Cruel and unusual?
May 9, 2000 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Cruel and unusual? "Expert witnesses testified that the brief delays give the body time to recover and increase the chance the person will feel pain." What a crock... I wonder if the 3 year old baby he killed and dismembered felt any pain? The punishment should fit the crime. Although the death penalty doesn't deter crime, if we punished those in the same manner that they commited the murder, then maybe criminals would think twice... then again, maybe not.
posted by da5id (32 comments total)
Um, it obviously doesn't, seeing as the US (the only "developed" country now to retain the death penalty) also retains the highest crime rates and prison population.

"The punishment should fit the crime" is so often an empty mantra: if the state bestows upon criminals the same treatment that their victims received, then it places the state in the same logical and ethical position as the criminal.

Surely those limitations against "cruel and unusual punishment" are necessary, to set the rule of law apart from the activities of criminals? Otherwise you could logically argue that the murderer has no right to a legal defence, because his victim didn't have that privilege. And that way lies anarchy and the lynch-mob.
posted by holgate at 12:05 PM on May 9, 2000

Much as we feel the human urge to punish people who do wrong, please keep in mind that imprisonment and capital punishment are NOT intended to avenge the crimes the condemned person committed. We as a society have decided on humane executions and we give lip service to imprisonment-as-rehabilitation rather than as a punishment or deterrent. Why?

First because there's a chance the condemned is innocent (though we don't usually acknowledge that aloud). Second and morally more to the point, if we torture this murderer the way he tortured his victim, how are we different from him?

I have to reluctantly come out against the death penalty. Reluctantly mainly because of the case of Ted Bundy, who escaped from prison twice and killed a little girl while on the run. I understand why so many people badly wanted to see Ted Bundy die. But too many innocents wind up on death row, and too many of the guilty are condemned to die because the system is biased against the poor and minorities.
posted by wiremommy at 12:07 PM on May 9, 2000

Um, Holgate? Correlation doesn't imply causation, much as we would like to believe otherwise when the correlation suits our arguments.

I believe in the death penalty, and I'm personally willing to run the risk it might incorrectly be applied to me, which gives me the right to say that. Not that I wouldn't fight it, of course, but who wouldn't?

Tell me, though, why in *hell* don't we just strap them down and OD them on heroin or morphine? That would be a *pleasant* way to go out, for sufficiently small values of pleasant...
posted by baylink at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2000

Given...the death penalty is certainly not a deterrent. And the amount of money spent in appeals and all that good stuff, it's probably more expensive to waste them rather than let them rot in jail....

But the way I see it, the victim's family gets to watch this C**ksucker get dragged down the halls, crying like a baby, pleading for his life, just like someone's son or daughter did in their final moments....

That alone makes it worth it.
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2000

I think baylink, Eric, and da5id are all sickos. Brilliant reasoning da5id, by the way:

"Although the death penalty doesn't deter crime, if we punished those in the same manner that they commited the murder, then maybe criminals would think twice... then again, maybe not."

Does this sentence really say anything?
posted by andy at 1:46 PM on May 9, 2000

I think the sentence should read: "Although the death penalty doesn't deter crime, if we punished those in the same manner that they commited the murder, then THEY (the executed) would think twice"

- Former speechwriter for Dan Quayle - :0)
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 1:59 PM on May 9, 2000

The sentence isn't meant to say anything... it's just... a sentence...

I am a sicko because I want to see people suffer for the suffering they have caused? No. I don't think so.

And even if capital punishment isn't meant to avenge a crime, it doesn't mean it has to be logical and humane. It is punishment after all.

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.
posted by da5id at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2000

From the summary on Fatbrain (emphasis added):

"In the last ten years, DNA testing has uncovered stone-cold proof that sixty-five completely innocent people have been sent to prison and death row. But even in cases where there is physical evidence, the criminal justice system frees prisoners only after a torturous legal process. Incredibly, according to many trial judges, "actual innocence" is not grounds for release from prison."

