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“Might just as well say I’m dead.”
July 4, 2012 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Quartavious Davis of Florida, now twenty, has been sentenced to 162 years without parole for his role in several armed robberies during which he discharged a firearm but no one was hurt. He was a teenager at the time of the crimes and had no previous record. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment." Davis was 18 and 19 at the time of the crimes, and the sentence was discretionary, so this ruling does not apply.
posted by 256 (195 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The fact that Davis was 18/19 at the time of the crimes (two months worth!) is irrelevant to the sentencing discussion. An 18 year old is an adult, just the same as a 41 year old or a 87 year old. I do find the sentencing to be cruel and unusual, but I can't justify that statement based on Davis' age. Age discrimination is a bad thing, be it in jobs or in sentencing.
posted by saeculorum at 11:23 AM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


IMPORTANT PEDANTRY! IMPORTANT PEDANTRY!

SCOTUS ruled that legislated mandatory minimums of life sentences without possibility of parole for minors was in violation of the 8th Amendment. Judges can still hand down such sentences, but cannot be forced to do so by the legislative branch.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:27 AM on July 4, 2012 [30 favorites]


It's a shame a group of lawyers doesn't bust into your bedroom on the morning of your 18th birthday to explain to you all of the responsibilities and dire consequences that you are suddenly subject to on this more or less arbitrary date.
posted by indubitable at 11:28 AM on July 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


It's a shame a group of lawyers doesn't bust into your bedroom on the morning of your 18th birthday to explain to you all of the responsibilities and dire consequences that you are suddenly subject to on this more or less arbitrary date.

When I was in high school, we had a class called "you and the law" or something like that that devoted an entire semester to essentially that very issue. It's a shame that that sort of thing is not more common or, indeed, mandatory.
posted by The World Famous at 11:33 AM on July 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm curious. So how much does it cost taxpayers to imprison an individual for 50 or 60 years?
posted by Jurbano at 11:35 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the more tragic thing in this case is that his accomplices were allowed to cut deals that gave them sentences of less than 10 years. 162 years is out there for his sentence, but the guy did participate in 7 armed robberies where he was armed and at least threatened people with his weapon. I don't want that guy walking around any time soon. Also, as Navelgazer says, this is a discretionary sentence, not a mandatory one, although Davis' lawyer will try to extend the recent SC ruling to cover things like this.
posted by LionIndex at 11:36 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


As Davis was 18 and 19 at the time of the crimes, however, this ruling does not apply.

But yeah, this is a total non sequitur. The ruling doesn't apply because it's a sentence imposed by a judge's discretion, even if he were a minor.
posted by LionIndex at 11:39 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ridiculously long sentence for black man (in Florida, of course!), film at eleven.
posted by axiom at 11:39 AM on July 4, 2012


"My fiirst offense, and they gave me all this time..."

Someone should tell this guy that first offence usually refers to a spot of shoplifting or possession of pot, not seven armed robberies.

"OK, so it might technically count as genocide, but it was my FIRST OFFENCE!!!"
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:39 AM on July 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


jurbano, around 20 to 40 thousand dollars a year. however, prisoners can legally be used as slaves.
posted by stavrogin at 11:41 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


jurbano: I'm curious. So how much does it cost taxpayers to imprison an individual for 50 or 60 years?

On average, $23,876 per inmate per year.
posted by 256 at 11:42 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, apologies for the poor framing in the OP. I had misunderstood the Supreme Court ruling. I didn't realize that anywhere in the US had mandatory life sentences for anyone, let alone juveniles.
posted by 256 at 11:43 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a reason for the silly long sentences? You know, just in case? Or are they deliberately seeking to make themselves look stupid?
posted by Jehan at 11:43 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a reason for the silly long sentences?

'You're facing five counts of [CRIME], each with a minimum twenty years . . . make a deal and you'll only do [SMALLER NUMBER]'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:47 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a shame a group of lawyers doesn't bust into your bedroom on the morning of your 18th birthday to explain to you all of the responsibilities and dire consequences that you are suddenly subject to on this more or less arbitrary date.

Forget renting yourself out in a clown suit, this is an awesome business idea!

Actually, no, keep the clown suit, and add a clown briefcase and a clown judge's wig, and become a scary-ass Judge Clown who lays down the law and scares the bejezus out of you at the same time.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:48 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's a shame a group of lawyers doesn't bust into your bedroom on the morning of your 18th birthday to explain to you all of the responsibilities and dire consequences that you are suddenly subject to on this more or less arbitrary date.

Seriously, how are you supposed to know that discharging a firearm during an armed robbery is wrong otherwise?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:49 AM on July 4, 2012 [35 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. Please make some sort of attempt to discuss whatever is actually interesting or post-worthy about the links and skip the random opinions about who should die. Thank you.]
posted by cortex at 11:49 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a reason for the silly long sentences?

Vengeance? Racism? "Deterrence"? Election year in Flordia? Daring to assert your right to a fair trial?

Pick one. Or all. I'm sure none of them are very far from the mark.
posted by Talez at 11:49 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Long sentences such as this result from "chaning together" multiple shorter sentences. There is a minimum 10 year prison term for armed robbery in Florida, so if he received a 10 year sentence for each crime it would have been 70 years. Since he discharged the weapon, rather than simply using it for intimidation, he endangered the lives of his victims—that would push up the sentencing—and the number of robberies he committed likely fell into the graduated "three strikes" sentencing.

Also, can we please not act as if the convict is the victim here? I'm a liberal, but when you start implying that he didn't know committing seven armed robberies was wrong, you start to look like an idiot.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [54 favorites]


It's a shame a group of lawyers doesn't bust into your bedroom on the morning of your 18th birthday to explain to you all of the responsibilities and dire consequences that you are suddenly subject to on this more or less arbitrary date.

When I was in high school, we had a class called "you and the law" or something like that that devoted an entire semester to essentially that very issue. It's a shame that that sort of thing is not more common or, indeed, mandatory.
posted by The World Famous


One would hope that it wasn't necessary to have a whole class in order to absorb the idea that robbing and shooting at people is illegal.
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:51 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a reason for the silly long sentences?

In addition to the plea bargain angle (going to trial is expensive), many prisons are run by for-profit corporate entities that lobby for stronger sentencing and enforcement. These corporations get paid per prisoner/day.
posted by polyhedron at 11:53 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


One would hope that it wasn't necessary to have a whole class in order to absorb the idea that robbing and shooting at people is illegal.

One would hope that you couldn't get 162 years in the clink for crimes that don't involve physically injuring people either but one is dealt the hand they're given.
posted by Talez at 11:53 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Clarified the post text a little at the poster's request.]
posted by cortex at 11:54 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


In addition to the plea bargain angle (going to trial is expensive), many prisons are run by for-profit corporate entities that lobby for stronger sentencing and enforcement. These corporations get paid per prisoner/day.

That's not the case in Flordia and they've only just stopped the corporate takeover of the prison system there.
posted by Talez at 11:54 AM on July 4, 2012


Also, can we please not act as if the convict is the victim here? I'm a liberal, but when you start implying that he didn't know committing seven armed robberies was wrong, you start to look like an idiot.

I don't see a problem with acknowledging that this criminal is also a victim of disproportionate sentencing that has added beyond his just sentence. If his only crime was "merely" murdering an innocent, he would out free in a tiny fraction of the time. Because actually killing someone is trivial in comparison... orrr maybe killing someone is not trivial and his sentence is unjust.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:54 AM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile, Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people, was facing a maximum sentence of only 21 years.

Some countries have a concept of rehabilitation. Others just want to lock people up and throw away the key, because we're dealing with BAD PEOPLE.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:55 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


One would hope that you couldn't get 162 years in the clink for crimes that don't involve physically injuring people either but one is dealt the hand they're given.
posted by Talez


We'll have to disagree on that point, because I think its entirely appropriate.
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:55 AM on July 4, 2012


The fact that Davis was 18/19 at the time of the crimes (two months worth!) is irrelevant to the sentencing discussion. An 18 year old is an adult, just the same as a 41 year old or a 87 year old. I do find the sentencing to be cruel and unusual, but I can't justify that statement based on Davis' age. Age discrimination is a bad thing, be it in jobs or in sentencing.

While legally this may be true, there is a world of difference between an 18 year old and a 25 year old, much less a 41 year old, when it comes to brain development and opportunities to learn and mature. I find it difficult to support the notion that a bipolar, learning disabled 18 year old from a poor community should be treated the same as forty year old, highly educated, college instructor me when it comes to sentencing. And the reality is, since I'm white and could scrape up the money for a good attorney, I probably wouldn't get anywhere near the sentence he got, even though I've had much more opportunity to develop a better moral code.

I realize that it's tricky to try to account for differences of age and opportunity in the legal code, but just because the law puts a bright line between 17 years, 364 days old and 18 years old doesn't mean the rest of us have to pretend that reflects some basic truth of biology or something. It's a very flawed attempt to honor to reality that people at different stages of life have more or less accountability for their actions, but two categories of "minor" and "adult" don't come close to mirroring our reality.
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 11:56 AM on July 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


One would hope that it wasn't necessary to have a whole class in order to absorb the idea that robbing and shooting at people is illegal.

All I can say is that my robbing and shooting spree ended the day I learned that it was illegal. How was I to know?
posted by The World Famous at 11:58 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have no sympathy for this man. Hopefully some other youth learns from this and doesn't pursue criminal activities.
posted by Renoroc at 11:58 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My argument would be that the Anders Breivik "maximum sentence" was ridiculous and showed a flaw in the Scandinavian penal system. You don't reform a person who murdered 77 people.

Furthermore, it's pretty easy to avoid being a victim of harsh sentencing: don't rob people!
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:59 AM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Not including inflation, taxpayers are looking at $1.2 million to house this individual. I agree a long sentence was due in this case, but excessive sentencing is a total waste of taxpayer dollars. This individual is relatively young and this was the first time he was sentenced. The real question is whether this individual can be rehabilitated or would continue to pose a threat to society. If rehabilitation is not possible I could see how this sentence could be justified. Unfortunately, the capability of this individual to rehabilitated doesn't appear to have been considered. The main interest in sentencing was to make an example out of this person and project a "tough on crime" mantra.

Three words: Prison-Industrial Complex.
posted by Jurbano at 12:00 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


We'll have to disagree on that point, because I think its entirely appropriate.

There's another 7 billion humans in the world so who cares if we throw another one away, am I right folks?

This kid could do 5-8 or even 10-14 if you want to be petty and vindictive, learn some life skills in prison and be sent out into the world matured with some prospects and able to make a productive citizen of himself. Instead we just committed ourselves to well over a million dollars, probably two in order to lock him away.

But instead we have to make sure prison is a completely punitive affair. God forbid if our tax dollars were used to rehabilitate a felon in an attempt to turn them into productive members of society instead of punishing them.
posted by Talez at 12:02 PM on July 4, 2012 [22 favorites]


Alexander Hatchell: While legally this may be true, there is a world of difference between an 18 year old and a 25 year old, much less a 41 year old, when it comes to brain development and opportunities to learn and mature.

You are conflating multiple characteristics here to justify your point. I don't think that it is inappropriate to consider mental illness, educational background, and social/economic status in sentencing decisions (well, actually, I am a bit uncomfortable with the last condition, but that's another topic). I am simply saying that age above maturity in and of itself is not an appropriate reason to invalidate a sentence. Arbitrary lines are arbitrary, but they are better than the alternative of treating young adults differently under the law simply because they are young.
posted by saeculorum at 12:03 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


With a name like Quartavious, hasn't he already been subject to enough cruel and unusual punishment from society already?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:03 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's a shame a group of lawyers doesn't bust into your bedroom on the morning of your 18th birthday to explain to you all of the responsibilities and dire consequences that you are suddenly subject to on this more or less arbitrary date.


Its not like he didn't know armed robbery was illegal.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:04 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the article: [...]and at a fast-food restaurant, he exchanged gunfire with a customer who had a concealed weapon.

So he had a shootout in a restaurant. As LUCK would have it, nobody died - not him, not the armed customer, not any of the people around. It is pure luck that Davis is not a murderer.

