The Death Penalty and Democracy

The Economist’s Lexington blog has a post about democracy and the death penalty, pointing out that major strides have been made to eliminate the death penalty in many states despite strong public support of this ultimate punishment. Those achievements, then, go against public opinion:

All of this is pretty pragmatic, if you check opinion polls by such outfits as Gallup or the Pew Center for Research. These find that most Americans support the death penalty (though that support has fallen from 80% a generation ago to around 60% today). Most Americans think that executions are morally acceptable and applied fairly in America. Yet majorities also believe that the innocent are likely to have been executed by mistake, and are sceptical that executions have a deterrent effect. When offered life without parole as an alternative punishment to execution for murder, Americans divide almost evenly…

The story of the last few years has been of an abolitionist movement that has been refining and honing its arguments with ever greater success. However, and I write this as someone who is a moral absolutist against the death penalty, the abolitionist camp has not done so well tackling a gigantic question: that of democracy.

In every Western democracy that has scrapped the death penalty, politicians have acted against the wishes of a majority of voters. If you were to draw a pyramid of accountability (or its lack), the pinnacle would be occupied by the European Union, which has made abolition of the death penalty a condition for membership of the club, irrespective of the wishes of any voter or political party. A European politician running on a platform of restoring capital punishment would be wasting his and the voters’ time, unless he was willing to leave the EU as well…

So is abolition democratic at all? That depends on what version of democratic accountability you favour. The most combative abolitionists, such as Mario Cuomo, openly argue that they know better than their voters, and are saving them from their baser instincts. This represents the representative model eloquently outlined by Edmund Burke, when he told his 18th century constituents in Bristol that while he was most interested in their opinions, and would attentively listen to them, he would reject any talk of “authoritative instructions” or “mandates issued” which he might be expected to obey, even when they ran counter to his own conscience and judgment.

I’m with Mario Cuomo. Because democracy is not the end goal, it’s a means to an end: liberty. And when democracy and liberty are in conflict, and they often are, I care far more about the latter than I do the former. This is the entire point of the Bill of Rights, the whole reason why we put our most basic rights out of the reach of majorities (except with a constitutional amendment, which is, quite intentionally, very rare).

58 comments on this post.
  1. glodson:

    Yet majorities also believe that the innocent are likely to have been executed by mistake, and are sceptical that executions have a deterrent effect.

    This is one of the reasons I’m against the death penalty. Innocent people have been, and will continue to be murdered by the state, and the severity of the punishment does not seem to be an effective deterrent. It seems that the people who still support the death penalty despite believing this need to work on their logic.

    The death penalty is a relic. We don’t need it, it kills innocent people, it isn’t applied fairly, it isn’t a morally acceptable punishment, and it doesn’t even have the benefit of being a deterrent.

  2. fastlane:

    I think democracy is inherently in conflict with human rights, unless 100% of the population agrees on something.

    It’s just that it’s the best form of government we’ve managed to come up with, benign dictators being exceedingly rare…..

  3. sundoga:

    I support a death penalty. But not for any of the reasons Glodson named – rather, for just one: Some people, by their actions, show that they can never be allowed to interact with a normal populace ever again. And I consider the DP to be more merciful than eternal imprisonment.

  4. Thorne:

    I agree with sundoga. Some people should never, ever be permitted the opportunity of freedom, whether through escape or through the actions of a beneficent judge. Society is far safer if some people are executed for their crimes.

    The problem is that the justice system in this country is too badly flawed to be able to determine who those people are. Unless we can get beyond the idea of convicting someone because of their race, or accent, or because the local prosecutor needs more convictions for his political career to flourish, we can never really be sure that the majority of those convicted are actually guilty of any crimes at all.

  5. tacitus:

    Some people, by their actions, show that they can never be allowed to interact with a normal populace ever again. And I consider the DP to be more merciful than eternal imprisonment.

    But (a) it is highly unlikely you can limit the death penalty to such people, (b) I suspect that many of those people themselves would disagree with you, and (c) if life imprisonment is so intolerable that death is preferred then that speaks to the dreadful state of American prisons more than anything else, and executing a few of the hardcore cases isn’t any kind of solution.

