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Even if it works, using the detah penalty as deterrent is morally flawed
May 24, 2002 2:55 AM   Subscribe

Even if it works, using the detah penalty as deterrent is morally flawed The mere fact that an orthodontist in Cleveland feels more anxious about crime shouldn't make the state more "right" to take a life. And, if you are in favor of the death penalty, the mere fact that the same orthodontist feels comfortable leaving his door unlocked shouldn't mean that a murderer should pay less of a price for killing a child.
posted by magullo (45 comments total)

 
Telling freudian slip if one reads the spelling mistake backwards.
posted by jackspot at 4:41 AM on May 24, 2002


Hatred, revenge, vengeance are morally flawed and spring from self hatred and insecurity.
posted by nofundy at 5:23 AM on May 24, 2002


Not only it's morally flawed, but any given system and of course the law system isn't flawless ; you can't raise the innocent dead from the grave, so it's obvious death penalty can't be the sentence of a system that isn't perfect.
posted by elpapacito at 5:34 AM on May 24, 2002


[yoda voice] fear leads to anger... anger leads to hate...hate leads to suf-fer-ing [/yoda voice]
posted by i_cola at 5:37 AM on May 24, 2002


I was going to say that this is the most editorial front page post I've ever seen. Now I realize magullo was just quoting from portions of the column. Some quotes and attribution might have helped.
posted by pardonyou? at 5:55 AM on May 24, 2002


Actually, why is it any more morally flawed to execute someone who has taken someone else's life than it is not to execute them? If you intentionally take a life, you should forfeit your own.

As for the argument regarding a flawed judicial system leading up to capital punishment, that's a much stronger argument, which is why I'm against capital punishment.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:13 AM on May 24, 2002


Wouldn't spending the remainder of your life in jail making cheap t-shirts and shoes for the rest of us be more of a punishment than death?
posted by engelr at 6:43 AM on May 24, 2002


If you intentionally take a life, you should forfeit your own.

Why?
posted by tranquileye at 6:44 AM on May 24, 2002


parisParamus FYI, the current political climate favor the death penalty as a *deterrent* of future crime, not as *revenge*. This was clearly stated by both Bush and Gore in their pre-electoral debates.

If you intentionally take a life, you should forfeit your own.

Says who? Does this apply to self defense too? Does it apply to the government too? Does it apply to law enforcement too? Does it apply to the killer of, say, Saddam Hussein or Bin Ladin?

Still, your reasons to oppose it are clearly robust. Congrats.
posted by magullo at 6:45 AM on May 24, 2002


No! Not the dreaded Detah penalty!
posted by groundhog at 6:46 AM on May 24, 2002


Because it makes us feel better. And that is not an object to be scorned. (And why is everybody picking on this orthodontist in Cleveland? I knew several orthodontists in Cleveland, and they are fine people, with varying views on the death penalty.)
posted by Faze at 6:47 AM on May 24, 2002


Kill people. It makes Faze feel better.
Brought to you by the society to support snarkiness and the detah penalty
posted by ook at 6:57 AM on May 24, 2002


you can't raise the innocent dead from the grave, so it's obvious death penalty can't be the sentence of a system that isn't perfect.

By that reasoning, we are not justified in imprisoning people either, since we can't undo the years of incarceration, the prison rapes, the separation from friends and family, the devastation to one's career, etc., etc., should they prove later to have been innocent.

There's no such thing as infallibility. We should ensure that we do the very best that we possibly can. No more can be done.
posted by rushmc at 7:07 AM on May 24, 2002


Why don't we just kill the people who support the death penalty.
Then everybody's happy.
posted by dong_resin at 7:29 AM on May 24, 2002


Why don't we just kill the people who support the death penalty.
Then everybody's happy.


Why not kill those who oppose it instead? That would be morally consistent at least.

It is morally inconsistent to kill as punishment for killing or as deterrent. However, the death penalty (in concept) is a practical way to remove a person from society who has, by his/her actions, demonstrated a profound desire to be separate from society. Some method must exist for permanently removing people from society who would work to destroy it if allowed to stay.