But what about the fact, that a customer had a gun? Had the customer killed Davis, it would have been completely legal. What of the moral argument? Would it have been right for the customer to have killed Davis? After all, the customer could not have known if Davis would not go on a shooting spree. Indeed nobody knows what would have happened had the armed customer not started shooting. However, keep in mind: IT WOULD HAVE BEEN ENTIRELY LEGAL TO KILL DAVIS.

Now, a death penalty was not given Davis. Instead, it was life in prison. And it was entirely legal.

So please keep both of these facts in mind:

1)It would have been entirely legal to kill Davis

2)He has been legally given life in prison

Who is lucky here? Is Davis lucky not to be dead, as by rights he could have been? Or is he unlucky that he committed his crimes in Florida, instead of somewhere else where he'd face much less of a punishment?
posted by VikingSword at 12:05 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Putting aside the questions raised by (the tiny percentage of inmates who are) serial murderers, serial child molesters/serial rapists, and/or chronically violent sadists -- to me anything more than 20 years of time is just cruelty (and stupidly expensive). Even for (most) murders or armed robbery. And 20 should be the maximum -- 10 years is a huge amount of time.

Age: Young adults are stupid. Mind-blowing-ly stupid. Their brain development has not yet finished. They have impulse control issues. Also, for male offenders, young adulthood is correlated with violence. For offenders, violence decreases with age.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:06 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Talez, according to their 2011 Annual Report (PDF), the GEO Group runs two correctional facilities in Florida (and they're headquartered there too). Regardless, this type of corporation does lobby strongly for stricter sentencing and often has a large amount of political influence in state governments.
posted by polyhedron at 12:06 PM on July 4, 2012


The guy definitely belongs in jail, but that's way too long a sentence. Murderers often get out in less than ten years. I'd say about 17 years (two years for each robbery plus another three for firing the gun) would be more reasonable.
posted by orange swan at 12:10 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


So we would have been OK with having him shot in the head - result DEAD - but we're not OK with his serving a life sentence?
posted by VikingSword at 12:12 PM on July 4, 2012


I honestly don't think a sane person would do a string of seven armed robberies.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2012


Seems fair to me. It's not like people change a lot in their twenties. There's obviously no hope for rehab here.
posted by gerryblog at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's not a murderer because he's a lousy shot, not because he values the sanctity of life. I don't have that much of a problem with this, honestly.
posted by desjardins at 12:19 PM on July 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


Also, any lawyers on the site who can address the stacking issue. I never heard of treating counts as separate crimes and that seems to be a part of this. Sentencing someone to more than a century in prison negates any belief in rehabilitation. And none of us know what he will be like in 5 years, let alone 5 decades.
I have next to no sympathy for him, based on what we little know of him. But still. Also, who fired first, does anyone know? The fact that only his accomplices, saving their own skins, say he did it makes me nervous. And don't some jurisdictions require that someone other than an accomplice verify a crime, to avoid exactly this scenario?
posted by etaoin at 12:19 PM on July 4, 2012


[Seriously folks, stop doing the hyperbolic misrepresenting other people's opinions stuff that makes everyone nuts and stop making this personal. You can go to MeTa if you want, but you can't ruin this thread. Be civil to each other. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:19 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


VinkingSword, there's a vast difference between being shot in the "heat of the moment" during the commission of a crime, which is unfortunate (and possibly inappropriate, depending on how the situation went down, but at least plausibly fine) and the sentence that the State hands down afterwards, when the person is not an immediate threat to others.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:19 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


So we would have been OK with having him shot in the head - result DEAD - but we're not OK with his serving a life sentence?

Those are two completely separate groups of people arguing each of those points. Please don't go down this road.
posted by Talez at 12:23 PM on July 4, 2012


I think they oughta add a few years to his sentence for having a ridiculous name.
posted by newfers at 12:26 PM on July 4, 2012


Well, both demand judgment don't they? But isn't it an odd feeling to say "it would have been entirely a moral thing to kill him, but not to sentence him to life in prison"? Society judges it OK to kill because he might be an imminent threat, but as you put it "is not an immediate threat to others" and therefore somehow he's less of a threat in general? Because he was LUCKY that nobody died - not him, not the customer, not other customers? Yeah, I think the court says the same thing the customer said: YES, this guy IS a threat to others, now imminently and in the future, when his luck might run out.
posted by VikingSword at 12:26 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My sense of debates like this are that liberals are looking to prove they're sufficiently "tough on crime" as part of a proxy argument against the death penalty or the drug war or some other thing. "Look, I'm not one of those liberals. I'm not weak."

What possible good does it do anybody to put this person away *for life* for the very bad, very stupid things he did when he was 18? What's the actual policy good that's supposed to come out of this?

In ten years, he won't have matured? In twenty? Thirty? Is he still a threat for armed robbery when he's 67? How can you possibly say you "don't have that much of a problem with this," or that you have have "next to no sympathy" for a person who has been sentenced to spend upwards of five or six decades in prison for the mistakes he made as a teenager? Do you honestly mean this -- or perhaps are you trying to prove how tough you are to gain credibility in some other argument?

This outcome seems to me to be pretty obviously indefensible on the merits; I honestly can't imagine where a person who thinks this is just fine is coming from.
posted by gerryblog at 12:30 PM on July 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


This kid could ... learn some life skills in prison

We're talking about the US prison system here, right?
posted by weston at 12:31 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


A person who thinks this is fine is coming from the fact that the only reason he didn't kill someone is because he was a lousy shot. He showed no restraint. He is a threat.
posted by spaltavian at 12:32 PM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


He showed no restraint. He is a threat.

I'm having trouble digging it out, but there's a great This American Life interview with a man in prison for murder. If I can find the link, or someone else knows the episode, please post it. People change. Throwing away the key is just another crime on top of the first.
posted by gerryblog at 12:34 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The guy definitely belongs in jail, but that's way too long a sentence. Murderers often get out in less than ten years. I'd say about 17 years (two years for each robbery plus another three for firing the gun) would be more reasonable.

never heard of treating counts as separate crimes

http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/10-20-life/index.html

If you commit a crime in Florida, & have a gun, it's a minimum 10 year sentence.

If you fire the gun, minimum 20 year sentence.

and, it "Mandates that the minimum prison term is to be served consecutively to any other term of imprisonment imposed".

So I guess if he got only 10 years for each robbery that'd be 70 years. If he fired his gun a couple of times, that would be 20 years instead.

Fair or not that's how things are...
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 12:34 PM on July 4, 2012


edit: I mean, it'd be 20 years for each robbery where he shot the gun. If he was in a gunfight at the one robbery, I imagine that's a few more 10 year felonies there too.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 12:35 PM on July 4, 2012


What rationale can there be for any sentence being "without parole"? Doesn't this imply that there is no point in rehabilitating him? How can this be a desirable feature of a justice system?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:35 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I never heard of treating counts as separate crimes and that seems to be a part of this.

IANAL but each robbery was a separate crime and should be treated as such. I never understood the idea of concurrent sentences as there really seems to be no point to it.

Sentencing someone to more than a century in prison negates any belief in rehabilitation.

I don't think there's any sincere belief in rehabilitation to negate. IMHO most people involved in corrections just pay lip service to the whole concept.

In ten years, he won't have matured? In twenty? Thirty? Is he still a threat for armed robbery when he's 67? How can you possibly say you "don't have that much of a problem with this," or that you have have "next to no sympathy" for a person who has been sentenced to spend upwards of five or six decades in prison for the mistakes he made as a teenager?

I guess the counter argument might be that in 10, 20 or 30 years he will be thoroughly and irrevocably institutionalized qualified for nothing but a continued life of crime.

I don't necessarily think that's true as I know a few people who have spent a decade or more more in prison and are now living normal, peaceful lives (except one who keeps going back).
posted by MikeMc at 12:36 PM on July 4, 2012


The teen became violent in some of the robberies, prosecutors said: At an auto supply store, he fired two shots at a dog that chased him
I'm honestly not joking around when I wonder, based on how some of the Michael Vick threads have gone around here over the years, where many otherwise justice system skeptical Mefites became full-scale "Lock him up and throw away the key/His punishment was much too lenient" types, how the discussion here would be different if Davis had been successful in killing the dog.

(For the record, I agree that this sentence is ridiculously harsh, even while acknowledging that Davis did some legitimately awful things that deserve a significant sentence.)
posted by The Gooch at 12:40 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


The savagery of punishment is in direct proportion to ability to control crime. When the odds of getting away with robbery/murder/theft were very high, because law enforcement had few tools and the opportunities to disappear were extremely high, like in the middle ages, the punishment was extremely savage. The idea was that while the criminal considers the odds as favorable to commit the crime, he must weigh the savagery of the punishment in the unlikely event of capture as deterrence... had he only to face small punishment, it would be a no-brainer to commit the crime as odds of discovery are low, and consequences small. Epidemic of crime would follow. As our law enforcement techniques grew more sophisticated and as our ability to rehabilitate offenders grew, the calculus changed and we no longer felt the need to punish as harshly. These two moved in parallel - more and better tools and less and less harsh punishments.

Give us tools - Sci-fi scenario: hook him up to a brain-wave machine and give us a diagnosis: can he be rehabilitated and how long will it take. If the answer is: 5 days, most of us would give him 5 days and be entirely happy. Or if the answer is 20 years, or life - that's fine too. It's the result that counts.

But we don't have such tools TODAY. And so this guy will rot in prison for the rest of his life (unless something changes).
posted by VikingSword at 12:42 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the episode I was thinking about was "Long Shot."
posted by gerryblog at 12:44 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


VikingSword:

It seems to me like you're anthropomorphizing the state quite a bit here. Personally, I don't think that the state can 'demand' justice or anything else like a human being can.

So your question about whether or not it would be morally justifiable for an individual actor to have killed the convicted during a crime is-to me-entirely irrelevant to the moral questions about sentencing.

The state isn't a person; it's an institutional entity and different models apply.
posted by graphnerd at 12:49 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's part of society and society is people. When we make a citizens arrest, it's an ordinary citizen that takes the law into his hands, and society sanctions that. Should that customer have shot Davis to death, society - other citizens - would have sanctioned it. Courts are just how people - members of society - organize to tackle these issues. Juries are ordinary citizens. We are society.
posted by VikingSword at 12:53 PM on July 4, 2012


Give us tools - Sci-fi scenario: hook him up to a brain-wave machine and give us a diagnosis: can he be rehabilitated and how long will it take. If the answer is: 5 days, most of us would give him 5 days and be entirely happy. Or if the answer is 20 years, or life - that's fine too. It's the result that counts.

But we don't have such tools TODAY. And so this guy will rot in prison for the rest of his life (unless something changes).


Wow. Scandinavia must be a bastion of lawlessness and terrorized citizenry with their lack of life sentences, use of rehabilitative methods and trying to address mental and social issues with their criminals.

The funny thing is that Americans never get madder at the legislature for perpetuating this cycle and spending ever increasing amounts of money on crime detection and retribution for ever diminishing returns. They just get madder at criminals and demand that sentences for crime need to be raised another 20% to deter people some more. That'll surely work this time!

Escalate, escalate, escalate! Demand blood, demand penance, punish the sinners!
posted by Talez at 12:53 PM on July 4, 2012 [17 favorites]


I am entirely in favor of parole for people who have reformed in prison, so I think the sentence is inhumane. However, I'm also glad the dude who pulled out a loaded weapon during robberies got caught early on, before someone got killed.
posted by zippy at 12:55 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Don't do the crime if you can't do the time..."

He could have easily avoided this sentence, can anyone here guess how?
posted by Max Power at 12:58 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Coming from Scandinavia, I am well aware of how this works. It works because of how the society works. It's not isolated to merely the penal system. Scandinavian societies decided to de-escalate violence and retribution. What it did is "softened" the criminals. I've written about this previously in the blue. As a criminal, social opprobrium is a much bigger punishment and deterrent. I support that. But for that, you need a more cohesive society where everyone feels included. But you cannot take one element from the whole - the penal system - and transplant it into an environment which is entirely different (U.S.A.) and expect that isolated element to work just the same. It's the middle ages vs modern society all over again. What works in one system would not work in another. Yes, I believe in less savagery and more rehabilitation, but I see things in a larger context.
posted by VikingSword at 1:00 PM on July 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


My argument would be that the Anders Breivik "maximum sentence" was ridiculous and showed a flaw in the Scandinavian penal system. You don't reform a person who murdered 77 people.

