statistics on the death penalty
February 13, 2001 7:33 AM   Subscribe

statistics on the death penalty Statistics which suggest that the death penalty does not accomplish what we expected of it. Unless, perhaps, we like revenge.
posted by Postroad (76 comments total)
Justice/revenge... potato/potahto...
posted by thirteen at 7:39 AM on February 13, 2001

Many proponents of the death penalty like it precisely because it's revenge.

And some of the statistics are, as one should always suspect with statistics, biased or irrelevant. Average time between sentencing and execution: Due to unending appeals by anti-death penalty activist lawyers. Costs? Who cares unless your main standard for morality is "How much does it cost me?" Etc.
posted by aaron at 7:42 AM on February 13, 2001

The source article was this Scientific American, which in turn says it drew on various sources:

"SOURCES: A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973–1995, by James S. Liebman et al., 2000 (; Death Penalty Focus (; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; American Civil Liberties Union"
posted by pracowity at 7:54 AM on February 13, 2001

Does anyone else see the logical inconsistency of the same people being pro-life also being pro-death penalty? Any explanation?
posted by norm at 8:12 AM on February 13, 2001

It's no "logical inconsistency" if you believe certain (debatable) points. If you believe that fetuses are "alive" and "human" then you might say that they have done nothing to deserve death, while some cannibal nazi fella does deserve death because of the harm he has done.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:21 AM on February 13, 2001

The purpose of listing the cost difference is to short circuit arguments that: the death penalty is cheaper therefore we should keep it going. or why should I have to pay to keep this evil person alive in some posh prison? etc.

I don't like paying to kill people, personally. I don't consent for my gov't to do it either. Especially not to satisfy my fellow citizens' misguided bloodlust.

posted by mblandi at 8:23 AM on February 13, 2001

Seems a touch disingenuous to say that anyone "deserves" death. I thought the pro-life position was based on the sanctity of life, not the deservedness of it.

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?"

Considering that mistakes do happen, no matter how rare, it can never be considered a moral thing to take life.
posted by norm at 8:37 AM on February 13, 2001

"it can never be considered a moral thing to take life."
And yet we continue to fight wars.
I'm not disagreeing w/ you, I'm just saying that our society does deem it appropriate at times to take other humans' lives. This is justified by saying "they have done x damage to other humans."
If one considers fetuses humans, you can not justify their destruction in this way, and this is the position of pro-lifers.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:42 AM on February 13, 2001

I think revenge is a primary factor in the use of the death penalty. I covered the trial of a Danny Rolling, the man convicted of murdering five college students in Gainesville, Fla., and the families of the victims were absolutely driven by a sense of revenge (they probably would call it "justice") for the lives of their children. On the other hand, when I witnessed the executed of Roy Allen Stewart (#33 on this list), there was no one present who had any connection to Stewart or his victim except for the cops who arrested him. That made the execution even more anticlimatic and unfulfilling than I would have expected.
posted by thescoop at 8:44 AM on February 13, 2001

Mblandi, does this misguided bloodlust encompass victims and their loved ones?
posted by amanda at 8:45 AM on February 13, 2001

Sam, you make the war analogy without realizing that some people believe all war is immoral. Also, killing someone to PREVENT the death of another person is different than killing them FOR killing someone else.
And what people would like to do to each other is very different than what the government should do to people. A guy could be real jerk to me at a bar, lets say, and I could like very much to punch him, but it would be absurd if I somehow got a policeman to punch the man for me.
The family of victims, I assume, would probably like hot irons shoved up certain criminals butts, but in no way should we decide to do that. At least in my opinion. Please don't kill me.
posted by Doug at 8:55 AM on February 13, 2001

norm: Moral is such a slippery word, and so badly abused that it really does not mean anything to me.