In our hunger for revenge against evil, we risk committing even greater evils ourselves.
posted by wiremommy at 2:13 PM on May 9, 2000

Hell, let's just let the victim's family hack the guy apart with dull knives.
posted by harmful at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2000

Da5id: the instinctive desire for vengeance is the reason why we have the judicial system, to stop us from returning to the world of vendetta and mob justice. If the murdered kid had been my own, I'd have wanted to dismember the bastard myself, but that doesn't make it a safer or a healthier society. To add my own cliché: violence breeds violence.

And baylink, along the same lines: I wouldn't argue that there's a straightforward causal relationship between gun ownership and gun-related deaths, but the correlation has to be just a little bit significant.

And, more significantly: you can normally judge the general health of a state by the way it treats its convicted prisoners, because it's usually a sign of how it would treat everyone if it had the chance.
posted by holgate at 2:29 PM on May 9, 2000

If cruelty and violence are wrong, they're wrong.

Arguing that it's OK to torture someone because we think they tortured someone else is just as stupid as arguing that it's OK to massacre thousands of people because their ancestors massacred thousands of your ancestors.

posted by Mars Saxman at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2000

We talked about this before on MF -

People who dismember little kids are sick in the head. They shouldn't be executed on that basis. They're unstable.

I am pro death penalty though, when it comes to federal terrorism. When Tim McVeigh is executed I will only be sorry because I oppose that method of execution (the chair). It should be done by firing squad.

Why do I condone the execution of terrorists? Because unless they are deliberately framed (see the Birmingham Six or Guildford Four in Britain) they can be proven as guilty. Terrorists are sane. I've heard them speak, and they are not insane - just dedicated. They're dangerous people and bring down democracy.

Anyway enough ranting.
posted by tomcosgrave at 3:42 PM on May 9, 2000

Tom, it took well over ten years to exonerate the Six and the Four. And while the US usually takes longer than that to execute its condemned, most "efficient" justice systems would have executed them by that time.

A friend who's also a lawyer summed up the argument better than I could ever do myself: to function with ethical effectiveness, capital punishment needs to be based on absolute proof, and absolute proof simply doesn't exist within the criminal justice system. "Beyond reasonable doubt" is always potentially subject to later revision.

Would you have executed Nelson Mandela? Or Yasser Arafat? Or David Ben Gurion? Or George Washington?

Or (and this is such a tutorial response, so I'll apologise in advance) Eamonn de Valera, or Michael Collins? After all, those twp were federal terrorists -- dangerous people, not insane, just dedicated -- who brought down the rule of law in your own country...
posted by holgate at 4:36 PM on May 9, 2000

And, to twist the knife: by advocating the firing squad for Timothy McVeigh, you're implicitly arguing that Pearse and his compatriots deserved to be shot for their role in the 1916 Easter Rising. Yes?
posted by holgate at 4:40 PM on May 9, 2000

Holgate -

Mandela, no. Not a terrorist - he never actually commited any crime, did he?
Arafat, yes.
I don't know of Ben Gurion.
George Washington, from the British perspective was a terrorist, and so if he was executed, it would have been "fair game". DeValera was waiting for his appointment with the firing swad - the only think that saved him was the fact that he was born in NYC. Collins was also wanted. So if he'd been taken by the British it would also have been "fair game", for want of a better phrase.

But these folks, with the exception of Arafat (as far as I know) are different from the likes of McVeigh or say, the Omagh bombers - they didn't murder with the intent of killing hundreds of innocent people.
posted by tomcosgrave at 1:44 AM on May 10, 2000

Um, Matt? I have the painful duty of disagreeing with the eloquent but inaccurate King quote you pointed to.

"An eye for an eye" leaves blind *only those who first take eyes*. Not everyone.

I will, at this point, call everyone's attention to the relative murder rates per capita of, say, Washington DC, where guns are illegal, and, oh, say, rural Georgia and Alabama, where loaded rifles can be found, not even locked down, in gun racks and the backs of pickups.

If you teach children about guns from the time their hands are big enough to hold one, history shows, you have very little trouble with kids accidentally shooting each other.

