Quote Of The Day

“Punishment has its origins in the demand for justice, and justice is demanded by angry, morally indignant men, men who are angry when someone else is robbed, raped, or murdered, men utterly unlike Camus’s Meursault. This anger is an expression of their caring, and the just society needs citizens who care for each other, and for the community of which they are parts. One of the purposes of punishment, particularly capital punishment, is to recognize the legitimacy of that righteous anger and to satisfy and thereby to reward it. In this way, the death penalty, when duly or deliberately imposed, serves to strengthen the moral sentiments required by a self-governing community.” — Walter Berns, professor of government emeritus at Georgetown University in the Weekly Standard on the intimate connection between the death penalty and religion, and the necessity of the death penalty

22 Responses to “Quote Of The Day”


  • What a load of rubbish the death penalty is. ‘Righteous anger’ in this real world translates into killing more black, poor, mentally challenged than those with the money for decent lawyers. However noble you think killing people is, you still kill more disadvantaged than rich white guys. Forensics gets it wrong on occasion. Police beat suspects and manufacture or hide evidence. Human governments and legal institutions are notoriously corrupt.

    Currently a woman is going to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for being a ‘witch’. This is America’s ally, and this is 2008.

    The death penalty is a complete farce.

  • I agree.
    “Righteous anger” is almost oxymoronic. And even if we accept it as a concept, its existence doesn’t justify capital punishment.

  • Personally, my main support for the death penalty stems from the fact that the death penalty saves lives, a significant number of lives, see here (“Each execution deters an average of 18 murders”).

    As far as the racial aspect of the death penalty, that depends on your angle, one could say the death penalty helps remedy racial injustices:

    murderers of black people were less likely to be executed than murderers of white people. Since blacks were more likely to murder other blacks than to murder whites, this meant that blacks were less rather than more likely to be executed than whites, relative to the respective murder rates of the two races. (Blacks commit murders at a much higher rate than whites.) The explanation offered was that judges and juries tended to set a lower value on black victims of murder than on white ones. From this some observers inferred that capital punishment discriminates against blacks. The inference is incorrect. The proper inference is that murderers of blacks are underpunished”.

  • “This anger is an expression of their caring,..”

    Wow, this guy is really out there to the extreme right. Very paternalistic view of things, sort of like a Dad saying “this is going to hurt me more than it is you” and then laying on a good whipping.

    The problem (that has already been identifed by fellow posters) is that the death penalty is not applied equally. And, an even greater problem is that a number of innocent people have been put to death after being found “guilty” by a jury of their so-called peers. Later DNA evidence has revealed that they did not commit the crime. I’m not saying that all are innocent, but the fact that just 1 person is wrongly put to death should be enough to aboloish the death penalty in this country.

    The other problem with “righteous anger” is that leads one to believe that “somebody has got to pay” for the crime. God help you if you are poor and black or brown and accused of a serious crime, especially in Texas, because more than likely you will pay.

  • What do you think of my quote in the comment above TacoSam? In many ways, the death penalty helps alleviate racial injustice in the justice system.

    Back to the original quote, I know that has been my experience. The people who I find most likely to support the death penalty are always the very people who find crime so repugnant. The two seem to go hand in hand. My dad for example, has one of the highest hardwork and moral ethics I know, and he thinks there should be an expressway for killers and child rapists.

    Of course we should make sure the killers are the killers, I am all for DNA evidence and a strict requirement of evidence…but once we know they are the killers, the death penalty seems the logical step.

    Factor in the lives it saves (about 18 / execution) and it seems like a no brainer.

  • 18 times?
    I think you may want to read how that figure originated.
    References to other journals are all included in this link – so I shall quote from -

    http://www.soci.niu.edu/~critcrim/dp/dppapers/mike.deterence

    While most deterrence research has found that the death penalty has virtually the same effect as long imprisonment on homicide rates, in the mid-1970′s economist Isaac Ehrlich reported that his research had uncovered a significant deterrent effect. He estimated that each execution between 1933 and 1969 had prevented eight homicides. This research gained widespread attention, in part because Solicitor General Robert Bork used it to defend the death penalty in the 1970′s when the Supreme Court was considering whether to make permanent its 1972 ban of the death penalty. Although Ehrlich’s work was strongly criticized for methodological and conceptual shortcomings by scholars and even a panel appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, it continues to be cited by some as more or less conclusive proof that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on homicide.

    A student of Ehrlich’s, Stephen Layson, later reported his estimation that each execution deterred approximately 18 homicides. This
    research, too, was criticized as fatally flawed, but nonetheless it continues to be embraced by proponents of the death penalty.

    YET HERE IT IS – The results clearly show that approximately
    eighty percent of the experts in criminology believe, on the
    basis of the literature and research in criminology, that the
    death penalty DOES NOT have significant deterrent effects. In
    addition, no matter how measured, it is clear that the
    criminologists are much more likely than the general public to
    dismiss the deterrence argument.