I think lots of people deserve death. Anyone who takes a life spends their own in the process. I do not see any dilemma in letting the state end a murderers life, as they are already dead to me. I can certainly make allowances for the families of victims that do not believe as I do. They alone can forgive a killer and cage him instead. If I am murdered, I want my killer executed, I would think it immoral to disregard my wishes in that example.

I do not think life is sacred, but being the things that we are, having our lives taken from us is the ultimate crime. I understand the pro-life position, and I think abortion is tragic, but the personal freedom aspect prevents me from being able to muster up any justification for enforcing their views. So I guess I agree to an extent, I cannot really see how people can be pro-life/pro-death penalty.
posted by thirteen at 9:02 AM on February 13, 2001

The war analogy is inappropriate.

• A single criminal, once in jail, can do no more harm.

• You cannot arrest and jail an entire aggressor nation; if you could, it would eliminate the need for war.
posted by pracowity at 9:03 AM on February 13, 2001

And then there's the possibility that you have the wrong guy.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:07 AM on February 13, 2001

A link to add to my original posting of this link. Here is Amnesty International's Facts and Question sheet. Useful, perhaps, for answring many of the issues raised by comments posted:
posted by Postroad at 9:09 AM on February 13, 2001

Pro-life & pro-death penalty in a nutshell:

Fetus: innocent, has made no conscious decisions which negate his/her right to continue to live (and be born).

Murderer: not innocent, made the conscious decision to kill which negates his right to continue to live in society, and in egregious cases, his right to continue to live, period.

It should be noted that advocating the death penalty as an appropriate form of punishment does not necessarily mean agreeing with the death penalty as it is currently used in the U.S.
posted by Dreama at 9:13 AM on February 13, 2001

I've always thought that two wrongs didn't make a right...
posted by trox at 9:21 AM on February 13, 2001

Amanda, In my view, yes.

I can only visualize someone killing my loved ones, but I still wouldn't wish to torture the killer to death. It's kind of sick.

If someone killed me, I wouldn't want my family to go crazy trying to get the gov't to destroy the killer. What good does that do? It would be bad for my loved ones, and certainly worse for the killer than s/he already is.

Everyone should have a chance. (boos, sissy!)

Under what clause of existence does killing someone make you unfit for further existence? What authority? To what goal does this authority purport to aspire to? Does it somehow benefit the victim, if the killer is destroyed? Does it benefit the killer? Who does this practice benefit?

posted by mblandi at 9:24 AM on February 13, 2001

Reasons someone could have for wanting to kill a criminal who is locked up for life and unable to commit further crime:

1. Revenge.

2. Cost of lifetime incarceration.

3. Lack of faith that the criminal will indeed be kept in prison.

Are there reasons I'm missing?
posted by pracowity at 9:28 AM on February 13, 2001

I've never understood Christians' support for the death penalty. Whether the criminal is executed or not, won't he still have to face God's wrath? Won't any earthly punishment be infinitely insignificant compared to the final reward?

In the case of born-again criminals, such as Karla Faye Tucker, doesn't execution simply mean a shortcut into God's loving hands? How is this, in a Christian's eyes, a punishment? Seems the harshest earthly punishment, in a Christian's eyes, would be to make the criminal stay and suffer Down Here as long as possible.

In the case of criminals who have not found God, doesn't execution limit their opportunities to accept God's graces? One can say the 20-odd years it takes to appeal is plenty of time to be born again, but what if in some cases it takes 30? Is it very Christian to execute this person and send him to hell when ten more earthbound years may have put him on the next train to heaven?

