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Carvajal: Death penalty or better forensics
« on: May 24, 2008, 07:47:21 AM »

By Orlando P. Carvajal
Break Point

COMING in the wake of grisly crimes like the cold-blooded execution of nine persons in a bank in Laguna, the report that the Philippine National Police (PNP) leadership is supporting the revival of the death penalty does not surprise me a bit. It is typical of government incompetence and lack of depth to blame the brazenness of criminals on the absence of a powerful deterrent such as the death penalty.

Fed up with all the killings going on around him and afraid of his own safety, the ordinary citizen’s reaction is to agree. It is, however, not so much the absence of a death penalty that emboldens criminals as the proven and generally accepted inability of the police to capture the culprit of most murders. You could have a thousand death penalties but criminals would still continue boldly with their nefarious activities confident that the police are incompetent or corrupt enough to catch them.

For the death penalty to be a deterrent, criminals must first be identified, caught and brought to trial. If murder suspects are never caught and brought to trial, which is more often the case, who will you serve the death penalty to? Hence, if I were a criminal, the death penalty would not worry me a bit. I would only start to worry if the police suddenly developed competence in identifying and capturing me.

The majority of the murders of journalists and activists and ordinary citizens remain unsolved today. In Cebu City, some people have resorted to vigilantism to stem the tide of criminal activity yet the police remain clueless (or are they really?) as to who the vigilantes are. In all cases of unsolved murders, the standard excuse is that no witnesses have come forward.

Knowing this, criminals being criminals, they just threaten and silence witnesses and they are home free because we have a police force that cannot solve crimes unless a witness comes forward to identify the perpetrator. So, if I cannot be identified as perpetrator what death penalty do I have to worry about when I cannot even be brought to trial?

Ebb tide for the sea of criminality could come if criminals knew there is a competent police force to identify and catch them. This can happen when the police develop better forensic skills and apply the latest forensic investigation techniques to identify the murderers instead of perfunctorily charging unsolved crimes to the lack of eyewitnesses.

The death penalty is only effective as a deterrent if suspected murderers are caught even without eye-witnesses through forensic evidence. Police incompetence, not lack of death penalty, is emboldening criminals who are not even worried about penalties because they are confident the police cannot catch them anyway.


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