    Changing the subject, I do find it strange (though not that surprising) that right-wing conservatives–who are hugely paranoid about other forms of government power–are typically the biggest backers of giving the government the ultimate power over life and death (and in many cases, urging the expansion thereof).

  6. robert79:

    I think the death penalty itself is completely at odds with democracy. On the one hand you say that the people are not allowed to kill each other. On the other hand you say that the government, which in a democracy consists of these same people, is allowed to do just that.

    Possibly, in the rather unlikely case that there is a substantial risk that the criminal will escape and repeat his crimes, a rather twisted version of self-defense (or the defense of others) might be used to justify a death sentence. Outside of 3rd world countries with extremely corrupt jail systems and criminals with extreme wealth or popularity, I do not see this happening.

    @sundoga, I doubt most criminals on death row will agree with your concept of mercy.

  7. dshetty:

    I used to be completely against the death penalty – but now Im not so sure. Lets say you have a dead open and shut case (lets assume there is such a thing) – Do you now keep a murderer in prison and waste resources on him at the expense of more deserving people?

    I also don’t get your argument for liberty – How is imprisonment (without possibility of parole) an argument for liberty?

  8. left0ver1under:

    sundoga – Who, exactly are you saying should “never be allowed to interact with a normal populace ever again”? Because there have been plenty of people who were falsely convicted of crimes like rape and murder who were released years later – well after state-sponsored murder would have taken place.

    Edward Lee Elmore is one of those “undesirables” you say should be executed, convicted of murdering a woman after stabbing her 50 times. Elmore walked out of prison in 2012 after THIRTY years, innocent of the crimes he was convicted of. He would already be dead if you had your way.

    http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/spotlights/Edward-Lee-Elmore-Freed-after-30-Years.cfm

    When innocent people can be brought back from the dead, you’ll have a valid argument for execution.

    Until then, those who want the “death penalty” border on sociopathic. They seek revenge, not justice.

  9. Alverant:

    sundoga, who are these “some people” you mention? How do you know who they are and they are guilty of committing such actions? What happens after the DP is carried out that the person did not commit said action?

  10. Ace of Sevens:

    dshetty: because these things are relative. Some people can’t be allowed to move freely in the populace because they will take away the freedom of others. Imprisoning them involves taking less freedom than killing them.

  11. Alverant:

    To those who think the DP is more merciful than life in prison don’t worry. Sadly, if a prisoner wants to die they will find a way to kill themselves on their own. You don’t have to get the state involved.

  12. flex:

    sundoga wrote,

    Some people, by their actions, show that they can never be allowed to interact with a normal populace ever again.

    Embedded in this statement is an underlying belief that people do not, and cannot, change. Empirically this can be shown to be false; people can, and do, change. Just a point for you to consider.

    And I consider the DP to be more merciful than eternal imprisonment.

    You opinion on what constitutes mercy is not shared by all society, and very likely not shared by those on death row.

    If it were possible for a prisoner to choose death without coercion or an external compulsion, basically voluntary euthanasia, I would support it. That is, if someone incarcerated for life believes that they would rather die than be imprisoned, they should have the option to die.

    Of course, I believe that voluntary euthanasia is a right that all people should possess.

  13. Gretchen:

    If it were possible for a prisoner to choose death without coercion or an external compulsion, basically voluntary euthanasia, I would support it. That is, if someone incarcerated for life believes that they would rather die than be imprisoned, they should have the option to die.

    Of course, I believe that voluntary euthanasia is a right that all people should possess.

    Likewise. I often say I’m in favor of a voluntary death penalty.

  14. jonathangray:

    Truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you their liberty and freedom consists of having of government, those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having a share in government, sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and sovereign are clear different things.

  15. Marcus Ranum:

    In principle, in theory, in a democracy, the state is acting on behalf of the people – which means that it’s not “the state” that is carrying out death sentences – it’s being done with the consent and on behalf of the people. I do not give that consent nor do I wish the state to kill on my behalf.