What would Jesus do?
posted by luke at 9:36 AM on February 13, 2001

Luke, please refrain from using logic when speaking about. christianity. It will only result in your brain hurting.
posted by Doug at 9:43 AM on February 13, 2001

I have a very simple explanation of my opposition to the death penalty. It's the reaction I have toward heinous crimes.
Child abusers, for example, don't make me think of the electric chair, they make me think of burning at the stake or any number of other horrible deaths that I feel they deserve. It is the ugliness of my own reaction that makes me recoil at the idea of institutionalizing my own desired behavior as a part of the judicial system.
When we take revenge on those who do evil, we lower ourselves to their level. The fundamental question is not whether some people are bad enough to die, the question is whether we're bad enough to kill them. As a society the answer should be a resounding no.
posted by Octaviuz at 9:45 AM on February 13, 2001

Actually Luke, Jesus saved at least one person from execution and simply told her "Go and sin no more" (granted it was for adultery which is no longer a capital crime, although Congressional Republicans would have liked it to be) At that same time he also made an important point about the hypocrisy of many of the religious leaders of his day which has NO application to our times. :-)

Doug, as a Christian and a flaming leftist, I represent that comment.
posted by Octaviuz at 9:50 AM on February 13, 2001

Some people's argument for the death penalty is that it's a deterrent. This is idiotic. Who the hell thinks "Sure, I'll kill him if I only get 25 years in prison." The truth is that there are two types of murder:

- heat of passion, where the murderer is not considering any consequences, or

- premeditated, where the murderer has plotted everything out beforehand, and assumes that he won't get caught.

Either way, deterrence is not a factor.

posted by mzanatta at 9:51 AM on February 13, 2001

Since when is someone who's locked up in jail 'unable to commit further crime'? Have you not heard of the Texas 7? What about crimes against other prisoners.

The death penalty accomplishes exatly what it is supposed to accomplish - end the life [and therefore the threat they pose to others] of bad people.

All this other crap about costs and deterrant is just so much fluff. Its just stuff people say to justify their beliefs when they are too damn afraid to stand up and say that criminals are BAD people. If they commit enough crime, or a particularly heinous crime, they should be KILLED to protect society from the harm they would otherwise inflict.

And if its so inconsistent for us crazy Christians to support the death penalty and oppose abortion; is it not equally as inconsistent to agree with abortion yet oppose the death penalty?
posted by schlyer at 10:10 AM on February 13, 2001

4. Lack of faith that criminal will indeed be reformed and go on to lead a productive life, which was my understanding of what prison was supposed to do.
posted by megnut at 10:21 AM on February 13, 2001

I've always opposed the death penalty because I didn't think that the state or federal government should have dominion over MY life.
posted by captaincursor at 10:28 AM on February 13, 2001

other raving aside, And if its so inconsistent for us crazy Christians to support the death penalty and oppose abortion; is it not equally as inconsistent to agree with abortion yet oppose the death penalty?

I can't speak for all of us who have this particular synergy, but...

1) I never made any claims about an overarching sanctity of life, whereas pro-life/death folks do. I don't believe in an immortal soul. Thus, fetuses don't miss anything and dead prisoners don't meet St. Peter in my metaphysical construct.

2) Both beliefs are based on my libertarian thoughts of what government shouldn't be involved in, namely policing people's private lives and killing its citizens.

That's my tuppence.

posted by norm at 10:28 AM on February 13, 2001

Luke, we have this thing called seperation of church and state. Giving people ample oppurtunity to find God is not an argument against the death penalty.
posted by dagnyscott at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2001

Schlyer, I shouldn't need to tell you this, but apparently you missed this neat book called the Bible. Jesus says something to the effect of turn the other cheek, and, um, judge not. He also said to love thy neighbor, and hate the sin and not the sinner. He also felt that every person was redeemable, and loved by God. Look into it.
And Octavius, you seem to be pretty reasonable, and I'm sorry to offend you. However, clearly logic didn't lead you to believe that there was a magic jew looking after you every moment of your life. So, while you are probably a very good person, I wouldn't say that logic dictates all your beliefs, and actions.

posted by Doug at 10:57 AM on February 13, 2001

But I'm not talking about the states' argument against the DP (there are too many to count). I am talking about the church's -- some churches, that is -- and the lack of logic therein.
posted by luke at 10:58 AM on February 13, 2001

No one's "afraid" (oooh, afraid, you're calling me a scaredy-cat) to call criminals BAD people. We just don't live in a childlike world of rage and simplicity where the GOOD people should KILL the BAD PEOPLE because they are BAD and STUPID.

