Comment Rescue: Dealth Penalty Contrasts


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86 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Chris, I apologize for the title. Let me know if you want it changed (I don’t think that I can change the URL, though).Report

  2. RTod says:

    Nice cut & paste, JB. And nicer comment, Chris.

    This comment more than a lot of others speaks to why I reluctantly oppose the death penalty. I say reluctantly because I think that there are indeed some people whose actions are so heinous as to be kicked off the island permanently, so to speak. And I believe that we as a society have the right to decide what those actions are. (I might note how that especially in the blogging world when when people are ok with what we collectively do it’s because of decisions by society, and when they oppose them they are actions of the State.)

    Despite that I find that I can’t in good conscience support the death penalty because we have yet to prove we can mete it out with any kind of real justice. At this time I have no choice but to think of the death penalty as a punishment for the poor. If OJ taught me one thing, it’s that if you have enough money you have a different level of justice than someone with very little money. Seriously, if that guy’s not a rich celebrity is he still breathing right now – regardless of whether or not he did it?

    I see no signs that this dynamic is changing now or in my lifetime, and I simply can’t support it because of this.Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to RTod says:

      I second this sentiment.

      Of all the government powers susceptible to abuse, this one ranks pretty highly.

      And whatever my views are in general, trying to apply them in the particular with imperfect or insufficient information is what makes capital punishment so problematic.

      For the same reason torture should be illegal, but might be advisable in some circumsntances, the death penalty should be prohibited, even when it seems justifiable.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        As far as incentives go, I would say that the death penalty is less susceptible to abuse than most other things the government does. Most of what the government does involves the resource transfers. These are highly susceptible to abuse, because everyone has an incentive to try to get a piece of the action.

        The death penalty, on the other hand, doesn’t really materially benefit any specific interest group. Friends and family of the victim may derive psychic benefit, but that’s about it. This is part of the reason why the death penalty is so rarely applied. We have thousands of murders in the US every year, and tens of executions.

        And there is, to the best of my knowledge, not one single allegation in recent times of the death penalty being used in the US for a personal or political vendetta.Report

        • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          It materially benefits district attorneys to get convictions and not have them overturned.Report

        • DarrenG in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Prosecutors’ careers are advanced by conviction rates, and also by obtaining convictions in high-profile cases like those associated with capital crimes.

          Both prosecutors’ and judges’ careers are harmed by having convictions overturned, which gives both strong incentive to actively prevent verdicts from being overturned even in cases where substantial new evidence comes to light during or after a trial, as in the Davis and Willingham cases.

          Judges and politicians for a generation have actively cultivated images of being “tough on crime.” Go back and watch the video of the Simi Valley debate audience when the number of people Texas had executed under Rick Perry was announced for a good example why.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to DarrenG says:

            Just about everything the government does is susceptible to abuse for the sake of pandering, so the death penalty isn’t special in that respect. It is special in that there’s no money in it.Report

            • DarrenG in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              Of course it’s special in this respect, for exactly the reason I referenced above — death penalty cases are much higher profile than other criminal cases and therefore much more likely to affect the future career path of the various actors involved.

              Incentives take a lot more forms than direct and immediate monetary payments, and often the strongest incentives are non-monetary ones.Report

              • Mike in reply to DarrenG says:

                Who needs incentives when a large part of the US is simply racist?

                “He’s guilty because he’s black (or latino)” is still pretty common. Texas just came within hours of executing a guy based at least in part on a psychiatrist’s testimony “that a male is more violent than a female because that’s just the way it is, and that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons.”

                Really. And we can claim the justice system as administered doesn’t have racial bias, especially in the retarded redneck rightwing-dominant states?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike says:

                And we can claim the justice system as administered doesn’t have racial bias, especially in the retarded redneck rightwing-dominant states?

                You were doing so well…Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                Also, we now say ‘the developmentally disabled redneck rightwing-dominant states.’ The other way is hurtful.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s fun to watch the librul sputter and stammer. But, be kind. Let them try again.Report

              • Mike in reply to Jaybird says:

                Obviously you’ve never lived in the areas I’ve lived in.

