the dreaming tree

in restless dreams i walk alone…

Capital Punishment – A Response… January 12, 2010

The following is my reply to a blog entry written by a friend of mine in regards to the Death Penalty.

  • “The alarming fact is the low number of people actually executed in the United States after the Furman vs. Georgia decision suspended the death penalty from 1972 to 1976. In fact, only 1,191 executions were performed from 1976 to the present. The total number of executions performed in the United States from 1608 to the present is also staggeringly low.”

Certainly not going for an unbiased beginning, are you? Why not just come right out and say “We’re just not executing ENOUGH people, dammit.”

But I’ll skip over your little “History of Capital Punishment in America” bit, and get right down to the point…

  • “1. Probably the most important point of the abolitionist’s argument is that some people have been put to death who were later found innocent. I had always considered this argument to be more of and indemnification of the judicial process itself. This argument could be applied across the board for all cases when the guilty party was charged erroneously. But it would not be prudent to suspend all sentencing, because of the imperfection of the process. The process of determining guilt will never be perfect, but will always be getting better and not worse.”

I’ve always had problems with this argument of yours. It seems that you have no qualms about admitting that our justice system is inherently flawed. The problem lies in this idea that the death penalty is no different than any other legal consequences handed down by the court system. There is a vast difference between imprisoning someone and executing them. While the years of imprisonment cannot be given back to an exonerated person, they still have some semblance of a chance at having a life. In the instance of capital punishment, however, there is NOTHING that can be done to rectify the execution of an innocent person. Even if I were to agree that murderers deserved the death penalty (which I do not), I could not, in good conscience, support a system in which there is the potential to put innocent people to death. I realize that in your mind, these innocent people probably serve as “collateral damage” in the War on Senseless Murder… (Might as well follow the government standard of declaring war on intangible ideas.) “Sacrifice the few for the good of the many.” Am I right? I say that in a society as technologically advanced as ours, with the potential to be far more so, it is unacceptable to think that the governing body of our country would knowingly sacrifice the lives of a few innocent men in the name of vengeance. And yet, they do. Meet Cameron Todd Willingham – (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann) (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0412090169dec09,0,1173806.story) Very likely innocent, murdered by the State of Texas. 139 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-and-death-penalty) Imagine how many more fell through the cracks.

  • “2. The abolitionists view and opinion of some of the courts is that the eighth amendment, which states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Well this opinion has differed back and forth between cases on what is considered cruel and unusual punishment, including capital punishment. But if we were to apply the statement of the amendment equally, that would include million dollar bonds against people considered to be flight risks or multimillion judgments against companies. The founding fathers were not clear on this in their own time, as the death penalty was used 1,200 times during the period between 1750 and 1800 according the ESPY file.”

I’m a little confused as to what your statement about applying the amendment equally is meant to imply. We should apply the amendment equally. But excessive fines and bail are not the points up for debate here. Money is far less valuable than human life – or at least, it should be. So, can capital punishment be considered to be “cruel and unusual punishment?” Cruel – is relative. To the man who wishes to live, death may be a cruel punishment. To a man who wishes to die, it is not. However, moving on to the “unusual” bit… Globally, the United States is in the minority, in regards to capital punishment. In fact, out of all of the industrialized European countries – in not a single one is the death penalty legal. The United States is in the company of nations such as Afghanistan, China, the Congo, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, North and South Korea, and Sierra Leone, to name a few. (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777460.html) So, given that capital punishment is no longer the norm, it can be concluded that it most certainly can be described as being “unusual.”

I’ll skip the religion bit, as it doesn’t apply to me, and since you have no good argument about the deterrent effects of the death penalty, I’ll only ponder that briefly – It is worth noting that the murder rate in states where the death penalty is legal is anywhere from 48% to 101% higher than in states in which it is illegal. (http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/the-death-penalty-and-deterrence/page.do?id=1101085) Certainly not doing much of a job as a deterrent.

  • “5. Some abolitionists use the tough man argument in order to appeal to those that would like tougher sentencing on crime. They claim that it is far more horrible to live a life sentence in prison, than take the easy way out with death. I disagree. Even though suicide rates on death row are higher than in the general population of prisoners, the majority of death row inmates fight on till the end. This argument also tips the scales at other criminal sentencing. Why should someone like Bernie Maddoff get the same sentencing as that the Son of Sam.”

So put the murderers in a 6×6 cell, on 23-hour lockdown, no tv, no visits, etc… There are plenty of punishments that many would find to be worse than death – Isolation and it’s resulting insanity could easily said to be one of them. The idea that life in prison isn’t a good enough punishment in no way justifies state-sponsored murder.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about cost… Though the statistics vary from state to state – they all have one thing in common: Death penalty cases cost more than comparable non-death penalty cases. In Kansas, they cost an average of 70% more, and in Tennessee, 48%. California’s current system costs the taxpayers $137 million a year – but if they abolished the death penalty, it would cost $11.5 million. (http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-cost/page.do?id=1101084) Just think what that much money could do if it were instead used towards methods that really DO deter crime – mental health care, addiction treatment, education, social services…

All of that being said, it matters very little when compared to the most fundamental point of the argument – Do we, or does our government, have the right to decide who should live and who should die? The answer, in my mind, is a resounding NO. What makes us think that we are wise enough, or enlightened enough to have the right to deprive anyone, even the most heinous of criminals, of their life?  We are but fallible human beings, and as such, are far too prone to make mistakes to be trusted with such power. As it stands, capital punishment is one of the most discriminatory practices in place in our society. 95% of death-row inmates are defended by overworked and underpaid public attorneys. The death penalty is sought more often for white victims than for minority victims. Whether or not to seek the death penalty is decided by the prosecutor, leaving the system wide open to political corruption and personal opinion. And did I mention that 80% of all executions nationwide occur in the South? (http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-and-arbitrariness/page.do?id=1101083) The fact of the matter is – we are not qualified to make that decision.

To me, the entire idea makes no sense. Killing someone in order to teach that killing is wrong… Talk about hypocrisy. This practice of government-sponsored murder that we have in place is barbaric, and has no place in a progressive society.

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