An actual, full-bodied justice involves the ability to reason beyond the level of TV shows.
posted by argybarg at 11:00 AM on February 13, 2001

Doug, your unending ability to misstate and misappropriate scripture and religious belief never fails to surprise and disgust. In your sarcastic and out-of-context rendition of a very small portion of Biblical teaching, you fail to recognise that Mosaic law (which Jesus himself said was not abolished) calls for the death penalty. Waging a "Biblical" argument against the death penalty because of Christian doctrine of "redemption" and "turning the other cheek" is shortsighted, at best.
posted by Dreama at 11:08 AM on February 13, 2001

Hey Dreama, would you tell that to Jesus? You may say that I took scripture out of context, but that only proves you're fuzzy on what context means. Jesus supposedly stopped an execution. And the reason he gave was...that's right.
Would you tell him he was being short-sighted, at best? Cause you believe you're going to meet him one day. Just wondering what you'll say.
posted by Doug at 11:15 AM on February 13, 2001

If anyone still wants to see previous debate of the death penalty, try searching metafilter for it, there's tons of stuff we've already covered.

To sum up my position, I said it before, but I'll say it again:

"An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind"

- Martin Luther King Jr.
posted by mathowie at 11:38 AM on February 13, 2001

As with many of MLK's words and ideas, I think that line originally came from Gandhi. It's one of my favorite lines, whichever visionary said it.

I can't pin down my feelings about the death penalty one way or another, but something that disturbs me is the fact that there appear to be quite a few mistakes. This isn't the type of thing that should have any doubt whatsoever.

Let's say for sake of discussion that the death penalty was accepted by all of society as an appropriate use of the state's power. Now pretend they always got the person who committed the murder, without ever making a mistake. This can't be proven, but let's just pretend for now.

Now let's say you were their first mistaken identity case, and you were going to be put to death tomorrow for something you're sure you didn't do?

The state can't have that kind of control, especially when there's a lot of evidence that they've make mistakes in the past. One person mistakenly put to death is horrible, and the numbers that people are throwing around (20, 30, 40%) make it absolutely unacceptable.
posted by jragon at 12:01 PM on February 13, 2001

and, um, judge not.

That piece of the Bible does not mean what most people like to think it means when they invoke it. Jesus was referring to judging people's in toto worthiness, that it's wrong to arbitrarily determine "So-and-so's a worthless scumbag." It has nothing to do with Christians judging people's actions as right or wrong.

Put another way, if it meant what you think it did, then it would be impossible for Christians to have any feelings as to the rightness or wrongness of any action whatsoever. And that would make 75% of the Bible meaningless.
posted by aaron at 12:02 PM on February 13, 2001

So you're not judging a persons worth when you strap them to a slab and kill them, Aaron?
posted by Doug at 12:04 PM on February 13, 2001

Sam, you make the war analogy without realizing that some people believe all war is immoral.
Did you even read my post?
I said this is what our country does, and this is how they justify it. Not me. I have little to no opinion on the matter.
I was explaining the pro-life/pro-death-penalty position. If you make certain assumptions (which you must make, one way or the other, to have much of an opinion on this) then that position is the logical conclusion.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:15 PM on February 13, 2001

My position on the death penalty has changed over the past few years. If it costs more to keep them alive, then why don't we just keep them alive.

I also think that perhaps, the death penalty needs to be in place because it is the ultimate penalty.

Many people say that the punishment needs to fit the crime, well if the crime is murder, there is only one pusnishment that truely fits.