That bunny is *dead*, and that's real easy to understand, even to a 6 year old.

Why don't people learn anything from history.

Here's a related essay (which you'll want to ignore if you're one of the anti-ESR faction) that says something very interesting about how being a shooter changes your outlook on life. Off topic to this thread a bit... but maybe it's not, if you go back far enough in the causes.

Oh, BTW: *why* am I a sicko? Short words, please.
posted by baylink at 7:33 AM on May 10, 2000

Mandating execution only for terrorists is shortsighted. Mandela was considered a terrorist by his government because he put revolutionaries in contact with people who sold them arms. They also accused him of inciting riots. Never mind that Mandela's cause was just and that he was trying to peacefully bring about change; when you allow the government to define the term "terrorist" you'd better make sure your legal system has plenty of appeals and safety valves built in. It only takes a trick of words in a new piece of legislation, and any WTO protestor who breaks a storefront window is liable to be classified a dangerous "terrorist".
posted by wiremommy at 9:49 AM on May 10, 2000

Comparing DC and rural Georgia is a non-starter: apples and oranges, baylink. More people get shot in Manchester than rural East Anglia, too.

But of course, I'm a card-carrying pinko leftie, and a member of Amnesty International, so when I finally have kids, I doubt I'll be signing them up to your pre-K gun classes.
posted by holgate at 10:02 AM on May 10, 2000

I love it when people point out that guns are illegal in D.C. and the crime rate is still high . . . and conveniently forget that D.C. is right next to Virginia and Maryland, which have much less stringent gun laws. A large percentage of guns used in crimes in the District have been traced back to one gun store in Maryland just outside D.C.
posted by feckless at 10:38 AM on May 10, 2000

Stipulated, Feckless; but the point still remains (to requote a hoary old platitude): guns really don't kill people, it's the people who do it. People who've grown up with guns are less touchy about them, even if they have one pointed at someone, and crooks, as a whole, go for the soft target:

if *you* were going to rip off a house, would you pick on in Kennesaw, Georgia, where all adult heads of household are *required by ordinance* to maintain and be able to use a firearm, or the next town over, where, well, they aren't?
posted by baylink at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2000

Wiremommy - okay, your points are taken. Here's how I define a terrorist -
Someone who plants a bomb with aim of causing murder, grevious bodily harm, and wanton property damage". In other words - McVeigh. The Omagh bombers. The Enniskillen bombers. The people planting car bombs in Spain, calling themselves ETA.

And while I do not agree at all with Baylink about the crazy gun laws in the US (M-16's and other such weapons are military weaopns), I agree that it is not the weapon that kills - it's the person depressing the trigger, or pushing the "detonate" button.
posted by tomcosgrave at 1:17 PM on May 10, 2000

But, tom; I didn't *say* M-16's. I don't expecially have a problem with requiring permits for such things.

I haven't decided what I think about registering ownership on single-shot weapons, though; that slope is very slippery.

Concealed carry? Yeah, I don't have much problem there either. Now, *non-concealed* carry is another story.

This thread is mutating rather badly. If we want to debate gun control, maybe we should take it to another thread? I'd be happy to go find a bunch of links that corroborate my personal prejudice on the topic. :-)

(PS: just *try* to get someone who's anti-gun to have that much of a sense of humor about it... which ought to tell you everything you need to know, right there... but it probably won't.)
posted by baylink at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2000

Here's someone who was anti-gun who had a sense of humor about it: Bill Hicks.
posted by wiremommy at 3:16 PM on May 10, 2000

