I personally feel conflicted about the death penalty as a concept - more in theory than in application. I try to think objectively about the topic. It does not seem like use of the death penalty is just, or fair, or that it leads to the practical aspect of deterrence. Even so, looking at arguments for and against can give insight, and help in discussions with others on the topic.


Death Penalty Top 10 Pros/Cons


Of this list, the most compelling arguments for me are Morality, Deterrence, Irrevocable mistakes, Race, and Attorney Quality. (that's 5 of the 10). All of these put me in the anti-death penalty camp. One argument, not given, is "weeding" - removing proven toxic elements from society. I have a harder time with that one. My suspicion is, this is in the "Race" camp, with pro-death-penalty camp's silent approval for "weeding out" "bad elements" who happen to be a race other than white. Sort of a slow, slow ethnic cleansing.


On Morality, "Death sentences are imposed in a criminal justice system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. This is an immoral condition..." Which places this argument into a category of unfairness, and unjust. The opposite argument, ". The death penalty honors human dignity by treating the defendant as a free moral actor able to control his own destiny" just doesn't hold water for me when the penalty has never been proven deterrent, when is is arbitrarily applied, and when there are mistakes.  And states that have abolished capital punishment show no significant changes in either crime or murder rates.  There is no comfort in being told you are a "free moral actor" when, not having committed the crime, you are strapped into a gurney with IVs in place.


On Deterrence, the "Pro-Death-Penalty" side claims theoretical deterrence because, really, it just makes sense. The "Anti" side actually has data . "And states that have abolished capital punishment show no significant changes in either crime or murder rates."  Evidence trumps theory for me, almost every time. I will need to look up some maps correlating murder rates or crime rates with death penalty or executions,  but if memory serves, there is no correlation supporting the deterrence argument. The evidence is not perfect (correlation is not causation) but even more, the theoretical "pro" has no support at all.


Irrevocable Mistakes, the Pro argument states "no credible evidence to show that any innocent persons have been executed at least since the death penalty was reactivated in 1976" which depends on your definition of "credible".  There are multiple reports of wrongful executions, and there isn't much effort to go back and find DNA evidence for prior cases where the execution has already occurred.  In addition, the Pro argument states that, well, sometimes you will kill the wrong person. The Anti argument is that even one wrongful death is too much. I don't know where the threshold for mistakes should be, but it should be discussed if that argument is on the table. But in our system, even when there is evidence prior to the execution that the person is innocent, they may be executed (Troy Davis). That makes the Pro argument disingenuous.


Racism.  Basically, the Pro argument is that more minority people (mainly men) commit capital crimes, so more should be executed.  I don't know the evidence for or against that argument - more research for me.  The Anti argument is there is racial disparity.  Again I'll need to look for better data, but my memory serves that there is significant racial disparity in penalty, regardless of the crime that was committed.


Attorney Quality.  Again, the Pro argument is based on theory, the Anti argument more evidence oriented.  2 out of 3 "death penalty convictions have been overturned on appeal because of police and prosecutorial misconduct, as well as serious errors by incompetent court-appointed defense attorneys with little experience in trying capital cases"


Removing the Weeds.  I'm sure there is a better word for this.  There really are horrendous killers out there, who are shown beyond any reasonable doubt to have tortured and murdered their victims.  They often brag about it.  We've seen serial killer cases, not fiction, that involve gruesome sadistic murders without any remorse - in fat, pleasure - on the killers' part - Pee Wee Gaskins, and Dennis Rader.  Some have killed dozens of victims, with truly horrible, sadistic torture before the deaths.  There are also bias murders such as the teenagers who murdered James Craig Anderson in Mississippi (and apparently will not be on death row), or the murder of James Byrd jr, who white supremists rug to death behind a truck.  There are mobsters, and gang killers.  Even with death penalty as no deterrence for such crimes in the future, sometimes i feel like in these, limited cases, we as a society would be better off to simply remove these people from the picture.  Erase them.  Not for retribution, not for punishment, not for deterrence, but just to remove these "weeds".  The arguments against this concept might fall in a "slippery slope" argument, or in a place where, we as a society are worse for doing the killing.  Are we not also worse for enabling these individuals' survival?  I don't know.  These are very rare, but real, stories.  These are people who I will not mourn.  Maybe just lock them up, feed them, and leave options for suicide in their cells in case they decide for themselves to take care of the problem for us.

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Replies to This Discussion

I'm generally against the death penalty, but I am also conflicted. I mean, child rapists, molesters, murderers? And what of serial killers? And mass murderers? Very conflicted. It definitely is not a deterrent in most situations. And if I condone a state sanctioned killing, would I be willing to "throw the switch"? I just can't say. But it does generally go against my beliefs. I guess it would have to be on a case by case basis, but still. Damn! I just don't know, SB. I just don't know.

Tony I agree with you about the ethical conflict regarding the worst of the worst.  In a world with limited resources, how much are we willing to devote to protecting ourselves from the worst of the worst, and how much are we willing to devote to protecting them?  I was not unhappy to see that Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered while in prison. 


Still, in the scheme of things, we devote such massive resources to imprisoning people for drug related offenses, to name one issue - just let a few hundred or a few thousand of them out, and we have plenty of resources to devote to keeping the rare exceptions walled off.  Where else do we draw the line - which ones do we decide are too heinous not to kill? 


