The first event that we need to discuss is the execution of Robert Lee Gardiner. The main reason why this event attracted so much attention was the method of execution. The convicted person chose to be killed by a firing squad (Donaldson, 1996, unpaged). Gardiner gave virtually no explanation for his choice: he only referred to his “Mormon Heritage”, and added that “there was no mistake” when a person is killed in this way (Donaldson, 1996, unpaged). This incident did not entail any changes in legal procedures, established in the State of Utah, however, it pointed out a moral dilemma that can be faced by the judicial officials, in particular, whether it is possible for a criminal to select the method of execution. Moreover, in the future, this case can lead to some significant changes in the US legislature. The thing is that in the future many capital felons can blackmail the government by threatening to sue them as Gardiner did (Donaldson, 1996, unpaged).
This problem can be discussed from various points of view: on the one hand, we have to consider the moral right of the felon to choose the way in which he/she will be killed, yet on the other, we need to remember about the executioner’s perspective who may simply refuse to take part in this procedure. Overall, the use of firing squads has been criticized and considered inhumane because it does not guarantee instantaneous death, and the felon may undergo extra suffering (Palmer, 1998, p 180). It should also be taken into account that the executioners may not fire simultaneously, and the burden of responsibility may lie on the shoulders of one person (Palmer, 1998). As a rule, the members of the firing squad are told that at least one of them has a weapon with a blank cartridge or dummy, as it is also known (Winters, 1997, p 96). This measure is supposed to alleviate the sense of responsibility or even guilt so that a person did not think that he had fired the lethal shot (Winters, 1997). Besides, one should not overlook the fact that one of the executioners will have to fire the coup de grâce1 or the single shot in order to stop the felon’s sufferings (Winters, 1997). The person, who fires the coup de grâce can put his psychological health at risk as he will deeply aware that it was he fired the lethal shot. Therefore, it is quite probable that law enforcement officers will not volunteer for this task. These limitations have made the executions by firing squads very rare. In point of fact, for a very long time no one has chosen this way of capital punishment and Robert Lee Gardiner broke this tradition.
If we look at this issue from historical point of view, we need to point out that the execution by firing squad was widespread in many countries of the world; yet, the majority of European countries put an end to this practice, by abolishing the capital punishment. Nowadays, such method is used in such countries as the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia. In many parts of the United States this method of execution has been prohibited, and the felon choose it, even if he/she wants to. The essence of this dilemma lies in the following: a person has a constitutional right to choose the method of execution, while its use can be prohibited by the state. It seems that in some cases, this choice has to be made by the court, especially if the method of execution appears to be inhumane.
Donaldson. A. (1996). “Inmate Threatens to Sue If States Won’t Let Him Die By Firing Squad”. Deseret News. Web.
Palmer L. (1998). The death penalty: an American citizen’s guide to understanding federal and state laws. NY: McFarland.
Souryal. S. (2007). Ethics in Criminal Justice: In Search of the Truth. Anderson Publishing Company.
Winters. P. (1997). The death penalty: opposing viewpoints. NY: Greenhaven Press.
- This French Expression can be translated as a blow of mercy