Anders Behring Breivik will most likely stay behind bars until he dies, in an institution where he is the only inmate.

From the Huffington Post link: "If convicted he would face a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison, though sentences can be extended if a criminal is considered a menace to society. If declared insane by the court, he would be committed to psychiatric care."
posted by iviken at 1:03 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people, was facing a maximum sentence of only 21 years.

Some countries have a concept of rehabilitation. Others just want to lock people up and throw away the key, because we're dealing with BAD PEOPLE.


I'm going to go out on a limb and say anyone who has murdered 77 people qualifies as a BAD PERSON and should be, at the very least, permanently incarcerated if not outright executed.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:06 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Furthermore, it's pretty easy to avoid being a victim of harsh sentencing: don't rob people!

He could have easily avoided this sentence, can anyone here guess how?


Remember, harsh sentencing applies to these guys just as much as Quartavious Davis.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:06 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's part of society and society is people.

Probably a bigger question than can be answered in this thread, but I don't really agree with that formulation. At least, I disagree with the notion that since the constituent parts of a society are all individuals that it follows that the same models and morality that apply to individuals apply to society.

apologies for that run-on sentence

I guess my point is that you seem to be arguing that the reactions that people on this thread have are inconsistent depending on whether the actor is the individual or the state.

I completely agree with that; I just don't find it problematic.
posted by graphnerd at 1:06 PM on July 4, 2012


Coming from Scandinavia, I am well aware of how this works. It works because of how the society works. It's not isolated to merely the penal system. Scandinavian societies decided to de-escalate violence and retribution. What it did is "softened" the criminals. I've written about this previously in the blue. As a criminal, social opprobrium is a much bigger punishment and deterrent. I support that. But for that, you need a more cohesive society where everyone feels included. But you cannot take one element from the whole - the penal system - and transplant it into an environment which is entirely different (U.S.A.) and expect that isolated element to work just the same. It's the middle ages vs modern society all over again. What works in one system would not work in another. Yes, I believe in less savagery and more rehabilitation, but I see things in a larger context.

So instead the solution is ever more savagery in the short term and the medium term and the long term?

How many more years does this have to go on before we can turn around and admit that escalating retribution isn't doing the job? In the 40 years since Nixon's administration first coined the phrase "War on Drugs", America has been imprisoning people at ever increasing rates accelerating during the 80s when Reagan kicked the machine into high gear.

At some point someone has to say "this is fucked up let's try something else" like the socialists did in Northern Europe. Sticking our heads into the proverbial sand to say "look at the bigger picture! It won't work! Let's not bother and stay the course!" does absolutely nothing.
posted by Talez at 1:12 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


They just get madder at criminals and demand that sentences for crime need to be raised another 20% to deter people some more. That'll surely work this time!

It depends on what tools you have access to, and what the context is. Back in more primitive times, yes, blood and retribution worked - and often was the only tool. I bring Romans to your attention. They were able to pacify countries and populations through extremely savage punishments. They were able to enforce discipline among their own with similar punishments - see "decimate". It worked. It worked extremely well, so well that the Roman Empire has been one of the most successful empires ever. Softer approaches didn't work and couldn't work - the tools were not good enough. So the tools they had - blood and punishment - worked very well indeed.

We have more and better tools today, so we are less reliant on punishment and savagery. We'll keep moving toward more civilization and nuance in the penal system as well, as society evolves. But today, in this society, well, here we are. The penal system reflects the society in which it operates. Scandinavian or American, or Japanese, or Chinese.
posted by VikingSword at 1:13 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, it's pretty easy to avoid being a victim of harsh sentencing: don't rob people!

Alternatively, be rich and white. Preferably with a brother/son/husband/father/business partner who can take the rap. It still works when there's at least one actual death involved.
posted by XMLicious at 1:16 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yep, unfortunately, you can't just blindly adopt a model that works in one context and expect it to work in another. Unfortunately, to reform the penal system, you need to reform the justice system, you need to bring social and economic change that allows for opportunity and engagement, you need to reform the educational and health systems. Nothing happens in isolation. We can pick at individual cases - like here. That's not a global solution. We need to work at the roots of the problem. It's like conservatives who advocate individual charity in place of state sponsored help. Individual charity may help a person here and there, but historically it doesn't work as well as help mandated by law. We need to reform the whole system, from the bottoms up.
posted by VikingSword at 1:21 PM on July 4, 2012


The penal system reflects the society in which it operates. Scandinavian or American, or Japanese, or Chinese.

That's true, but I don't think it really explains what's going on in America. I mean, I'd suggest that English society is closer to America than Scandinavia in a lot of ways (though I throw out the caveat that I have lived in neither place), but even there, the incarceration rates are much, much lower. Here, for example, are their guidelines on robbery, and I believe that you generally serve half of the time in this system (please someone correct me if I'm wrong). I guess my point is, there's some middle ground between current-day America and Norway--how about we at least aim to no longer have the highest incarceration rate among developed nations by an astronomical margin?
posted by dsfan at 1:22 PM on July 4, 2012


VikingSword: Well, both demand judgment don't they? But isn't it an odd feeling to say "it would have been entirely a moral thing to kill him, but not to sentence him to life in prison"? Society judges it OK to kill because he might be an imminent threat, but as you put it "is not an immediate threat to others" and therefore somehow he's less of a threat in general? Because he was LUCKY that nobody died - not him, not the customer, not other customers? Yeah, I think the court says the same thing the customer said: YES, this guy IS a threat to others, now imminently and in the future, when his luck might run out.


Why is it difficult to understand that different responses are more or less appropriate in different circumstances? Shooting someone who is waving a gun at you, an imminent threat, is clearly more acceptable than executing someone lying handcuffed on the ground, for example. Or leaving someone to die at the top of Everest, where your own life would be in danger, is more acceptable than leaving someone to die in front of a hospital. Or a million other silly examples.

Not trying to caricature your argument here, but your rhetorical question seems to give a different answer to the one you intended.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 1:24 PM on July 4, 2012


It's about legal sanction by society. If the customer was in a 7-11 and shot someone else for shoplifting - society would not sanction that. Society sanctions death in this case, because of the perceived threat, and society sees life in prison as justified because of the same threat, after all, Davis aimed his gun at another human being and FIRED - that the bullet didn't murder the victim is pure luck. Similar with your examples.

The problem is as far as you want to take it - the entire societal setup. Access to guns and gun laws. Educational opportunity. Healthcare, including mental health (Davis is bipolar according to the article). Work opportunities. And so forth. The problems for Davis started much earlier - years - before Davis stepped into that restaurant. You can't just pick one part of this chain and point to that - in this case the legal consequence - without taking the entire chain into account... that is as long as we're talking about the problem. Not merely looking at strictly ("OMG, life in prison!") legal issues - which is best done by lawyers familiar with the relevant law - and few of us here are qualified for that.
posted by VikingSword at 1:34 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


In other news: Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation
posted by homunculus at 1:41 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Society sanctions death in this case, because of the perceived threat, and society sees life in prison as justified because of the same threat, after all, Davis aimed his gun at another human being and FIRED - that the bullet didn't murder the victim is pure luck.

I find it very unlikely that a poll asking whether or not life in prison was justified for attempted murder would produce a unanimous result.
posted by MetalFingerz at 1:49 PM on July 4, 2012


If he was in a gunfight at the one robbery, I imagine that's a few more 10 year felonies there too.

Nah. It isn't an "each discharge is another ten years," it's "if you discharge your weapon at all, you get an extra ten years." It's a binary switch, not an iterative counter.
posted by valkyryn at 1:53 PM on July 4, 2012


I read this story earlier today and am still disturbed by the dealing that allowed him to have multiple counts turned into separate crimes, based on the word of his accomplices, who have every reason to lie. And sentences ought to be proportional. You've got people walking out of jail after 1 year when they've killed someone in a DWI accident. Or less than 10 after they've killed them in some other way.

The 162 years imposed on Davis was because of a “stacked” sentence, according to Reuters, in which each individual indictment is considered a separate offense — and jail time is served consecutively, not concurrently.
posted by etaoin at 1:56 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


What rationale can there be for any sentence being "without parole"?

Honestly? Because the Supreme Court has restricted the states' ability to execute. If this guy had been arrested in almost any state in the nineteenth century, odds are decent that he'd have been hung already.* A series of armed robberies? Yeah, that's a hangin' offense. According to this, the last person to have been executed for burglary was as recent as 1941, and robbery in 1964. Both were in Alabama. Rape was a capital offense in most states until 1977 when the Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment for non-homicide offenses. The last rape execution was in 1964.

So what's the rationale? That the body politic would really like to kill the guy, but restrained by the Supreme Court, they'll just put him away forever instead. The point is that his life is over, even if it hasn't ended.

I'm thinking that at some point, someone is going to make the argument that life sentences are at least as "cruel and unusual" as capital punishment. When faced with the possibility of taking all permanent punishment options off the table, the Supreme Court may well relax its views on the subject.

Retributive justice may have fallen out of favor amongst the liberal set, but it still animates most Americans' thinking on the subject of criminal justice. Anyone who wants to be a player in the criminal justice system needs to at least acknowledge that.

*Partly because he's committed what used to be a capital crime. Mostly because the criminal appeals process as we now know it didn't exist until the mid-twentieth century.
posted by valkyryn at 2:09 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


By the way, it's amazing to me that we have had many threads here about how spanking children has negative consequences in escalated aggression, criminality, lower IQ in later life (and even mental illness) and how Sweden f.ex. has long been a pioneer in deprecating corporal punishment, yet anyone would think that somehow you can divorce that from how the penal system works there. Meanwhile corporal punishment has much greater rates of approval in the U.S. - are we surprised by the consequences? Just one of a million differences.

Violence is everywhere. Some of the most violent police forces operate in the U.S., and that's including major metropolises, like New York and Los Angeles. That's the arm of the law. How surprised are you that the nature of crime here is what it is, and the component of violence is so much greater? They feed each other in a reinforcing loop. The penal system is a response to this and part of the problem - and cannot be seen in isolation.
posted by VikingSword at 2:12 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


In ten years, he won't have matured? In twenty? Thirty? Is he still a threat for armed robbery when he's 67?

In one of my cases, in full view of a front-facing video camera, a guy in his late sixties pulled a gun on three officers who were helping him catch his breath on the hood of a police cruiser.

So at sixty-seven, he could do plenty.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:14 PM on July 4, 2012


after all, Davis aimed his gun at another human being and FIRED - that the bullet didn't murder the victim is pure luck.

Many instances of traffic infractions don't kill anyone by pure luck. Society has sort of agreed, consciously or not, that it's not about the luck, it's about the result .If you do something that could reasonably be expected to kill someone, and no-one gets hurt, you serve a different sentence (or none at all) than if you did exactly the same thing, for exactly the same reason, and the dice of life just happened to roll a casualty this time around.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:14 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Age: Young adults are stupid. Mind-blowing-ly stupid. Their brain development has not yet finished. They have impulse control issues. Also, for male offenders, young adulthood is correlated with violence. For offenders, violence decreases with age.

This is starting to be the 'correlation doesn't equal causation' of these kinds of threads.
posted by winna at 2:15 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a great documentary streamable on Netflix on favelas (unfortunately I don't remember the title at the moment). Desperate people, huge chasms of wealth separation, complete lack of opportunity, a drug war, guns everywhere. Violence is an absolutely integral part of this - the wealthy must protect themselves with deadly force, because they face deadly force and they face deadly force because the criminals have absolutely nothing to lose. You cannot possibly point to only one element in this equation - the use of violence, f.ex. - and critique that, and think it says anything at all about the solution. The solution necessary is so much deeper than that - starting with wealth disparities and economic opportunity and many other things. In the documentary, the chief of police who was responsible for containing the favelas admitted openly that the problem is the whole society, and the criminality of the favelas is a symptom - for a law and order man to admit that, well, the issue must be as plain as the nose on your face. Do you seriously think that we are that far away from that situation here in the U.S.? We're not that far gone, but I wonder about the direction.
posted by VikingSword at 2:24 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Putting questions of justice aside, rehabilitation is obviously necessary because jailed criminals eventually finish serving their time and re-enter our society - where we live - and when that happens, we'd all prefer that they're able to get a job and contribute to our wealth, rather than be trained by us to kill our sister and end up right back in jail, living on our dime once more.

