Archive for the 'DeathPenalty' Category

Quote Of The Day

“A major theme of the Court’s opinion is that permitting the death penalty in child-rape cases is not in the best interests of the victims of these crimes and society at large. In this vein, the Court suggests that it is more painful for child-rape victims to testify when the prosecution is seeking the death penalty. Ante, at 32. The Court also argues that “a State that punishes child rape by death may remove a strong incentive for the rapist not to kill the victim,” ante, at 35, and may discourage the reporting of child rape, ante, at 34–35.
These policy arguments, whatever their merits, are simply not pertinent to the question whether the death penalty is “cruel and unusual” punishment. The Eighth Amendment protects the right of an accused. It does not authorize this Court to strike down federal or state criminal laws on the ground that they are not in the best interests of crime victims or the broader society. The Court’s policy arguments concern matters that legislators should—and presumably do—take into account in deciding whether to enact a capital child-rape statute, but these arguments are irrelevant to the question that is before us in this case. Our cases have cautioned against using “ ‘the aegis of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause’ to cut off the normal democratic processes,” Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 323 (2002) (Rehnquist, C. J., dissenting), in turn quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U. S. 153, 176 (1976), (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and STEVENS, JJ.), but the Court forgets that warning here.” –Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, dissenting in the Supreme Courts decision to ban the death penalty in child rape cases

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

Studies Say Death Penalty Deters Crime

Yahoo News Reports what common sense already tells us:

Studies say death penalty deters crime

By ROBERT TANNER, AP National Writer Sun Jun 10, 2:01 PM ET

Anti-death penalty forces have gained momentum in the past few years, with a moratorium in Illinois, court disputes over lethal injection in more than a half-dozen states and progress toward outright abolishment in New Jersey.The steady drumbeat of DNA exonerations — pointing out flaws in the justice system — has weighed against capital punishment. The moral opposition is loud, too, echoed in Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, where all but a few countries banned executions years ago.

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument — whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

The reports have horrified death penalty opponents and several scientists, who vigorously question the data and its implications.

So far, the studies have had little impact on public policy. New Jersey’s commission on the death penalty this year dismissed the body of knowledge on deterrence as “inconclusive.”

But the ferocious argument in academic circles could eventually spread to a wider audience, as it has in the past.

“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).

To explore the question, they look at executions and homicides, by year and by state or county, trying to tease out the impact of the death penalty on homicides by accounting for other factors, such as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, and more.

Among the conclusions:

• Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).

• The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston.

• Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.

In 2005, there were 16,692 cases of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter nationally. There were 60 executions.

The studies’ conclusions drew a philosophical response from a well-known liberal law professor, University of Chicago’s Cass Sunstein. A critic of the death penalty, in 2005 he co-authored a paper titled “Is capital punishment morally required?”

“If it’s the case that executing murderers prevents the execution of innocents by murderers, then the moral evaluation is not simple,” he told The Associated Press. “Abolitionists or others, like me, who are skeptical about the death penalty haven’t given adequate consideration to the possibility that innocent life is saved by the death penalty.”

Sunstein said that moral questions aside, the data needs more study.

Critics of the findings have been vociferous.

Some claim that the pro-deterrent studies made profound mistakes in their methodology, so their results are untrustworthy. Another critic argues that the studies wrongly count all homicides, rather than just those homicides where a conviction could bring the death penalty. And several argue that there are simply too few executions each year in the United States to make a judgment.

“We just don’t have enough data to say anything,” said Justin Wolfers, an economist at the Wharton School of Business who last year co-authored a sweeping critique of several studies, and said they were “flimsy” and appeared in “second-tier journals.”

“This isn’t left vs. right. This is a nerdy statistician saying it’s too hard to tell,” Wolfers said. “Within the advocacy community and legal scholars who are not as statistically adept, they will tell you it’s still an open question. Among the small number of economists at leading universities whose bread and butter is statistical analysis, the argument is finished.”

Several authors of the pro-deterrent reports said they welcome criticism in the interests of science, but said their work is being attacked by opponents of capital punishment for their findings, not their flaws.

“Instead of people sitting down and saying ‘let’s see what the data shows,’ it’s people sitting down and saying ‘let’s show this is wrong,’” said Paul Rubin, an economist and co-author of an Emory University study. “Some scientists are out seeking the truth, and some of them have a position they would like to defend.”

The latest arguments replay a 1970s debate that had an impact far beyond academic circles.

Then, economist Isaac Ehrlich had also concluded that executions deterred future crimes. His 1975 report was the subject of mainstream news articles and public debate, and was cited in papers before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing for a reversal of the court’s 1972 suspension of executions. (The court, in 1976, reinstated the death penalty.)

Ultimately, a panel was set up by the National Academy of Sciences which decided that Ehrlich’s conclusions were flawed. But the new pro-deterrent studies haven’t gotten that kind of scrutiny.

At least not yet. The academic debate, and the larger national argument about the death penalty itself — with questions about racial and economic disparities in its implementation — shows no signs of fading away.

Steven Shavell, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School and co-editor-in-chief of the American Law and Economics Review, said in an e-mail exchange that his journal intends to publish several articles on the statistical studies on deterrence in an upcoming issue.