  • Did you read my link? It addresses that and is much more up to date than yours is. The link, again, can be found here.

    Here are the relevant quotes:

    “Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,” said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.”

    A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. “The results are robust, they don’t really go away,” he said. “I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?”

    Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory — if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

    Don’t like that? Here is Richard Posner on the topic:

    “Early empirical analysis by Isaac Ehrlich found a substantial incremental deterrent effect of capital punishment, a finding that coincides with the common sense of the situation: it is exceedingly rare for a defendant who has a choice to prefer being executed to being imprisoned for life. Ehrlich’s work was criticized by some economists, but more recent work by economists Hashem Dezhbakhsh, Paul Rubin, and Joanna Shepherd provides strong support for Ehrlich’s thesis; these authors found, in a careful econometric analysis, that one execution deters 18 murders

    Still unconvinced? Take a look at this graph (second graph) showing what happened to the murder rate when capital punishment was temporarily abolished in the United States and what happened when it was reinstanted…precisely as the death penalty studies above would predict.

    If you are still unconvinced, then I would feel safe to write it off as bias on your part. :-D

  • Or bias on the part of human beings who want convicted people killed but who do not have the nerve to do it themselves. There is no infallible way of determining the actual effects of death penalty on crime rate. In some cases murder rates actually increase.

    In the case of drug mules they are recruited and if the penalty for drug running increases it just costs more money to get the drug mules and to pay off the corrupt police and customs officials. But nothing actually stops. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

    But what about the innocent? And people who become ‘political prisoners’ after a change of government?

    If people actually accept death penalty reduces crime, then know also you are killing innocents who should not be on death penalty in your quest for ‘Righteous anger’.

    And the countries that still have death penalty are either kidnapping people and torturing them like the US, or are dangerous 3rd world and Mid-east nations with dictators and hellish laws and security forces.

    Your in great company.

  • For the record, I am in favor of the death penalty in the United States…not necessarily in other countries – for many of the reasons you stated above.

  • I read your excerpt and your old post that you linked to. They don’t sway me. Have you read the actual study or just the summary quoted in the news article? Just curious.

    For a time I was in favor of the death penalty. I have since changed my mind for a number of reasons. On a deeper level, I firmly believe that “no person has the right to take another person’s life”. Period. The murderer did not have the right to take the victim’s life, and by the same token, the State does not have the right to take the murderer’s life. Its that basic to me.

    HP, if you support the death penalty, are you yourself willing to be the executioner? Are you yourself willing and able to take another person’s life? If there is nothing inherently wrong with the Death Penalty then your answer should be “yes” to these two questions.

  • See, this is where we disagree. If the state has a right to lock you up for life and take most of your liberties, I think the state has a right to execute you for egregious crimes. I wouldn’t support the death penalty in all countries (for some of the reasons mentioned above) but I do agree with the general principle.

    As for your question, if the person was proven guilty with high enough standards (say, a DNA test) and committed an egregious crime (say murder, or child rape), then sure, I would have no problem in pulling the switch. My dad, for example, would probably be willing to do it for free on weekends. ;-)

    With that said, I want to conclude with a final point that seems to be getting ignored here. We can moralize and theorize all we want, but the overwhelming consensus is that the death penalty deters crime, especially murder. The estimates run from 5 – 18 murders deterred per execution. So if there is any reason to support the death penalty, it is because of how many lives it saves.

    So the more pertinent question for you TacoSam is, if you do not support the death penalty, are you yourself willing to accept a loved ones murder? Are you yourself willing and able to accept 5 – 18 innocent peoples lives lost? If we followed your logic to its logical end then your answer should be “yes” to these two questions.

  • HP, if, as you state, you are willing to kill someone for their “egregious” crimes, then I guess we are on opposite sides of this issue.

    By the way, Child Rape is not punishible by death in this country. Why is child rape more egregious than say the rape of an adult woman? What is the cutoff age for a child? 12? 14? 18? Where do you draw the line?

    I suggest to you that one problem with your position is that the standard of evidence in use in this country is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. There is no higher standard available to satisfy your “high enough standards” factor. Further, DNA tests are not required and I have read reports of prosecutors actually withholding exculpatory DNA evidence. And sometimes DNA would not matter because there is no DNA link to the murder (think Scott Peterson or a murder for hire).

    You can quote studies and statistics all day, but if what you believe is true–that the Death Penalty “saves lives”–then how do you explain the murder rates (low or high) in other countries that do not have the death penalty?

    With respect to your last question, the way you phrased it, my answer is “no”. Of course I won’t “accept” a loved one’s murder. No one in their right mind would. If the question is should the murderer get life in prison or the death penalty, then I would choose life in prison.

