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Branden Excerpt: On Capital Punishment

The following excerpt is from the "Intellectual Ammunition Department" column in the January 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter, p. 3. Nathaniel Branden responds to the question, "What is the Objectivist stand on capital punishment?":

In considering this issue, two separate aspects must be distinguished: the moral and the legal.


[Regarding] the legal question: Should a legal system employ capital punishment? [...] There are grounds for debate -- though not out of sympathy or pity for murderers.

If it were possible to by fully and irrevocably certain, beyond any possibility of error, that a man were guilty, then capital punishment for murder would be appropriate and just. But men are not infallible; juries make mistakes; that is the problem. There have been instances recorded where all the available evidence pointed overwhelmingly to a man's guilt, and the man was convicted, and then subsequently discovered to be innocent. It is the possibility of executing an innocent man that raises doubts about the legal advisability of capital punishment. It is preferable to sentence ten murderers to life imprisonment, rather than sentence one innocent man to death. If a man is unjustly imprisoned and subsequently proven to be innocent, some form of restitution is still possible; none is possible if he is dead.

The problem involved is that of establishing criteria of proof so rationally stringent as to forbid the possibility of convicting an innocent man.

All emphasis was in the original. Editorial insertions are shown in brackets. Omissions from the text are shown with bracketed ellipses. All other punctuation and spelling is from the original.

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