Ironically though, the injustice of this particular sentence removes the real-world necessity for rehabilitation, leaving only the moral component, which is already revealed as absent by permitting the greater injustice.

I don't know. It just seems like the only winners in our formula is the prison industry.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:24 PM on July 4, 2012


I take no issue with this at all. The crimes show that this is a very dangerous individual and totally indifferent to human life. Each of those armed robberies deserves a stiff sentence individually, and combined they are worth life, which is what he got. Looks like justice to me.

That he missed the innocent people he shot isn't really a mitigating factor.
posted by knoyers at 2:26 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Many instances of traffic infractions don't kill anyone by pure luck.

Oh? You don't think it's treated differently if the accident is the result of gross negligence versus a person aiming their car at someone intending to kill? I'm afraid, attempted murder is going to be the charge even if it's the car that's the deadly weapon rather than a gun.
posted by VikingSword at 2:28 PM on July 4, 2012


Age: Young adults are stupid. Mind-blowing-ly stupid.

oh, come on - the vast majority of young adults somehow manage to avoid being serial armed robbers who take shots at people

so, do the vast majority of bipolar, learning disabled 18 year olds from a poor community

it's a safety issue - when it is proven that it is safe for him to be out in society, then we should let him go

how one persuades a person to be safe and how one proves a person is safe is not something i know
posted by pyramid termite at 2:29 PM on July 4, 2012


I am guessing he had mediocre legal representation, a "combative/abrasive" attitude, did not cooperate to any real extent with his defense attorneys, and discharging a firearm on multiple episodes did not win him any friends. It also does not include his juvenile record ( to which the pre-sentence probation officer had access). It is harsh. meaningless and will accomplish nothing except indignation and righteousness. However, this was a Federal Court which does tend to operate with considerable sophistication. I am wondering how itwas tried in federal Court rather than State District/Circuit court. ApparentlyI am missong something--I expected to see a bank robbery or robbery of a federal official/facility in the story. Anyway--extreme situations make for bad law and extreme reactions.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:31 PM on July 4, 2012


He's not a murderer because he's a lousy shot
We don't know that, at least not from this article. The prosecutors claimed Quartavious Davis exchanged gunfire with a customer in a fast-food restaurant. Leaving aside the questions of who shot first, whether one could call it self-defense under the circumstances, whether the robber was aiming for the customer's torso or the gun hand, etc., the article says that the customer was unable to identify Davis, and as Etaoin points out, the state gave his accomplices excellent motive to frame him.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:33 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


My first offense, and they gave me all this time

Poor baby. I'm sorry they took your gun away.

Just think of all the missed kisses and loaded cash drawers (and don't worry about the bloody bodies of the night clerks bleeding to death underneath your feet.)
posted by four panels at 2:35 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The sentence is cruel and unusual irrespective of his age. Armed robbery deserves a serious sentence, not life in prison without the possibility of parole on a first offence. He may have discharged the firearm, but he wasn't charged with attempted murder, which says to me that he wasn't aiming it at anyone. Again, it's serious, but the sentence is too harsh. What makes it cruel and unusual is that no matter how he demonstrates remorse, reforms himself in prison, and shows that he is ready to make a productive contribution to society, he can never get out. His life is over. That's far, far too harsh for someone who clearly made bad decisions, but who didn't cause bodily harm, and is not a repeat offender. This guy's an idiot, and his actions are morally reprehensible, but he's not evil or incorrigible. He deserves a chance to get out, and make something of his life.

The other, maybe more important, thing this shows is a corruption at the heart of the American justice system - you plead guilty or you get screwed, maybe for life. All his accomplices got much lighter sentences because they plead. This guy exercises his right to a trial, and for that they make an example out of him, relying on the evidence of his accomplices, and put him away for life. That'll show the next guy who doesn't want to play ball with the D.A.
posted by Dasein at 2:39 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


four panels: "Poor baby. I'm sorry they took your gun away."

Was that the most intelligent thing you could think of saying?
posted by dunkadunc at 2:40 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh? You don't think it's treated differently if the accident is the result of gross negligence versus a person aiming their car at someone intending to kill? I'm afraid, attempted murder is going to be the charge even if it's the car that's the deadly weapon rather than a gun.

You seem to have misread. If you aim a car at someone intending to kill, and fail by pure luck, you will indeed face a much smaller sentence than if you succeed by pure luck.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:40 PM on July 4, 2012


You're right, harlequin, I misread. Sorry about that.

In any case, this is a depressing thing all around.

On this somber note, I am going to contemplate how to celebrate this 4th of July.

From John Adams:

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty."
posted by VikingSword at 2:49 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone points to Scandinavia to show why rehabilitation supposedly works. Yet Singapore is the case for the opposite: highly punitive, and one of the safest and cleanest places in the world, and the city with the highest quality of life in Asia according to a Mercer survey.
posted by shivohum at 3:16 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


America has absurdly long criminal sentences because our prisons fuck people up so much once someone gets in we never want them to get back out.
posted by andoatnp at 3:19 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


[Hey folks, linking to weird ultraracist sites and then saying "You guys are acting like this" is basically a textbook bomb-lobbing. Please go to MetaTalk if you want to talk about why we generally don't link to racist/hate sites if you want to talk more about this. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:34 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dasein, this was not a first offense. This was the first, second, third ... nth offenses grouped together. At the point that a criminal fires a gun while committing a crime and doesn't stop and reconsider what they're doing, they move themselves into a class of far more dangerous criminals. If he'd given up armed robbery after the first time he discharged a gun, he wouldn't be facing the effective life sentence.
posted by Candleman at 3:41 PM on July 4, 2012


It was the first time he was charged. Sometimes people need a stint in prison to straighten them out. I appreciate that there were multiple offences - again, I'm not saying that this isn't serious or that he isn't dangerous. But life without parole is totally disproportionate for all but the most serious crimes or dangerous criminals.
posted by Dasein at 3:44 PM on July 4, 2012


a first conviction of some minor thief who didn't injure anyone and probably made a couple of thousand dollars

This is someone who, during a series of armed robberies, had a shootout with someone in a fast food restaurant.

A guy who takes a gun with him when he goes out to rob people is not a minor thief. He's a guy who might prevent, say, me, from ever seeing, for instance, my daughter again, for the sake of the lousy, petty sum you mention.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:47 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The fact that so many people think this guy's sentence wasn't completely out of line has me agape even more than yesterday's CainTV post.

Are we really such heartless dicks?
posted by dunkadunc at 3:50 PM on July 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


This is someone who, during a series of armed robberies, had a shootout with someone in a fast food restaurant.

Am I missing something? That's what the prosecution alleged, but he was not identified as the shooter by anyone in the restaurant.
posted by Dasein at 3:52 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


wait a fucking minute

so armed robbery is illegal now?

shit. shit.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:04 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


are any of you lawyers
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:05 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I missing something? That's what the prosecution alleged, but he was not identified as the shooter by anyone in the restaurant.

I beg your pardon; maybe he didn't do that. Was he not convicted of it?

In either case, though, here's the thing: if you go out to rob people with a gun, you've made your peace with the idea that you might kill somebody, a completely innocent somebody, for no justifiable reason at all.

That is utterly monstrous.

A lot of people in here seem willing to dismiss that with some hand-waving about, 'oh, gosh, people grow up a lot in their twenties' or something similar. Yes, 'the rest of your life' is a terribly long time to spend in prison. But 'the remaining amount of unexpired time left in eternity' is, by the same token, a long time to spend dead, just because you got in the way of somebody's well- or poorly-aimed bullet.

Our criminal justice system is deeply flawed, yes. The law, in its majesty, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep in the street, and to steal bread, or however that goes--yes.

But electively threatening people with guns is not a minor crime. It's a gross failure of basic humanity, in my view--a failure to recognize that other people have the same right to exist that one has oneself.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:07 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Are we really such heartless dicks?

yes. i think it's clear from this thread that the US has exactly the justice system it deserves, a nation of zimmermanns who are flattered by an powerful vengeful state and believe they will always be on the right side of the police and the courts.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:21 PM on July 4, 2012 [10 favorites]


No one here is saying that it wasn't a serious crime. What's cruel is that the state is taking away the entire life of a person without giving them any chance to make amends to society, to demonstrate that they deserve a second shot. This guy made terrible, wrong decisions. He should be punished for it. But he deserves a chance to show that he's reformed, and to have a fulfilling life and contribute to society. If it could be shown that he is bound to reoffend, that would be different, but that's not the case here. Taking away his chance at life, when no one has died, is cruel. Lives should not be throw away so easily.

Also, people locked up with nothing to lose are far more likely to kill their fellow inmates. Prison is brutalizing enough without knowing that it's all you've ever got, so fuck it, might as well get to the top of the gang structure.
posted by Dasein at 4:27 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't think the sentence was particularly appropriate, and I'd be strongly in favor of rehabilitative rather than punitive treatment for criminals.

But at the same time, it's ridiculous to me that people are diminishing armed robbery because the man was eighteen with pop evopsych hand-waving about his brain not being completely developed. Argue that it's a ridiculous sentence and that our criminal justice system is broken in a multitude of ways and I'll heartily agree. Just don't try to argue that there's little difference between an eighteen-year-old carrying a gun to multiple armed robberies and a ten-year-old lying about having eaten the cookies he was supposed to have for dessert.
posted by winna at 4:45 PM on July 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


to demonstrate that they deserve a second shot.

Must... not... make... tacky joke.

Taking away his chance at life, when no one has died, is cruel.

I guess this is the fundamental divide, here. Who wants to be the innocent person he gets to kill before we stop giving him the benefit of the doubt? Any volunteers?
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:57 PM on July 4, 2012


a nation of zimmermanns

Ugh. Can we reserve that term for random racist paranoiacs who chase and murder innocent children for no reason, and not just people who support locking up people who try to shoot others for money for a longer time than you agree with?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:00 PM on July 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think you have to give this guy a lot of years in jail with the possibility of parole. If a parole board is convinced he has become rehabilitated then he is released to parole. It's a model that has been relatively successful for quite some time.
posted by notreally at 5:02 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read the comments, so my apologies if this has already been clarified, but regarding the exchange of gunfire, it was not in the restaurant.
"According to the trial transcript, one of Davis's accomplices testified that he fired his weapon on two occasions - at the dog who chased him and 11 days later outside a Wendy's restaurant they had just robbed. He said Davis traded gunshots with a customer at the restaurant as he and three others sped away in their getaway car.

The accounts of Davis's firing his gun were otherwise uncorroborated.

The armed customer outside Wendy's, Dade County Public Schools maintenance worker Antonio Lamont Brooks, was unable to offer positive identification of the man with whom he exchanged gunfire. But he was uninjured and managed to squeeze off enough rounds from his 9mm handgun to leave one of Davis's accomplices with a bullet wound in his left buttock."
So Davis has never even admitted he fired a weapon. And the circumstances of the shootings (with Brooks shooting one of their party) makes you wonder if Brooks shot first and then they returned fire. I don't think you're going to just start shooting at someone when you're trying to get away.

That said, fuck this dude, and the rest of them too. One robbery I'll give you. Maybe even two. But these guys just seem to have decided "Scarface" was real, and they wanted to just rob every place they could think of. Wendy's, Little Caesar's, Advance Auto Parts. Universal Beauty Salon. Threatening people with guns, kicking people, just going on a tear.

I see that one guy was 28, took part in one robbery, and got 9 years. Damn. I have seen cases where murderers get that much.

It seems pretty clear that Davis got shit on by his co-defendants - perhaps they just picked a fall guy. And then the state decided to make an example of him. I'm judging this dude from afar, but I just don't get the vibe that he was just led astray. He seemed to make bad decisions (agreeing to get a gun and rob a place), upon bad decisions (agreeing to do it again) upon bad decisions (agreeing to do it gain, and again).

