None of this, however, seems to have been the real reason for not imposing the death penalty on Zacarias Moussaoui. Among the reasons apparently taken into consideration, according to the New York Times, was "his troubled upbringing in a dysfunctional immigrant Moroccan family in France."
Are only people with blissful childhoods to be held fully accountable for their crimes? Do jurors have any way of knowing how many other people with unhappy childhoods never murdered anybody?
Even if we take a completely deterministic view of crimes -- that they are all due to circumstances beyond the individual's control -- why should that lead to lesser punishments?
One of the factors we can control is punishment. But nothing a jury can do will stop people from having unhappy childhoods.
For centuries, we have quarantined innocent people who had some deadly dangerous and communicable disease through no fault of their own. Only in the case of AIDS did we stop doing this because of the political clout of the homosexual lobby.
The point here is that the safety of society usually overrides questions about some cosmic sense of justice for the individual. Jurors cannot act as if they were God on Judgment Day taking all individual circumstances into account. They are not equipped to do that and there is no point pretending that they are.
What people are equipped to do is show common sense. That is what our legal system is increasingly failing to do.
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