Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tinkering with the Death Penalty

The death penalty is a serious moral and legal issue in America. I explained my position in detail in an earlier post, Issue: The Death Penalty, and I won't repeat those arguments here.

Now it seems we're going to tinker at the edges of the problem, apparently in an effort to make it seem less cruel and unusual. The President in his State of the Union speech proposed funding specialized training for lawyers defending clients in death penalty cases. He would provide $50 million to private groups simply to train lawyers. Congress has offered a more ambitious program, the Justice for All Act, with $75 million directed at improving capital defense procedures and systems in the states. This Act aims at enhancing the performances of both prosecutors and lawyers in capital cases.

In discussing these competing approaches, a Washington Post editorial took the position that the President's proposal doesn't go far enough:

Mr. Bush's new concern for the problem of indigent defense is truly welcome. Having stood before the nation and acknowledged the issue candidly, however, he needs to take bolder steps to address it. Supporting what Congress has already done would be the place to start.

The Post editorial didn't go nearly far enough. These proposals may make some people feel better when their state government executes a fellow human being in their name, but it does nothing to address the larger issues. With apologies for quoting myself from the conclusion of the earlier post,

I'm against the death penalty, at least until it doesn't matter how much money an accused person has and the legal system doesn't make mistakes. And even in the unlikely event these problems are solved, I doubt I'll ever be able to accept that our social contract should include empowering the state to kill us.

No amount of tinkering with this morally indefensible and legally flawed ultimate penalty is going to change my position. We need to join the rest of the civilized world, which has largely abolished the death penalty. Our military forces aren't allowed to kill prisoners who present no threat; why should our government be permitted to kill it's prisoners?

16 Comments:

Blogger afidhsgf said...

The biggest problem with the death penalty, all morals aside for the moment, it is that it is NOT a proven deterrent of crime. I wrote a long essay about it here and since criminals are far more likely to be shot by the police or by a citizen, the death penalty is the least likely form form of death for a person comitting a crime.

So if the death penaty doesn't deter crime, why do we still have it? The criminal justice system isn't out to administer revenge!

6:13 AM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Jarrod, I agree. The arguments over whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime are simply inconclusive. But that isn't the point; even if it could be shown to deter crime to some meaningful degree, that still wouldn't justify the state killing its citizens through a capricious system riddled with flaws.

As far as deterrents are concerned, I think many would agree that life without parole is as much a deterrent as death, especially considering the conditions inside many of our prisons. But, that's an issue for another day.

6:24 AM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger American On Line said...

Our military forces aren't allowed to kill prisoners who present no threat; why should our government be permitted to kill it's prisoners?Never have I seen this said any better.

8:06 AM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger afidhsgf said...

Indeed, it is very well said. Just like you can't shoot a robber who's leaving your house because he's not a threat, you can't kill someone who's locked up in a small room because he's not a threat either.

8:49 AM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger Markkind said...

I have a slightly different take on this.

9:21 AM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger Markkind said...

Oops, hit enter too soon...ahem

I don't see how one can be pro-life and pro-death penalty. To me that seems like a contradiction in terms. I think the culture of life is more than just catchy rhetoric, I believe it is one of the foundations in the social fabric of our society.

Given the odds of dying in prison, I suspect life is a death sentence all its own.

9:24 AM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger B said...

The issue of the death penalty has always been a troubling one for me. There have been times when I had absolutely no grief over it (Timothy McVeigh comes to mind), but there have been numerous unconscionable applications of it as well. While in theory I believe that true sociopathy can't be cured and is certain to lead to more killing (in which case the execution becomes self-defense), I believe that it's also relatively rare. In practice, a country that can't feed or educate many of its children should hardly be in the business of making irreversible decisions on behalf of God.

12:07 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

FreeAtLast--well said!

1:11 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger howard said...