Psychologically, is killing them a "rush" to others like them - part of the excitement for people who are turned on by danger?  Does the death penalty in those cases possibly stimulate excitement in others like them?  Like the cathartic scene at the end of Bonnie and Clyde?  No way to know.  Keeping them in prison, forgotten and locked away, and the rare suicide of serial killers (like Fred West) would seem to have more of a deterrent effect than execution.  But there is no evidence to support this idea - and if I am going to push for evidence, I have to live by that as well.

Well, my libertarian side is about to come out, as far as all the people locked up for drugs. Let them out. What a person does to their body is up to them. I know this doesn't happen in a vacumn, that it does impact upon the ones that love them and, to a lesser degree, society at large. Just beef up the laws that impact society, for example zero tolerance for DUI, only one strike, you're out. Also robbery committed to further your drug habit, just to name a couple. Treatment if you really want it, otherwise, we as a society butt out. If your place of employment has a policy of zero tolerance, you knew that before you went to work there. Up to you.

Yeah, I don't lose sleep when someone like Dahmer buys it. As the old saying goes "some people just need killin' ". Yes, prisons are cesspools, and the correction officers spend as much time protecting society from the inmates as protecting them from each other.

I just know I couldn't throw that switch to kill another human being without severe damage to myself. Even in self defense, I would think about it, worry over it like a dog on a bone for years. I still think about some of the things I saw while working as a paramedic, and to what I see in the ICU.

But all in all, I'm still conflicted. I tend to try to see the best in everyone, and am perplexed when people act to the detriment of themselves and others. And more so in myself, because sometimes I say or do things that aren't up to the standards I set for myself. No excuses for that, and I excoriate myself for that, and apologize to those I need to. Well, SB, just some of my meandering thoughts. Be well, my friend. And thank you.


I could not throw the switch either Tony, and have a hard time expecting others to do it on my behalf. 

The fact that we are the only developed nation besides Japan that does this is an indicator that we need to look in the mirror on this issue. We have a violent weapon infused culture that uses religion to justify violence. Execution is another element of our violence. An eye for an eye is not ethical.  Acting  on anger and bloodlust is not ethical.  It may satisfy some instictive need for revenge, but in the long run it doesn't help anyone.  Case in point: http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/07/us/troy-davis-macphail/index.html?ire...

I am against the death penalty because of the mistakes issue. What a mistake to make.  I have to think of those movies I've seen and the documented cases of mistaken execution.  You just keep waiting for someone to realize that it isn't true and then it is too late.  This is not to say I don't feel anger at low lifes that perpetrate these crimes, if anyone hurt my kids I'd probably try to do something to them myself because my instincts would take over.  But in general I want my cortex calling the shots.

As stated elsewhere, it is actually cheaper to keep them  in for life.  If we took the money we spend on death row and put it into lwp, it would save money and help us be less violent.

annet, a little off subject, but I have thought about this some. My suggestion, if convicted of a crime, the prison term is indefinite. For any crime. To get out, you must get your GED, and complete college or vocational training. Then you can get out of prison, provisionally. For a minimum of 6 mos., you will be in a halfway house near the prison, and you must work the at the job you trained for, wearing monitoring. If you decide not to get the GED, college or training, you don't get out. Peroid. You will stay in until you do, or die. Some more of my libertarian side coming out, I'm afraid. Responsibility for your actions. Work to help yourself and society, you will get rewarded. Don't, to bad. Would probably get shot down in the courts, though.

I like that idea if the crime was violent. But trusting the courts and law enforcement and incarceration corporations to do it right would be tough.

Sorry to blabber on and on but have to add these 3 more things:

1) These people are people. We should consider their humanity no matter what they've done. Imo anyone who does those things is by definition mentally ill. 2) A person can contribute something to this world even in prison. 3) As an atheist and one who cherishes this one chance at life, no rebirth no heaven no nothing but stardust to look forward to, I don't think we should deprive anyone of the one and only life.

Yeah, alot of overwatch would be necessary to be sure it worked.

I have worked on an ambulance service that only made calls for the prison system, and learned very quickly that most inmates were referred to as ODC, ordinary decent criminals, by the prison staff. When they were away from the influences that brought them there, i.e. drugs, alcohol, family, they did okay. Still, most didn't have the skills for gainful employment, and repeated the patterns that got them in trouble. Education, I believe, is the key. Because they are, as you say, people, and have that common humanity that we all share. So lets, get them ready for the outside, so no more recidivism (or very minimal). thanks,annet. Great discussing this with you. Be well.

Oddly enough I more often than not I attempt to inject logic to these types of conflicts. I personally don't like the death penalty. But overall I am for it. Logic requires it at this point in our cultural climate. We do not attempt reform or change indivdual perspectives on morals or empathy. So, we lock away those who we deem broken or fouled in a moral way. I.E murderers,rapists,pedos and so on. Since we do not address the underlying cause of thier crimes. We simply create wards of the state. Therefore, we must adhere to logic in regaurds to the delivery of punishment. Death penalty or life in prison? One must strip these terms of the "moral and ethical" veils and define them for what they are. The exact same thing. Only a measure of time seperates the same end result. Vile and heartless as it may seem, one must observe Logic in areas that have identical results and always in favor of the most logistically sound and Economically rewarding. In this case the Death penalty.  Until we rethink how we rehabilitate those prone to aberrant crimes we shall always be faced with this conundrum. Do I know how to do that? Certainly not. But until somone far more brilliant than we finds a way to non-evasivly and without treading on human rights. Help those kinds of people re-enter society(safely and with assurances, mind you). We must choose the short term. But then again, what the hell do I know, right? 



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