You know there is some context behind this. They likely didn't decide to just throw the book at somebody one day. I'm guessing there have been either a few high profile cases like this where people actually died, or there were lots of small cases of this and this is the "example" that is going to be depended on to send a message to anybody considering doing this.

But man, do these guys look young. So sad they went so far astray. I have a feeling looking into the area they grew up in will be extremely depressing.
posted by cashman at 5:25 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


whether the robber was aiming for the customer's torso or the gun hand, etc.,

Erm....hate to break this to you, but no has ever, in the history of gun battles, "aimed for the gun hand" outside of a movie theater.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:03 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


That's what the prosecution alleged, but he was not identified as the shooter by anyone in the restaurant.

Who gives a shit? A jury convicted him. I mean, I wasn't at the scene of any of the crimes, and I didn't hear any of the evidence presented--neither did anyone here, for that matter--but it was apparently sufficient to convince a jury of his peers. I'm not gonna question that. Why are you?
posted by valkyryn at 7:05 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure none of us question the innocence of OJ Simpson or Casey Anthony either.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 7:18 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everyone points to Scandinavia to show why rehabilitation supposedly works. Yet Singapore is the case for the opposite: highly punitive, and one of the safest and cleanest places in the world, and the city with the highest quality of life in Asia according to a Mercer survey.

Yeah, but AFAIK North Korea is even more punitive and disciplined. Even so, I don't want to live somewhere corporal punishment is a tool used not only by parents and schools but also by the criminal justice system. Yeah, I suppose we could solve some issues by becoming more draconian and authoritarian, but we sacrifice a great deal of our humanity when we do so.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:30 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh. This is such an awful situation.

I don't think he deserved to be locked away forever, with no hope of redemption through rehabilitation. But at the same time, he was involved in seven consecutive armed robberies. And yes, he does appear to be involved in a shoot out where he was intending to actually shoot at someone.

That not only needs to be acknowledged, but he needs to be punished for it. And so do his co-robbers, who should never have been allowed disproportionate, shortened sentences.
posted by zarq at 7:53 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


With the understanding it's presented from the prosecutorial perspective, here's some more information on who got sentenced to what, and how, in this and two other recent serial robbery cases in the same federal jurisdiction. Davis' sentence is staggeringly much longer than the others', but he also appears to be the only one who discharged his weapon during any of the robberies.
posted by gingerest at 7:57 PM on July 4, 2012


I agree the sentence is excessive, he deserves 120 years at most. Seriously, doesn't giving armed robbers stiffer sentences than many murderers create a perverse incentive for robbers to just kill their victims and any witnesses? If you're already looking at going down for life then you've got nothing left to lose at that point.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:22 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's weird: some days, MetaFilter loves to shit on the penal system for its objectively unequal treatment of black men. Other days, it's "meh, got what he deserved."

Without expressing an opinion on this particular case, all I can say is a sentence that would not be completed when this man's children's children's children are adults is just plain stupid.
posted by klanawa at 8:33 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of stupid sentences. 12 years for 120g of cough syrup.

God forbid I ever accidentally bring back some (perfectly legal in Australia) codeine/paracetamol tablets. I'll be looking at some hard time for those ones.
posted by Talez at 9:29 PM on July 4, 2012


Yet Singapore is the case for the opposite: highly punitive, and one of the safest and cleanest places in the world, and the city with the highest quality of life in Asia according to a Mercer survey.

Also with the highest suicide rate in Southeast Asia and the lowest fertility rate in the world but two. Safe and clean, yes. But quality of life is more than just per capita income.
posted by BinGregory at 10:14 PM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Retributive justice may have fallen out of favor amongst the liberal set, but it still animates most Americans' thinking on the subject of criminal justice. Anyone who wants to be a player in the criminal justice system needs to at least acknowledge that.
This is true, and to my mind unfortunate.

My interest lies solely in a question that could be formulated something like: "what approach when applied broadly would yield the best outcomes for society as a whole," where "best" is defined by crime rate, rate of violent crime, recidivism, and so on. I personally do not give a shit about "punishment," since no punishment will ever right a wrong done.

It's an interesting contrast to the other case posted recently where a guy repeatedly got released on parole, violated the conditions of his parole, escaped from prison, and ended up getting in a firefight with cops. One officer was wounded and the guy was killed. The wounded officer sued the state - Massachusetts, I think - for wrongful parole.

I made mistakes that endangered the lives of others in my teens, but the most I ever got for it was a fairly expensive reckless driving ticket. I'm not saying they're directly equivalent, but there's a whole range of possible options between "in prison until dead" and a small monetary fine.

I think we'd probably do a lot better if we made the decision to do a few things as a society:
1) Put a lot more emphasis on probation and parole services, including spending the necessary money to hire parole officers and social workers in the volume necessary to adequately serve the population
2) Stop worrying quite so much about punishment: again, it doesn't fix anything. At best, it gives victims a feeling of vengeance, but IMO that feeling is of very little value to society
3) Does Mr. Davis have a high school diploma, GED, or AS of any sort? Why not make some degree of educational attainment a condition of release? Then provide avenues for him to reach those goals?
4) Mental health services are almost nonexistent in our prison system. This is a bad idea.

Anyway, you can see where I'm going with all this. Obviously I lean heavily towards a sociological explanation for most crime, and thus I see sociological answers as the solution to it. The "he knew armed robbery was illegal!" arguments are seriously braindead. Yes, he knew that and he committed those crimes anyway. Aren't you at all interested in why? Research suggests that most humans are less than great at risk/reward analysis even with the best information available to them - do we really think some kid with extremely limited information and analytical skills is going to do that calculus correctly every time?

Basically, when you throw your hands up in the air and say "he knew it was illegal!" it looks to me like you're saying the following: "I recognize that this kid put peoples' lives at risk and I'm well aware that kids like him are going to continue to do so and I don't care. I like the current system, despite its ineffectiveness, and I'm standing behind it." I'm sure it doesn't feel that way to you, but it seems like an inescapable conclusion when you start from the premise that you do.

I think there's some good evidence that we'd be a healthier - and more publicly solvent! - society if we went more in the direction of rehabilitation, education, and services. But then you give an American bureaucracy a lot of money right now and they spend most of it on administrators who pull large salaries in exchange for little to no practical good. So... we're probably fucked anyway.
posted by kavasa at 11:34 PM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is a thread of recent brain research into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that helps throw some light on why some people raised in traumatic conditions commit crimes like this. It is being used in Washington State to help shape pOlicy around early childhood education and community development but it is having a hard time surviving public funding cuts.

VikingSword has made several food points about context. A society as a whole is responsible for itself, its systems and its character. Some tools like restorative justice are useful but only in places where justice consists of more than finger pointing. The US and several other western countries suffers frOm a Luther of blame and retribution. It generates huge amounts of violence and responds to that violence with retributive and violent responses. This perpetuates a cycle that destroys belonging at the family, community and civic level.

It's hard to pull out of this death spiral, but easy to enter it. It is the biggest question I think facing the USA's sustainability as a fair society and events like this one are just so symptomatic on so many levels.

The responses I have been involved in, among them restorative approaches to violence mitigation are promising but are also drops in a huge bucket of resistance. Even a good nuanced discussion on punishment such as this one misses the fundamental question: what do we all need to be doing to create a society that values and promotes belonging?
posted by salishsea at 12:18 AM on July 5, 2012


I read stories like this, and the response that seems to deny our shared humanity in favor of retribution and have few words - only a desire to tear the prisons down.
posted by Gilgongo at 1:56 AM on July 5, 2012


Yet Singapore is the case for the opposite: highly punitive, and one of the safest and cleanest places in the world, and the city with the highest quality of life in Asia according to a Mercer survey

Oh, we are big on offender rehabilitation programmes here too; in fact, government sources boast that it led to one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, 27.3% in 2008. This is in comparison with 60% in 2005 in the US. (Granted, it's a bit of a sleight of hand here; I'd have preferred to compare recidivism rates grouped by crimes, but still)

While we do have automatic sentencing here - judges have absolutely no discretion when deciding on punishment, usually death by hanging, for certain criminal offenses, usually related to drugs - do bear in mind a crucial point: I don't think anyone has ever been sentenced to 120 years in prison in Singapore, certainly not for attempted burglary, armed or otherwise.

I've been trying to find the longest sentence ever given in modern Singapore's history and am drawing a blank; the closest I'm seeing is 42 years for someone who embezzled from his employer. Yahoo Answers seems to be suggesting that you'd get anything between 12 to 20 years for manslaughter leading to death (but not for murder, which is punishable by death)

Here are some past cases on burglaries. Some guy broke into six houses and was caught; he was jailed for 42 months. Another guy broke into 145 apartments between 2009 and 2011 - a third-time offender so he's one of the 27% I quoted above - was jailed for 13 years and given 24 cane lashes.

(Corporal punishment or caning as it is locally called, is legal tradition we inherited from the English [*], and is quite, ahhhh, popular here for sentencing. Don't personally agree with it; think it's inhumane, but there you go)

So while the guns aspect being a question-mark, it's reasonable to believe that the Singapore criminal-justice system simply won't prescribe 120 consecutive years for attempted robberies. I don't think any judge here, or judging by the rehabilitation programmes I've linked to above, even the executive, would find such sentences helpful at all.
--
[*] - I've been told that flogging is an import from specifically English and Welsh laws, not Scottish law
posted by the cydonian at 2:41 AM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


"OK, so it might technically count as genocide, but it was my FIRST OFFENCE!!!"

I bet that's what Anakin Skywalker told the Jedi Council regarding his massacre of the sand people.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:14 AM on July 5, 2012


make a deal and you'll only do [SMALLER NUMBER]
aka. We will punish you with a lengthy sentence if you demand a trial.

The prison industrial complex is part of America -
North Korea blushes at the size of our prison population.
posted by Flood at 5:29 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who wants to be the innocent person he gets to kill before we stop giving him the benefit of the doubt?

Again, I said that if it could be shown that he was bound to re-offend, I'd change my mind. Canada has dangerous offenders laws for just that kind of situation - but it's an extremely high bar, as it should be, to deny someone a shot at parole, ever. That - not a long sentence - is the cruelty.

That's what the prosecution alleged, but he was not identified as the shooter by anyone in the restaurant.

Who gives a shit? A jury convicted him.


Given the history of black men being screwed by the American justice system, I definitely give a shit. It sounds like he was convicted on the strength of the testimony of his co-offenders, all of whom cut a deal in exchange for their testimony. If that doesn't reek to high heaven, I don't know what does. They're clearly making an example of the one guy who asks the state to prove its case, and doing so because, as usual, they've railroaded everyone else into pleading guilty with the threat of these draconian sentences.
posted by Dasein at 6:54 AM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Furthermore, it's pretty easy to avoid being a victim of harsh sentencing: don't rob people!

it's easy to avoid robbing people: be born into a situation that neither necessitates nor encourages robbery!

That kind of compassionless oversimplification makes me very, very sad, and very, very worried for the future of humanity.

Besides, haven't we all experienced enough of real life yet to understand that "not doing anything wrong" does not necessarily guarantee that "nothing bad will happen to you", or that "you will not be victimized by your government"? That comment reminds me of people who say they have no problems with surveillance because they don't do anything wrong. There's significantly larger issues at hand.

Should he be punished? Yes. Severely? Probably. Have the rest of his life taken away from him? No. Just because he did something bad, doesn't make it acceptable to do worse things to him. It's not as though "only ten years" in jail would be a laff riot, people. Jail isn't pretty.

Anyways, I'm of the opinion that rehabilitating people is more useful to society than trying to destroy them out of spite.
posted by windykites at 7:06 AM on July 5, 2012


kavasa: " 2) Stop worrying quite so much about punishment: again, it doesn't fix anything. At best, it gives victims a feeling of vengeance, but IMO that feeling is of very little value to society"

Agree with the rest of your points, but punishment can and does have a deterrent value in certain circumstances.

So, under normal circumstances, punishment would be a deterrent rather than retributive. Abstractly, the threat of punishment is supposed to deter people from risky, illegal behavior in the future. In specific cases where a person has already committed a crime, punishment is theoretically supposed to deter them from doing so again. The whole point of mandatory minimum sentencing is that it strengthens such threats by making them harder to bypass.