And another, Michael Moore: "I'll end by repeating what I have said many times before -- the handguns have to go. 16,000 gun murders last year in the US and 15,500 were killed by someone they knew (husband, boyfriend, neighbor) or by someone at work. Approximately 500 were killed by a stranger who broke into their home and 300 of those were killed by their OWN gun. Those are the facts. Easy access to guns by a species that often responds irrationally and with intense emotions is a lethal combination. Great Britain, a nation of 60 million people with a violent history of conquering the world at the barrel of a gun and now full of drunks and hotheads who eat up violent American movies and TV shows -- last year they killed a grand total of 12 -- that's TWELVE! -- of their own citizens with handguns. That's because handguns are TOTALLY banned. Let the hunters keep their rifles after a serious background check, but the handguns, whose only purpose is to take a human life, must go. The Brits have done it, the Australians have done it, the Canadians have done it. Even New York City mostly did it -- and the number of murders there has dropped from 2,200 a year to 600."
posted by wiremommy at 3:33 PM on May 10, 2000

I think, to pull things back towards the initial post, my point is this: can we create a less violent society while maintaining state-sanctioned violence?

There are certainly societies where extreme sanctions keep the populace in check -- the more extreme Islamic states come to mind -- but that kind of society's not necessarily conducive to the public good as we'd see it.

Baylink, an honest question: if you had the chance to start afresh and establish the constitutional basis of a new state, as the Founding Fathers did in the late 1700s, would you include elements such as capital punishment and the right to bear arms?
posted by holgate at 3:57 PM on May 10, 2000

Baylink: well, this thread is probably long enough. But I just think that this attitude that murderers should be tortured brutally is disturbing. I think that sort of argument for the death penalty is rooted more in emotion rather than logic.

But I do agree with you on gun control. There is obviously a change which has taken place in American society, since we've always had guns, but only recently have the murder rates been going up. Kids didn't used to shoot up their schools.
posted by andy at 7:24 PM on May 10, 2000

I don't think they should they should be tortured brutally, Andy, I think they should be *killed*. That's an entirely different thing. We seem to have forgotten the concept "needed killin'" these days...

And my answer to Nick is: you bet your ass. Remember how this country got started: the American colonists got tired of the way they were being treated by the Crown, and threw a revolution.

That was what got us this country, and it's worked pretty well for the last 224 years... but I'm not sure even *it* can survive the next 200 years; for some insight into why, here's another ESR essay, on anarchy:
William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is one of the most subtly horrific
pieces of writing ever uttered. The single most chilling paragraph in a book that does
not flinch from describing Nazi atrocities is this one:

On August 19, 1934, 95% of the Germans who were registered to vote
went to the polls and 90% (38 million) of adult German citizens voted to
give Adolf Hitler complete and total authority to rule Germany as he saw
fit. Only 4.25 million Germans voted against this transfer of power to a
totalitarian regime.

Hitler's program was not a secret; nor were the means he proposed to use. 90% of
the people voted for "Mein Kampf" and the Nuremberg rallies and the repudiation of
the Treaty of Versailles and Kristallnacht; the mandate was overwhelming.

posted by baylink at 7:07 AM on May 11, 2000

Apologies... Matt? *When* did you say we got preview on comments? :-)
posted by baylink at 7:08 AM on May 11, 2000

Gotcha, Jay. My argument is this: of the revolutions of the past couple of decades, almost without exception it's been the bloodless ones which brought the greatest benefits to the relevant societies. In Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and East Germany, you got the kind of popular rebellion which could have been scripted by Jefferson and Hamilton. And they're healthier societies than Romania or the former Yugoslavia, I think, because they fought, not with guns, but with far more powerful weapons: capital and liberty. Marx wasn't to know that the anti-communist revolution could be fought with the desire to buy things and to travel freely.

I suppose my feeling is that states evolve, the political landscape changes, and that the best way to destroy something that works well (as the American system quite obviously has done, in many ways) is to think it doesn't need a 3,000 mile service. After all, it's normally the state's resistance to change which provokes revolution, as it was in the 1770s.

But enough already.
posted by holgate at 9:06 AM on May 11, 2000

One final link, on topic: Salon's timely piece on the current debate on the death penalty in Texas.
posted by holgate at 10:36 AM on May 11, 2000

I know, I know, but for the record, via rebecca's pocket, a fine speech by Senator Russ Feingold on the subject.
posted by holgate at 4:54 PM on May 11, 2000

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