                Try being in a small town in Oklahoma, or Texas, or Alabama. Where they all say “oh we’re not racist but it’s just nicer living somewhere that ‘that type’ doesn’t live”… by which they mean Brown People.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike says:

                C’mon Mike, that’s librul broilerplate. Be a uniter, not a divider, like me!Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Mike says:

                Nice counter to this: any brown folk who DO move in become “not that type of brown folk.” Because for all their bigotry, most country folk tend to take people as they are, and reevaluate their prejudices. At least a little.
                (think that was devilstower that had a full rant on this up on kos. it’s worth a read.)

                What’s concerning about small towns isn’t latent bigotry, but a good deal of them’s tendency to burn people out if a coupla people don’t like ’em.

                What’s good about small towns, is the rock-steady ethic that you help other people out. Citin’ that case of an Obama pollworker (happened to be a black urbanite) whose car broke down in rural WV — she wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, if there was gonna be trouble. Now, the people what helped her might not have invited her home for dinner — but the ethic that you help out someone in trouble supercedes any bigotry.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Mike says:

                If you want to convince us that “he’s guilty because he’s black” is still pretty common, perhaps you should provide us with an actual example of “he’s guilty because he’s black.” The Duane Buck case isn’t.Report

        • Jeff in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          And there is, to the best of my knowledge, not one single allegation in recent times of the death penalty being used in the US for a personal or political vendetta.

          There is a case to be made for the Rosenburgs and for Sacco and Venzetti.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    The uncomfortable dynamic is that the death penalty maintains pretty strong support. Here is a poll from Gallup that shows support for the death penalty hovering around 2-1.

    To eliminate the death penalty, you have to not only argue against the Troy Davis execution (which, I’m pretty sure, most folks (even the bad ones) could be cornered into agreeing that, maybe, the bar of beyond the shadow of a doubt was not exactly reached) but against the executions of white supremacists who drag people behind their trucks.

    It’s very easy to get people on board with the Troy Davis miscarriage.

    To abolish the death penalty, you’ll have to get them to see the death of Lawrence Brewer as something that shouldn’t have happened. The vast majority of the folks that I know, at least, would respond to the news that Brewer was killed with something like “Good.”

    I don’t see how that would be overcome.Report

    • E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

      I think I agree. It at least appears as though people are moved much more by outrage at injustice that goes unpunished, than at innocence (though in this case only possible innocence) that is unjustly punished.Report

      • karl in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        That seems about right: most co-workers I talked to about this case (in a relatively right-wing community) responded with a complaint about how long it takes to execute the “truly guilty.” One of my friends had the very same conversations at his workplace.Report

      • Koz in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Some things you can’t do anything about. But in that case, I think it’s more outrage of the guilty who go unpunished with the perceived assistance of the defense bar and anti-death penalty advocates.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      beyond the shadow of a doubt

      A reasonable doubt. One might argue for a stronger standard in capital cases, but that’s not the law.Report

    • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      I do not doubt that you’re right. It’s easy to feel like some people deserve to die – I get that feeling sometimes. I think it is immoral to kill, period, except under direct threat of severe bodily harm or death (this gets tricky where war is concerned, but that’s another topic), so naturally, I oppose the death penalty for white supremacists, mass-murderers, and everyone else. I know, however, that not everyone agrees with me, and that, given public opinion in this country, those of us who feel that killing someone as a form of punishment is a moral abomination, are not going to be able to bring enough people over to that view to stop the death penalty anytime soon. In the meantime, a lot of people will be executed.

      Instead, I sincerely hope that cases like Davis’ will show that the system that leads to execution is itself a moral problem, in that it will almost certainly result in the execution of innocent people, and will certainly result in the execution of people who have not been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (as in Davis’ case; Paul Campos has a really nice post about this here). There may be people who deserve to die, but as of yet we have not conceived a system in which those people are put to death, while the Troy Davis’ of the world are not, once the process gets started. The only solution that will prevent innocent people from being put to death, and prevent people who have not been proven guilty and may or may not be innocent from being put to death, is one in which there is no death penalty at all. The argument, then, is not that the death penalty is morally wrong, but that there is no system for administering it that it not.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Chris says:

        2nd para fully 2nded. Perhaps JB is right that that argument won’t get the job done. But if we need to talk people out of wanting the death penalty in some cases, then we might as well give up. Even I don’t think I could seriously argue that someone who feels that way strongly is so wrong that they should change their intuition and support the abolition of the death penalty because it is inherently wrong. After all, as Jaybird points out, government kills people all the time.

