The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > Great Debates

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 01-05-2004, 08:42 AM
Jonathan Chance Jonathan Chance is offline
Domo Arigato Mister Moderato
Moderator
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: On the run with Kilroy
Posts: 16,692
The innocent and the guilty: Capital Punishment

OK, to prevent a hijack of this thread in the Pit I thought it was worth opening this particular can of worms again...

In that thread I said:
Quote:
From me

While feeling a certain sympathy for your position, Logic, I feel more sympathy for you when you state that 'in this day and age that this can happen'...

Amnesty International on the Death Penalty

Facts I find dismaying...

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Seven countries since 1990 are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime - Congo (Democratic Republic), Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, USA and Yemen. The country which carried out the greatest number of known executions of child offenders was the USA (17 since 1990).
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Emphasis mine. Some company we keep, eh?

If the WM3 are innocent (I've no idea...I know absolutely nothing about the case) if wouldn't be the first time innocents were executed. And it wouldn't be the 100th.

While perhaps outrage would be appropriate I don't find surprise or shock to be justified. To a certain extent it would be business as usual.


quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Also from the AI site above.

Since 1973, 107 prisoners have been released from death row in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. Some had come close to execution after spending many years under sentence of death. Recurring features in their cases include prosecutorial or police misconduct; the use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence, or confessions; and inadequate defence representation. Other US prisoners have gone to their deaths despite serious doubts over their guilt.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


The simple fact is that the toleration of death sentences in the United States requires the assumption and acceptance of the execution of innocents. That blood is the price we, as a society, have decided to pay as a collateral cost of capital punishment.

And that's why, even though I find death to be a worthy punishment for sufficiently barbarous crimes, I can't in good conscience support the death penalty. Better by far that a guilty man go free than an innocent man be put to death.
To which Ilsa Lund replied:

Quote:
From IL
Quote:
From Jonathan Chance - Better by far that a guilty man go free than an innocent man be put to death.
Bullshit.
And we're left hanging with a promise to continue in the morning. I hope Ilsa Lund is willing to elaborate in this thread rather than back in the original thread (which is really about something else). But I'd be glad to hear others as well.

I do feel that the chance of the state executing an innocent person is sufficient cause for doing away with the death penalty. I'm all for justice, but that cost seems too high.
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 01-05-2004, 08:51 AM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: 847 mi. from Cecil
Posts: 29,072
I would take your position even further. I, like Illinois Governor George Ryan, would empty death row completely, rather than execute an innocent man. There is no more heinous and repugnant act imaginable that the state could do in my name.

Remind me to visit the Pit to tell Ilsa Lund what I think of her.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 01-05-2004, 09:20 AM
Shodan Shodan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 26,572
Quote:
The simple fact is that the toleration of death sentences in the United States requires the assumption and acceptance of the execution of innocents. That blood is the price we, as a society, have decided to pay as a collateral cost of capital punishment.
The corresponding simple fact being that the abolition of death sentences in the US would require the assumption and acceptance of the death of innocents as well. We did not execute Arthur Shawcross, Ed Kemp, Henry Lee Lucas, Jack Abbott, Robert Stroud, Christopher Scarver, Ed Wein, or Willie Horton. As a direct result, they went on to commit further tortures, rapes, and murders.

Incidentally, the number of convicted murderers who have been shown to have been wrongfully executed thru DNA testing in the US since the reinstitution of the death penalty is zero.

Regards,
Shodan
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 01-05-2004, 09:33 AM
Rune Rune is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Re: The innocent and the guilty: Capital Punishment

Quote:
Originally posted by Jonathan Chance
I do feel that the chance of the state executing an innocent person is sufficient cause for doing away with the death penalty. I'm all for justice, but that cost seems too high.
There’s no such thing as certainty, everything carries a risk of mistakes. But with your reasoning we would have to do away with all other forms of punishments as well. "We can’t send this 20 year old boy to prison for life, he might be innocent, and we might never know. Or we might first know after twenty years and who’re we going to give the man back the best years of his life then? I feel the chance of the state imprisoning an innocent person is sufficient cause for doing away the prison terms entirely."