Perhaps we could try caning instead of the death penalty. From what I have read, people are in such agony they never forget the punishment, and never seek to be punished again.
posted by dancu at 12:52 PM on February 13, 2001

They would never forget torture! Why don't we mutilate criminals? They're BAD.
posted by argybarg at 1:11 PM on February 13, 2001

And that would make 75% of the Bible meaningless.

Duh! It's fictional, archaic, irrelevant, self contradictory (I keep "eye for an eye" or "turn the other cheek" the moral of the story?) and historically inaccurate (not to mention a piss poor read with a cheesy ending). It has no more moral value or veracity than any other assemblage of folk tales or fables.

The fact that (questionably) rational, thinking people in this day and age still use it as an excuse to justify murder and abdicate their own responsibility for their actions is absurd.
posted by ritualdevice at 1:18 PM on February 13, 2001

"Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in Mankind."
posted by holgate at 1:37 PM on February 13, 2001

Hey Doug, thanks for your presumptions, but I'm Jewish.
posted by Dreama at 1:43 PM on February 13, 2001

We've got rules in society - and when you take someone's life you need to pay. You pay with your life. I could give a crap if it deters someone else from murder in the future (bonus if it does). If you kill someone, you've effectively revoked your right to exist as a member of society.
posted by owillis at 1:44 PM on February 13, 2001

How about Tim McVeigh - he murdered 265(?) people, he did it deliberately, and he has not expressed remorse. does he deserve to live after a crime of that magnitude? Is it worth spending money keeping in in jail for life?

In my book, he does not to live, and I do not see the point in spending the money keeping an indivudal of his type in prison.

Also, how about genocide - Amon Goethe, the commadant of the Auschwitz death camp was hung for his crimes. So was Adolf Eichmann. Was this justified or not? Given the magnitude of the crime, I believe it was, in both cases.

It's not for revenge I support the execution of these people. It is so they can never do it again, or to perhaps inspire others they may encounter to do it.

FWIW, for crimes other than terrorism or genocide I do not support the death penalty.
posted by tomcosgrave at 1:50 PM on February 13, 2001

Dreama--Jewish? funny, you don't type Jewish. Some of my best typists are Jewish.
posted by Postroad at 1:53 PM on February 13, 2001

Dreama, oh, so when you refer to mosaic law as your reason for believing in capital punishment, are you also for killing people who touch menstrating women, and homosexuals? What if I work on the sabbath? I think maybe going by the old testement for any sort of moral justification for the death penalty is pretty scary.
posted by Doug at 1:55 PM on February 13, 2001

And the beauty of it Doug, is that we don't have to. I was pointing out the fundamental flaw in your reasoning, not society's. Whether or not you choose to believe anything is your business, and what I choose to believe is mine -- I'm not playing games regarding my faith with someone as insulting, patronising and dismissive as you repeatedly show yourself to be.
posted by Dreama at 2:06 PM on February 13, 2001

I don't know who the bell tolls for, but it certainly is not me...
I'm an island.
posted by thirteen at 2:34 PM on February 13, 2001

I may be dismissive, but ultimately it's irking to look around and see people killing other people and justifying it on insane myth. You are more than intitled to your opinion, Dreama, but I'm entitled to think it insane.
posted by Doug at 2:43 PM on February 13, 2001

And ultimately it's irking to watch someone continually insult people because of their beliefs. There's a fine line between free cynical speech and intolerance.
posted by Dreama at 2:55 PM on February 13, 2001

Doug/Dreama: the personal stuff isn't edifying the rest of us anymore. Could you please take it offline?
posted by argybarg at 3:13 PM on February 13, 2001

You kill someone, you must die. This will ensure, you do not do it again. That's my opinion on the matter.
posted by Zool at 3:43 PM on February 13, 2001

Silly Zool, you must never stop giving people chances.

Just because somebody rapes and kills with a rusty knife, does not mean that someday, somehow they might not write a poem, or start a soup kitchen. And if they kill again, start the process over, and eventually they will see the error of their ways.