    With respect to your last question again, a young boy by the name of Larry King was murdered in the classroom two weeks ago. For privacy reasons, I cannot disclose the connection, but Larry King was not just a random person to me or my family. I wrote about it here: http://tacosypalabras.wordpress.com/2008/02/13/prayers-needed/

    I am still having a very hard time accepting Larry’s senseless death/murder. This horrendous crime affected me and my family very much. However, I do not support the Death Penalty for the shooter. Larry is gone, a life cut way too short, and the Death Penalty for the shooter will not bring Larry back, nor did it save Larry’s life. RIP Larry.

  • You are still dodging my question. When I say that “the death penalty deters crime, especially murder”, I am not referring to murder by the original killer. I am talking about deterring murder by other killers, new, unrelated murders, that would not have occurred had the death penalty been performed instead of mere life in prison.

    So again TacoSam, my question to you is this: “if you do not support the death penalty, are you yourself willing to accept a loved ones murder?” Or do you wish these innocent lives lost fall on other families?

    You are the one who started the “if you are for position X, would you do Y” questioning, I am responding in kind. You abolish the death penalty, more innocent lives will be lost.

    I am saddened by the loss of your friend. My sincere condolences. But again, it is precisely because innocent lives like that are so precious that I support the death penalty. 5 – 18 innocent lives saved per convicted murderer executed…throw that around in your head for a while before you are so quick to respond.

  • To me the death penalty is real simple; Some one CHOOSE to take a life, now the payment is their life.

    The person who is dead will never be able to take another lung full of air, or smile, or anything else.

    It’s not even a valid academic argument to say that we “As a civilized society don’t need the death penalty as a deterrent”.

    All the equal rights that the victim had are GONE FOR EVER, because the killer choose to take away ALL of those rights.

    Even the killer in jail has rights,but again that does not exist for the victim.

  • I didn’t mean to dodge your question. I don’t think of myself as a question dodger! :) I thought I answered it in Paragraph 5 of my post at 12:52 p.m.

    I think what you are saying is that if we have the Death Penalty in place, then Potential Murderer will not commit murder because of the Death Penalty consequence (i.e., Potential Murder will refrain from committing murder because of the knowledge that if Potential Murderer gets convicted then its automatic death penalty for Potential Murderer). Did I understand you correctly?

    If so, then based on what I have read and studied (yes, both sides of this issue), I do not believe that the Death Penalty deters crime or saves lives for the following reasons:

    1. I think that most murders occur during the heat of the moment, crimes of passion, fights, disputes, drug deals, etc. where the murders are not thinking “hmmm, lets see, if I kill this person, then its likely that I am going to fry in the electric chair! That settles it, I won’t kill this person.” When people kill in these instances, they are not thinking about the consequences of their actions.

    2. EVERY criminal thinks that they are going to get away with the crime (i.e., its the “perfect crime” and that they will never get caught), hence the possibility of consequences for the crime is easily dismissed by the criminal. Think of Scott Peterson–he had everything worked out and then the bodies floated onshore. I am sure he knew about the Death Penalty and it did not deter him because he thought he had the perfect crime. Another example is bank robbery– its is a federal crime with a guaranteed long prison sentence. However, the fact that there is a long jail sentence does not deter bank robbers because they inherently think they are going to get away with the crime.

    I think that my original question to you is valid, and applies to all positions that a person maintains. If you support a position, you must be able to back it up with your actions. For example, if you support corporal punishment, you must be willing to do it yourself. If you support McCain (or Hillary or Obama), you must be willing to vote for McCain (or Hillary or Obama). And so forth.

    To clarify my previous response and although I don’t like the way you phrased your question to me, I suppose my answer to your question would be “yes” because I do not support the Death Penalty. And, I quailfy my response by stating that Life in Prison does not equal “acceptance” of a loved ones murder.

    I believe that all life is precious. You made a statement that I find interesting: “…it is precisely because innocent lives like that are so precious that I support the death penalty.” If life is so “precious” and worthy of protection, then how does that equate with supporting “death” and the taking of another person’s life? Is all life precious or just “innocent lives”? Is a convicted murder’s life worth less than an innocent person’s life? What if a convicted murderer or rapist was himself/herself murdered in prison? Is that life less precious?

    I would be curious to know what your position is on abortion. And if you are anti-abortion/pro-life how you reconcile that view (protecting the unborn life) with your support of the death penalty. But that is another question for another day. :)

    I also posted various questions in my 12:52 p.m. response that you did not answer. Just look for the questions marks if you want to continue the discussion.

  • TacoSam, if, as you state, you are willing to accept a loved ones (or anybody elses loved ones, for that matter) murder to prevent another murderer from getting the death penalty, then I guess we are on opposite sides of this issue.