When a punishment removes a criminal from society entirely -- either through execution or permanent isolation in a prison -- it is as a statement that the justice system believes that in this specific case, deterrence is no longer enough to prevent a criminal from acting within the law. Such punishments still may act as a deterring example to others by example.

The problem, and there are many, is that punishment for the sake of deterrence needs to take into account extenuating circumstances and rehab efforts, and we have ample examples where it does not.
posted by zarq at 7:09 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seems fair to me. It's not like people change a lot in their twenties. There's obviously no hope for rehab here.

please tell me that's sarcasm. Because I'm 25, and I've had a lot of significant changes in my persona, goals, values, beliefs and lifestyle in the last 5 years.

Some people change when they age, some don't. It's impossible to tell which any person will turn out to have been until they have died.
posted by windykites at 7:13 AM on July 5, 2012


My interest lies solely in a question that could be formulated something like: "what approach when applied broadly would yield the best outcomes for society as a whole," where "best" is defined by crime rate, rate of violent crime, recidivism, and so on. I personally do not give a shit about "punishment," since no punishment will ever right a wrong done.

Okay, except a lot of people would argue--myself among them--that "best" includes some aspect of punishment. I believe it was Kant who said something along the lines of it being impossible for a society to be just where crimes are not punished. So you're just interested in minimizing the amount of bad stuff, but I and a lot of other people are also interested in punishing the bad stuff that does happen, even to the point of believing that there's something wrong with a society that doesn't do that. So the idea that you can just set your position forth as a sort of neutral common ground just doesn't hold water.

The "he knew armed robbery was illegal!" arguments are seriously braindead. Yes, he knew that and he committed those crimes anyway. Aren't you at all interested in why?

Kinda. But I'm more interested in the fact that he did them. We're hard-pressed enough trying to take care of the people who are law abiding to make me want to spend much time or effort on that problem. I'd much rather spend an extra few billion on Medicaid and infrastructure than an extra few billion on recidivism.

Basically, when you throw your hands up in the air and say "he knew it was illegal!" it looks to me like you're saying the following: "I recognize that this kid put peoples' lives at risk and I'm well aware that kids like him are going to continue to do so and I don't care. I like the current system, despite its ineffectiveness, and I'm standing behind it." I'm sure it doesn't feel that way to you, but it seems like an inescapable conclusion when you start from the premise that you do.

In one sense, this isn't a very generous take on the subject. It assumes that because my and others' priorities don't line up with yours that we simply don't care about your priorities. The truth of the matter is that there are things I care more about than this. The fact is that people who commit crimes make bad choices. Why they make bad choices is interesting, but they still make them. We're already hard-pressed to take care of the people who don't make those bad choices. Why should we take money from them to pay for services for criminals?

Granted, we're not doing an awesome job on either score, but that's the way I--and I'd venture to say many others--think about it. Suggesting programs that might convince people not to commit crimes in the first place or which might give them better alternatives is kind of a tough sell in today's political climate, but at least it's focused on people who aren't actually criminals yet. For good or ill, that's a far, far easier sell than suggesting reforms explicitly designed to benefit criminals.
posted by valkyryn at 8:05 AM on July 5, 2012


here's the thing: if you go out to rob people with a gun, you've made your peace with the idea that you might kill somebody, a completely innocent somebody, for no justifiable reason at all.
I really wish humans were as cognitively well-organized as you imagine. Imagine a world where no one started drinking, while planning on driving home, unless they had made their peace with the idea that they might kill somebody, a completely innocent somebody, for no justifiable reason at all. (Ironically, our legal system considers Quartavious Davis too young to drink.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:10 AM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


it's easy to avoid robbing people: be born into a situation that neither necessitates nor encourages robbery!

That kind of compassionless oversimplification makes me very, very sad, and very, very worried for the future of humanity.


That kind of reductionism, suggesting that that people can neither overcome nor be expected to overcome their baser instincts, makes me very, very sad, and very, very worried for the future of humanity.

It's almost gotten to the point of self-parody.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 AM on July 5, 2012


We're hard-pressed enough trying to take care of the people who are law abiding to make me want to spend much time or effort on that problem. I'd much rather spend an extra few billion on Medicaid and infrastructure than an extra few billion on recidivism.
I agree with your spending priorities. But is it empirically true that sentencing people to life without parole saves us money? That seems unlikely, given how recidivism rates decline with age.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:14 AM on July 5, 2012


Seems to me that what perpetuates the problems of social and economic injustice is something like an unwillingness to do anything but defer addressing the real problems when confronted with acute personal choices. What ARE you willing to give up to contribute to a society in which these types of situations and sentences are rare to non existent?
posted by salishsea at 8:21 AM on July 5, 2012


valkyryn: "Why they make bad choices is interesting, but they still make them. We're already hard-pressed to take care of the people who don't make those bad choices. Why should we take money from them to pay for services for criminals? "

It would likely be more cost effective.

On average it costs us $23K per year, per prisoner, to keep them incarcerated. For prisoners over the age of 50, the national average cost rises to $35K. For life sentences with no hope of parole, we're talking about an annual cost spent over many decades. It would likely be more cost-effective to attempt to rehabilitate each prisoner and then reassess their ability to be a contributing member of society every decade.
posted by zarq at 8:21 AM on July 5, 2012


From 2009, NYTimes: Record number of inmates serving life terms, study finds.
“All the public opinion polls say that everybody will reconsider sentencing for nonviolent offenders or drug offenders, but they’re not willing to do anything different for violent offenders,” Professor Petersilia. In fact, she added, polls show support for even harsher sentences for sex offenses and other violent crimes.

Burk Foster, a criminal justice professor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan and an expert on the Louisiana penitentiary system, said the expansion of life sentences started at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the nation’s largest maximum penitentiary, in the early 1970s, when most people sentenced to life terms were paroled after they had been deemed fit to re-enter society.

“Angola was a prototype of a lifer’s prison,” said Professor Foster. “In 1973, Louisiana changed its life sentencing law so that lifers would no longer be parole eligible, and they applied that law more broadly over time to include murder, rape, kidnapping, distribution of narcotics and habitual offenders.”

Professor Foster said sentencing more prisoners to life sentences was an abandonment of the “corrective” function of prisons.

“Rehabilitation is not an issue at Angola,” he said. “They’re just practicing lifetime isolation and incapacitation.”

posted by zarq at 8:26 AM on July 5, 2012


I really wish humans were as cognitively well-organized as you imagine.

That's why we have different sentences for different crimes. To send another signal to people besides their own common sense, that doing these things are not cool.

This kid is getting screwed, but not as screwed as his victims would have been had he been successful at shooting someone.

This reminds me of a difference in mindset that often rears its ugly head here. The idea that if someone wasn't successful in their crime, that they should get a slap on the wrist, as well as should someone whose background is sufficiently pathetic. (And the converse, where there is NO sympathy for people who "should know better".)

It's like the comment right near the beginning, where someone expressed mock surprise at there not being a lawyer who shows up on someone's 18th birthday to explain the implications of attaining that age. That's what the first 18 years of life are for- learning good from bad, etc.
posted by gjc at 8:34 AM on July 5, 2012


But is it empirically true that sentencing people to life without parole saves us money?

No, quite the opposite. It costs us millions.

I'm actually in favor of increased use of executions and replacing incarceration with flogging. Even paying for convicts health care in the aftermath would be orders of magnitude cheaper than locking them up for a few years.

I'm not the only person to suggest it.

Really, is locking someone away for years in ridiculously awful conditions where assault of all sorts is commonplace, especially sexual assault, any worse than just giving someone a few lashes and sending them home? We'd save billions of dollars every year, and where incarceration punishes not only the criminal but also their families, flogging is pretty damn personal.

I'd be in favor of pretty much eliminating the modern prison system entirely. Unless you're getting "life without" or facing a sanction for contempt of court, I don't think anyone should go to jail at all. It's a ridiculous system.
posted by valkyryn at 8:34 AM on July 5, 2012


Is this a question of financial cost? I know that making the business case is somehow de rigeur these days when talking about social development but we don't do it when discussing say the economic benefit of racism or the cost of a tax system that incentivizes certain kinds of home ownership that determines the fate of one community over another.

Reducing this situation to price again defers the real discussion of and implantation of truly transformative approaches to shifting justice, like restorative practice.

"yes but we are talking about this specific case" is what keeps us locked in a kind of social dementia about prevention and change.
posted by salishsea at 8:39 AM on July 5, 2012


I'm actually in favor of increased use of executions and replacing incarceration with flogging.

Is this supposed to be a joke? You think we should kill and whip people to save money?
posted by Dasein at 8:43 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


salishsea: " Reducing this situation to price again defers the real discussion of and implantation of truly transformative approaches to shifting justice, like restorative practice. "

No, it's addressing the deficiencies of the system we currently have, rather than trying to rebuild from the ground up. By suggesting that focus on rehabilitation would be better for everyone involved, and also an effort to spend money in the short term, in order to save it long term.

Restorative justice is fine for certain types of offenses and it's currently being enacted on a small scale in many settings to good effect. But worth noting: RJ is not considered effective in sexual assault or domestic violence cases, most likely because the victims would then be forced to directly, traumatically confront their abusers/rapists. So RJ is not a silver bullet. It's a tool with certain limitations that can be quite helpful towards reducing recidivism.
posted by zarq at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this supposed to be a joke?

No.

You think we should kill and whip people to save money?

That's clearly only one reason. But I do think it's the right thing to do.
posted by valkyryn at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2012


We're already hard-pressed to take care of the people who don't make those bad choices.

This is just completely untrue. We are the richest nation in the history of the world with likely enough money sloshing around our economy for every single citizen to be a millionaire and for the wealthiest classes to take $63 trillion in bets, completely blow it and nearly destroy the entire financial system, and still come out on top owning a bigger slice of the pie than they had before.

Since the thought of people not taking responsibility for their actions makes you so, so sad and so, so worried valkyryn let's not pretend that this is anything but our collective choice for how the system works: it is by no means the case that in the 21st century there is some drastic exigent impoverishment of our civilization that forces the state of affairs we are discussing.
posted by XMLicious at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


RJ might be worthwhile in this case actually.

I agree with you that it isn't right for every case but the broader approach of restorative practice applied in schools communities and social institutions is one of the ways to transform these dynamics in the long run.

I anything to me this case case absolutely compels us to think deeply about the long run. What other things should we be doing?
posted by salishsea at 9:01 AM on July 5, 2012


This is just completely untrue.

Another point of fundamental disagreement then.
posted by valkyryn at 9:04 AM on July 5, 2012


[Please do not turn this into a valkyryn vs everyone argument. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:13 AM on July 5, 2012


Another point of fundamental disagreement then.

Unless you disagree with the facts I presented about how wealthy our society is then no, saying that we are "hard-pressed" to take care of the members of that society to the point that we have to say "society simply cannot afford to have a just justice system" is attempting to deflect responsibility onto a contrived resource issue.
posted by XMLicious at 9:14 AM on July 5, 2012


That's why we have different sentences for different crimes. To send another signal to people besides their own common sense, that doing these things are not cool.
Right. Pertinently, we have different penalties not only for drunk driving vs. armed robbery, but also for armed robbery vs. murder, because is unrealistic to assume that If you go out to rob people with a gun, you've made your peace with the idea that you might kill somebody, a completely innocent somebody, for no justifiable reason at all. If armed robbers were all cognitively premeditated murderers, it would be more sensible to make the penalties equal.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:19 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to a 2011 analysis of the death penalty's costs in California:posted by kirkaracha at 9:20 AM on July 5, 2012


Really, is locking someone away for years in ridiculously awful conditions where assault of all sorts is commonplace, especially sexual assault, any worse than just giving someone a few lashes and sending them home?

Don't talk to me about the penal system. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash. Hold the rum.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:24 AM on July 5, 2012


salishsea: "RJ might be worthwhile in this case actually.

Definitely.

I agree with you that it isn't right for every case but the broader approach of restorative practice applied in schools communities and social institutions is one of the ways to transform these dynamics in the long run.

Agreed.

I anything to me this case case absolutely compels us to think deeply about the long run. What other things should we be doing?"

More than we're doing, definitely.