Surely you can see such a transformation is worth a nearly infinite number of innocent lives.
posted by thirteen at 3:59 PM on February 13, 2001

Thirteen, remember when I didn't want to go here? This is why.
posted by rodii at 4:17 PM on February 13, 2001

(Oops, that wasn't a direct response to your last post, we overlapped.)
posted by rodii at 4:19 PM on February 13, 2001

Rodii: I always get sucked into this conversations. Do you mean my comments, or the overall discussion? Regardless, this is well trod ground, with a few new fellow travellers.
posted by thirteen at 4:22 PM on February 13, 2001

Well... I did not see your second comment either. heh.
posted by thirteen at 4:23 PM on February 13, 2001

If this topic has come up again, then we are due for another big gun control argument in the next week or so. Is it good for everyone if we push the next hate crime thread back until third week of March? My schedule is a bear.
posted by thirteen at 4:26 PM on February 13, 2001

Thirteen, you are absolutely right, from now on i will strive to give people a second chance and a third chance, what the hell, as many as they may need on that long road called, rehabilitation.
posted by Zool at 4:40 PM on February 13, 2001

as long as we're talking about innocent people losing their lives, let's talk about the people who are executed for crimes they didn't commit. dna evidence showed half of illinois deathrow inmates to be innocent. how can anyone support the death penalty in the face of that kind of uncertainty?
posted by pikachulolita at 5:18 PM on February 13, 2001

i was going to stay out of this one, because i get way too pissed off talking about the death penalty...but here i go. to me, DP proponents wallow in the most primitive aspect of humanity. it's all about revenge, and NOTHING ELSE. No other argument holds water. Either you think revenge is OK, or not. I don't.

the death penalty needs to be in place because it is the ultimate penalty.

who's to say that death is the "ultimate penalty"? if someone killed my child, for example, i may not find the killer's death enough. i might want, for example, that his child be killed. after all, suffering the death of a child is much more painful than one's own death. and don't even argue that we shouldn't kill the innocent, because one could easily argue "well, my child was innocent and he was killed. an eye for an eye!" I hear DP advocates cry that bullshit all the time. "My daughter didn't get to live her life, why should this guy get to live his!" it's not that big a leap--or at least it wouldn't be after a generation or two grew up accepting the death penalty as (pardon the pun) a way of life.

i hate to sound like a slippery-slope-ist, but that's the next logical step. after all, look how desensitized kids are from watching all that violence on TV.
posted by jpoulos at 5:47 PM on February 13, 2001

Of course revenge is the true motivation for the death penalty. All you have to do is listen to the comments of victim relatives on television.

The death penalty sends the message to everyone in a society -- including our children -- that killing someone is sometimes justified. It contains a terrible schizophrenia: the state kills someone because killing someone is the ultimate crime.

Capital punishment is very Old Testament; how it can be supported by Christians, who claim to love Jesus and his teachings, and who have serious trouble with taking the life of *babies*, is way beyond my capacity to understand. "As you sow, so shall you reap."
posted by Twang at 5:57 PM on February 13, 2001

Thanks to everyone for giving lots of great ad hominem and Straw Man arguments. Also, special congratulations to Zool and thirteen, who are doing great at showing the MeFi crew exactly how to combine a False Dilemma with a Straw Man argument.

Seriously, though, it's a good thing that there are more options than either using the death penalty or practicing perpetual forgiveness. The best answer, as always, is somewhere in between. However, no proper answer should include any practice of the death penalty because in the wacky world of morality, law, and good practice, the death penalty is just plain Wrong.

The death penalty is Wrong in a moral sense because it takes away a person's Right to Life. Even the most vile criminal does not deserve to be killed by his government. The only time when killing a person is not Wrong is in a situation where self-defense requires it. Why? Because that person may redeem themselves (take the word "redeem" to mean whatever you like, religiously or humanistically). Dead people cannot redeem themselves.