Of particular importance is this line, “Each execution deters an average of 18 murders“. The full article can be found here. More here.

Quote Of The Day

“Becker mentions the possibility of racial discrimination in execution. Studies done some years ago–I do not know whether they would be descriptive of current practice–revealed the following pattern: 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”. –Richard Posner, professor of law at the University of Chicago and a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, blogging over at the Becker-Posner blog on Capital Punishment

Quote Of The Day

“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. Although this ratio may seem implausible given that the probability of being executed for committing a murder is less than 1 percent (most executions are in southern states–50 of the 59 in 2004–which that year had a total of almost 7,000 murders), the probability is misleading because only a subset of murderers are eligible for execution. Moreover, even a 1 percent or one-half of 1 percent probability of death is hardly trivial; most people would pay a substantial amount of money to eliminate such a probability”. –Richard Posner, discussing capital punishment and the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams

The Death Penalty Revisited

Readers of my blog are aware that I have problems with the death penalty. While I tend to disagree with it, I also tend to go back and forth on this issue. I don’t see it as clear cut as other issues, and so I try to read as much as I can on the subject.

Well, it so happens that one of the liberal blogs I read linked to a great article on the subject, an article by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who argues in favor of the death penalty.

He writes:

Of course those who deny the authority of a government to exact vengeance are not entirely logical. Many crimes—for example, domestic murder in the heat of passion—are neither deterred by punishment meted out to others nor likely to be committed a second time by the same offender. Yet opponents of capital punishment do not object to sending such an offender to prison, perhaps for life. Because he deserves punishment. Because it is just.

I encourage everyone to read the article, as it is well thought out and sure to give you a new perspective on the death penalty, whether you are for it or against it.

Quote Of The Day

“I do not understand why people who want to save the whales (so do I) find campaigns to save humans so much less arresting. I do not understand their lack of passion. But the save-the-whales people are somehow rarely the stop-abortion-please people.

The PETA people, who say they are committed to ending cruelty to animals, seem disinterested in the fact of late-term abortion, which is a cruel procedure performed on a human.

I do not understand why the don’t-drill-in-Alaska-and-destroy-its-prime-beauty people do not join forces with the don’t-end-a-life-that-holds-within-it-beauty people.

I do not understand why those who want a freeze on all death penalty cases in order to review each of them in light of DNA testing–an act of justice and compassion toward those who have been found guilty of crimes in a court of law–are uninterested in giving every last chance and every last test to a woman whom no one has ever accused of anything”. –Peggy Noonan

Are You For Or Against The Death Penalty?

If you are in any way interested in the death penalty debate you should read these debates on the topic. They demonstrate the main arguments involved and will give you a better feel for where both sides stand. Pay special attention to Session Three that has US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia participating.

Capital Punishment Vs. Abortion

I have received several responses in regards to my post below dealing with Abortion. The responses common theme is that conservatives are “hypocrites” and have a “backwards view of reality” because of their anti-abortion, and at the same time pro-Capital Punishment views. How could conservatives be for life with regard to abortion, but against life with regard to the death penalty? Since they both involve life conservatives are inconsistent at best, hypocrites and illogical at worse. So their argument goes.

Although to some degree both issues involve life, they are fundamentally very different. The central difference between Abortion and Capital Punishment is innocence. In one case, you are executing a convicted criminal who has committed the worse crimes of society; in the other case you are executing an innocent human being. These are two fundamentally different things. We can agree that there are times when it is acceptable to kill: in self-defense, in protection ones loved ones, in times of war. However, we should all agree that it is never acceptable to intentionally kill an innocent human being.

Whether Capital Punishment is one of those acceptable times to kill is debatable, since we’re dealing with a guilty person. But if one believes human life begins at conception (Like John Kerry below), one has to conclude that abortion is the killing of innocent human life, something that is, unquestionably, a clear-cut wrong.

So these issues are fundamentally different. However, to see how different these issues are, lets take the liberal view in practice. Presidential candidate John Kerry for example, the most liberal member of the senate, on the one hand will strongly oppose the death of a person who has committed, through his own choices, the most egregious crimes imaginable to man. For example, someone who murdered children merely for pleasure. Or an obsessive child molester. A cop killer. Regardless of the severity of the crime, the liberal will continue to oppose his death.

On the other hand, this same liberal (Kerry), will vote against a law that would make it a federal crime to perform second and third trimester abortions. The bill itself, “The Partial Birth Abortion Ban” is named after how this procedure is done. You partially birth the unborn child, enough to where you can see the back of the head, than you puncture the back of the head and suction out the brains. All without any anesthesia, all late in pregnancy, and all against someone who commited no actions deserving this punishment.

Yet these liberals have the nerve to call the conservative view of reality backwards? Call me backwards, but if I had to err on the side of caution in only one* of the cases above, I would always do so with an innocent person than with a guilty person. It is clearly the conservatives who have their priorities in order here.

*For the record, I haven’t made up my mind on Capital Punishment yet. It is an issue that involves several different factors and considerable thought. However, my point here is not to speak for or against Capital Punishment, or for or against Abortion for that matter. But to show why I see the liberal view as the backwards-illogical view when dealing with the priority of these two issues.