  16. Bronze Dog:

    I don’t see much point in focusing on hypothetically irredeemable mad dog killers when I assign a higher priority to making sure innocent people aren’t put on death row. Clean up the courts and police stations so I have greater confidence in the verdicts, and then I’ll find it worth discussing. Until then, I think the death penalty harms more innocents than the hypothetically irredeemable killers could.

  17. naturalcynic:

    Do you now keep a murderer in prison and waste resources on him at the expense of more deserving people?

    Bad argument. The death penalty is far more expensive than life in prison in most cases. See this article, for instance and there are many more like it. Capital cases cost well over twice as much because of extra scrutiny during investigations, extra costs of prosecutions, far more pretrial motions, appeals etc. The only way that the death penalty would be less expensive would be if prisoners in for life without parole have complex and expensive medical issues over a long period of incarceration.

  18. michaelbusch:

    @dshetty:

    I was going to point out that the death penalty costs more on a per-case basis than life without parole. But I see that naturalcynic already did that.

    So let me just reiterate: economically, capital punishment is not justified. Ethically, it is also not justified.

  19. joachim:

    The death penalty is administered routinely in the United States, about three thousand times a day.

    No Due Process, No Hearing, Nothing.

    Cry a bucket of tears.

  20. glodson:

    I support a death penalty. But not for any of the reasons Glodson named – rather, for just one: Some people, by their actions, show that they can never be allowed to interact with a normal populace ever again. And I consider the DP to be more merciful than eternal imprisonment.

    What actions are those? Murder? Rape? Child Molestation? Is there a limiting factor? What are the criteria? How can you ensure this is evenly applied? Disproportionally rates of men are executed when compared to women. It is even worse for racial minorities. Across economic classes, the rates are also skewed with the rich benefiting for a lower rate as well.

    Finally, the point must be addressed, what is the acceptable rate of innocents murdered by the state?

    As for it being merciful, condemning a person to die and forcing them to wait for that date seems like an agonizing way to torture someone, knowing that they will die on a specific date unless they are fortunate enough to get a reprieve.

    I used to be completely against the death penalty – but now Im not so sure. Lets say you have a dead open and shut case (lets assume there is such a thing) – Do you now keep a murderer in prison and waste resources on him at the expense of more deserving people?

    I also don’t get your argument for liberty – How is imprisonment (without possibility of parole) an argument for liberty?

    As noted in naturalcynic’s comment, the Death Penalty incurs extra costs. We are using extra resources in these cases in the hopes of not letting an innocent man die at the hands of the state.

    Further, the argument isn’t that imprisonment increases liberty. It is that liberty and democracy don’t always link up.

    As Ed wrote:

    And when democracy and liberty are in conflict, and they often are, I care far more about the latter than I do the former.

    The idea is that more people are for the death penalty, but the death penalty represents a breach of liberty.

  21. glodson:

    joachim, do you want to clarify what the hell you are talking about?

  22. michaelbusch:

    @glodson:

    Based on a quick archive search of joachim’s past comments, I put the odds in favor of joachim’s comment above being based on the nonsense that goes “abortion is murder”.

    Of course, even if that were true, joachim’s comment would still be wrong since it is based on 20-year-old data. The abortion rate in the US has dropped by 1/3 since then (statistics as recorded by the CDC), which Wikipedia informs me is due to increased contraceptive use.

    I also see that joachim has a history of irrelevant drive-by comments, which appear to be intended only to be offensive.

  23. monimonika:

    glodson,

    I suspect joachim is an anti-abortion troll. Ignore the misogynist.

  24. monimonika:

    Aaaaand michaelbusch replies ahead of me. Hmph.

  25. slc1:

    Re glodson @ #21

    Mr. Busch beat me to the punch @ #22. The problem with Mr. joachim is that he considers a fertilized egg to be equivalent to a live human, meaning that god is the worlds greatest abortioner as more then 1/2 of all fertilized eggs do not implant and are then aborted. Put god on trial for murder.

  26. Olav:

    Ed:

    And when democracy and liberty are in conflict, and they often are, I care far more about the latter than I do the former.