Ilsa is a man who for some obscure reason has taken a female handle.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 01-05-2004, 09:40 AM
Jonathan Chance Jonathan Chance is offline
Domo Arigato Mister Moderato
Moderator
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: On the run with Kilroy
Posts: 16,692
No, I realize the chance of mistake in all human actions. But the situation with the death penalty is that it's irreversible.

I can see reason in the state imposing a sentence, based upon due process, then later discovering that sentence was imposed by mistake through the discovery of exonerating evidence. It's hard but at least there's a chance to restore some part of the person's life back.

But there is no going back if someone is dead.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 01-05-2004, 09:45 AM
Ludovic Ludovic is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: America's Wing
Posts: 23,318
Quote:
We did not execute Arthur Shawcross, Ed Kemp, Henry Lee Lucas, Jack Abbott, Robert Stroud, Christopher Scarver, Ed Wein, or Willie Horton. As a direct result, they went on to commit further tortures, rapes, and murders.
Ahhh, yes, but when we sentenced them to life in prison without parole, we never let them get outside the walls again, so all those tortures, rapes and murders were committed inside prison. right?

(And even those could be prevented with enough security)
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 01-05-2004, 09:58 AM
Jackmannii Jackmannii is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Quote:
Originally posted by Jonathan Chance

But there is no going back if someone is dead.
True.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 01-05-2004, 10:00 AM
Shodan Shodan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 26,572
Quote:
Ahhh, yes, but when we sentenced them to life in prison without parole, we never let them get outside the walls again, so all those tortures, rapes and murders were committed inside prison. right?
Wrong. Willie Horton and Ed Wein were sentenced to life in prison with no parole. And then released. Robert Stroud and Christopher Scarver both committed murder in prison.

Simply saying "we could prevent all this with enough security" is like saying that we could prevent executing anyone innocent with enough testing. At what point are we sure enough that the guy is guilty? And why don't we apply the same standard in executions?

Regards,
Shodan
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 01-05-2004, 10:03 AM
don't ask don't ask is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 16,141
Quote:
Originally posted by Jonathan Chance
But there is no going back if someone is dead.
Yes but you're assuming that all death penalty proponents have the same standards.

Personally I think all Shodan's hall of shame are fitting victims. As are most serial killerts, serial rapists, serial paedophiles....in fact anyone with multiple convictions for crimes against anothers' person.

If you can give me a list, a short one will do, of people convicted of multiple crimes of violence (serial killers, serial rapists, paedophiles) who are now useful members of society, I'll rethink.

I don't propose executing anyone convicted of a single felony. BUt if they rack up a string... convince me we can rehabiitate them because if we can't we're just locking them up until they die of their own accord.

By the way I think Shodan has a short list of convicted, released killers who did it again. They didn't rot in jail first time around.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 01-05-2004, 10:08 AM
Rune Rune is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Quote:
Originally posted by Jonathan Chance
No, I realize the chance of mistake in all human actions. But the situation with the death penalty is that it's irreversible.
Everything in life is irreversible. If you convict an innocent man to life in prison, he might die there, and even if you do at a later point establish his innocence, no matter of monetary compensation is going to alter anything about that – or give him back his years if he’s still alive. I agree death penalty is a draconian punishment, but do not think it’s in a category of its own – just a matter of degree.