    Couple of points. First, the consensus on this question is that the death penalty does in fact deter murders. As the quotes I mentioned above show (with studies from economists, lawyers, judges, and professors), each execution deters between 5 and 18 murders.

    As far as your objections go, remember, nobody is claiming that the death penalty deters all murders, only 5 – 18 murders per execution. Yes, some (many?) murders are done in the heat of passion but some (many?) are not. I presume that the death penalty would deter more of the latter group than the former, but it deters overall murder nonetheless. Same goes for part two. See here for some analysis on how laws affect criminal behavior.

    You ask, in your post @ 12:50 pm, “You can quote studies and statistics all day, but if what you believe is true–that the Death Penalty “saves lives”–then how do you explain the murder rates (low or high) in other countries that do not have the death penalty?”

    A good question. Do me a favor, and take a look at this graph (second graph) showing what happened to the murder rate when capital punishment was temporarily abolished in the United States and what happened when it was reinstated…how do you explain that?

    Still unconvinced? Take a look at this second graph on how the death penalty affected the murder rate in Canada, see here.

    Still unconvinced? Take a look at this graph on how the death penalty affected the murder rate in Australia, see here.

    Still unconvinced? Take a look at this graph on how the death penalty affected the murder rate in England, see here.

    Still unconvinced? Take a look at the graphs on how the murder rate changes between countries that change their death penalty laws and those that don’t, see here.

    Still unconvinced? What more evidence would someone have to provide to convince you?

    You ask, “If life is so “precious” and worthy of protection, then how does that equate with supporting “death” and the taking of another person’s life?” You misunderstood my statement. Re-read what I wrote above. I wrote, “…it is precisely because innocent lives like that are so precious that I support the death penalty.” The keyword in that statement is “innocent”. I don’t believe all life is precious. For example, I don’t believe Hitlers life is precious. I don’t believe Stalins life is precious. I don’t believe Che’s life is precious. Do you? The subtle difference between innocence and guilt explains how someone (like myself) can be pro-life and for the death penalty. The two are perfectly consistent.

    With that said, who do you think really values innocent life higher, the proponent of the death penalty or the opponent? Remember, it is only the proponents of the death penalty who argue for giving a murderer the higher punishment. It is also only the proponents of the death penalty who take into account the 5 – 18 innocent lives saved for every execution.

    Remember, 5 – 18 innocent precious lives saved.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but those graphs you cite were created by an anonymous blogger! For the Canadian graph, the anonymous blogger admits to creating the graph himself/herself because he/she did not trust Amnesty International’s skills at empirical analysis:

    “After thinking about this, it occurred to me that Amnesty International, though well meaning, is an activist organization that is not highly skilled in the analysis and interpretation of empirical evidence. As such, I decided not to let them do my thinking for me. It did not take me long to realize that they have it all wrong.”

    As the anonymous blogger so emphatically claims, anyone can manipulate data or not possess adequate skills at “empirical analysis”. Which also means that the anonymous blogger might also be well meaning, but how do we know anonymous blogger has adequate skills at empirical anaylsis?

    Most importantly, Anonymous Blogger also makes the point that you cannot make a causal connection between the Death Penalty and the murder rate (which I agree). I think that this alleged causal connection (that your source warns about not making, but then goes ahead and makes the causal connection anyway), is what drives your argument–that because the Death Penalty is in place, it causes 5-18 lives to be saved.

    However, my viewpoint is not based on the murder rate, Amnesty International’s viewpoint, an anonymous blogger’s graphs, or simply because I think that the Death Penalty does or does not deter murder. Rather, my viewpoint is based on, and is different from yours because of, a philosohpical reason, or “moral” reason if you want to use that label.

    I believe that ALL human life is precious, not just some. Yes, even Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Che’s and Scott Peterson’s life is “precious”. I do not believe that you can differentiate as to whose life is precious and whose life is not precious.

    However, my belief that all human life is precious is not inconsistent with also believing that a person should held accountable for their crimes. I am not saying that Hitler, Stalin, Che or whoever should not pay for their crimes. They should pay for their crimes, but not with their lives.

    I suppose that the belief that you can differentiate between the life of Person A and the life of Person B has been used throughout history to justify killing others (all wars, the holocaust, genocide used this type of reasoning). Simply put, the reasoning is that I can take your life away because your life is worth less than mine for X reason. X being you are a murderer, the wrong color, the wrong religion, the wrong sect, etc.

    Because I believe that ALL human life is precious, I don’t believe that I or the government has the philosophical or moral authority or the right to judge whose life should be taken away.

    The concept of “innocence” is also very interesting and factors into this discussion, especially given the fact that our justice system, although the best in the world, is deeply flawed. First, if you don’t have money your legal representation will most likely not be the best available–you will be provided with a government-paid public defender (an inherit conflict of interest). If you have a lot of money or celebrity, you may get different results as has been evidenced so many times.