    Agreed, but I would phrase it a bit different. I would observe that a functional democracy depends on the rule of law or the presence of the Rechtsstaat. One cannot have a democracy (or any sort of civil liberty, for that matter) without it and the death penalty is clearly at odds with it.

    A democracy without a Rechtsstaat ceases to be a democracy, it devolves into a tyranny of the majority, rule of the mob, et cetera.

    This is also why the theory of the separation of powers (trias politica) is so clever. And if we accept that every power within a state must be limited and kept in check somewhere, then the power of the people is not exempt from that.

    As you can see from my reasoning, I have ceased to be an anarchist idealist quite a while ago ;-)

  27. Jordan Genso:

    For those who are saying the high cost involved in the cases that lead to the death penalty means that it is not more financially efficient than life-without-parole, I have a question:

    If that much money is spent to ensure that the person is truly guilty before killing them, why aren’t we spending an equal amount of money to ensure that everyone who is serving a life sentence is also truly guilty?

    I’m just playing devil’s advocate, but the idea that “we have to make sure they are guilty before we kill them, but we don’t have to make sure they are guilty to lock them up for the rest of their life” doesn’t seem like a great argument against the idea that it is less costly to kill a prisoner than to care for them for decades.

  28. michaelbusch:

    @Genso:

    The general idea is that if someone who is imprisoned is later found to be innocent, there is at least the potential for releasing the person and making compensation to them. But you do have a point. Groups like the Innocence Project exist in part to address that imbalance.

  29. glodson:

    Ah. I see. So that crap from joachim was just crap and can easily be ignored. Thanks all for answering.

    @ Jordan, that is how much money we spend. It is already spent like that. Even in a slam dunk case, the legal fees and time spent are a function of the mandatory appeals process, even for an easy case.

    You see, even if the appeals are exhausted for a prisoner for life, should exonerating evidence come out, amends can still be made. It won’t make up for the time spent in prison, but it is something. However, if the appeals are exhausted, which have to be made and followed through with to some degree, in the death penalty, and the penalty enacted, there is no way to make any sort of amends for killing the prisoner.

    It isn’t an argument that we spend more for the process in the death penalty cases. It is a fact that we spend more on that because of the process. A prisoner can stop filing appeals, knowing that they will be to no avail. The death row prisoner requires it.

    See the link provided in comment 17 by naturalcynic.

  30. Jordan Genso:

    A prisoner can stop filing appeals, knowing that they will be to no avail. The death row prisoner requires it.

    That’s the key right there. Thank you for pointing that out.

  31. Rip Steakface:

    The idea of there being a supreme punishment is irrelevant so long as justice is imperfect (that is, people can be wrongly convicted). If there is even the slightest chance an innocent man can be convicted and sent to his death, that punishment is immoral.

  32. wholething:

    How many executions of innocent people is a DP supporter willing to accept to maintain the DP? Would you accept your execution for a crime you didn’t commit in order to execute others? Would you be willing to sacrifice your innocent child to keep the DP? Is it only OK to sac4ifice other people’s innocent children for it?

    What does having a right to life mean? In a DP society, there are two classes of people: those with a right to live and those without. The criterion between them is whether they have committed a capital offense. If that is all life means, murder shouldn’t be a capital offense, anymore than blasphemy is.

    I hope the right to live is something more than that. If it is, then nobody has the right to invoke the DP on others.

  33. laurentweppe:

    I have an alternative hypothesis about it:

    The death penalty support is a form of Heckler’s Veto: the most bloodthirsty members of society bully people into submissing to their views through manipulative emotional blackmail like “Oh, so you’re in favor of letting the murderers of children get away with it” pushing a non negligible fraction of tsociety to pretend that they support the death penalty.

    Once it has been abolished, the Heckler’s Veto stop working as well, with a majority of the population becoming favorable of keeping the death penalty abolished, usually with wpikes in favor of the death penalty following particulary hideous crimes but not lasting.

  34. dingojack:

    “Most Americans think that executions are morally acceptable and applied fairly in America.”

    Bwhahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

    Proof that most Americans are (apparently) too mentally deficient to be executed in their own country*.

