Among Objectivists, discussions of the death penalty tend to focus on the difficulties of being sure you've got the true culprit. As believers in contextual certainty, we believe new facts may appear that exonerate someone found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This has certainly proved true in Illinois, where an awful lot of condemned criminals have been freed lately on DNA evidence.
So to adopt a typical distinction, in the case of premeditated murder, Objectivists support the death penalty metaphysically, but question it epistemologically. If you could just be really REALLY sure you got the right guy, it would be okay to go ahead with the lethal injection process. Nathaniel Branded [oops... Branden] wrote an article supporting this point of view in the old Objectivist Newsletter in the sixties.
Some have raised the question whether there might be a degree of certainty that would nonetheless support the application of the death penalty. Perhaps a higher bar than "beyond reasonable doubt" could be raised. There's an example of such a higher bar in the US constitution, which specifies that you can't be convicted of treason unless there are two witnesses to the act.
In contemporary terms, what if the murderer is caught on videotape, leaves his DNA at the scene, and boasts to his girlfriend about the crime? That's a high bar, but I bet we could find someone who qualified!
I raise this gruesome topic only because yesterday, in my rhyming way, called for the execution of Osama. I have to admit, that was my "metaphysical" side talking. My "epistemological" side hasn't thought much about the exact evidence against him. I was impressed that on the new tape he has for the first time admitted being the author of the 9/11 attack. He had been a bit coy about his exact responsibility previously.
Rhyme of the Day:
Boosts his selection
For lethal injection.
Of course, lethal injection is too good for him. My idea of his just deserts matches that of the Onion "news story" from 2001 in which the 9/11 hijackers, who expected to be cavorting in Paradise, instead find themselves tortured in Hell for the amusement of demons.
It's almost enough to make me start wishing I could believe in hell again.