stoves, and houses will be much less likely to collapse... And if you execute and unscrupulous builders, the house will fall even more rarely, if not stop...

Strictly speaking, this is the essence of terror as a possible tool for targeting certain "order". But the problem is that even if you do not touch any moral aspects, it is still a terror tool ineffective and short-lived.

I will explain. Typically, the declared purpose of terror - freeing society from criminals, i.e. increasing the security of citizens. That, they say, will destroy all serial killers, terrorists, thieves, corrupt officials, spies, brakodel, parasites, the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and other similar, and then the honest citizen, faithfully perform their official or professional duties, unusual commodity well.

This statement sounds very impressive, but there is a problem: a unique distinction between honest and dishonest citizen, and especially between honest and dishonest attitude to their duties, almost impossible. And this leads not only to the fact that in the camp or the bullets sent millions of innocent people, and the number of victims is higher numbersPTB suex offenders together. In terror, there are other negative consequences.

Citizens, in fact, begin to fear. This fear paralyzes people, they start to look at power, as rabbits boa constrictor, and there is a "vicious circle": for the reinforcement of terror citizens are becoming less and less to feel safe, for which, in fact, was started and terror. Accordingly, people will fade away, abilities, talents, disappears entrepreneurial initiative, business rots, productivity declines, families are created, the birth rate falls, the country's national income is reduced ...

Then the government can only "militarize" his people (examples - of Stalin's pre-war Soviet Union or modern North Korea). And in war as in war: there death penalty as any other methods of intimidation, caused by "choice", gave each soldier - between possible death ahead or imminent death behind (ahead - the enemy behind - the detachments armed with machine guns). But no war can not last forever: it finally destroys the economy, and culture. And then, together with the war the government (if it survived) had to stop and terror.

But anyways, the most brutal terror, in any most bloody war of professional criminals who are not so timid and helpless, as honest and respectable citizens, are able not to get any in the hands of law enforcement authorities, nor by "firing" of the article, neither under a great time. Characteristically, Stalin in 1937, despite the millions of innocent victims, failed to win the "real" crime: numerous gangs like the famous "Black cat" just a little calmed down, but at the first opportunity (during the war) again raised their heads.

Recall and the book "the Prince and the pauper by Mark TWAIN. It is described as expelled from the Palace of the Prince in the XVI century, almost got to the gallows, as allegedly stolen his pig was worth more than thirteen and a half pence. And while in London, thousands of slum dwellers lived exclusively theft and was not afraid that one day they would hang them while they are stolen on a much larger amount...

Concluding the consideration of the applicability (or rather, not applicable) of terror as an instrument of crime, let us pay attention to something. Suppose that something incredible happened: all-all-all criminals rounded and hanged, and all the other citizens of this look and I was afraid to commit crimes. Terror, if it does not pursue any purposes other than fighting crime, this will end: execute nobody else and not for that. ... And that is again need to terror?

So which is better for any government is to try to terrorize their own people every 15-20 years (in vain and impossible), or to draw attention to the need to eliminate the social causes of crime (that really)?

In our time the answer to this question is obvious. Therefore, the argument in favor of the death penalty as a tool of intimidation existing and potential criminals have to be declared invalid.




At the household level in favor of the death penalty often heard even this argument: the use of "most serious" criminal society is not going to bring him harm, so isn't it better from him just to get - to execute?

But in modern society, more or less successfully address social issues, such an argument looks came from the primitive-communal society, when, in fact, useless to society individuals are destroyed or, at best, were banished.

Look: there's no direct benefit to society do not bring any old people or children, or unemployed, or disabled or seriously ill, or petty thieves... TAK that - according to this "logic", and should destroy them together with "very serious"?

But tell us - the old men benefited in the past, the children will in the future, patients can recover with disabilities are not guilty of their disability, and criminals guilty of their crimes...

But disabled people, sometimes people become solely your own fault. But criminals, on the contrary, people very often do unfavourable social conditions. So, if you shoot criminals as useless to society of individuals, it may be the first step towards the destruction of all other "unnecessary". Anyway, in the "Third Reich" mentally ill burned in furnaces, together with the Jews and Gypsies. And it was not in the middle ages, and only seventy years ago...

