This week, the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis in a case that gripped the nation for all of 24 hours, but had earned the attention of anti-death penalty, human rights and criminal justice advocates for years. Davis had been convicted after two hours of deliberations for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.
Before going further, I want to express my condolences to the MacPhail family for all they have been put through, from the loss of their Army Ranger, Police Officer and Good Samaritan son, brother and father. There is no question he died off-duty while fulfilling the oaths he took in his service to this country and to the city of Savannah. But this post and this issue is not about him, the victim. That is largely because the primary focus of the criminal justice system – the administration of the death penalty in particular – intentionally is not structured to factor in retribution.
This focus is why criminal cases are brought by the state (whether on the local or federal level) on behalf of the people and society as a whole. Accompanying civil suits may be brought by victims and their family to seek compensatory justice, but they are largely apart from the criminal cases. This is because criminal punishment is in the interests of society as a whole and not on behalf of the victims. It is also why we seek justice itself, instead of retribution.
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