I posted a story last December that you may find interesting.
Two years ago, the judge started Ladies' Day — the country's first all-female drug court — with a three-year, $900,000 federal grant. The grant pays for outpatient and residential treatment for women in drug court.

If a woman finishes counseling, pays off court costs and stays clean and is working or going to school, she can get her felony record wiped clean.

Thirty percent of the men and women who come through Farnell's drug court complete treatment, pass urine screens and continue to hold down jobs. The county doesn't keep separate statistics about the Ladies' Day program.

For people who graduate from drug court, 13 percent are rearrested after three years. For people who drop out of drug court, 32 percent are rearrested.
We need more people to think outside the box, especially in repeat offender cases.
posted by zarq at 9:27 AM on July 5, 2012


Unless you disagree with the facts I presented about how wealthy our society is

That's not precisely it. You're assuming that because we have a certain level of wealth we can spend and redistribute that wealth arbitrarily. I happen to think that doing that would make us not wealthy anymore. So the fact that we have all this money does not automatically mean we can do the things you want.
posted by valkyryn at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2012


The United States is a long way away from the point at which redistribution of wealth begins to hamper economic growth. Its debt is caused not by high levels of social spending, but by low levels of personal income tax. Canada has significantly higher personal taxes and has had a stronger economy in the last several years.
posted by Dasein at 9:59 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to a 2011 analysis of the death penalty's costs in California:

Well, yeah. But note that nothing about that is inherent in capital punishment as such. Execution is ridiculously cheap. Gimme a rifle and box of shells, or heck, a stout length of rope and a tree. It's jumping through legal hoops designed to make it hard to execute people that's expensive. One would need to dismantle much of that system before increasing the use of the death penalty would make much sense.
posted by valkyryn at 10:00 AM on July 5, 2012


The United States is a long way away from the point at which redistribution of wealth begins to hamper economic growth.

This is a basically ideological point I don't really feel is worth discussing here. Suffice it to say that I'm not even sure it's something we can know, let alone something I agree with.
posted by valkyryn at 10:01 AM on July 5, 2012


This is a basically ideological point I don't really feel is worth discussing here.

No, it's entirely empirical.
posted by Dasein at 10:06 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's jumping through legal hoops designed to make it hard to execute people that's expensive. One would need to dismantle much of that system before increasing the use of the death penalty would make much sense.

I can't tell whether, in addition to being in favour of executing people to save money, you're also in favour of dismantling due process to achieve the same objective. I'm going to assume that you're not, but feel free to set me straight.
posted by Dasein at 10:08 AM on July 5, 2012


Thanks zarq. Drug courts are one option and this story is interesting.
posted by salishsea at 10:12 AM on July 5, 2012


I'm going to assume that you're not, but feel free to set me straight.

I'm conflicted on that point. We've taken the position that "due process" means "each and every possible safeguard at every step of the game through as many steps as are available." I'm not sure that's a sensible result. But I'm also not sure I trust state trial courts to get it right even half the time. I practice in state court. I see the shenanigans that go on there. I'm not even talking about racism here, I'm just talking about judges ignoring the law to get a preferred result. Most trial judges are elected, and that matters.

A middle ground might be cutting short the habeas process somehow. Getting a case from trial to the state court of last resort only takes a year or so. I think that's reasonable. And most appellate judges are appointed, which removes a lot of the nonsense you see on the trial level. It can take longer if there's a reversal, but it's still pretty quick. It's adding the federal layer that makes these things take years on end, because the district court essentially retries the whole damn case, then repeats the state appellate process with the federal appellate courts. I don't see capital punishment as being quite as serious as many commentators seem to, so I don't feel the need to afford it extra layers of protection that other types of punishment, including life without parole, receive. I see the habeas process as basically giving defendants a second bite at the apple at the state's expense.

So yes, I do tend to think that we've taken due process in death penalty cases to an unnecessary extreme, but I don't think we should get rid of it entirely.
posted by valkyryn at 10:18 AM on July 5, 2012


salishsea, you're very welcome.

valkyryn: "I don't see capital punishment as being quite as serious as many commentators seem to so I don't feel the need to afford it extra layers of protection that other types of punishment, including life without parole, receive.

The Innocence Project:
There have been 292 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.

• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 36 states; since 2000, there have been 225 exonerations.

• 17 of the 292 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row. Another 15 were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death.

• The average length of time served by exonerees is 13 years. The total number of years served is approximately 3,839.

• The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 27.

Races of the 292 exonerees:

181 African Americans
85 Caucasians
21 Latinos
2 Asian American
4 whose race is unknown

• The true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 142 of the DNA exoneration cases.

• Since 1989, there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued—until DNA testing (prior to conviction) proved that they were wrongly accused.

• In more than 25 percent of cases in a National Institute of Justice study, suspects were excluded once DNA testing was conducted during the criminal investigation (the study, conducted in 1995, included 10,060 cases where testing was performed by FBI labs).

• 60 percent of the people exonerated through DNA testing have been financially compensated. 27 states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated. Awards under these statutes vary from state to state.

• An Innocence Project review of our closed cases from 2004 - 2010 revealed that 22 percent of cases were closed because of lost or destroyed evidence.
If the state is going to end someone's life, they'd better be very damned sure they didn't make a mistake.
posted by zarq at 10:35 AM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


jurbano, around 20 to 40 thousand dollars a year. however, prisoners can legally be used as slaves.

“Happy Independence Day from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation!”
posted by homunculus at 11:21 AM on July 5, 2012


I don't see capital punishment as being quite as serious

I hope this is just lawyer burnout talking, because if you really don't see the state wanting to kill you as being as serious as the state wanting to lock you up for 15 to 20, then I don't know what to say.
posted by rtha at 11:24 AM on July 5, 2012


I'm familiar with all of those stats. But (1) DNA testing is actually not as effective as it looks a lot of the time, and we're starting to get juries who will refuse to convict unless they can see it, something prosecutors are calling the "CSI Effect" and (2) do you have any idea how many murders there are every year? A lot.

According to the Justice Department, there have not been fewer than 15,000 homicides annually since the early 1970s, with a peak of almost 25,000 a year in the early 1990s. The murder rate doubled between 1965 and 1975, while the number of victims tripled. Since 1990, there have been close on 400,000 murders in this country.

Meanwhile, homicide has the highest clearance rate of any serious crime. It's between 60-75% most years. So in 1990 alone, when there were almost 25,000 murders, we cleared almost 70% of those. That's around 17,500 cases. Just in 1990. Call it something like 260,000 convictions since then.

So telling me that there have been 292 exonerations based on reexamining DNA evidence does not exactly cause me to jump up and down in alarm. That's something like 0.07% of the number of murder victims and 0.11% of the number of convictions. I can believe that they'd like to do more work than they're doing and that some percentage of their closed files might get some traction if the evidence was destroyed. But I'm not sure I believe that there are a hundred times more such cases out there. Five times, ten times even, but we're still talking about something like 1% of convictions.

So yeah, the Innocence Project's numbers don't do a lot for me. They've certainly got their share of sob stories, and they've done some truly amazing work. But I don't think their numbers demonstrate anything like a significant trend of wrongful convictions. It happens, but it isn't as common as some would like to think.
posted by valkyryn at 11:36 AM on July 5, 2012


valkyryn: " So yeah, the Innocence Project's numbers don't do a lot for me. They've certainly got their share of sob stories, and they've done some truly amazing work. But I don't think their numbers demonstrate anything like a significant trend of wrongful convictions. It happens, but it isn't as common as some would like to think."

Interestingly enough, there are only 3170 people on death row right now.

One mistake is too many. Hundreds of mistakes is just damned tragic. But as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter if the numbers represent a trend, or are statistically significant. We shouldn't only be concerned about human life when it appears we're screwing up too much. We have a humane responsibility to do our best to make sure that we're not executing innocent people. That means giving them the opportunity to defend themselves rigorously and be exonerated.

Once they're gone, there's no going back. Doing our best to make sure we don't kill innocents is the right thing to do.
posted by zarq at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're assuming that because we have a certain level of wealth we can spend and redistribute that wealth arbitrarily. I happen to think that doing that would make us not wealthy anymore. So the fact that we have all this money does not automatically mean we can do the things you want.

My point has nothing to do with redistributing wealth. I mention the fact that per capita there's enough money for every citizen to be a millionaire to illustrate how much wealth we actually have.

You are trying to portray it as though it's some sort of huge struggle for society to temporarily give some citizens seventy bucks a week for food stamps, therefore we could hardly be expected to lay out the lavish expense which might be necessary to furnish someone like Davis with anything approaching genuine justice or a system that goes to the same lengths to protect his Constitutional rights as it would a wealthier robber who put others at mortal peril in the course of his schemes.

This is, as I said, completely untrue. The U.S. can easily afford things like an extensive internationally-enforced intellectual property regime to protect corporate assets or staggeringly expensive decade-long anti-trust investigations and prosecutions to defend the right to competition for the enterprises of moneyed interests, efforts at trade protectionism and wielding the country's political power overseas for the benefit of American businesses, and scads of other endeavors that benefit the wealthiest Americans and international wealthy far more than the rest of us.

And all this basically without breaking a sweat, while levying substantially lower taxes than most of the rest of the industrialized world. So trying to portray our justice system and penal system and their vast inequities, bias, and failure to protect the rights of the "wrong" kind of Americans as some sort of necessary consequence of an impoverished, scraping-to-make-rent, burdened-by-the-unwashed-masses, just-tryin'-ta-get-by society is an utter load of crap and a contrivance to shirk the societal responsibility to deliver justice and fundamental American principles like equality before the law.

If we are hard-pressed to do anything it's to give the Mitt Romneys of the world their 13% tax rates (if indeed he even pays that much) while the legislative, executive, political parties, and other institutions of society are at their beck and call and the court system stands ready to furnish them and their corporate proxies with the finest justice money can buy.
posted by XMLicious at 12:11 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interestingly enough, there are only 3170 people on death row right now.

There are three main reasons, that I'm aware of, for that.

First, a lot of people facing a murder charge will cop a plea to avoid a chance at the chair.

But second, a lot of prosecutors face immense pressure to offer such pleas because the appeals process for capital cases is so damned expensive.

Third, and partly because of the first two, about half of the states have abolished the death penalty. So there aren't even death rows in about two dozen-odd states anymore.

One mistake is too many.

I just don't agree.
posted by valkyryn at 12:54 PM on July 5, 2012


That kind of reductionism, suggesting that that people can neither overcome nor be expected to overcome their baser instincts

I'm genuinely not trying to pick on you here, but this is the opposite of the point that I was making. It's the other side's position, not mine.

The assumptions stated above (italicized) would lead one to believe that a person who has made criminal mistakes is unable to reform and so might as well be locked away in prison for the rest of their life.

Whereas my position is to believe that there's always, until a person is physically dead, the possibility that they might change; that they might learn to overcome their "baser instincts" in spite of (sometimes, because of) what they'd done wrong in the past, and so it's unacceptable to take that opportunity away from them unless it's absolutely unavoidable. I don't think that the specific instance we're discussing here is one of those situations.
posted by windykites at 12:57 PM on July 5, 2012


I just don't agree.

That is appalling.
posted by rtha at 1:02 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


That is appalling.

I'm okay with that. Obviously.
posted by valkyryn at 1:25 PM on July 5, 2012


You're willing to condemn innocent people to death to satisfy your desire for retribution, when incarceration would be equally effective at protecting society? In what universe is that morally justifiable?
posted by Dasein at 1:36 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm skeptical that you would be so okay with it if it was you or someone you love who was the mistake. But maybe I'm wrong and you would quite readily say "Sorry, honey, I know you're innocent, but you have to die for the sake of society saving money on operating the justice system. We're pretty hard-pressed here and eggs, omelettes, y'know."
posted by XMLicious at 1:39 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


valkyryn: " Third, and partly because of the first two, about half of the states have abolished the death penalty. So there aren't even death rows in about two dozen-odd states anymore."

And of those where the death penalty still exists, two: Arizona and Texas, are still executing people quite often. Rick Perry was forced to pardon a dead man in 2010, whom the state had wrongfully executed. Oops.

I'm okay with the death penalty under limited circumstances. But I'm sorry, incidents like this should not be blithely dismissed as "sob stories." A man was killed by the state who shouldn't have been.