A civilized society cannot exist without such a mechanism. One alternative is life imprisonment, but, it is arguable that a person in prison is not yet removed from society because he/she still interacts with (maybe influences) some number of inmates who will eventually rejoin society. There is always the possibility of escape, as well.

I favor the death penalty but I have no illusions about its morality. It is one of those disgusting tasks, like scrubbing the toilet, that just has to be done once in awhile to keep the filth from accumulating.
posted by plaino at 7:44 AM on May 24, 2002


groundhog: you an NWTer, or did you just find Detah through googling?
posted by ODiV at 7:46 AM on May 24, 2002


I think revenge and solace have a lot to do with the death penalty. If someone were to kill my child, or my wife, I wouldn't be happy with a system that let the killer sit in jail, getting 3 square meals a day, cable TV and a weight room.

I'd be happy to be the one to inject the needle.

If anything, that is the way the death penalty should work. Those who had one taken from them should be the ones to decide the final punishment - jail or death, and if death, they should be the ones to do it.

(although for space-faring races, I like the realjanetkagan's solution in Hellspark)
posted by rich at 7:48 AM on May 24, 2002


Look here, we all support a state (the U.S.) which has recently given the death penalty to thousands of Afghanis without benefit of trial, or even a declaration of war. Yet only a very few of us question the morality or legality of this mass, state-sponsored killing. How many of the thousands killed by our recent military actions were "guilty" of a capital crime? We just dropped our bombs, and are now letting God sort 'em out. If this type of "murder of innocents" is acceptable, then so is the occasional, even more than occasional, death of an innocent in the course of applying capital punishment to all murderers.
posted by Faze at 8:02 AM on May 24, 2002


the current political climate favor the death penalty as a *deterrent* of future crime, not as *revenge*.

i think most of the population thinks of it as revenge, and if they have to justify will say deterrent first then revenge second. it doesn't sound good for politicians to say it's for revenge though, especially since it's outlawed in many first world countries.

also, i don't think, on the point of the death penalty being good, that this author makes any points at all. his entire premise is, [it's something we want to do, we may not know why, but we've done it a long time, and we feel strongly about it, so it's probably right.] that's not really an argument that should make it out of the author's head.
posted by rhyax at 8:09 AM on May 24, 2002


that's not really an argument that should make it out of the author's head.

Why not? Tradition is the reason we do a lot of things. It is worthwhile to try to understand tradition as a way of understanding culture but traditions don't get put on hold just because we don't understand them.
posted by plaino at 8:13 AM on May 24, 2002


99% of the time I am opposed to the death penalty for all the common reasons: fallible judicial system, systemic bias in application, dehumanizing the executioners, ineffectiveness as a general deterrent, and just morally problematic.

Then there are people like Dahmer, Gacy, Olsen, Chikatilo and now Pickton in British Columbia. I find myself thinking remove the monsters from existence the moment their guilt is incontrovertibly proven.
posted by srboisvert at 8:30 AM on May 24, 2002


It is worthwhile to try to understand tradition as a way of understanding culture but traditions don't get put on hold just because we don't understand them.

I agree, but tradition is the entire basis for Goldberg's support for the death penalty. He'll have to do better.
posted by Ty Webb at 8:31 AM on May 24, 2002


It is morally inconsistent to kill as punishment for killing

Only if you assume that (a) society is limited to the same moral rights and prerogatives as an individual within it, which clearly is not the system we live under; and (b) that all killing is wrong and equally wrong. It is quite reasonable to think that some killing may be justified (a precept which most accept already in cases of self-defense, war, etc.), and that while a murderer's motive for killing may not be justified, society's may.
posted by rushmc at 8:41 AM on May 24, 2002


If anything, that is the way the death penalty should work. Those who had one taken from them should be the ones to decide the final punishment - jail or death, and if death, they should be the ones to do it.