    Dingo
    ——-
    * That’s another of the costs, making sure the prisoner is mentally competent to stand trial and, possibly, be executed.
    ——-
    PS: Have they solved the supply problem with the chemicals for the lethal injection yet?
    PPS: Why don’t they use Diamorphine or the like? Could it be it’s not punishment but revenge?

  35. Area Man:

    That was a rather lame article. We have a form of democracy that uses elected representatives to make decisions, and it’s hardly undemocratic when these people do something that doesn’t perfectly match highly variable and easily gamed public opinion polls. If the voters really don’t like it, they have recourse. And as we’ve seen with issues like gay marriage, sometimes preemptive maneuvers that aren’t popular at the time can be catalysts for sparking debate and moving the Overton Window in a desirable direction. Again, if the people don’t like it, they can toss the bums out.

    That dig against Cuomo was unfair and doesn’t reflect the man’s thoughts as expressed in the lengthy quote provided. He believes he “know[s] better than the voters” only to the extent that he doesn’t believe that right and wrong are determined by public opinion polls and instead has the temerity to think for himself. In that regard, he’s like pretty much everyone else. Nowhere in Cuomo’s call-out did he express any elitism or disdain for the wishes of the voting public. He simply laid out his case for why he thought the death penalty is wrong.

    Finally, there’s the bizarre attempt to dissociate the morality of the death penalty from the actual consequences that it has on society. As if those of us who adhere to a consequentialist meta-ethic, and who oppose the death penalty because it’s clearly worse than useless, aren’t engaging in moral reasoning and are not as enlightened as perfessor dickhead.

  36. bnerd:

    His argument is tiresome. If we were a pure direct Democracy, majority rules would always the win the day. But we’re not, and that’s never been the way this country has worked. Constitutional principles transcend (or at least they should transcend) the whims of a majority. That should be clear to anyone with a cursory understanding of the Constitution and the history of the framing of the Constitution. So the real question to me isn’t “Does the decision to abolish the death penalty go against the majority will?”…. It is “Does the death penalty jive with our Constitutional principles?” In my mind, that’s a big no.

    Not only do I believe the death penalty violates the 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment (as Justice Brennan certainly did) but I also believe it violates the equal protection clause of 14th Amendment due to the wholly arbitrary nature of how we decide to give someone the death penalty. Why is one heinous murderer guilty enough to warrant a death penalty but another not? Why do certain heinous crimes deserve them but other heinous crimes not? What about the prejudices and biases inherent in our justice system as it relates to race and how that influences who does and doesn’t get the death penalty? How can one look at any of this and say it constitutes equal protection under the law when the law is being applied as if it were part of a drunk game of pin the tail on the donkey?

  37. jonathangray:

    Ed Brayton:

    Because democracy is not the end goal, it’s a means to an end: liberty. And when democracy and liberty are in conflict, and they often are, I care far more about the latter than I do the former.

    But liberty cannot be an absolute. Unrestrained liberty would conflict with equality and fraternity, so it must be regulated by a rule of law which places limits on liberty. Obviously, the death penalty is the ultimate limit on liberty, but in principle it is no different from the countless other limits on liberty that exist in a ‘free society’, from prison sentences to ‘hate speech’ legislation.

    Olav:

    I would observe that a functional democracy depends on the rule of law or the presence of the Rechtsstaat. One cannot have a democracy (or any sort of civil liberty, for that matter) without it and the death penalty is clearly at odds with it.

    A democracy without a Rechtsstaat ceases to be a democracy, it devolves into a tyranny of the majority, rule of the mob, et cetera.

    If Rechtsstaat means “the rule of law”, how is the death penalty — provided it is legally regulated and not subject to the arbitrary will of a tyrant — “clearly at odds with it”?

    Rip Steakface:

    The idea of there being a supreme punishment is irrelevant so long as justice is imperfect (that is, people can be wrongly convicted). If there is even the slightest chance an innocent man can be convicted and sent to his death, that punishment is immoral.

    By that logic, no war could ever be just as there would always be the likelihood of civilian casualties.