        To me the only argument that even should carry the day is the argument that the death penalty leaves no room for error in a justice system that was actually built with error intentionally worked into the system. To ask someone to imagine that, through some horrible mistake, your life were turned into a twenty year hell of condemned imprisonment, followed by execution as an ignominious criminal rather than a respectable human being. Having the police raid your apartment and kill you on a bad drug warrant would suck; but I somehow feel that the prior situation would suck somewhat more. If we cannot convince people that occasionally doing the false conviction-condemnation-execution thing to our fellow citizens, or merely the real possibility of doing it, is enough to conclude the death penalty is a bad policy, then I’m pretty sure we’re not going to convince them that even for serial torture-murderers the death penalty is an unacceptable abomination that must be done away with.Report

    • Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird says:

      To abolish the death penalty, you’ll have to…

      Convince five SCOTUS justices that the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. I know that some are really skeptical of this approach, criticizing justices as philosopher-kings when acting in this manner, but I’m convinced when fundamental human rights/dignity are implicated we don’t take a popular vote.Report

      • North in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong, constitutional law is not my forte, but doesn’t the constitution itself prescribe the death penalty as punishment for treason? If I’m wrong then of course that’s that but if not then how could the SCOTUS ever find that punishment to be in violation of the constitution?Report

        • Creon Critic in reply to North says:

          I only see Congress gets to decide the punishment for treason.

          I realized after I clicked submit I could have just written “convince five justices”. The rationales could be manifold, equal protection arguments for instance.

          Re: treason,

          Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

          The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.


          • Mike in reply to Creon Critic says:

            Death penalty mentioned in the 5th amendment:

            No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

            That being said, the 8th amendment provides: “nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted

            It could be argued successfully, if enough states were to ban the death penalty, that it had become “unusual” enough to be abolished by constitutional rule. The cruelty argument is harder to make, since “humane” death is also on argument (e.g. “the right to die with dignity”) regarding physician-assisted suicide.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Mike says:

              One could certainly argue that choice is a necessary component of dignity, and that being deprived against one’s will of the possibility to reform as a person, even if serving life without possibility of parole, and even become a productive contributor to society (which is actually possible even from within prison – you can serve your fellow inmates in an attempt to repent for your sins) cannot be consistent with a dignified death, to say nothing of being executed as a reviled criminal. I don’t think that particular hitch is much of a problem for the cruelty argument. And the spectacle of last night shows that even under the best of circumstances, where all appeals are duly reviewed, the effect of the process that is now in place leading to a procedurally acceptable execution is incontrovertibly cruel.

              Moreover, while the Constitution bowed to the reality of the death penalty as a cultural reality at the time of its drafting, simply making reference to the fact of capital crimes, it positively forbade cruel and unusual punishment. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent our current understanding of what is cruel or unusual from informing our interpretation of the Fifth Amendment; and there nothing about the reference to capital crimes elsewhere in the text that would prevent such a reading from being entirely legitimate.Report

        • KenB in reply to North says:

          No prescription of the death penalty, but the language of the fifth amendment clearly anticipates its use without any sense of prohibition. Thus the argument for its being unconstitutional in all cases has to rest on “evolving standards” and that sort of thing (which is a tough sell as long as 2/3 of the country supports it).Report

      • Cruel and unusual as opposed to locking someone away for 20-40 years in the conditions in the state prisons where they put the people convicted of violent crimes?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic says:

        Dude, I’m one of those people who considers prison to be cruel and unusual punishment.

        I reckon that I’m not in the target audience for this particular argument.