That is, in fact, the way it works now, on the assumption that SOCIETY is harmed when one of its members is wrongly taken from it.
posted by rushmc at 8:43 AM on May 24, 2002


Every 100 years, all new people.
What does it matter if we killed all criminals who had been sentenced to "natural life with no parole"? Quickly and efficiently with no one but Darwin keeping count.
Don't blah blah about "morality". "Natural life with no parole" makes the same sense as giving 10 years (actual) prison time to a murderer, but death if he mutilates the body afterwards. What does the dead person care?
Is it less "moral" or "cruel" to have someone raped in prison for 30 years until they die of AIDS?
One of my favorite quotes is from a juror in the notorious California child-killer case: "I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he flipped us (the jury) off."
Does this have *anything* to do with crime or justice?

Bah! Kill them all. It will weed out both the guilty and the unlucky.
posted by kablam at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2002


I've always thought that the liberal view that the state shouldn't take lives is kind of ridiculous. The state every day makes choices about industrial, environmental, and traffic safety standards which absolutely result in the deaths of people.

If the state has the right to decide that 500 more people a year can die a horrible death on the highway, in order that we can enjoy the benefits of 10 miles per hour faster driving, or that 5,000 more people a year can die a horrible death, in order that cars can be sold for less than $50,000 and get more than 10 miles to the gallon, how in the world is morally problematic that the state can decide that a person who committed a deliberate and brutal murder, usually as a capstone to a life of savage and debauched conduct, can be put to death, painlessly and after the benefit of 10 years of appeals?

As for rights of victims and the moral aspect of retribution, I think we should make it a matter of choice. You know, sort of like organ donation: you can check a box on the back of your driver license which says, "If someone kills me, I don't want him to get the death penalty," and we'd honor that. In absence of a checked box, the family decides whether or not to waive the death penalty.
posted by MattD at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2002


A civilized society cannot exist without such a mechanism

Huh? 111 nation of this earth do not have a death penalty. Are the U.S., China and Saudi Arabia the only civilized nations?
posted by magullo at 9:27 AM on May 24, 2002


I didn't say that the capital punishment is necessarily the more moral position; just that those against capital punishment are arrogant (and wrong) to claim that their position is, objectively, the morally superior one.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:29 AM on May 24, 2002


The article begins with a Simpsons anecdote as reference...do I really need bother reading further?
posted by HTuttle at 10:11 AM on May 24, 2002


Judge Death, kablam?
posted by i_cola at 10:20 AM on May 24, 2002


The article begins with a Simpsons anecdote as reference...

This is what qualifies a neoconservative as "edgy."
posted by Ty Webb at 10:26 AM on May 24, 2002


In absence of a checked box, the family decides whether or not to waive the death penalty.

I don't believe that individuals should be empowered to bypass the nation's judicial system at will. And even if I did, the privilege certainly would not extend to their families (who next? lovers? friends? neighbors? acquaintances?).
posted by rushmc at 10:55 AM on May 24, 2002


Huh? 111 nation of this earth do not have a death penalty. Are the U.S., China and Saudi Arabia the only civilized nations?

Read my comment more carefully. The death penalty is only ONE possible mechanism.
posted by plaino at 11:37 AM on May 24, 2002


MattD: when you are executed for murder, it is because of the crime you commit against the state, not against the victim. if we take that seriously, the victim should have nothing to say about whether the person dies or not. not to mention all the equal protection problems that would raise. (what if the victim only believed in executing black people?)

the issue about the flexibility of juries is really interesting though. as it stands now, juries are constitutionally required to have a huge amount of discretion in imposing the death penalty. mandatory death penalities have been held unconstitutional because part of due process is the right to "individualized sentencing" when the death penalty is involved. the problem is, the more discretion you give to juries, the more likely you are to wind up with huge biases. thanks to jury discretion, defendants who kill a white victim are much more likely to get death than defendants who kill a black victim. it's not really clear what can be done about this though. it hardly seems like a better solution to simply impose the death penalty on all first degree murderers. juries would simply start acquiting people altogether that they were sympathetic to. (interestingly, the entire scheme of the different degrees of murder and manslaughter developed because back in the day when all intentional killing was punsihed with death, juries would simply acquit people they felt sorry for, because it was either death or acquital.)