Will not even terror and genocide. And the consequences of the genocide is usually even more tragic for the state and society than the consequences of terror.

But supporters of the death penalty can give one more "domestic" argument, sounding more subject: monster of the human race has committed a terrible crime, and we instead shoot him like a mad dog, should the rest of his life to feed him.

But this argument is easily refuted by bringing it to an absurdity: why the state and society must feed (as well as to protect, to wear the prison uniform, to provide bed linen, etc. and the perpetrators of less serious crimes? Well, maybe not for life, a year, two, five, ten, - as long as takes their sentence? Then too, if I do not want to "feed" criminals, we should all be shot, just type in the criminal code of the death penalty instead of prison - and all the cases.

And untried? According to the same "logic"that is why we need to "feed"? Suddenly, they then condemn - will, we are "fed" criminals? And if not judge both the state and then another, and bear the costs of their rehabilitation, to compensate them the moral and material damage... Ne is better if the detention is not taken to the bullpen, and immediately set to the nearest wall?

This, of course, a joke (although during the "red terror and civil war, such "jokes" is quite consistent with reality, and it was, again, not in the middle ages, and less than a hundred years ago). And seriously, the state is "fed" very many (officials, the military, law enforcement officers, teachers, doctors, workers of museums and others in order), and the cost of maintaining those serving life sentences, in comparison with all this are negligible.

And yet, whatever the cost may be, but they are. Is it possible to avoid them by entering the most serious crimes, the death penalty?

So, to understand that the cost of maintaining those sentenced to life absolutely justified, we present additional arguments against the death penalty.




First of all once again remember the second part of article 43 of the Criminal code: "the Punishment is applied to restore social justice, and for the correction of the convict and prevention of new crimes".

We see that, in addition to the restoration of social justice, about which we have already referred in paragraph 2, are marked with two goals punishment - correction and prevention.

And if the death penalty and life imprisonment is quite enough to prevent new crimes, then fix someone can be shot only in accordance with the famous proverb about the hunchback, and the grave. But in our time, and the hunchback to fix not only the grave, but with advances in modern medicine. For offenders, there are also modern methods of psychological influence, and leave the man a chance to fix is the duty of the state and society.

While awaiting execution on death row is not a fix, but the fear of death. Sometimes it opens people's eyes (remember Stanley Williams, a former gang leader, who was sentenced to death in California, spent 25 years on death row, repented of their crimes, wrote many books about violence and became one of the possible candidates for the Nobel peace prize). But what's the point in that repentance and correction, if the person sooner or later be executed as the execution Williams after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to pardon him?

And in the case of serving a life sentence truly reformed person can be released after 25 years, as stipulated in 79-th article of the Criminal code. And you can not produce, if the court finds a fix insufficient. The main thing - people must feel that he has a chance to start a new life. And will he or will not be able to use this chance depends primarily on him. He may hang in the camera - ultimately, it's his right, but this punishment for themselves should choose himself, not the state.

Let's not forget about the possibility of judicial error. As is known, while the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo not caught for his crimes shot innocent - Alexander Kravchenko.

So, even the most seemingly terrible and persistent offender should have the chance not only to fix but also a justification "for the newly discovered circumstances, even if this chance is estimated only one-thousandth of a percent. However, I have no doubt that in fact the possibility of judicial error in Russia on average much higher, especially in "high profile" cases for which the law enforcement authorities usually require prompt disclosure of all costs.

Important examples that the state must always apply to their citizens. In any normal democratic country the majority of people are usually focused on the attitudes and actions of the government just as the government focuses on the attitudes and actions of the majority. To deny the psychological relationship of the individual and public institutions are hardly justified.

And if the state gives examples of deliberate and carefully planned murder, then what to expect from the citizens?

And in this case, deliberate and carefully planned murder is the death penalty, and this fact cannot be covered by any oddities like the fact that the offender is not a man (and the executioner for the exercise of their public debt, is not a killer). The criminal surname, name, patronymic, passport, hands, feet, head, speech, thoughts, it is people. And, regardless of the aims and motives, the death penalty is when one person kills another person. And because this murder, planned and organized by the state, it does not cease to be a murder. Even if enforce the sentence is not a man, but a robot, still in the process of this murder involved many people - from judges to robotics.