Quote:
Originally posted by Jonathan Chance
...so all those tortures, rapes and murders were committed inside prison. right?
What’s that supposed to mean? That prisoners are somewhat less entitled to protection? The uncertainty that ensures we can never be absolutely certain of guilt also ensures we can never absolutely guarantee rapes, tortures and murders committed inside or outside prison by convicted felons.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 01-05-2004, 10:19 AM
Jonathan Chance Jonathan Chance is offline
Domo Arigato Mister Moderato
Moderator
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: On the run with Kilroy
Posts: 16,692
That last bit isn't me.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 01-05-2004, 10:24 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
And Full Contact Origami
SDSAB
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 45,640
I agree with the OP, although I am dismayed at keeping company with the West Memphis Three defenders, whose zeal for the cause seems to lead them to shade the truth and engage in highly selective recounting of relevant facts.

If the scores of DNA-based reversals for death row inmates have taught us anything, it should be that the death penalty has absolutely been handed to factually innocent defendants before. Whiel there's no doubt that incarcerating the innocent is a terrible thing, killing the innocent is much, much worse.

I admit I have a moral objection to death dealt by the state - but this a practical objection. I believe the line is life -- we have to have enough confidence in our system to relegate those found guilty by a trial to prison; we can seldom if ever have enough confidence in those findings to base an execution on them.

- Rick
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 01-05-2004, 10:29 AM
Rune Rune is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Quote:
Originally posted by Jonathan Chance
That last bit isn't me.
No I’m sorry. That was Ludovic. Also my sentence was supposed to read “….. guarantee convicted felons do not again rape, torture, murder inside or outside prison“. Sloppy me.

- Rune
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 01-05-2004, 11:10 AM
plnnr plnnr is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
Am I correct that some of you are actually willing to say that an executed innocent man is the price we may have to pay for our criminal justice system?
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 01-05-2004, 12:01 PM
tdn tdn is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
Re: The innocent and the guilty: Capital Punishment

Quote:
Better by far that a guilty man go free than an innocent man be put to death.
I would be wary of comparing apples to oranges in this case. Better it should read

"Better by far that a guilty man stay alive in prison than an innocent man be put to death."

or

"Better by far that a guilty man go free than an innocent man be imprisononed."
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 01-05-2004, 12:15 PM
PatriotX PatriotX is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Fayettenam
Posts: 6,824
Given the nature of human endeavors, mistakes will be made.

If the mistake is that a guilty man goes free, then there is one unpunished crime.

If the mistake is that an innocent man in killed/imprisoned, then there are two unpunished "crimes".

This is why it's better for a guilty man to go unpunished than for an innocent man to be punished.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 01-05-2004, 12:24 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 11,368
The usual cliche is that the system is balanced so that ten guilty people are acquitted for every innocent person who is convicted.

Obviously, there's no way to calibrate that, but it is a kind of general goal or "mission statement." It's taught in law schools...

It's like any other problem in statistics: the only way to make a type I error *impossible* is to place so many restrictions as to make any determination of correlation meaningless. i.e., we don't ask juries to determine guilt "...beyond any conceivable doubt."

Trinopus
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 01-05-2004, 12:39 PM
Jackmannii Jackmannii is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Quote:
Originally posted by plnnr
Am I correct that some of you are actually willing to say that an executed innocent man is the price we may have to pay for our criminal justice system?
I'd never agree to such a statement. And I doubt anyone here is accepting and/or nonchalant about such an outcome.

Similarly, one could ask of death penalty opponents whether the murders of prison inmates, guards and other innocents in the population at large are an acceptable price for eliminating the death penalty altogether.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 01-05-2004, 01:00 PM
sghoul sghoul is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
SimonX wrote:
Quote:
f the mistake is that a guilty man goes free, then there is one unpunished crime. If the mistake is that an innocent man in killed/imprisoned, then there are two unpunished "crimes".
Problem being, allowing a guilty man to go free could lead to further crime, in which an innocent may be harmed. In the case in which we are talking, for the most part only serious multiple offences are considered. Such people are only a drain on society (one way or another).

As a slight hijack, why is killing someone so bad? I have my beliefs (Christian: Thou shall not murder, love thy neighbor), but I know that many dopers are not religious. In such a case, what harm is brought to an innocent that is killed on death row? I know that is whole other can of worms, so I don't expect an answer.