as far as instructing juries to ignore the law though, i don't really see the point. the sentencing phase for capital trials is SO flexible that juries can really do whatever they want anyway. if they think that "mitigating factors" outweigh "aggrevating factors," they can acquit. if they think its the other way around, they must impose death. it's not exactly a highly scientific process.
posted by boltman at 11:48 PM on May 24, 2002


The death penalty IS a deterrent for the individual being executed. Of course, ensuring that the actual perpetrator of a crime is caught, tried, and convicted is the tricky part; I don't want innocent people executed, but if there is clearly no doubt - NO DOUBT - about a murderer's guilt, then fry 'em. He/she will never hurt anyone again, guaranteed. But on the issue of finding the criminal -- whenever I read about someone on death row who has been freed due to new evidence (DNA, etc), it shakes me up.
posted by davidmsc at 11:59 PM on May 24, 2002


is clearly no doubt - NO DOUBT - about a murderer's guilt, then fry 'em.

what if there's no doubt about guilt but there are mitigating circumstances? what if he was driving the getaway car and his accomplice actually did the killing?(that's first degree murder in most states)

the problem is that very few people that commit murder actually get sentenced to death, and then more than half of those that do wind up getting their sentence reduced during the appeals process. whether or not you get the death penalty has more to do with your race, socio-economic status, the state and county you happen to commit the crime, and the race and socio-economic status of your victim rather than how heinous your crime was.

it all seems a bit unfair to me.
posted by boltman at 8:44 AM on May 25, 2002


like someone else said just the other day:

'when the death penalty is applied, the criminal will not commit that same crime again.'

reason enough to ace em i think.
posted by jcterminal at 7:55 PM on May 25, 2002


as it stands now, juries are constitutionally required to have a huge amount of discretion in imposing the death penalty.

It doesn't works that way, though, doesn't it? From what I've read, in cases where the death penalty is sought, opposing it on principle is considered just cause to disqualify someone from jury duty. Which means, for the most part, that capital trials are decided by juries that are not only unrepresentative (the whole 'jury of your peers' thing ceases to apply) but also, I suspect, more likely to rush to conviction. Because, let's face it, they'll be made up of people like those in this thread who've said 'kill 'em all, it'll weed out both the guilty and the unlucky.' That sort of attitude doesn't fill me with confidence that much discretion would be applied.

Oh, and the whole 'well, if it's absolutely beyond doubt' thing doesn't address the fact that far too many capital defendents have woeful representation, meaning that it's all too easy to presume that a case is proved beyond doubt. The Guildford Four had appeals forcefully rejected a couple of times before the truth came out; had the death penalty existed in Britain, I doubt we'd ever have known of the way the police manipulated the criminal justice system.
posted by riviera at 8:37 PM on May 25, 2002


riviera, you're correct that you must be pro death penalty to serve on a jury, because you must be willing to sentence the defendant to death if he is death-eligible and if the aggrevating factors outweigh the mitigating factors. this is really not that unfair if you think about it. jurors pledge an oath to apply the laws and if a juror comes right out and says, "i'm not going to apply that law even if the facts of the case warrant it" he may be morally praiseworthy but you can kind of see why a court pledged to uphold the rule of law might not want to put him on a jury. really, the purpose of the jury is just to determine facts, not judge the morality of the law. that's why we have the democratic process. if you apply this type of reasoning to other areas of the law, the result would be chaos. anti-income tax jurors could get on juries and refuse to convict anyone of tax evasion. anti gun control jurors could get on juries and refuse to convict anyone of crimes relating to gun possession. to be sure this happens to some extent regardless, but i'm pretty sure that the legal system should not actually be sanctioning it, particularly since it only takes one stubborn juror to prevent conviction.

also, the defense counsel (if he is compentant which many public defenders are not) can also get most of the "fry 'em" people off the jury as well. each side is allowed to "strike" a certain number of people from the jury for pretty much any reason. (those reasons usually have to do with the race and gender of the jurors more than anything else, but that's a whole other topic)

i'm not sure whether most people that are death eligible actually get sentenced to death by the jury. it would be interesting to find out. but there are a lot of cases where the jury is going to be sympathetic to the defendant and not impose death. people who commit premediated murder against their spouses are usually going to be death-eligible but they often get off if the spouse was abusive or unfaithful. people who commit premeditated murder in revenge for the victim killing the killer's friend or relative often get off. people who kill victims that are just very unsympathetic (a child molester or a rapist perhaps) probably won't get the death penalty. some of them won't even get murder at all, but rather voluntary manslaughter.