  38. Jafafa Hots:

    Revenge is not a synonym for justice.

  39. Jafafa Hots:

    (in case it matters, a man who lived in my house and drive me to school was executed for multiple rapes and murders. No, I don’t feel sorry for him – that’s not the point.)

  40. Nick Gotts (formerly KG):

    I’m opposed to the DP in all cases, for the reasons others have given, and also because those individuals for whom there is most public support for execution – serial killers, terrorists, spree killers – are an important scientific resource. It is surely important to learn as much as we can about what predisposes a person to that kind of heinous crime; these vile killers should be studied, not executed.

    However, I don’t find it as easy as Ed or several others to be comfortable about imposing my own view on a majority in this case. In my view, social (and economic) policy decisions should be taken far more democratically than now, when they are almost entirely the province of narrow elites; and I don’t see a clear criterion to justify making judicial policy or the DP specifically an exception. Olav@26, can you fill out your claim that the DP is incompatible with the idea of a Rechtsstaat?

    Would you accept your execution for a crime you didn’t commit in order to execute others? – wholething

    The Conservative British Prime Minister Edward Heath (of whom I am by no means an admirer in general) used much the same line in a Parliamentary debate on restoring the DP. A DP supporter had proclaimed his readiness to act as executioner if it was restored. “That’s not the question.” said Heath, “The question is whether you’re prepared to be hanged by mistake.”

  41. cry4turtles:

    I think there is a line that when killers cross, they’ve forfeit their the privilege to breathe our air. For example, in 1984 a couple ravaged MI, OH, and IL, killing 8 people, including children, and left some survivers who could ID them. When the man got the needle, it was standing room only. Served him right. Hopefully Adam Lanza will be next. Guess I’m selfish with my air.

  42. dingojack:

    “When the man got the needle, it was standing room only. Served him right.”

    You know what other things were enormously popular – slavery and pogroms. So they must be morally right, bring ”em back I say if the punters want ”em!. Isn’t that the way we normally judge morality; we hold a popularity contest?
    I sure hope it never comes down to seeing you in the ‘bathing suit section’.
    Dingo

  43. jayarrrr:

    This question was supposed to come before the Indiana House of Bubbas this session.
    Public opinion of the good Authoritarian people of Indiana is that not only should the DP be retained, but the method of execution should be made as prolonged and painful as possible, especially in the case of crimes against children. Disembowelment and flaying alive are popular, lethal injection, “too soft”…

    Suck, sick people…

  44. jayarrrr:

    I mean “sick”, not “suck”

  45. marcus:

    cry4turtles @ 41 There are a lot of people who are a waste of air and probably don’t deserve to live. However, we don’t deserve to have to kill them or have our hands bloodied by state-sponsored murder .

    jonathangray @ 37 “By that logic, no war could ever be just as there would always be the likelihood of civilian casualties.”
    This is probably true, however, you have erroneously conflated two separate issues
    I believe that very few wars are prosecuted due to logical reasoning or would meet the standard of “just”. Consideration of the death of innocents seems not to be a major consideration, it would be an improvement if it were.

  46. peterfran:

    Well, if someone murdered my loved one; beyond a shadow of a doubt, they should receive a bullet to the head, by my hand: a Liberty granted to all. For instance this Oscar Pistorius freak, put down like the piece of shit he is. Whoever has the right to Reeva Steenkamp’s body should carry the responsibility to take care of his also; humanely of course. Yet if they can’t or won’t kill him; they should procure an agent to do so or bear the complete responsibly for keeping this monster incarcerated, not the tax payer.
    Peace out.

  47. dingojack:

    peterfran – (I know, don’t feed the troll) Nice to see Rumpole’s ‘Golden Thread’ is alive and well.
    @@
    Dingo

  48. Thorne:

    Well, if someone murdered my loved one; beyond a shadow of a doubt, they should receive a bullet to the head, by my hand: a Liberty granted to all. For instance this Oscar Pistorius freak, put down like the piece of shit he is.