        Maybe this is like abortion insofar as getting 5 justices to agree would settle the issue in the minds of the persons of this country… but, maybe, it’s like something else entirely. Maybe it’s something that would result in a deep split.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          I agree. There certainly would be a backlash. And I believe in federalism enough to think that it would in fact have the force of some principle behind it. I’m also a pragmatist, and I would probably come down narrowly in favor of such an action. But it’s a moot point, since SCOTUS relatively recently came down in favor of the federal death penalty, in a reversal. So their current jurisprudence could not be more contraindicative of a potential abolition of capital punishment at the state level. And they simply would not take such an anti-federalism decision under this composition. Roe was a long time ago, and even longer in political-legal terms.Report

        • Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird says:

          That assumes opponents of the death penalty want to change the souls of death penalty proponents – which don’t get me wrong would be great – but the goal is primarily changing what the apparatus of the state is free to do. As for souls/minds, people can think as many human rights violative thoughts as they please. What the state can do is another matter. In the UK I think a majority of the population favors the death penalty, whatever the results of a plebiscite may be, jurists, diplomats, politicians, and human rights advocates have decided otherwise, to the advantage of the rights of the populace. As an opponent of the death penalty, I’d be satisfied if that dynamic obtained in the US – imperfect, but better than the status quo.

          And I wasn’t targeting my point at you Jaybird, just adding that judicial review presented an alternative path to abolish the death penalty, aside from an attempt to convince millions of people to be more compassionate/respectful of universal human rights. It would be absolutely outstanding if America were an exceptionally compassionate nation, unfortunately American Exceptionalism serves more mundane, self-aggrandizing purposes.Report

          • James K in reply to Creon Critic says:

            The US is more democratic than the UK (due to the primary system and the weakness of the party system), that makes it much less tenable for politicians to stand in the face of public opinion.Report

            • DarrenG in reply to James K says:

              True, but that doesn’t apply as much to judges, who were the primary vector Creon Critic suggested for eliminating capital punishment.

              I also think there are some interesting quirks of both our politics and media in this country that make us less introspective about, and less willing to correct, miscarriages of justice than countries like the UK.Report

            • Creon Critic in reply to James K says:

              I guess it depends on what criteria you use to define “democratic”. The democratic theory lit would give the US and UK an easy pass, roughly, regular ordered contestation with peaceful transition of power between parties. In terms of who is more democratic, difficult to say. As you mention, stronger party system in the UK, in addition, far less offices are open to election, the Crown Prosecution Service is a civil service position, so no elected district attorneys in the UK, no elected judges either.

              On the other hand, judicial review in the UK is weaker when compared to that of the US – Parliament has the final say as opposed to the stronger role of the Supreme Court in the US. There are much clearer lines of accountability in the UK, in the US an overlapping amalgam of local, state, and federal authorities are responsible for what public policy looks like – the varying branches and levels of government can shift the blame from one to the other until no one is responsible. Also, the UK constitution is unwritten and can change by parliamentary vote. The Blair government ejected most hereditary peers from the House of Lords and devolved significant powers to Scotland, N. Ireland, and Wales – major constitutional change in fairly short order. In the US, we devote a lot of time to teasing out the meaning of a constitution that at its core is an 18th century compromise amongst slaveholding and not, large and small, and mostly agrarian statelets. It isn’t clearly democratic that such an old and rarely amended document should have such outsize say in the ordering of our state.

              I’m not sure either system is more democratic than the other or responsive to public opinion than the other, it seems like a draw to me. Elites in both the US and UK get their way when they wish, US elites just seem to care far less about current (international) thinking on human rights. (Elites is kind of vague, I guess I mean the politico-legal epistemic community.)Report

      • Mike in reply to Creon Critic says:

        You can try, but honestly – there are a lot of possible punishments that don’t involve someone dying of a drug overdose on a gurney (and let’s face it, the arguments that someone “may” not be properly anesthetized aren’t going to gain traction with most of the public).

        One of my coworkers glibly suggested that instead of simply having the death penalty, we should offer the condemned their choice of either death or permanent blinding and zero chance of any public assistance. It’s his assertion that most of them would “choose” death… which doesn’t make the death penalty (as administered unfairly) any less morally wrong, though it does offer a stark contrast on how cruel punishments could really be.