Further, the death penalty is Wrong in a legal sense because it violates the Constitution. Ending someone's life, however "humanely," is the cruellest punishment that can possibly be brought on an individual. As such, it violates the Eighth Amendment.

But worse, the death penalty is Wrong in a practical sense because there is the possibility that a mistake could be made. No honest individual who is at all familiar with our justice system could argue that a mistake could not be made. In my opinion, even one death of an innocent person is too high a price to pay for whatever is gained from all the "correct" executions of true criminals. What if that one person were you?

Just my humble opinions, of course.
posted by daveadams at 6:29 PM on February 13, 2001

The death penalty sends the message to everyone in a society -- including our children -- that killing someone is sometimes justified.

Yes, gotta protect those children from finding out the truth.

Suppose you happen upon what seems to be an attempted murder (certainly a full-on assault) and kill the assailant in the effort of protecting the victim. This is not quite self-defense, but it is protecting someone who is perhaps unable to defend himself, so I don't think most of us would seriously argue it is immoral. (The legalities we'll leave for now.)

Now, suppose you happen upon an attempted murder but realize you have no chance of stopping the assailant. You call the police, who arrest the perp, and later serve as an eyewitness at the trial. Your testimony could kill this man just as dead as if you did it with your own hands. Lots of us find this unacceptable.

The conclusion I must draw is that most of us here think it's all right to kill someone to prevent them from murdering someone, but that once they have succeeded in their evil aims, we must refrain. This puts us in the odd position of finding it acceptable to kill someone who hasn't yet actually committed murder (after all, they might stop short of killing, thereby "redeeming" themselves!), while at the same time finding it unacceptable to kill someone who has. I think this is almost as fascinating as the abortion/capital punishment dichotomy others were batting about up-thread.

posted by kindall at 8:33 PM on February 13, 2001

Daveadams" Wrong with a capital "W" even. You still love me though, don't you Dave? You are right, I should find a real example to base my arguments on, instead of rolling my own. Dhartung had a nice rape/murder spree story on his site a few weeks back, I should have gone and dug that one up to satirize peoples gentle attitude when dealing with monsters.

Still, I think your argument hinges on a universal agreement of morality, and total agreement of what is humane. Since we differ on those points it is hard to continue. Being as this is one of the few times I have the majority of the population on my side, I'm gonna sit back and bask in the glow.
posted by thirteen at 9:02 PM on February 13, 2001

Does this man deserve to live?

Don't worry thirteen, i've dug one up for you.
posted by Zool at 9:55 PM on February 13, 2001

Personally I'm neither for or against the death penalty, at least not strongly. I can see that there is an apparent inconsistency with the current implementation of it. We live in a society that believes that to kill someone is the ultimate crime, and yet our response to that crime is to kill the perpetrator.

In the past, killing was far more common. Old west shoot outs and their dubious reality aside, there were slaves who were mistreated and killed, American Indians who were butchered, and duels were not that uncommon. Death was a more immediate part of life, and thus a death penalty was logical in that context. I'm tempted to say that you can't have it both ways.

On the other hand, I don't think there is a good moral argument AGAINST the death penalty. They all seem to boil down to people yelling "but killing is wrong" which is definitely a convention of our society, but hardly a great truth. Why, after all, is death so much worse when it comes at the hand of a person? Is it because it takes a person's life "before their time?" Not to oversimplify the point, but if we do indeed have a "time" then who is to say the killer wasn't fated to do it? I think perhaps we think of murder so differently than other forms of death simply because the involvement of another person provides a target for the feelings of loss and rage. It gives us someone to blame and attack, in a misguided attempt at "fixing" the situation.

I know I'll probably receive responses of "Well then why don't we all go around killing people?" and "So then why do we have laws at all?" The reason we have laws it to structure a society in such a way that the chances for the things we want, like being safe and secure and free, are maximized, while the things we don't want, theft, murder, and fear, are avoided as much as possible. In that context, if we don't want to have people die than murder is indeed wrong. But realize, it's not wrong because of some godly decree or universal truth, but simply because we have decided that we don't like it.