    This is one of the reasons to argue AGAINST the DP! As noted elsewhere, this kind of treatment is revenge, not punishment. And the suspect hasn’t even been tried, yet! But even if he is tried, and found guilty, I wouldn’t advocate the DP for this case. One man, who killed one woman, possibly in a fit of passion? No, I think spending the rest of his life in prison would far better serve justice. Hell, if the victim had been a scabby old crack whore instead of a beautiful young model it’s doubtful the killer would even get life!

    I remember the Susan Smith case, here in South Carolina. People were screaming for her head by the end of the trial. She was guilty, beyond any shadow of doubt. But, IMO, people didn’t want her executed because she killed her children; they wanted her dead because she had them feeling sorry for her! She tricked them! The ultimate crime.

    No, while I think that the DP can, and should, be available to the courts, I believe it’s use should be very rare and limited to those people who have shown that they are a threat to virtually everyone the might meet. The Dalmer types, the Gacy’s, the Zodiac’s.

  49. cry4turtles:

    Yes Dingo, a bathing suit contest probably would warrant the firing squad for me, but I still can’t help the way I feel. If a killer goes on a rampage, and even leaves survivors to ID him/her then I must contemplate the concern of the killer for the rights/liberties of the victims. Apparently numerous family members feel the same way. Whether it be revenge or justice, if my mother/brother/sister etc. were murdered in cold blood just for the hell of it, I would briefly overcome my fear of needles and assist the executioner. Killers forfiet their liberty.

  50. Synfandel:

    In Canada, we eliminated the death penalty for murder in 1976. Here’s an article listing some of the more high-profile cases of wrongful conviction for murder in Canada, that have since been overturned:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2009/08/06/f-wrongfully-convicted.html

    If these people had been executed rather than imprisoned for life, it is unlikely that they would ever have been exonerated, because people don’t tend to put much time and effort into revisiting cases that have been solved and closed with an execution.

    One has to wonder how many of the people executed in the State of Texas (15 in 2012, 13 in 2011, 17 in 2010, 24 in 2009, etc.) were wrongly convicted and will never be exonerated in large part because they’re dead.

  51. marcus:

    What Dukakis should have said. “If someone kills, rapes, or otherwise intentionally maims someone that I love then the first person the police should lock up is me, because I will kill the motherfucker. This is not right, moral, or compassionate. It is only revenge, but believe me when I say I will take it if allowed to.”
    We have adopted laws, courts, judgement, and secular punishment so that we can have rational agents to act for us and so that we can avoid the kind of mistakes that can happen when rage and passion rule. We rely on each other to find the right course of action, so others can be objective for us. We do not need the death penalty. It diminishes us.

  52. dshetty:

    @naturalcynic, michaelbusch
    You are looking at costs in a broken system , in theory there isnt any particular reason why DP should cost more. But its not just the monetary costs right. Suppose you had tried and convicted Osama Bin laden and done a life without parole. Its not just the trial costs that you need to consider – what security would you have to provide to him , whether it is more or less likely that you will have a hostage situation etc

    Id reiterate that i too think the DP is wrong in most cases – and with the current legal system , its probably better to not have it , till improvements can be made , when it can be considered. – im just not sure whether it is in all .

  53. marcus:

    Let us not put so fine a point on it.
    Killing someone if it is not absolutely necessary is always wrong and immoral.

  54. sundoga:

    In answer to the many questions above (and with apologies for the time this has taken – my current connection is not as good as it should be):
    How to determine those we cannot allow in society: a single act, clearly, could never be enough. Any person, it is said, could be a murderer with the correct pressure applied; while this may well be an oversimplification, the basic concept that anyone could find themselves in a situation where they commit a crime is sound. Thus, it would need to be a recidivist pattern, a repetition of heinous and/or vicious crimes against people, both before and after the possibility and option of reform, before such an act could even be considered. As to who should decide that, I would say that a judge, given all of the information, and answering this question only, shoud be the decider.
    This would also reduce to a manageable point the next question: How many executions of the innocent? The answer being: as close to none as humanly possible. If there were any real or possible doubt as to the person’s guilt, pass it over. Let them stay in prison forever instead.
    As, however, to whether a person can change – so what? If a person has acted so far beyond the acceptable that he or she could be considered under the above criteria, whether they have or should or may change past that point is really quite moot. Since we can never truly know whether they have or not, how can such a thing make us change our decision?