        Then again, too, ideas of what is “cruel” change. In the time of George Washington, a father beating his son with a leather belt for misbehavior wasn’t seen as child abuse but mere parental disciplinary measures. Today, dad would be in prison very quickly.Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

      I dunno JB, my rightwing radio talk show this morning had some good stuff on this cop killin’ bastard. The trouble is this ‘gurney’ bidness. I say back to the olde, faithful, and ever reliable gallows. The traditions: the long walk, with the preacher repeating “The Lord’s Prayer” etc, the local drumming corps keeping a military din, the crowd gathered, the vendors selling popcorn, beer, you-name-it. I mean what’s not to like? And, society get’s to learn a lesson, all on the same day!Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        Almost two years ago, John Allen Muhammad was executed.

        Shannon Love, at Reason’s Hit and Run website, wrote a comment that I will now paste for you here:

        Keeping killers alive binds the loved ones of their victims to spend the rest of their lives monitoring them. There is no such thing a permanent imprisonment. Times and laws change. There is no guarantee that over the decades any killer won’t be released.

        Kenneth McDuff killed three teenagers in Texas and then had his death sentence commuted by the Supreme Court. Somehow his prison records were changed and he was released after the courts ordered releases owing to over crowding. He kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered at least 4 other woman.

        More importantly,we need to always remember that the State kills. That is what it does. All its power for good or evil flows from its force monopoly and its ability to kill any individual within its domain. People who say the State shouldn’t kill are children who do not understand the chained beast that is the State. If the State cannot justly kill murderers then it has no right to enforce any law with the threat of lethal force and it enforces all laws with that threat.

        The death penalty is the State reduced to its essence. We’ve built a grand facade of rationalizations around the idea of the State. An execution strips that away. The white marble and corinthian columns fall away and we see the ancient axeman clothed in bloody furs standing over his victims. Before they draw the curtain once more, we see for those few moments the true heart of the State. For that reason alone, the death penalty should remain.

        Least we forget.

        As such, I think that, if we are to keep the death penalty, it is better for us to see it as an unpleasant, if somehow yet sacred, duty. We ought be reverent.

        It ought not be entertainment. We should see it as a price we (*WE*) are paying.Report

  4. Pinky says:

    Davis shot into a passing car, beat a homeless man, and killed the security guard who tried to stop him. Brewer’s crime was more appalling, but Davis’s complete disregard for society makes me think that he posed more of a safety risk. From the standpoint of societal safety, I think that the Davis execution is the easier one to defend.Report

    • Chris in reply to Pinky says:

      Davis was convicted of doing those things. The evidence that he did so is pretty much nonexistent, particularly since 7 of the nine witnesses have recanted, another man (one of the prosecution’s witnesses!) may have confessed, and there is little doubt the police used coercive tactics to elicit some of the eye-witness testimony.Report

      • Lyle in reply to Chris says:

        Apparently the witness did not convince the federal judge who had a new hearing on the facts of the case that the convinction was wrong. It appears according to HLN that a lot of them said they could no longer remember. Recall that this was over 10 years afterwords, so recall becomes less certain. Additionally 2 of the witness were not called by Davis’s lawyers for some reason. Considering that having a hearing on the facts after the trial is very unusual because the jury exists to try the facts the judges to do the law. (All be it that is in theory only)
        Not recalling something is different than saying that your recollection has changed and what you said before was wrong.Report

    • Mike in reply to Pinky says:

      Most suspicious is Moore’s refusal to order a warrant for Redd Coles, who allegedly confessed to many people of the murder, while claiming the defense “did not call” him to the stand (in actuality, they couldn’t find him to serve the summons!).