And just to put it out there, I would gladly be one of the few innocents killed on death row, if it meant keeping a system that keeps bad folks from brining repeated harm to innocents.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 01-05-2004, 01:32 PM
pervert pervert is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Quote:
Originally posted by Shodan
Incidentally, the number of convicted murderers who have been shown to have been wrongfully executed thru DNA testing in the US since the reinstitution of the death penalty is zero.
Also, incedentally, do you have the number of executed prisoners who were tested? If no one was tested, then it is not surprising that no one was found wrongfully executed. I read somewhere that there are legal obstacles to testing the DNA of executed criminals.

I agree with the OP. But I would go 1 step further. I don't like that certain government officials have complete power over when to seek the death penalty. They have guidlines, certainly, and they can't impose it for crimes where it is not allowed. But D.A.s seem to have a lot of leeway in deciding which particular actions qualify as which particular crimes. So, I don't like the dath penalty because we might get the wrong guy. But I also don't like it because I don't think that governments are accurate enough to apply it fairly.

Also, I'd like to address the argument that allowing guilty men to go free to commit further crimes is comparible to condeming an innocent person. The essential difference is who does the killing. If you murder someone it can be said you killed him. If you fail to travel accross town to prevent a murder, it cannot be said that you killed. When an accused person is released, for whatever reason, his future crimes are not the responsibility of the system. At least not in the same sense that those crimes would be if the system actually committed them.
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 01-05-2004, 01:32 PM
Shodan Shodan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 26,572
Quote:
Originally posted by plnnr
Am I correct that some of you are actually willing to say that an executed innocent man is the price we may have to pay for our criminal justice system?
No, innocent people are going to die unjustly whether we have the death penalty or not. Either some tiny number is going to be executed when factually innocent, or some are going to be murdered or otherwise brutalized by those who should have been executed, but weren't.

So the proposition that even one innocent death is enough to put the death penalty off limits is mistaken. There have already been many innocent deaths that could have been prevented by the death penalty.

If we execute a thousand people, and one of them is innocent, that is a terrible thing. If we don't execute the thousand, and one escapes or gets furloughed and kills someone else, that is equally terrible. And if he kills more than one, then it is worse than if we executed them all.

Since the reinstitution of the death penalty in the US during the mid-70s, no one has been found to be factually innocent after being executed. There have been several cases of repeat murder during the same period.

I am sure that eventually someone will be executed wrongfully. But those who want to use such a case to argue against the death penalty are starting at a huge disadvantage. If you want to keep score on innocent deaths, those who argue against the DP are already way behind. We would have to execute a whole bunch of innocent people before wrongful execution can catch up with repeat murder.

Regards,
Shodan
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 01-05-2004, 01:43 PM
Metacom Metacom is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Quote:
Originally posted by Shodan
If we execute a thousand people, and one of them is innocent, that is a terrible thing. If we don't execute the thousand, and one escapes or gets furloughed and kills someone else, that is equally terrible.
Only if you think state-sanctioned murder is no worse then murder by a citizen.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 01-05-2004, 01:48 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Quote:
from the OP:
Emphasis mine. Some company we keep, eh?
While I agree with the OP, the fact that mostly (or only) unsavory regimes have done this is not a logical argument against it. It may be reason to look at the death penalty more closely, but it is irrelevant as far as the argument against it goes.

Until and unless we have solid evidence that the death penalty acts a significant deterent, then I don't see a justification for it. I would not include prison murders in that discussion. The social climate of prison is completely different from the outside world.
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 01-07-2004, 02:37 PM
Shodan Shodan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 26,572
Quote:
Originally posted by Metacom
Quote:
Originally posted by Shodan -
If we execute a thousand people, and one of them is innocent, that is a terrible thing. If we don't execute the thousand, and one escapes or gets furloughed and kills someone else, that is equally terrible.
Only if you think state-sanctioned murder is no worse then murder by a citizen.
True, but think about it.