but, utimately you're right riviera. juries are probably just going to vote based on their instincts. if they feel like the murderer is a "bad guy" for whatever reason and the victim was a "good guy," they'll probably vote for death. one of the reasons you never see rich people on death row is that the high-priced lawyers are very good at getting a jury to be sympathetic to the killer or unsympathetic to the victim. if poor people all had johnny cochran to defend them, death row would probably be totally empty.
posted by boltman at 9:20 PM on May 25, 2002


really, the purpose of the jury is just to determine facts, not judge the morality of the law.

In 1771, John Adams clearly stated that a juror should ignore a judge's instruction on the law if it violates fundamental principles: "It is not only ... [the juror's] right, but his duty, in that case, to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court."
posted by youhas at 9:44 PM on May 25, 2002


i_cola: Ah, Judge Death was a fav. I saw it when it first came out.
"Only the living commit crimes."

Judge Decay(?) was okay, but Judge Fear was mediocre.

Judge Caligula roxored.
posted by kablam at 9:54 PM on May 25, 2002


youhas: following that advice is a good way to get yourself thrown in jail for contempt of court if the other jurors decide complain about you to the judge.

i just don't see it. i understand that the law is unjust sometimes. i can even see juries nullifying the law occansionally because justice absolutely demands it.. but i don't think it should be a routine thing, and i certainly don't think the courts should be encouraging juries to nullify more.

juries don't have the skills to properly interpret the law and apply it facts, and they're given no evidence on the question of whether it is a good law or not. they're going to wind up nullifying because of ideology or because of their feelings about the defedant as a person.

as i suggested above, there are lots of people that believe that the income tax is unconstitutional, or that killing abortion doctors is justifiable homocide. should these people really be given the blessing of the court when they are serving on juries?
posted by boltman at 11:39 PM on May 25, 2002


In which case, boltman, should juries be abolished, and cases be tried by judges alone? Your argument seems to point to that conclusion: juries are unversed in the law, prejudiced, unable to weigh facts. In which case, it'd be logically inconsistent of you to argue that their place be taken by judges, yes?

Alternatively, juries are one of the few remaining places where citizens can affect the law without a big lobbying fund. I believe the maxim is something like: laws were made for man, not man for laws.
posted by riviera at 11:51 PM on May 25, 2002


Ack. "logically inconsistent of you not to argue". That's night shifts for you.
posted by riviera at 11:53 PM on May 25, 2002


riviera, i think an argument could be made for abolishing juries if some other safeguard was put in place to protect defendants from government oppression. but my point above was not that juries are completely incompetent, just that they are given no evidence on why the legislature passed the law in question or whether it is fair to apply the law to a certain set of facts. so, necessarily, they are not going to be able to make a well informed decision about whether nullification of the law is appropriate. however, they ARE presented loads of evidence about the facts of the case, so they are far more qualified to make decisions about the facts of the case.

as far as your second point goes, the problem with giving juries the power to "affect the law" is that they can only do it on a case by case basis. if you had juries nullifying whenever their instincts told them that it was unjust to subject a particular defedant to a particular law, you'd run into huge equal protection problems on a systematic level. juries on the whole might feel more sorry for teenage white girls accused of drug possession than for adult black men. the end result is that black men become more likely to be convicted of drug possession than white women. this, of course, is already the case, so it seems strange to advocate making this problem even worse by letting the juries follow their instincts about the morality of the law.

i fully agree that there are a lot of bad criminal laws out there, but i think giving juries the power to selectively apply the law, so only marginalized groups subject to them is not the answer. it may actually have the perverse effect of perpetuating the bad laws because they are only applied to people that society is prejudiced against anyway.
posted by boltman at 5:22 PM on May 26, 2002


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