    That is why innocent people get convicted sometimes (you’ve read the news reports) and guilty people sometimes get off on technicalities or for other reasons (see OJ Simpson, Kobe Bryant, Phil Specter, etc.). If you say that you value innocent life, what do you say to the one person who is on death row that was wrongly convicted or did not have sufficient money to mount a proper defense or was stuck with inefficient legal counsel? Just think back to the South in the last 200 hundred years and the all white juries.

  • I linked to the anonymous blogger because his data and analysis is geared more towards the average joe and is explained in lay mens terms. A lot of his data is also fairly accessible, so if you disagree with a particular graph, you can go to the data and graph it yourself. This, IMHO, is more informative than some university study with all the fancy math.

    But don’t let that confuse you. My continued basis for supporting the death penalty is the empirical scholarly studies showing that it does in fact deter. As I said above, the studies I cite range from economists, judges, University professors, mainstream news (Yahoo news!, hardly considered a pro-capital punishment site) and others – all claiming that the general consensus is that the death penalty does in fact deter crime. Everything else is secondary, supportive at most (which, if you take a look at all the graphs I linked to, cumulatively, does point to causation).

    You write, “my viewpoint is based on, and is different from yours because of, a philosohpical reason, or “moral” reason if you want to use that label….I believe that ALL human life is precious, not just some.”

    Fine, but the question that immediately comes to mind is what about those 5 – 18 lives that would be saved? Do you not believe that their lives are precious? I certainly do. You have already established that you believe, “even Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Che’s and Scott Peterson’s life is “precious”, but my question to you is do you believe that the 5 – 18 innocent lives that would be saved are also precious?

    In other words, I can make the same argument you make. I can argue that all life is precious (a point I tend to overall agree with – at some level) but what concerns me most is the 5 – 18 innocent lives that would be saved. It is not as simple as to say “I believe all life is precious” and call it a day. Life will be lost regardless, the question is whose life. You argue for the murderer, I argue for the 5 – 18 innocent lives. So in the end, who do you think holds life more precious?

    You make an interesting point when you write, “I suppose that the belief that you can differentiate between the life of Person A and the life of Person B has been used throughout history to justify killing others (all wars, the holocaust, genocide used this type of reasoning). Simply put, the reasoning is that I can take your life away because your life is worth less than mine for X reason. X being you are a murderer, the wrong color, the wrong religion, the wrong sect, etc.”

    I am curious TacoSam, are you a pacifist? Would you have, say, approved of the ordered killing of Hitler during WWII? Assuming of course, no innocent lives would be lost, only his. Would you?

    Or, since you so proudly claim to ‘believe that ALL human life is precious’, I am also curious, what are your views on abortion? Do you also consider unborn children worthy of your moral protection? Or only convicted murderers?

    You write, “Because I believe that ALL human life is precious, I don’t believe that I or the government has the philosophical or moral authority or the right to judge whose life should be taken away.” Why not? You have said this a couple of times but I don’t understand the distinction. Presuming you believe that the government has the right to lock you up and take away your liberties for the rest of your life….why that and not the death penalty? What is the moral distinction, in your mind? Especially when you consider that the government would also be “taking” more innocent life (the 5 – 18 innocent lives that would have been saved) by not executing the convicted murderer.

    You do make a valid point when you ask, “If you say that you value innocent life, what do you say to the one person who is on death row that was wrongly convicted or did not have sufficient money to mount a proper defense or was stuck with inefficient legal counsel?”. In fact, if there was one thing that could sway me against the death penalty, it would be this. This is why, for example, I support the death penalty here in the United States but not say, in Nigeria. Or today as opposed to during the antebellum era.

    With that said though, I don’t think this applies to todays death penalty cases. Richard Posner, professor of law at the University of Chicago and a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, writes this:

    As for the risk of executing an innocent person, this is exceedingly slight, especially when a distinction is made between legal and factual innocence. Some murderers are executed by mistake in the sense that they might have a good legal defense to being sentenced to death, such as having been prevented from offering evidence in mitigation of their crime, such as evidence of having grown up in terrible circumstances that made it difficult for them to resist the temptations of a life of crime. But they are not innocent of murder. The number of people who are executed for a murder they did not commit appears to be vanishingly small.

    It is so small, however, in part because of the enormous protraction of capital litigation. The average amount of time that a defendant spends on death row before being executed is about 10 years. If the defendant is innocent, the error is highly likely to be discovered within that period. It would be different if execution followed the appeal of the defendant’s sentence by a week. But the delay in execution not only reduces the deterrent effect of execution (though probably only slightly) but also makes capital punishment quite costly, since there is a substantial imprisonment cost on top of the heavy litigation costs of capital cases, with their endless rounds of appellate and postconviction proceedings.