Of course, I may just be full of it. *grin*
posted by Nothing at 11:03 PM on February 13, 2001

my good moral argument against the death penalty: we can't be sure that each and every one of these people are guilty. just think of the abject terror of being accused of a murder you didn't commit, being convicted of it, and then being sentenced to death - all because your alibi was staying at home reading instead of being with others, or because circumstantial evidence pointed to you. no matter how it happened - just think how absolutely horrifying that must be. there's nothing you can do about it, you're being punished for another's crimes, and everyone thinks you're a murderer. there's nothing you can do. nothing.

that right there is enough to convince me that the death penalty is insane.
posted by pikachulolita at 11:46 PM on February 13, 2001

Freaking Americans and their death penalty. Get over it - everyone else has. Every other country in the world that has any standing at all to serve as an example (by my compass) got rid of it years ago, and now the US stands only on its normal "exceptional" footing, which is practically doctrine now (viz. the land mine treaties that the US got nice client states like Canada to stump for and forced through before refusing to sign on itself).

If you like the myths and stuff - well, god said "vengeance is mine" i.e., NOT yours, ours, jim's, anyone's. I think I ripped that one from West Wing.

If you like law and order stuff - then make the argument about deterrence. No one else has - cause it doesn't work. There is no deterrence argument that stands up to scrutiny.

If you're into strict construction of the constitution, well you've got problems there. The very premise of the thing is the Declaration of Independence, and other then-new political thought, that said straight out that certain rights are inalienable - ie not granted by a government or other body but inherent in individuals by dint of their existence, period. One of those rights is life. The right to life is NOT at the pleasure or discretion of the government - it is inalienable. And that's not just a formal matter - that was, at the time, an express anunciation that other contemporary calculations of the original moment/location of human rights are NOT valid in the US case - that "we hold these truths to be self-evident" WAS the revolution, in a theoretical sense.

There are a dozen other reasons why the death penalty is wrong. The most important to me, oddly enough, is that it's not a damn game. Expediency, base revenge, and a childlike desire for clarity and simplicity are not appropriate excuses to trash the very fundamentals of a system of laws like the US Constitution.

posted by mikel at 4:24 AM on February 14, 2001

I find it interesting that my post regarding the death penalty for cases of genocide and terrorism was overlooked.

I think both are serious enough crimes to warrant execution.
posted by tomcosgrave at 5:37 AM on February 14, 2001

I don't think it's a matter of degree tomcosgrave. Either we (that being Americans) choose to hand out death sentences when we feel they are warranted, or we do not. Either a person dies in the name of justice, or they do not. I don't fall hard on either side of that line, but I also don't think this is an issue with much grey area.
posted by Nothing at 6:07 AM on February 14, 2001

I'm sorry, kindall, did you say "perp"? that's exactly the problem. too many have watched too much NYPD Blue, and think that that's how things should be in "real life". it hard to talk sensibly to cowboys.
posted by jpoulos at 6:30 AM on February 14, 2001

So I happen to know a guy who was a police dispatcher for thirty years and maybe I picked up a word or two from him. I don't see why that makes me a "cowboy." Yee-haw!

For the record, I've never seen an episode of NYPD Blue and am not really that fond of cop shows anyaway.
posted by kindall at 8:15 AM on February 14, 2001

thirteen, of course I still love ya. That's why I have to keep trying to convince you of how totally Wrong you are on this subject. ;)

You're right that we can't assume that everyone has the same morality. But that doesn't address my third reason: that you cannot, in practice, guarantee that you will not make a Mistake and kill an innocent person.

Is the risk that you will kill innocent people in the process of exacting worthless revenge on individuals who don't have to die worthwhile to you?
posted by daveadams at 3:56 PM on February 14, 2001

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