      At least 25 pages of Moore’s ridiculously biased court ruling stood on the point of “and why didn’t they call Coles?”, which is very ironic since he stood in their way preventing them from doing so.Report

  5. Jon Rowe says:

    I think I’ve noted this before in past discussions. I don’t have a problem with the death penalty when we know someone did it. And there are cases where there is no doubt that someone did something horrible, like this case:

    Does anyone here believe these two don’t deserve, in an objective, emotionally detached sense of judgment and justice, to be put down? If/when they are, would you shed a tear? (In the non-objective, emotional sense.)Report

    • Chris in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      I don’t believe they do, as I said above. However, even if they do, in what system can we assure that only such people are put to death? Certainly not the one we have now.Report

      • Jon Rowe in reply to Chris says:


        I agree the system ain’t perfect and that a small number (probably that you can count on one hand) may ultimately have been innocents executed.

        Given we spend so long dotting i’s and crossing t’s before we execute someone that almost guarantees innocents will not be executed, but rather that it will be discovered they didn’t do it. So I don’t see the system as that irreparably broken. However, I do see a problem with taking too long to execute people (part of the dotting i and crossing t process).

        Ultimately I prefer a system like Singapore’s where if you commit a capital crime in your 20’s you likely will be executed in your 20’s. But if we did that then, yes, I agree there could be a problem with wrongly executing innocents.Report

        • DarrenG in reply to Jon Rowe says:

          Given we spend so long dotting i’s and crossing t’s before we execute someone that almost guarantees innocents will not be executed, but rather that it will be discovered they didn’t do it. So I don’t see the system as that irreparably broken. However, I do see a problem with taking too long to execute people (part of the dotting i and crossing t process).

          Given the number of death row inmates exonerated via DNA evidence in recent years (despite prosecutors and federal judges fighting hard against granting many of them access to this evidence, mind you) and the fact that we’ve likely executed at least two innocent men in the last 7 years alone, I don’t see much evidentiary support for your assertions.Report

        • Jon Rowe in reply to Jon Rowe says:

          Let me add a caveat to this: “So I don’t see the system as that irreparably broken.”

          The system isn’t that broken in the sense that the DP results in executing an unconscionably high number of innocent folks (given that in a relative sense, we don’t execute that many people, compared to all the folks who commit homicides). But there is an unconscionably high number of folks who are wrongly convicted of ANY crime (including capital ones). This is chiefly due to govt/police incompetence and corruption.

          So you take that dynamic and combine it with DNA testing and 20-30 years of i dotting and t crossing before we execute someone and it results in it being far likelier that an innocent person gets exonerated and let go than executed. But in the mean time, they wasted years on death row as innocents.Report

          • DarrenG in reply to Jon Rowe says:

            I think Troy Davis and Cameron Todd Willingham are very good evidence that the system as practiced in Texas and Georgia is most certainly broken.

            We had abundant evidence that these two men were not guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted prior to their executions, yet they were killed regardless.

            Your comments seem to assume the appeals, exoneration, and clemency process works the same in all states, which is incorrect.Report

          • Chris in reply to Jon Rowe says:

            Jon, what is the acceptable number of innocents and possibly innocents to execute in order to make surer we get the obviously guilty bastards who clearly deserve whatever’s a’comin’ to them? 1? 5? 10? 100? 1000? At what point does the loss of innocent life trump the killing of the clearly deserving?

            Also, there are other ways in which it is unfair. As someone said in the other thread (I think), people with money don’t (in general) get executed. Who does and who doesn’t get sentenced to death is more than somewhat arbitrary. Is that not a sign of a broken system?

            How do we fix these things? Execute more people, by mandating that everyone convicted of X crime(s) will be put to death? That seems like a bad idea, don’t you think? And even if we did that, what about the pressure to plead not guilty to avoid the death penalty when you’re being tried for one of those crimes? Wouldn’t that risk putting even more innocent people in jail, because they’d rather put their faith in the appeals process from outside of death row than from on it?

            I’d add that as the Davis case shows, the system isn’t really designed to handle cases in which new evidence comes to light, or serious questions are raised about old evidence. How do we make it work better with new evidence? Because it sure as hell didn’t this time (and this isn’t the only time).

            Again, even if some people deserve to die, do they deserve it so much that it’s worth risking innocent lives or even guilty lives who don’t deserve?Report

            • Jon Rowe in reply to Chris says:


              I don’t see — as we currently have it (that we generally and relatively speaking do not execute that many folks) — that big a risk that we execute innocent folks.