    Although it may seem heartless to say so, the concern with mistaken execution seems exaggerated. The number of people executed in all of 2004 was, as I noted, only 59. (The annual number has not exceeded 98 since 1951.) Suppose that were it not for the enormous delays in execution, the number would have been 60, and the additional person executed would have been factually innocent. The number of Americans who die each year in accidents exceeds 100,000; many of these deaths are more painful than death by lethal injection, though they are not as humiliating and usually they are not anticipated, which adds a particular dread to execution. Moreover, for what appears to be a psychological reason (the “availability heuristic”), the death of a single, identified person tends to have greater salience than the death of a much larger number of anonymous persons. As Stalin is reported to have quipped, a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

    But that’s psychology; there is an economic argument for speeding up the imposition of the death penalty on convicted murderers eligible for the penalty; the gain in deterrence and reduction in cost are likely to exceed the increase in the very slight probability of executing a factually innocent person. What is more, by allocating more resources to the litigation of capital cases, the error rate could be kept at its present very low level even though delay in execution was reduced.

    The full post can be found here.

    In addition to the above, again, it is important to remember the 5 – 18 innocent lives that are saved for each execution. Their lives are also very precious.

  • HP, as an aside, your style of argument reminds me of my oldest brother, who is also a civil engineer. He is always right on every issue and sees the world in bright line black and white. It must be the science/engineering background where there has to be a verifyable measurement and 2+2=4 every single time. Once one arrives at an answer, that’s it, everything else is wrong. No room for the gray area of an issue. :) So be it. There is room for all of us in this world.

    As an aside part II, I like it much better when you pose and flesh out your arguments in your own words. When you just throw out quotes or say “see here” and provide a link, you kind of lose me. Especially if its a good discussion like this and then you just send me off to read a long article or 10 inch quote from Posner. If I wanted that, I can go to the library or do my own research. Just saying, you know. :)

    You pose a lot of difficult questions for me. I suppose that “ethical” or “moral” questions by their very nature are extremeley difficult because if you really think about them and analyze them, they challenge your deeply held beliefs, morals and values. Last night, my wife and I had a long and colorful discussion on the death penalty. We discussed the death penalty for minors given the fact that the boy who shot Larry King was 14, but is being tried as an adult. That opened up a whole other discussion.

    I’ll address your points/questions one at a time:

    1. Anonymous Blogger charts and data. I have no real skills at empirical analysis so I can’t do my own charts as you suggested. But if Anonymous Blogger can question the motives behind Amnesty International’s data/graph, then I think the same should apply to Anonymous Blogger. In short, I don’t put stock in Amnesty International nor do I put stock in Anonymous Blogger or Rush Limbaugh.

    2. You said that your support of the death penalty is based on the fact that “empirical scholarly studies show that it does in fact deter”. Fine, I can accept that. For the sake of argument, what would your position be if there were no empirical studies or if the empirical studies were inconclusive?

    3. You ask “Fine, but the question that immediately comes to mind is what about those 5 – 18 lives that would be saved?” I admit, this is a very difficult question for me. In essence, it is do I kill 1 person to save 5-18 lives. I think Truman faced this same type of question also when dropping the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima. You answered the question yourself when you said that “life will be lost regardless” so go for the least amount of lives killed. I am struggling with this question because I know that in the real world, it is not that simple as they way you phrase the question. I wish it were that black and white–that if we could execute 10 murderers, then 180 people would be saved. Unfortunately, I don’t agree that its that simple, or that black and white. And as your Anonymous Blogger warned, I do not draw a causal connection between the Death Penalty and the murder rate because there are so many other variables that affect the murder rate. For the sake of argument, however, of course, 18 lives saved are worth more than 1 life. Unless I am watching Saving Private Ryan!

    4. You ask “I am curious TacoSam, are you a pacifist?” That is also a very good question that I have struggled with. However, I don’t know what you would classify as a “pacifist”? If you give me a definition, I will think about it some more. I do know I was not a pacifist before, especially growing up in Highland Park. The truth is that I don’t know if I am or not at this point. I suppose I can never be a true pacifist. I thought about this question all morning long and I wondered what is going to happen when my kid comes home from school one day and tells me that little Joey hit him/her. What will my response be? To be honest, it probably will not be pacifist.

    5. Because I am not a true pacifist, I would have approved of the killing of Hitler to end the war and save millions of lives.

    6. Yes, I believe that all human life is precious, including the unborn child. Its funny, many pro-lifers point to the bible as justification for their view, but at the same time support the death penalty. I’m sorry, but one of the ten commandments is “thou shall not kill.” I emphasize the “period”. It does not say, “thou shall not kill, except for convicted murders”. There are no exceptions or no exclusions to that commandment.

    I will respond to the rest of your questions at a later time in a separate post.

