capital punishment

There are two articles in the June 26 issue of Newsweek that present an interesting perspective on justice and politics.

This week, The Last Word, an article on the last page of every issue of Newsweek, features Anna Quindlen and an essay attacking the death penalty. Her basic argument follows two lines. First, that capital punishment is too cruel and that it thus smears the reputation of the USA since almost all executions are held by China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US. She also argues that too many people on death row aren't guilty. Her number is that since 1976 123 people have been exonerated out of about 1,000 executions. In other words, 12%.

Also in that issue is an analysis concerning the Durham County DA's case against members of the Duke Lacrosse Team and how it's falling apart. Apparently DA Mike Nifong brought the charges against the players with very little evidence against the players--yet made broad accusations of guilt despite the lack of evidence. Some might say it was political grandstanding.

Since I live near Durham and work for their main competitor (UNC, the largest state University in NC which, along with Duke and NC State, in Raleigh, comprises the Research Triangle of North Carolina) this story is a local one for me and one that I hear about every day.

My thinking is that while Quindlen does have valid points, I don't conclude that capital punishment should be abolished. I do think that it's used in the wrong way. Capital punishment is more about grandstanding by politically motivated DAs than it is about justice. Crimes with strong emotional elements or some twist that will get widespread media coverage are the ones which frequently get shunted over to the Murder 1 designation. But is this justice? No, this is pure and simple revenge being used for political gain.

Too often immense pressure is applied to the police department in cases like this to catch the perpetrator--and that can often result in someone being picked as a scapegoat to be blamed for the deed, and then given a bum rush via a quick trial with only a token attempt at a defense. The result is a quick conviction and a DA that gets a lot of positive media coverage. Justice? Sure, it can happen but in a case like this Justice is not only blind but also handcuffed. Justice is desired, sure, but no longer the main objective.

IMHO, capital punishment should be about prevention not revenge. I don't think the mere having a death penalty prevents crime, despite what the proponents claim. Most of the crimes that receive the death penalty aren't ones that people think about repercussions. They're crimes done in the heat of passion or poor judgment. What would happen if they get caught just isn't a factor here.

When I say prevention I mean that if the death penalty was used against repeat offenders, the type that never stops doing a crime, then by killing the criminal you can be certain that he (or she) won't do that crime again. Redaction is eliminated by fiat. Of course that still leaves open the question of what crimes should this apply to. In the SF novels of Larry Niven even jaywalking was punished by death eventually--but that was because afterwards the organs were collected. Don't ask-- you really don't want to know too much about it. LOL

What do you think? What crimes should be punished by death, if any, and I won't take suggestions of jaywalking seriously.


Tia said…
WOW - heavy post.... And here I am just paying a return visit to you from Michele's! (Congratulations on SOTD.)

That is such a dicey topic. I personally do not believe in the death penalty, and the reasons are too many and too complex to get into in a tiny blog comment. So, I'll leave it at that today.

Thanks for the interesting and challenging post.
It's really hard for me to say what deserves the death penality. Then again I do believe that in some cases the death penality should be used.

I just think that if you have a serial killer or just murderers in general I think they deserve the death penality. I don't think that robbers or something like that should receive the death penality. Also, even though I HATE rapists and child molestors I don't believe they deserve the death penality either. However, these are only my thoughts on the topic.

Thank you by the way for the well wishes. It's nice that people still take the time to read my blog though I have to say it has been rather boring lately. My hope is to start a blog for Paul and I to write updates about our crazy lives now that they are now officially becoming one. Stay tuned for that.
utenzi said…
Since rapists and child molestors have such a high rate of recividism I do feel that the death penalty should apply to them but not after the first offense. Admittedly this will seem harsh to some...

One of the problems with coding laws is that they have to apply to a wide set of circumstances. You need to err on the side of lenience to avoid punishing too many unfairly.
Pearl said…
Good for you going in with a hard subject even as site of the day at Michele's. I wrote a post a particular case of capital punishment last year.

It is far from the first or last word on a difficult issue. Canada has gotten rid of capital punishment. I can't say I have a problem with that but I am generally spending my thoughts on restorative justice model rather than a punitive model or societal example of deterrent.
Teresa said…
I certainly wouldn't consider the great death penalty debate a good topic for my birthday, but I'm up to it.

I'm not really a proponent of killing, either as a crime or sanctioned, but I'm pro- death penalty to a degree. But first they have to get the sentencing guidelines into line. The politics of sentencing bother me more than the politics of the use of the death sentence itself.

If you are convicted of intentionally killing someone and will spent the majority of your natural life in prison anyway, it seems to me taking your life isn't such a bad idea. Habitual violent criminals who may not actually "kill" also fit the bill for me, as it's my opinion that a harsher penalty should be applied for repeat offenses, (I think progressively harsher penalties should applied for all repetition of a crime, whether it be jaywalking or petty theft or something more serious like armed robbery or assault), and there'd come a point where they've had all the chances they'd need and life in society would be over anyway. And knowing that might prevent some crime anyway.

