New Hampshire Bar Journal
2011 Summer, Pg. 16.
The morality of the New Hampshire death penalty
New Hampshire Bar JournalVolume 52, No. 2Summer 2011The morality of the New Hampshire death penaltyBy James M. Reams and Charles T. PutnamThe following is an adopted and updated version of their statement included in the report of the Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire. Reams and Putnam were members of the Commission. Two other articles, written specifically for this Bar Journal issue, follow.
The Legislature directed the Commission to consider, among other issues, "[w]hether the death penalty in New Hampshire is consistent with evolving societal standards of decency." (emphasis added). A question arose late in the Commission's deliberations as to whether the study of the "decency" of the New Hampshire death penalty statutes necessarily includes consideration of their "morality." That question was surprising to us, because it would seem that a recommendation that these statutes were not consistent with evolving standards of decency, would be a finding that the statutes were "indecent." It seems difficult to dispute that a finding that the death penalty is "indecent" would contain moral and ethical conclusions. This question about the scope of Commission's charge was also surprising because to our recollection no witness and no commission member had previously drawn a distinction between the "decency" and the "morality" of the New Hampshire death penalty statutes. Thus, we write here at some length about morality, despite the acknowledgement in the draft report recommending the repeal of the New Hampshire death penalty ("repeal report") that this Commission could not determine the underlying morality of the New Hampshire death penalty statutes.
Perhaps "decency" only requires a consideration of what is "normal," or "acceptable" policy, and the numerous religious leaders and other witnesses who testified before the Commission were simply engaged in pointing out to the Commission that the death penalty is "indecent" in the sense that it is unfashionable, like an outmoded suit of clothes, or impolite, like rude mobile phone behavior in a movie theater, without regard to any underlying moral precept or universal value, like the value of human life.
We think not, however. We strongly doubt that the Legislature, the Governor and the members of this Commission would go to all the work involved in this process if they were not also concerned about the moral effects of retaining or repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire. We have heard far too many attacks on the death penalty as an immoral, not just unpopular, practice to believe that a defense of the morality of the practice is not required by the Legislature's instruction to this Commission to consider these statutes in the light of "evolving standards of...