  • Yeah, that’s probably why I have a hard time getting into foreign policy and civil liberty topics. They cannot be compartmentalized as ‘black and white’ like say, economics, the death penalty, and other topics I enjoy can. One side says ‘national security’ the other side says ‘violation of civil liberty’…where to draw the line? They are both right and wrong at the same time. So confusing. Anyway, to your questions,

    2. This is a good question. I have to admit that the proposition that the death penalty deters crime also appeals to me on an intuitive basis. So I would be inclined to be skeptical of any study that said otherwise. For example, what would you say if I told you that if Honda increases the price of all of its vehicles by 10%, it would still sell the same amount of vehicles. Wouldn’t you be skeptical of that statement? Granted, we can think of some very limited circumstances where that would be true but we all intuitively understand that if the cost of something goes up, people will buy less of it. Same goes for the death penalty. You make murder more expensive (by executing the murderers) people will likely commit less of it. Simple.

    Then comes experience. As someone who grew up in Compton, an area with a high level of crime and gangs, throughout the years I have met my fair share of murderers. And the claim that murderers do not respond to incentives, that all murders are done in the heat of passion, and that murderers are not thinking about their possible conviction strikes me as naive and severely misguided. Gangsters (the only real type of murderers I have had any experience with) do think about these things. In fact, talking to a gangster is almost like talking to a first year law student…they have all sorts of advice on what to do if you get caught, what the police can and cannot arrest you for. What you should do in this situation and that situation. They do pay attention to crime laws. Surprisingly so. Second, they are very aware to what will likely happen to them if they get caught and do what they can to avoid it. For example, one of the more common practices used when I was growing up is for an adult gangmember to pressure an adolescent one to do the crime, knowing that his punishment will be alot less severe. Many other examples can be provided, but my general point is that it has been my experience (from the limited number of murderer gangmembers I’ve known) that murderers do in fact respond to incentives, think about the crime, and take into account likely convictions. Enough of them atleast for me to believe the death penalty to have some deterrent effect.

    So does that mean I would dismiss every empirical evidence showing the contrary? No, not necessarily. But I would be alot more selective and read more fully any study stating that. In the end though, if I was convinced by the math and integrity of the study I would abandon my belief that the death penalty deters.

    3. You write, “For the sake of argument, however, of course, 18 lives saved are worth more than 1 life.” We are definitely making progress here. The trad-off becomes even easier to make when you factor in two separate premises: 1. A murderer’s life is less valuable than an innocents (though I know that language makes you uneasy, I’m only making relative comparisons – not absolute) 2. Many (most?) of the people on death row do not have their quilt in question. For example, Tuki Williams, even he admitted to doing the crime. There was no question of “are we convicting an innocent man”.

    4. Here is a good test – do you think it was a noble thing to be a soldier on the allied side in WWII?

    5. Exactly! This is the same in principle as our current discussion, only different in magnitude. You see, we agree. :-)

    6. I am extremely pro-life. Some say even radically so. And as previous discussions on that topic reveal (see here and here, for two examples) I do not base my support on the bible. So I’m free to kill all I want…guilty people that is. ;-)

    Btw, you are right that it is unfair of me to send you to link after link when all you have done is presented your personal opinion. I do want to say that I recognize your sincerity and effort in this discussion and appreciate the back and forth. It is in situations like this where I learn the most. So trust me when I say I appreciate it. And to show my appreciation, if we ever do meet in person, drinks are on me!

  • To continue my post of Feb 27th, 2008 at 2:16 pm:

    7. You ask about the distinction I draw between the government having the right to take your liberty away for life on the one hand, and taking away your life on the other hand. I draw it because I believe the right to life is fundamental (the same argument you use for anti-abortion) and no one (or government) has the right to take it away. Once your life is gone, its gone. No way to redress any errors. With respect to the government locking you up in jail, yes, it is taking away a person’s liberties, but I think that is acceptable because there is some sort of due process (however flawed) that should allow some protection against erroneously locking someone up in jail.

    8. Judge Posner, I know him well. I guess he is fond of Stalin by using one of his quotes. Even Posner admits that an innocent person is probably executed, but dismisses it away by rationalizing that (i) the risk is small, and (ii) the delay between conviction and execution is long, the error is likely to be discovered. For me, even one innocent person dying is too much. I wonder how Posner would feel if it was his son who was executed after being wrongly convicted. What do you say to the parents of the man or woman who was innocent but still executed? Sorry, but your concern is exaggerated? In short, Posner rationalizes it by basically saying that killing a small number of innocents is the cost of doing business if you want to have a death penalty. I don’t buy it–making an “economic argument” about the value of life. If you use that same reasoning, you can make an “economic argument” for abortion–by allowing abortion, there will be less unwanted children, less welfare, less criminals, less people in poverty, etc. Its the same type of argument that I have trouble buying into.