Which is worse - lethal injection, or being stabbed to death by some mugger? Which is more likely - that you are going to be executed after months of trial at which sufficient evidence is produced to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and after years of appeals to every court in the land, or that some junkie is going to shoot you to get your wallet?

And, as I pointed out, there have already been many instances of murders committed by those who escaped, or were furloughed, or paroled (even when it was promised that they never would be). So to date, murders by citizens are far, far worse than "state-sanctioned" executions, in that there are many more murders than wrongful executions.

Which is worse - one wrongful death, committed even after the most scrupulous care is taken to avoid it, or twenty committed because we are too squeamish to act for the best?

Regards,
Shodan
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 01-07-2004, 02:42 PM
XPriest XPriest is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
No country except the USA in the western industrialized world kills people as a form of punishment. The USA is in bed with such great societies as Iraq, China, Russia, Iran, to name but a few, when it comes to killing people for punishment. Americans should hang their heads in shame..............
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 01-07-2004, 03:00 PM
Rune Rune is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
As far as I know Russia stopped (at least the actually killing if not sentencing part). Your message implies only nations in the western industrialized part of the world are truly civilized – and yet you claim the moral high ground, how ironic. Anyway what difference does it make what kind of penal systems other nations choose to follow? That’s hardly a way to make political decisions. America was the only democracy back in the day. By your logic they should have immediately chosen a king.

- Rune
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 01-07-2004, 03:39 PM
Ludovic Ludovic is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: America's Wing
Posts: 23,318
I'm sensing major whooshage here. My point was that a lot on the rhetorical list did commit their crimes out of prison. We could take the higher cost of keeping death-sentenced criminals in bars and put that money toward longer jail times and stricter security. I would guess that if we had to choose between monitoring a convict within a prison versus outside a prison, they would commit fewer crimes within.

Plus, to answer the question, yes I do believe that violent prisoners do have fewer rights, since most of them have forfeited the supposed natural rights of man due to violating them themselves (talking about the factually guilty ones, of course,) but not to the extent that death penalty advocates apparent do, obviously. So that argument cannot be used against me, since while I merely state that a factually guilty violent convict does not deserve the same security as you or I, the death penalty advocates claim not all of them even deserve the right to not die!

Does anyone have a cite on how many murders take place due to convicted murderers escaping? I'd hazard a guess that it's a lot lower than the number of executed people, and even significantly lower than the estimated number of wrongfully executed prisoners. After all, between furloughs, escape, and inter-prison crime, escape is the only one we cannot reasonably prevent. (Can anyone say "supermax"?)
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 01-07-2004, 03:44 PM
Ludovic Ludovic is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: America's Wing
Posts: 23,318
By "prevent", I mean something that cannot reasonably be foreseen in the normal course of events: no administrator plans for there to be an escape. Whereas, it's entirely foreseeable that there will be crimes committed in prison or on furloughs.
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 01-07-2004, 04:07 PM
Rune Rune is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Quote:
Originally posted by Ludovic
Plus, to answer the question, yes I do believe that violent prisoners do have fewer rights[...]
Of course they have fewer rights, they’re in prison! However as for protection, I’d say they are even more entitled to protection, since they’re unable to protect themselves. The judge or jury should decide what punishments is appropriate (even to death), not some random events behind bars.

- Rune
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 01-07-2004, 04:18 PM
plnnr plnnr is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
"I am sure that eventually someone will be executed wrongfully."

And yet you support the death penalty? Let's hope that the wrongfully executed isn't you.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 01-07-2004, 04:28 PM
Ludovic Ludovic is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: America's Wing
Posts: 23,318
Of course, I would agree that we should give more resources to prevent intraprison violence. But the amount of it that will be prevented by execution is minimal, IMHO. Especially since those that would have been executed, we could simply send to a supermax instead since those numbers are small.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 07:11 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.