  55. jonathangray:

    marcus:

    jonathangray @ 37 “By that logic, no war could ever be just as there would always be the likelihood of civilian casualties.”
    This is probably true, however, you have erroneously conflated two separate issues

    Are they so separate? Both war and the death penalty are instances of the sovereign state exercising its monopoly of lethal violence against perceived enemies.

    I believe that very few wars are prosecuted due to logical reasoning or would meet the standard of “just”. Consideration of the death of innocents seems not to be a major consideration, it would be an improvement if it were.

    Even if a war were prosecuted according to “logical reasoning” (I confess I’m not sure what that even means in this context) and with the utmost effort to avoid killing non-combatants, there would almost inevitably be civilian casualties given the nature of modern warfare. Yet such a war could still be just, could it not?

    + + +

    Jafafa Hots:

    Revenge is not a synonym for justice.

    No, but punishment is an indispensable part of justice.

    Thorne:

    As noted elsewhere, this kind of treatment is revenge, not punishment.

    Revenge is something different from punishment, yes. But equally punishment involves something different from mere utilitarian considerations of public safety/deterrence/rehabilitation. That something is expiation.

    + + +

    Nick Gotts (formerly KG):

    those individuals for whom there is most public support for execution – serial killers, terrorists, spree killers – are an important scientific resource. It is surely important to learn as much as we can about what predisposes a person to that kind of heinous crime; these vile killers should be studied, not executed.

    “You needn’t take it any further, sir. You’ve proved to me that all this ultraviolence and killing is wrong, wrong, and terribly wrong. I’ve learned me lesson, sir. I’ve seen now what I’ve never seen before. I’m cured!”

    A DP supporter had proclaimed his readiness to act as executioner if it was restored. “That’s not the question.” said Heath, “The question is whether you’re prepared to be hanged by mistake.”

    He probably came up with that zinger while disporting himself at Haut de la Garenne …

  56. peterfran:

    “A Time To Kill”
    Murdering and maiming in torturous vengeance, for personal gain, or to instill fear should never be condoned. Therefore murderers, rapists, and pedophiles should be humanely executed, just like bad dogs. But because it’s not profitable, they’re not allowed to be hung on the White House lawn.
    How much is spent on taking care of these monsters? Moses killed half the people he freed from Egypt for being bad apples. This was done without vengeance; he didn’t murder them, he killed them. He culled them from the population in order to protect the health and safety of others.
    The intrinsic inequity permeating the US criminal system is an accurate reflection of those in authority and their minions. Where like them, justice is bought and sold. Nevertheless, there are those who are plainly guilty of murder. And it’s so caviler, so redneck socialistic to override the will of the people and have them pay for a higher ground muddied with the debt, blood, sweat and tears of others.
    CP is just a straw man, as it’s very clear who’s really getting away with murder.

  57. democommie:

    @56:

    I know ‘zackly what you mean. I feel the same way about people who are going to try to take my gunz away, they should be humanely executed for being monsters. Or, did you mean something else?

  58. peterfran:

    Dear Demo:
    I was speaking of homicidal maniacs and insane dicks. Those crossing the line of civility, who must be caged, drugged and/or isolated for the remainder of their pitiful lives in order to preserve the safety of others. Personally I neither have the will nor wherewithal to responsibly care for these monsters. Nor am I a socialist pig who demands that others do.
    Yes, for sure the Moses reference was a bit extreme, and I no way meant that such a culling should happen here in the US–there’d only be like, ten people left. It was merely mentioned as a reminder that the death penalty is as ancient as culture itself, and although unfortunately abused, as American as apple pie.
    Furthermore, if the private property of a legal gun owner is invaded by a government militia demanding their firearms, a patriot should relinquish them after firing every round, empting every clip and chamber, killing as many of the fascist pigs as possible. “Don’t Tread On Me”
    Shalom

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