    With respect to your post on Feb 27th, 2008 at 7:20 pm:

    Too bad I don’t drink anymore! My drinking days are long gone, especially now that I am going to be a father. I have to set a good example for my son. I will gladly accept a Cappuccino, though! :)

    On the contrary, I don’t see topics like economics and the death penalty as “black and white”. There are just too many variables. For example, are we in a recession? There is not even agreement by economists on the definition of recession! And contrary to what you have learned in school, science is not exact or definitive. Science keeps changing as we learn more, and the accepted “truths” in science are being constantly disproved. Just look at the field of medicine or astronomy as an example. If everything was black and white, we’d still be treating mental illness with lobotomies, and we’d all still believe the earth was flat. In short, we are still searching for that one theory that will explain the universe.

    So my thinking is that if one wants to truly learn, you have to come from an understanding that there can be no subject that is black and white, and sometimes, no “true” difinitive answer. I know, it sounds a little new agey, but how do you explain the advances in science and knowledge if not for that one person who challenged the status quo. Its my obligation as a student of the world to make sure that my education is never finished.

    That said, I don’t think you anwered my question: For the sake of argument, what would your position be if there were no empirical studies? Its seems to me that your whole argument for supporting the death penalty is the empirical studies. I think you only answered with respect to inconclusinve studies. Take the empirical studies completely away and what do you have? What is your position then?

    HP, you really hang out with some violent people! :) The cream of our society. Remind me to never cross you or your friends. And please, don’t insult 1st year law students by comparing them to gang members.

  • You don’t drink? I’ve never met a latino that didn’t drink…I kid, I kid. :-) I can respect that. A Cappuccino it is.

    With regard to the governments authority, you write, “I draw it because I believe the right to life is fundamental (the same argument you use for anti-abortion) and no one (or government) has the right to take it away. Once your life is gone, its gone.” This still confuses me…you do agree that the government has the right to take some of your liberties away, even taking them for the rest of ones life, do you not? I mean, do you not believe liberties are fundamental? What’s the difference then? Remember, for people on death row there is also (some would argue more so) “some sort of due process (however flawed) that should allow some protection against erroneously locking someone up in jail”.

    In fact, your argument, taken to a logical level can be an argument against defensive wars in general, after all, are they not governments intentionally taking human life? Wait you say, defensive wars are wars fought for the overall preservation of life, they are meant to protect life, not kill it. Ah, but that is the same argument I am making with the death penalty….I am not arguing, remember, for the death penalty for the sake of revenge, I am arguing in support of the death penalty precisely because it saves lives.

    Or, to put it another way, the government is killing somebody regardless…the question we are discussing here is who that someone should be, not whether. You are arguing that the convicted murderer should be spared and the 5 — 18 innocent people should be the ones to die (by the governments inaction). I, on the other hand, am arguing that it is the convicted murderer that should be killed (by the governments action), and the 5 — 18 innocent people that should live. That’s the fundamental difference between your side and mine.

    You write, “For me, even one innocent person dying is too much. I wonder how Posner would feel if it was his son who was executed after being wrongly convicted. What do you say to the parents of the man or woman who was innocent but still executed? Sorry, but your concern is exaggerated?” I read this and cheer, again, this is exactly why I support the death penalty. But while you are up at night worried about the convicted murderers fate, I am thinking about the 5 – 18 innocent lives that could be saved. I wonder TacoSam, how would you feel if it was your son who was killed because the death penalty was not performed? What do you say to the parents of the man or women who was innocent but still killed because of a lack of the death penalty? Sorry, but your concern is exaggerated? The same arguments you pose to Posner can be posed right back at you, and with stronger force.

    No matter how much you try, you cannot make this a difference between ‘killing’ vs ‘not killing’. After all, if there is one side that cares more about the preservation of human life – especially innocent human life – it is the proponents of the death penalty….remember, 5 — 18 innocent lives saved?

    Btw, again, the fundamental difference between the death penalty and abortion is not ‘killing’, it is the intentional killing of innocent human beings. No society, no people, in all of history, have ever thought the intentional killing of innocent persons acceptable, that is a something that uniquely came about with abortion. In the death penalty we are not talking about innocent people, we are talking about convicted murderers.

    You ask, “For the sake of argument, what would your position be if there were no empirical studies?” If the empirical evidence was silent on the matter, if it didn’t go in one direction or the other, my default position would probably be a proponent of the death penalty (for reasons mentioned above…it just logically makes more sense that the death penalty has some deterrent effect).

    Oh, about Compton, it was difficult not to, gangmembers are everywhere in the city. Trying to live in your neighborhood without almost daily contact with them would be like living in an upper class neighborhood without contact to limousine liberals – it’s near impossible. ;-)

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