Is suicide on death row the same outcome as execution?

I am aware that many if not most Dopers oppose capital punishment outright, but in order for this discussion to be engaged I will ask everyone to temporarily suspend their opposition to the death penalty:

When Hermann Goering committed suicide by discreetly ingesting cyanide poison in his cell during the Nuremberg Trials, the Allied guards and authorities immediately took measures to ensure that no other defendants could avoid execution by committing suicide. In fiction literature, it is also sometimes said that someone “cheats the hangman” if he kills himself rather than being executed by the authorities - there’s mention of this trope more than once in Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction.

Now, my question is: If a condemned person commits suicide while on death row, has he or she really “cheated” justice? Has justice been “served” the same way that it would have been had he/she been executed?

Some will say that it wasn’t justice the same way, because the condemned person “got to die on his or her own terms”, but I would argue that the condemned did *not *die on his or her own terms - people like Goering, presumably, wouldn’t have committed suicide if they were free and un-captured by the Allies. The person on death row who commits suicide, does so, because he is now in a captured state, his options are severely limited, and he has been boxed into a situation where he now faces guaranteed death either way. So death has been imposed upon him.
For that matter, if someone dies of old age in life imprisonment, is that the same outcome as the death penalty? The only difference would be that the death wasn’t *actively *brought about or caused by the authorities, unlike, say, lethal injection or hanging.

They did not die on schedule, according to the law. So I’d say it is not the same. I’m hard pressed to think of a practical difference, other than perhaps the emotional reaction of the criminal’s victims.

It is also conceivable that a means of death being suicide or execution could have some effect on the estate left behind, for instance regarding a life insurance payout. But IANAL, so this is sheer speculation.

This goes back to what “justice” is. The person is dead either way, but their path to death seems to matter to the law. I think if we allow wiggle room on something like this, it is a slippery slope toward lessening the enforcement of the law.

ISTM the issue is of control: the condemned person is not permitted to control the situation, so in committing suicide they have taken control away from the state, or sentencing body, and if the sentence is not being carried out as judged, then justice is denied.

OTOH, it is known that condemned people sometimes are found to be innocent. So if someone commits suicide while in custody on death row, and is later found to be innocent, then that is also justice denied.

Thankfully, outside of the USA it’s not something people think about much.

From what I understand too many who are killed suffered from cheap and appalling representation, and were inevitably Black.

The system is institutionally racist.

It’s enough to drive you to suicide.

Murderer Brandon Rhode attempted suicide just a few hours before his scheduled execution. He was rushed to the hospital, patched up, and executed a week later.

Death Row suicides rob people of the satisfaction that comes from killin’ someone who needs killin’. Not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing…

Lawyers will often request leniency for elderly defendants convicted of relatively minor crimes, arguing that even a 1-2 year prison sentence would be the equivalent of life imprisonment. Sometimes leniency is granted, sometimes not.

Another tangent I forgot to include was Osama bin Laden - what if he’d shot himself in the head as the SEALs stormed his compound?

I think in that case he probably knew they were not looking to capture him. The outcome of that encounter was going to be the same no matter who pulled the trigger.

It’s different in two ways. For one, the death penalty is not just ‘he’ll die’, but it’s a specific type of death for the specific crime carried out as punishment for said crime. The sentence is not being carried out if the person manages to take poison beforehand, so the sentence hasn’t finished. It doesn’t carry the same deterrent effect or retributive effect, and may feel more honorable to the person who escapes their sentence (a lot of the Nazis objected to being hanged vs shot, as they felt that hanging was for common criminals and shooting was for officers).

In practical terms, it’s very different about protecting the convict. Imagine the system takes an attitude of ‘well he’s on death row, it doesn’t matter if he commits suicide’ and thanks the prisoner for saving them money, then closes the book. In such a system, guards can trivially decide to kill the prisoner on their own and slap a ‘suicide’ label on it. Maybe they don’t like him, or maybe an appeal is about to free him, but regardless of motive if you’re not treating it as a very bad thing that must be investigated, it becomes very easy and tempting for someone to do a freelance execution. The end result may be the same for someone who didn’t get an appeal, pardon, or just a few more years of delay, but the interim is quite different, and for someone who ends up having an appeal work or being pardoned it’s literally a life or death difference.

I’m not convinced the death penalty has anything to do with justice in the first place.

I’m not trying to violate the terms of the OP, but the question is a little hard to answer until we have a clear understanding of what the purported purpose of the death penalty is.

If its primary purpose is incapacitation then either way it doesn’t matter, and in fact suicide may be preferable as it prevents him from committing more unlawful acts at an earlier time point.

If the primary purpose is revenge, then having him off himself may not provide the satisfaction to society that inflicting death upon him would.

If the primary purpose is deterrence, then there might be a small negative to allowing criminals to die on their own terms, but I doubt it would be signficant. Although by preventing suicide and executiong by the book we may reinforce the idea that we are a society of rules and laws.

If the primary purpose is rehabilitation, then clearly we are doing it wrong. :slight_smile: But given that there is always the possibility of a last minute reprieve it makes sense from this point of view to prevent early death so as to allow for this possibility.

Suppose instead of a suicide, it was a murder.

Hermann Goering is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. But before he is executed, a soldier whose family died in a Luftwaffe bombing decides he wants personal revenge and shoots Goering in his cell. (We’ll assume in this post that Goering makes no attempt to commit suicide.)

Did that soldier commit a crime? He clearly killed somebody with premeditation but it was somebody that society had already decided deserved to be killed. Did the death sentence remove Goering from coverage by laws against murder?

To make it more complicated, suppose the soldier didn’t have normal access to Goering. But he knew the guy that was assigned to be Goering’s hangman (and who will be wearing a mask to conceal his identity at the execution). The soldier bribes the assigned hangman to let him take his place so he can pull the lever that hangs Goering. Is that an illegal murder?

If someone is sentenced to death, the point is the state has taken control of their life. They have been denied the power of choice.

To me, dead is dead. As long as he’s no longer breathing other people’s air, I’m good with it.

I don’t think this is really true. Prisoners awaiting death still have choices they can make. And prisoners who aren’t on death row are denied many choices.

Dopers? Is this really addressed to DOPERS?

Suicide on death row is not the same as an execution.

The former saves us taxpayers from wasting a lot of money on people who don’t deserve to take up our oxygen.

The problem with suicides is that they’re not done as part of the justice system. If someone is executed, at least in principle it means that the state is fully convinced of their guilt, and they’ve exhausted every possible avenue of appeal, and so on. In a legal sense, we know that they’re guilty of the crime that carries the death sentence.

Suicide, however, has no such process. If a Death Row prisoner commits suicide, does that mean that he really did it, or just that he’s despaired of the possibility of ever proving his innocence?

Hi, welcome to the straight dope message board I hope you enjoy your stay. the term Dopers is used here to refer to the general audience of the board. While a number on the board do partake, not all Dopers are dopers.

The OP (original poster) is referring to the fact that the majority of the posters on this board (although not all) tend to be on the liberal side of the spectrum, and so many are opposed to the death penalty on principal. So the OP is trying to avoid a rehashing of the death penalty debate (which has been done a number of times) and instead just make the assumption that the death penalty is justified in order to explore his particular wrinkle.