I was surprised by the statistic that 1000 people were executed in the past 30 years. Considering the amount of debate and coverage this topic gets, I'd have thought it was a lot more prevalent.
Sandy said…
Thanks for making me think today Utenzi.

I do support the death penalty. Will it deter? No. I'm not naive enough to think that. But frankly, if a person brutally murders another, something other than life in a small cave is called for.

Perhaps I'll return later when I can really get going on my rant. Michele sent me over today. Congrats on being Site of the Day!
Terri said…
Congrats on being the site of the day. Here from Michele's.
I am totally against the death penalty, for many of Quinlan's reasons. It's barbaric and too many innocents have been put to death needlessly.
Michelle said…
I'm totally against the death penalty. I think the woman you're talking about Dave could have made her case much stronger than she has. Never the less, what gives anyone the right to "flick the switch"?
One big lesson in the failure of the punishment and deterrence approach is in the U.S. Sending people to prison for longer - and even executing some - has not made it a safer place.

It has more prisoners per head of population than any other country in the world - more than 700 per 100,000. Next door, Canada's same per head rate is 107.
Australias is less again, and our crime rate with all proportions accounted for, is ridiculously lower on every crime except assaults and we don't have the death penalty.
srp said…
How many children have to be molested by a pedophile before he is given the death penalty?

I think states that have the death penalty should actually use it. The fact that it takes 20 years in California to come even close is ridiculous.

I think the criminals that are the most frightening are those sociopaths that feel nothing, no guilt, no remorse, as if human life meant nothing. If human life means nothing to them, why keep them alive at taxpayer expense?

BTW, Here from Michele.
I'm with Terri...I am completely against the death is, as Terri said Barbaric and a grerat many innocemt people are killed by us. How is that different than the people we have put in jail for killing?
used*to*be*me* said…
I agree with what you say. The death penalty is thought to be a deterrent but it quite simply is not.

My main issue with the DP is the picking and chosing of who gets it. There is no one crime that fits better than another. Not in my opinion anyway. Some are simply more atrocious than others.
PBS said…
I don't believe the death penalty is ever a good option, although I know many people would disagree with me on that one! I just don't think it's right to kill people that we don't like, or don't like their actions. Yes, of course I realize that there are lots of reprecussions to that, keeping someone in prison costs a lot, and blah blah blah.
Carol said…
Thanks for the battle - and congrats on the win.

I agree - serious topic! I think that when a person has established a pattern of breaking the law and has committed serious offenses, then the death penalty is viable - in the case of murder, rape, child abuse, etc. Not for theft. But when someone repeatedly harms other people, it would guarantee that they'd never harm anyone else.
utenzi said…
Yep. That's the way I think about it, Carol. Some people prove by repeating their crimes over and over that they're not likely to change--and when those crimes involved hurting people it's best to just be done with it and execute that person.

I understand all the bellyaching about not killing innocent people, but that's not likely when you're only applying the death penalty of criminals that have committed the same crimes many times.
RevRee said…
Jaywalkers should seriously be put to death...ok not really, but the piss me off!
Goofy Girl said…
I don't think any crimes should be punished by death. I don't feel its a choice a government should be making. Since most of the time a life long sentance deters people as much as death row does, why not just keep people in prison for life esp when there are innocent people.

However, with that idea comes the enormous cost of housing a prisoner for life which is something I doubt people want to pay for.

And then too, if putting them in prison basically prevents them from killing, why not do that instead of putting them on death row.

I think this is a states issue currently though, and like many states there won't be anyone executed for a while and then a terrible crime occurs and everyone will be in support of execution.

Just wish we could stop people from it in the first place.
lucylocket said…
It has been said that execution is more expensive than keeping a person in prison for his/her life time.
Lynda said…
I agree with srp. It takes the states too long to use it. I don't really think it is a deterrant if you still sit in jail for 20 years. By that point, most people probably have forgotten who you are and what you did.
vanx said…
It is not a deterrant, and there is no other arguement in favor of it. It is a truly barbaric feature of our system, one that we share with the most opressive regimes in the world.
keda said…
i agree with vanx.

it just lowers the rest of us to the criminals level too.

take people out of society by incarcerating them permanently. but to kill them is barbaric and dangerous.

i can never accept capital punishment. ever.
Carmi said…
You've deftly taken on one of the most contentious subjects society has ever known. I'ev published many columns on the topic, and it never fails to incite strong reaction from all sides of the issue.

I don't know if we'll ever arrive at an ideal form of justice that effectively balances the need to protect society, punish those who violate its rules, and differentiate between those who can be saved and those who should not.

I've always leaned toward treating criminals more harshly than we do. The degree of repeat offenses is too high for my taste, and capital punishment has always hung out there in my mind as the ultimate deterrent.

Still, an argument can be made that taking life makes us little different from those who murder. I can accept that.

And I haven't even dug into the whole death-as-martyred-victory perspective of the fundamentalists.

I remain torn. I must go read everyone else's comments again. So much to say...

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