Jarrod hit the nail on the head in saying the justice system isn't out to administer revenge, or at least it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, a lot of people who argue passionately for the death penalty sound very much like they support it for just that reason. We shouldn't still have it, and what angers me the most about this issue is how many people will selectively quote the Bible to support it.

And Tom, there's no need to apologize for quoting yourself, as long as it make the point, which it did. My mouse hand was getting a little too lazy to follow links today anyway...

2:54 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

I have a completely different take on this than any I've seen here. For me, the death penalty has nothing to do with being a deterrent of crime. Please. Many of the criminals know their fellow criminals will kill them on the street in a far worse manner than the state.

To me, the only time the death penalty should be used is when the person in question is a serial killer; someone if they're ever let out (by some freak govenor in the mood to hand out pardons and we all know that's not as crazy a notion as one would think) or escape, there is no doubt they would kill again and kill many.

Someone like Scott Peterson doesn't deserve the death penalty. This isn't something that should be dished out simply cause we're disgusted with the crime. In the end, he had a reason -- he wanted his freedom from fatherhood and husbandry. I don't think the average person on the street is in danger if he somehow gets out. By that criteria, I don't think Tim McVeigh should have been put to death either. For one thing, I think he should have been questioned a lot more but that's another story.

If a criminal lets you know he will kill again, he just loves it and is what he's all about -- that's the kind of person I can get behind putting to death. Otherwise, I'm fine with life without parole.

3:00 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger sygamel said...

Unique POV, Esther. I'm inclined to agree.

3:38 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

A good subject, Tom. I agree with you for the most part, but in common with Esther I would make an exception for serial murderers. There are not many of them, but they are a special case.

I would also make an exception for a man convicted of a first degree murder committed in a prison. In that one case, I think the death penalty is a deterrent.

I think the public's willingness to forego the death penalty is often related to whether a life sentence means life, and it still doesn't in all jurisdictions.

5:32 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger American On Line said...

I tend to agree with this aspect Tom's point:

The system is broke. The number of innocent freed in recent times is alarming and shameful.

The process by which guilt and death is determined is not reliable.

It is a system that favors the wealthy and disadvantages those without the means to level the playing field with a power government.

In recent times there have been only two death penalty sentences for men that are well to do, and both cases were domestic in nature.

Most Americans that we killed in the present state sponsored death system are poor and/or retarded and/or otherwise impaired.

In a society that seeks to bring freedom to the world, we should take a cue from the other democracies and end the pandering to voters that revel in that penalty.

These are some of the countries whose company we keep in the death business; does it tell you something?

CHINA
IRAN
UNITED STATES
VIET NAM
BANGLADESH
BELARUS
BOTSWANA
CHAD
CONGO
CUBA
EGYPT
IRAQ
JAPAN
JORDAN
KAZAKSTAN
KOREA North
MONGOLIA
PAKISTAN
SAUDIA ARABIA
SINGAPORE
SOMALIA
SUDAN
TAIWAN
THAILAND
UGANDA
UZBEKISTAN
YEMEN
ZIMBABWE

These are death penalty free zones:

ANDORRA
ANGOLA
ARMENIA
AUSTRALIA
AUSTRIA
AZERBAIJAN
BELGIUM
BHUTAN
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
BULGARIA
CAMBODIA
CANADA
CAPE VERDE
COLOMBIA
COSTA RICA
COTE D'IVOIRE
CROATIA
CYPRUS
CZECH REPUBLIC
DENMARK
DJIBOUTI
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
EAST TIMOR
ECUADOR
ESTONIA
FINLAND
FRANCE
GEORGIA
GERMANY
GUINEA-BISSAU
HAITI
HONDURAS
HUNGARY
ICELAND
IRELAND
ITALY
KIRIBATI
LIECHTENSTEIN
LITHUANIA
LUXEMBOURG
MACEDONIA (former Yugoslav Republic)
MALTA
MARSHALL ISLANDS
MAURITIUS
MICRONESIA (Federated States)
MOLDOVA
MONACO
MOZAMBIQUE
NAMIBIA
NEPAL
NETHERLANDS
NEW ZEALAND
NICARAGUA
NIUE
NORWAY PALAU
PANAMA
PARAGUAY
POLAND
PORTUGAL
ROMANIA
SAMOA
SAN MARINO
SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE
SENEGAL
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
SEYCHELLES
SLOVAK REPUBLIC
SLOVENIA
SOLOMON ISLANDS
SOUTH AFRICA
SPAIN
SWEDEN
SWITZERLAND
TURKMENISTAN
TURKEY
TUVALU
UKRAINE
UNITED KINGDOM
URUGUAY
VANUATU
VATICAN CITY ANDORRA
ANGOLA
ARMENIA
AUSTRALIA
AUSTRIA
AZERBAIJAN
BELGIUM
BHUTAN
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
BULGARIA
CAMBODIA
CANADA
CAPE VERDE
COLOMBIA
COSTA RICA
COTE D'IVOIRE
CROATIA
CYPRUS
CZECH REPUBLIC
DENMARK
DJIBOUTI
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
EAST TIMOR
ECUADOR
ESTONIA
FINLAND
FRANCE
GEORGIA
GERMANY
GUINEA-BISSAU
HAITI
HONDURAS
HUNGARY
ICELAND
IRELAND
ITALY
KIRIBATI
LIECHTENSTEIN
LITHUANIA
LUXEMBOURG
MACEDONIA (former Yugoslav Republic)
MALTA
MARSHALL ISLANDS
MAURITIUS
MICRONESIA (Federated States)
MOLDOVA
MONACO
MOZAMBIQUE
NAMIBIA
NEPAL
NETHERLANDS
NEW ZEALAND
NICARAGUA
NIUE
NORWAY PALAU
PANAMA
PARAGUAY
POLAND
PORTUGAL
ROMANIA
SAMOA
SAN MARINO
SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE
SENEGAL
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
SEYCHELLES
SLOVAK REPUBLIC
SLOVENIA
SOLOMON ISLANDS
SOUTH AFRICA
SPAIN
SWEDEN
SWITZERLAND
TURKMENISTAN
TURKEY
TUVALU
UKRAINE
UNITED KINGDOM
URUGUAY
VANUATU
VATICAN CITY STATE
VENEZUELA STATE
VENEZUELA

6:05 PM, February 13, 2005  
Blogger afidhsgf said...

In response to the idea of exceptions, I can't say that should be allowed. Unless the death penalty was made illegal solely on the grounds of not being a deterrent and therefore the example that it would be for prisoners were true would make it ok, there can be no exceptions. If say it's wrong, unfair and too random and/or immoral, then there can be no exceptions.

I can't say I personally feel any sympathy for serial killers for example, but it's my emotions that would rather see such a person removed from society, not my judgement. Lock em up, throw away the key. End of story.

5:31 AM, February 14, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Jarrod,

But if you have no effective penalty for those who have already committed murders and are now in prison for them, you are exposing the rest of the prison population to their whims. The alternative is to isolate these people, and that is incredibly cruel.

Some people respect human life not at all, and it seems as if some actually like to kill. What is your solution for the rest of the prison population? Someone sent to prison for 5 years should not lose his life at the hands of a completely depraved person who knows there can be no reprisal.

3:50 AM, February 16, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks to all for your excellent comments!

MOM, you've hit another nail square on the head. Conditions in many, if not most, of our prisons are absolutely unacceptable. However, I don't see that as part of the death penalty issue. When a person is terribly abused in prison, which happens often, or killed it isn't because the killer is someone who should already have been executed. It's because many prisons are out of control, with gangs of thugs and primitives in control.

What I think really constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is when someone is sent to prison for a crime that merits a sentence of a few years and ends up being molested, abused, beaten up, and terrorized. No one deserves that.

4:27 AM, February 16, 2005  

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