When we punish someone who has committed murder with their own imprisonment or death, we are placing a value on the life of the innocent person they killed. Now let's assume the convicted criminal was wrongly imprisoned and sentenced. Your position is that we should value the life of one innocent above another. I do not think that is fair or just.
posted by zarq at 2:11 PM on July 5, 2012


The problem, and there are many, is that punishment for the sake of deterrence needs to take into account extenuating circumstances and rehab efforts, and we have ample examples where it does not.
I would actually contend that the problem is that the deterrent effect of increasingly harsh sentences is very weak. A reliable deterrent effect depends absolutely on a the criminal doing the correct risk/reward analysis and again, even with the best information, humans are really bad at that analysis. When you talk about the deterrent effect, in this case you're depending on a poorly educated, impulsive 18 year old kid to correctly determine the likelihood of his getting caught, the likelihood of getting convicted, the likelihood that he'll be put away forever instead of for a few years like his accomplices, and to fully internalize and understand what it means to be in prison until he dies, never having been there. Further, you're expecting this kid to make all of these evaluations while existing in a social milieu where felony records are almost certainly commonplace.

This is why increasingly harsh sentences don't seem to have much of a deterrent effect. You get as much bang for your deterrent buck by putting him away for 3-5 years as you do with 10, 20, or more.

Even Cesare Baccaria had an inkling of this! He stated that in order for the deterrent effect to work, punishment must be swift and assured, because a person who thinks they can get away with a crime or does not have a good idea what the punishment will be will discount it. What he didn't know was that most humans are naturally inclined towards an optimism that severely limits a punishment's deterrent effect even further.

Incidentally, valkyryn, I think we can see this faulty risk/reward analysis at work in your own position on capital punishment. I think that if you found yourself accused and convicted of a crime you hadn't committed, you'd almost certainly do a 180. But you think yourself immune to that particular calamity, as does everyone who has found themselves so beset. Most of us expect everything to work out ok, for the engines of society to operate as they ought, for lightning not to strike us, for the 100 year flood not to wash away our home*. Whenever we get in a car, sober and well rested, and diligently buckle our seatbelt and drive carefully, we expect to come home again. The reality is that sometimes we don't.
So you're just interested in minimizing the amount of bad stuff, but I and a lot of other people are also interested in punishing the bad stuff that does happen
I find this position very difficult to wrap my mind around. It really seems to me that you're arguing that it's better to live in a society with a higher rate of crime and harsh punishments than it is to live in a society with less crime in the first place.
That kind of reductionism, suggesting that that people can neither overcome nor be expected to overcome their baser instincts, makes me very, very sad, and very, very worried for the future of humanity.
See, and again, this point of view is so strange to me. The United States has some of the harshest prisons in the world and extremely long prison sentences. We're one of the most punitively oriented societies on the face of the planet, and what has it gotten us? Very little. It's true that birth is not destiny, but neither is it irrelevant! On of my favorite C Wright Mills quotes (I've even posted it here before) helps understand this:
"Take unemployment. When one man in a city of 100,000 is unemployed, that is a personal problem, and we look for the solution in the character of the man, his skills and his immediate opportunities. But when 15 million men are unemployed, when there is the cumulative chaos of structural employment, that is a public problem, and we may not hope to find the solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual."
When you see violent crime as endemic as it is in American society and come to a full stop at "personal responsibility," you perpetuate that crime. There are always going to be more impulsive 18 year-olds who will try to get access to the success that they otherwise - and probably correctly! - see as beyond their reach by using a weapon. You resign yourself to successive generations of violent criminals, merely for the satisfaction of after-the-fact punishment. You're cutting off your nose to spite your face.

*Percentage of homes with flood insurance in and around Duluth, MN dropped 50-80% between 2011 and 2012, when massive flooding destroyed numerous homes and business as well as much of the city's infrastructure.
posted by kavasa at 3:08 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would actually contend that the problem is that the deterrent effect of increasingly harsh sentences is very weak.

I actually agree with this, which is why I'm generally opposed to the idea of prison. See? As implemented it's a stupid idea that doesn't accomplish either the goal of retributive justice or any other form you'd care to come up with. So what we've got here is a bizarre outcome of a polity that wants to do mostly retributive justice but is forced to use tools designed for mostly rehabilitative justice. I happen to not really believe in rehabilitative justice, but I don't think that there's any controversy about the idea that the only thing that our prison system is really accomplishing is expanding municipal payrolls and now enriching private prison operators.

I think that if you found yourself accused and convicted of a crime you hadn't committed, you'd almost certainly do a 180.

There isn't anything I can say to that. You're accusing me of arguing in bad faith. There's not really anywhere to go from there. So I'm just going to skip that and move on.

It really seems to me that you're arguing that it's better to live in a society with a higher rate of crime and harsh punishments than it is to live in a society with less crime in the first place.

Actually, it's more that I'm assuming that your attempts to create "less crime in the first place" aren't going to work. But I'm definitely arguing that if we were to keep the level of criminal activity the same, it would be better to live in a society that punished criminals than not.

We're one of the most punitively oriented societies on the face of the planet, and what has it gotten us? Very little.

Again, my thesis is that the American public wants to be "punitively oriented" but isn't actually allowed to be so by the courts and the political classes generally. So the voting public does the next best thing, which is reward politicians who use the prison system for something it was never really designed to do and punish politicians who won't go along with it.
posted by valkyryn at 4:14 PM on July 5, 2012


Your position is that we should value the life of one innocent above another.

No, my position is that if someone has been tried and found guilty of a crime, then as long as there wasn't some gross irregularity at trial--and there are appeals for that--then this is as much as we can be expected to do. I don't believe we need to hold off for perfection. I don't mind imperfection in outcome if the process works. And while the criminal justice system is remarkably flawed, no one has presented any evidence to suggest that it doesn't get it right the vast majority of the time. If anything, the amount of work people like the Innocence Project have to do to get a single exoneration suggests that the system, while flawed, basically works.

I'm okay with that.
posted by valkyryn at 4:18 PM on July 5, 2012


[Once again - this thread needs to not be everyone vs valkyryn. Please feel free to MeMail valkyryn if you need to know more about his belief system. Thank you. ]
posted by jessamyn at 4:40 PM on July 5, 2012


no one has presented any evidence to suggest that it doesn't get it right the vast majority of the time.

Executed, possibly innocent.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:41 PM on July 5, 2012


If someone was selling a product that accidentally killed people at this rate our courts would put a stop to it immediately. The American public might well want to see gladiatorial combat and members of minority religions torn apart by lions but that has little to do with justice.
posted by XMLicious at 5:41 PM on July 5, 2012


>no one has presented any evidence to suggest that it doesn't get it right the vast majority of the time.

Executed, possibly innocent.


Those are all tragic. They also constitute less than 1% of the total. I'm okay with those numbers, and my point still stands.

But you know what? I'm not really gonna argue the death penalty with you guys. I think it's a moral obligation. The room seems to strongly disagree with that.

So be it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:43 PM on July 5, 2012


Looks like the U.S. murder rate was 0.000048% as of 2010. Perhaps we should just wash our hands of all of it and tell the families of murder victims that the cause of their loved one's death was not a statistically significant enough source of mortality for society to be concerned with it. Now that would be a cost savings.
posted by XMLicious at 7:12 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually the "valkyryn derail" was probably the most interesting portion of this thread...

The logic involved seems very similar to me playing Simcity when I was 15, grappling with massive traffic congestion problems in my city, and coming to the conclusion (no doubt along with many others) that the ultimate solution was to abolish roads entirely, and put the money saved into building a subway station every 5 blocks.

It's a very ancient form of punishment - the eye for an eye, literally. Prison doesn't actually meet that criteria of punishment.

Physical crimes (assault, rape, kidnap) meet with physical punishment - flogging - and if you haven't seen what that does, it can be very brutal.

Property crimes (theft, fraud) meet with economic punishment - confiscation of property and assets.

Put all those billions saved from abolishing prisons towards social programs. I'm a firm believer in that in the majority of cases, the people who commit crimes had very little to lose - they had no hope for the future, and so the criminal justice system presented no deterrant to them. Solving poverty goes a long way to solving crime, you will find a better correlation between poverty and crime rate than nearly any other sociological factor.

Absent economic circumstances - the only people to commit murder, really, would be insane people. (by our definition today of insanity) The ethics of either executing or permanently locking up insane criminals is an exercise for the reader...
posted by xdvesper at 9:24 PM on July 5, 2012


One mistake is too many.

I just don't agree.


Yeah, but I bet you would be if it was you or one of yours who was actually facing the consequences.

Whenever I hear these 'tough on crime' arguments, I'm always reminded of the politicians who are also 'tough on crime', until they find themselves being locked up for corruption or perjury or what have you.

Funny how their getting a quick taste of the jug invariably turns them into advocates for penal reform.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:53 AM on July 7, 2012


PeterMcDermott: "Yeah, but I bet you would be if it was you or one of yours who was actually facing the consequences.

Whenever I hear these 'tough on crime' arguments, I'm always reminded of the politicians who are also 'tough on crime', until they find themselves being locked up for corruption or perjury or what have you.

Funny how their getting a quick taste of the jug invariably turns them into advocates for penal reform.
"

Is this any different than saying "Conservatives are just liberals who've been mugged"?

I happen to be in favor of rehabilitation and shorter, less punitive sentencing, but surely we can argue that on its own merits and not assume what people would believe after a hypothetical traumatic event.
posted by Copronymus at 10:12 AM on July 7, 2012


As the man of twists and turns's link points out, it's all hypothetical - we do not spend much effort determining how frequently we execute innocent people, just as our military says "We don't do body counts."

But in arguing on the merits we don't have to make assumptions about how anyone would react - those asserting that they "don't mind imperfection" in capital punishment and that the deaths of however many innocent people who fall within the margin of error are a price they're willing to pay with others' lives to fulfill goals for the justice system could simply express honest commitment to these principles by confirming that their own death or the deaths of their loved ones would be as acceptable an imperfect outcome as would be the death of some faceless unnamed person.

(Or two hundred and fifty faceless people for example, if executions increased in frequency enough so that the average rate for all fifty states during the next half century became equal to the number occurring in Texas during the preceding half century and the actual error rate is only about 1%; not that I think there's any evidence it's that low.)

There is no reason at all to say that we're "just going to skip that and move on" without addressing it as though it's somehow unfair to ask whether what's good for the goose is good for the gander or if only someone else's life would merit sacrifice to accomplish the stated goals. Alternatively, if those in favor of the death penalty would gladly volunteer their own life or that of their son, daughter, wife, brother, etc. to ensure that government execution is on the table as a possible punishment, there is no reason to shield them from having to own that and be responsible for it in an open and genuine discussion on the merits.

We're in an era when U.S. government assassination of its own citizens is carried out openly and supported by many and where organized government torture of foreign nationals has occurred and is supported by many who would possibly also endorse torture of U.S. citizens by their government. These sorts of aspects of issues should not be obfuscated or elided; many, many people suffer or die unjustly on a regular basis as a consequence of how our democracy decides to conduct itself and when and where people decide to cut corners on ethics and morality at the expense of remote, abstracted, objectified people to achieve real or imagined goals.
posted by XMLicious at 12:10 PM on July 7, 2012


Idea: no more death penalty. Instead: "life penalty". Prisoners given office job at a government-run clerical firm. At night, they are made by armed guards to watch Game of Thrones. Receive iPads via which they are to check their OkCupid and Facebook twice daily. Mandatory 14 hours of Reddit per week. Death comes not from a syringe but 60 years later in a nursing home. You want punitive? Let's get punitive.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:41 PM on July 7, 2012


Campaigning death row lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s latest book is a gripping real-life thriller, but the ending remains a mystery. Caspar Melville meets him
Allied to this moral certainty is a political analysis which one can hardly imagine being greeted with unalloyed enthusiasm in the courtrooms of the Deep South. He captures it in a slogan: “Capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:59 AM on July 11, 2012


Georgia set to execute mentally disabled inmate despite court ruling: Move would pit Georgia against the will of the supreme court, which bans death penalty for inmates with learning disabilities
posted by homunculus at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2012


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