              Yours isn’t an easy question. It’s not unlike “how many innocent dead due to collateral damage is acceptable in a just war?” Ideally zero. But not if that means never being able to declare a “just war.”

              A number that bears looking into is this: How many folks who have been convicted of a capital crime have been let out only to murder again? v. how many provably innocents have been executed.

              I’m fairly certain — though am willing to look into and debate the issue with an open mind — the FORMER is a greater number than the latter. And that should tell us what the greater “problem” is.Report

              • Chris in reply to Jon Rowe says:

                I’m fairly certain — though am willing to look into and debate the issue with an open mind — the FORMER is a greater number than the latter. And that should tell us what the greater “problem” is.

                I don’t have those numbers, though I suppose with a little effort I could get some estimates. However, there is another solution to the problem you raise: keep them in prison. I’m not a big fan of prisons, and prison reform is one of my pet issues, but in the case of this problem, even now the death penalty is not the only solution.Report

              • DarrenG in reply to Jon Rowe says:

                I’m fairly certain — though am willing to look into and debate the issue with an open mind — the FORMER is a greater number than the latter. And that should tell us what the greater “problem” is.

                I don’t agree at all with your moral calculus where as long as the number of innocents executed is less than the number of murders by recidivists everything is fine, but even if I did I don’t buy your reasoning.

                Why should noting one thing is a greater problem than the other preclude us from solving the second one? As Chris points out, the two aren’t inextricably linked.Report

    • Mr. Rowe:

      To quote Gandalf (almost verbatim): “There are many that live who deserve death, and some that die who deserve life. Are you [Frodo] going to give it to them? Then do not be so eager to mete out death in judgment.”

      To answer your question: I don’t know if they deserve to die, but maybe they do. I do believe that once they are in custody, neither the state nor relatives of the victims, nor I have have the right or to kill them. That’s not an argument. I don’t expect to convince anyone. But that is what I believe.Report

  6. Kimmi says:

    This is an issue that I have no feelings on.
    Am I the only one who’s numb?
    Perhaps I am slightly inclined against the death penalty…?
    I feel like a leaf on the breeze.
    In this world, there is so much death.
    I hope to dance on certain people’s graves.
    Would I kill them — who can say?
    I feel like a leaf on the breeze.Report

  7. Jeff says:

    I’m in favor of life sentences without parole (how many people have Sirhan Sirhan or Charles Manson murdered since their arrests), with one caveat.

    A pair of brothers broke out of at least one SuperMax prison, killing more people after each escape. I would allow a death sentence for exteremely rare situations such as this.Report

    • DarrenG in reply to Jeff says:

      A pair of brothers broke out of at least one SuperMax prison, killing more people after each escape.

      Cite, please?

      I am under the impression that nobody has ever escaped a U.S. supermax prison, and a quick Google search doesn’t show any instances.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to DarrenG says:

        No prisoner has ever escaped from the only federal Supermax facility since it was opened in 1994. IIRC there has been one escape from a state level Supermax in Texas.

        Prison escapes at any level of the correctional facilities system, more generally, are very rare. Most are walkaways, not “escapes” in the traditional sense, and the U.S. Marshals Office scores about 90% or so on clearing fugitive warrants.Report

  8. Lyle says:

    I however oppose the Death Penalty as non economic, costing so much more than life without parole in solitary (ad seg). If you look at the court costs and the like during the 20 years after the trial how much did they run. Locking them up with absolutely minimal human contact (being essentially declared to fit to associate with other human beings in prisons under a modern version of the original Pennsylvania system, with robots doing all contact would do as good a job.Report

    • Pierre Corneille in reply to Lyle says:

      Even though I oppose the death penalty, this particular argument does not resonate well with me, because a pro-death penalty person might retort: “well, let’s take away all the automatic appeals, etc., and make the process cheaper.”Report

    • Pyre in reply to Lyle says:

      This argument doesn’t hold up when you consider that lifers also tie up the court with appeal cases as well as the medical issues of an aging prison populace.