In the end, the death penalty has a very negative moral coloration and awakens in the citizens primitive, savage instincts.

Therefore, state expenditures on the maintenance of life convicts are actually spending on moral formation of society. The same costs as culture, education, Humanities disciplines...

And, ultimately, these are absolutely not burdensome for the state costs can improve the psychological climate in society and prevent the use of primitive methods of bloody vengeance in solving a number of civic issues. And most importantly, full and unconditional abolition of the death penalty must show that the government is really fighting crime by addressing its social reasons, not making futile attempts to intimidate criminals stricter punishments.




In 1977 academician Andrei Sakharov wrote a letter to the organizing Committee of the International Symposium on the death penalty (proceedings of the Symposium were published by Chronicle press, new York, 1977). We quote a large part of this document.

"I fully support the main arguments put forward by opponents of the death penalty.

I think the death penalty cruel and immoral institution that undermines the moral and legal foundations of society. The state, represented by their officials, as all people are prone to superficial conclusions, as everyone exposed to influences, public relations, prejudice, and self-centered motivation of behavior - assign this right for the worst and absolutely irreversible action: the deprivation of life. Such a state cannot rely on the improvement of the moral atmosphere in the country. I deny any significant deterrent effect of capital punishment on potential criminals. I am sure in reverse - violence breeds violence.

I deny practical necessity and effectiveness of the death penalty as a means of protecting society. In some cases, temporary isolation of criminals should be more humane, more flexible measures, allowing adjustments in the case of judicial error or changes in the society or in the offender.

I am convinced that society as a whole and each of its members individually, and not only those who appear before the court, responsible for ongoing crimes. In the challenge of reducing and eliminating crime are no simple solutions, and in any case, not the death penalty is such a decision. Only long-term evolution of society, the General humanistic rise, bringing up in people's deep reverence for life and the human mind, and greater attention to the difficulties and problems of the middle can lead in the future to reduce crime and even complete its liquidation. Such a humane society is now no more than a dream, and only acts manifestation of humanity today will create hope for the possibility of its implementation in future.

In childhood I shudder to read a wonderful book "Against the death penalty", published in Russia in 1906-1907, in the years of the post-revolutionary executions. (Ed. Sytin, with my grandfather I.N. Sakharov.) I know passionate speech writers - L. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hugo, Korolenko, Rozanov, Andreeva and many others. Of the mentioned collection I know the argument of a number of scientists - Bazhenov (psychology executed), Soloviev, Gernet, Moldavskogo, Davydov and others I share their conviction that the death penalty in its psychological horror incommensurable with most of the crimes and that's why she never a just retribution, punishment. Yes and what kind of punishment can be discussed in relation to a person who ceases to exist. Just as they are, I am convinced that the death penalty has no moral and practical justification and is a relic of the barbaric customs revenge. Revenge performed coolly and deliberately, without personal risk to the executioners and without passion, judges, and therefore particularly shameful and disgusting.

Briefly to the often-discussed question now about terrorism. I think the death penalty completely ineffective for combating terrorism and other political crimes committed by a fanatical belief - in this case, the death penalty is the only catalyst for a mass psychosis of lawlessness, revenge and cruelty. This does not mean that I in some way justify the modern political terrorism, often accompanied by loss of innocent, random people hostage, including children, and other heinous crimes.

Especially important is the abolition of the death penalty in a country such as ours, with unlimited domination of the government and uncontrolled bureaucracy, with widespread disregard for the law and moral values. You know about the decades of mass murder "infidels"who carried out without any semblance of justice (and an even greater number of people died in General, without a court verdict). We still live in this era created a moral atmosphere...

There are other features of our contemporary reality, which are relevant to the problem. This is depressingly low cultural and moral level of our present criminal justice system, its dependence on the state, and often - corruption, bribery and dependence on local "bosses". I get many letters from convicted in criminal cases. associated with the mortal sentences".

I think the words of academician Sakharov, at least partially, will lose its relevance only in one case - if the complete and final abolition of the death penalty both in Russia and worldwide.

Moscow, 2008.


 © Sergey Zagraevsky



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