      Over in Canon City, a prisoner was given open heart surgery because denying that would be cruel and unusual. In my case, such surgery would ruin me financially. My only option would be to rob a bank then wait for the police to come and arrest me so I could have the surgery [/obvious reference to a recent news story]

      There was also another case which was a class action by the prisoners there because the peaches that were served with the meal were substandard. Seriously.

      In every economic analysis that I’ve read comparing the expenses, the results are always skewed because it doesn’t take such things into account. I’d like to see a cost-benefit analysis that takes all of the appeals that lifers get, the frivolous suits, the medical care for aging lifers, etc into account instead of the ones that I’ve seen that just account for the room and board for a lifer.Report

  9. Michael Drew says:

    CC –

    Could you elaborate more on how it comes to pass that an elite consensus against capital punishment in the UK survives a consistent showing of public opinion to the contrary? That public opnion result must be of low intensity. Either that or I know very little about institutional and popular UK politics (sic! of course I don’t!). Is the death penalty outlawed in the UK, or simply not used? Is there simply particularly low intensity on the question of capital punishment, or are the UK institutions just generally even less responsive to public preferences than I am even aware of?Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Aargh, reply fail. I think it’s clear what comment this is in reference to.Report

    • You pose excellent questions that I do not have the answer to, only theories. Well some questions are easier, Wikipedia offers a history of the death penalty in the UK, today the death penalty is abolished.

      The debate about the death penalty comes up every so often in the UK, there was recently discussion over a petition to restore the death penalty, or to have a referendum that would allow the restoration of the death penalty (BBC). Also, after some particularly brutal crime, the newspapers will bring the death penalty issue up. As far as I can tell, those moves to restore the death penalty are going exactly nowhere.

      As for how the elite consensus maintains the anti-death penalty stance in the face of public opposition (UK Polling), your idea that it is simply a low salience issue is a good possibility. I’d add that the UK membership in various intergovernmental and supranational bodies buttresses politicians against public pressure to restore the death penalty. The European Union, Council of Europe, and regional human rights body, EC(t)HR, have all taken pretty strong stances against the death penalty. And the international judicial dialogue appears to reinforce the idea that the death penalty falls under the category of cruel. inhuman, and degrading treatment/punishment – with constitutional courts and international bodies quoting one another on the death penalty’s incompatibility with human rights.

      The US is a sometimes participant in the international judicial dialogue, and when we do participate it has been a massive controversy – the whole foreign law in the Supreme Court debate (Justices Breyer and Scalia have appeared together to talk about that topic several times, I’d recommend their discussions via C-Span’s video library highly). By contrast, the UK is firmly embedded in a human rights regime that promotes a very unfavorable view of the death penalty among elites.Report

  10. DBrown says:

    So what is terribly wrong with the State murdering a possibly innocent man (or woman)? We do it all the time – just see our torture/murder program that was used with miss-identified terrorist. That is ok so why shouldn’t all americans be subject to State controlled murder? Only a few people in either case are murdered and it is for the common good (or at least the practice is in-line with good christian morals – Christ himself said go forth and sin again to the woman to be stoned that he saved … wait, I think he said that a bit differently. Oh, hell; christ was a sissy any way with his love everyone and forgive them; real men murder innocent people for revenge. It is the merican (sic on purpose) way for god, liberty, and apple pie. Can’t make a good crust without breaking a few eggs as Hitler once said … or was that, Mao? Or maybe Stalin, or … uh, well, one mass murderer who headed a country and said it in order to justify the mass killings/murder of innocent people. Besides, that mass murdering bastard needed to control all the land/farms/food in order to generate enough capitol to industrialize the Russian economy – and money trumps all. Just ask any god fearing Christian – money is the real god to be served and worshiped by these people (yes, a few might not agree with these goals but far too few do in this country.)

    Sorry for the (heavy handed) sarcasm but with so many so-called Christians in this country who want executions, deny AGW, want wars, and mass murder of so many innocent children/woman as collateral damage, I’ve kinda lost faith in these people and this countries’ moral compass.Report