Monday, 18 April 2011

Crocodile Tears…

Maura Kelly is just thinking of the victims, of course:
Death penalty proponents argue that executions help victims' family members feel that justice has been done, and indeed, Terry Urnosky said back in 2003 that he thought the death sentence was part of God's plan for Foster. But others who've endured similar tragedies oppose the capital punishment, arguing that the agonising appeals process that so often accompanies a death penalty case exacerbates their pain and, far from helping them overcome their loss, keeps it in the forefront of their minds.
Yes, we clearly shouldn’t torture these poor souls any more. Let’s just let their murderers escape the penalty passed on them by society and the legal system.

That’ll make them cheer up, right?
More to the point, the long, slow appeals process exacts a toll from victims' families. Sure, some survivors do say things like, "I was really looking forward to sitting in the front row while they executed this guy," (as Karen Bond told the Chicago Tribune after Illinois Governor Pat Quinn commuted her son's murderer's sentence). But others want the criminals who ruined their lives to get nothing less than … life.
So, some say this and some say that and you clearly prefer that, so you’ll just ignore all the people who say this and proclaim that the people who say that have some kind of unimpeachable moral authority?
… Laura Porter from Equal Justice USA, a grassroots organisation working to improve the justice system, increase services for families of homicide victims and repeal the death penalty, says: "I work with many murder victim's family members […] and I'm hearing more and more voices calling for repeal of the death penalty, citing the fact that the endless appeals process harms victims."
I suspect that’s because you are choosing the ‘murder victim’s families’ that you work with very, very carefully…

Why can’t these people just openly admit, up front, that they don’t agree with the death penalty? Why the need to co-opt the opinions of the families of the victims (at least, those that agree with them)?

36 comments:

Parkylondon said...

My opposition to the death penalty is, simply put, you can't unkill someone if they are later proven innocent. If they are in prison they can be released...

Disenfranchised of Buckingham said...

The solution is simple. Do not allow endless appeals.

Captain Haddock said...

Parkylondon said ...

"My opposition to the death penalty is, simply put, you can't unkill someone if they are later proven innocent. If they are in prison they can be released"...

In days gone by, that argument might have held water .. In fact that was the very argument put forward by those who vehemently declared that the hanged "A6 Murderer" James Hanratty was innocent ..

However, it was, albeit some years later, proven by DNA analysis that he was guilty & was hanged in accordance with the Law, pertaining at that time ..

With modern forensic investigation techniques, its highly unlikely that "innocent" people get convicted ..

If there is an element of doubt, then sure, opt for life imprisonment .. if evidence of guilt later becomes available or where there is indisputable evidence at the time .. hang the buggers ..

English Viking said...

Parkylondon.

If you object to the DP on the grounds that an innocent person may be killed, consider this:

There are currently just over 200 people in the UK who have been murdered by someone who has already been convicted of murder, sentenced to life and THEN released after a few years.

If it is just a numbers game, if we keep the system we have now, a huge amount of innocents are going to continue to die, compared to the tiny fraction of those falsely accused.

The reoffending rate amongst those executed is zero.

Anonymous said...

English Viking:
No, it is not a numbers game.
If you or a loved one were wrongly convicted of a DP offence, would you be thinking 'Oh, well, that's all right then, it's worth it because of all those innocent lives that have been saved'?

What I'me getting at is, if someone's wrongly convicted and hanged, or whatever, they are effectively a human sacrifice to the state's idea of justice. No level of deterrance is worth the sacrifice of innocent people.

This attitude is certainly not one of being soft on criminals. I understand perfectly well that people like Myra Hindley or that Soham guy deserve nothing better than the rope.

But is it justifiable to kill an innocent person because if that?

Robert

English Viking said...

Robert,

You're missing the point: innocent people ARE dying with the system we have today, in far greater numbers than those wrongfully convicted.

To answer your question, Yes, I would much rather my family and friends were able to walk about the streets with the knowledge that no killers were wandering around. The chances of being accused incorrectly are miniscule, and easily disproven in 99% of cases. The chances of being attacked by a nutter with form are much higher.

I personally know one person who was murdered, and also know 3 killers that are out and about . I know not one person falsely accused of a serious crime.

Give me the rope. I'll do it, if you're squeamish.

Captain Haddock said...

Well said EV ..

For a typical example of what EV is saying .. one need look no further than that loathesome creature Hirst ..

And if EV is ever on holiday, otherwise engaged, or hors-de-combat .. I'm more than ready willing & able to step into the breach, when it comes to knocking the pin out of the trapdoor ..

Angry Exile said...

So, some say this and some say that and you clearly prefer that, so you’ll just ignore all the people who say this and proclaim that the people who say that have some kind of unimpeachable moral authority?

While true that argument works in both directions, though as you know my main opposition to the death penalty is not the moral one.

With modern forensic investigation techniques, its highly unlikely that "innocent" people get convicted

Captain Haddock, there's at least one that I know of that should cast doubt on the whole DNA forensics field. The science may be precise but it's still being carried out by fallible human beings, and a mistake by one such fallible human being in 2006 led to the conviction for rape here in Melbourne of a completely innocent man, Farah Jama. The samples were accidentally cross contaminated and since the myth of absolute reliability has become so widespread the exculpatory evidence was pretty much ignored. He did 15 months before the error was found.

Now, imagine if you will that we had capital punishment and the charge had been murder, or even that rape was a capital crime, and that Victoria had the kind of swift one-appeal-then-hang-the-bastard kind of justice system some people wish for. Jama might well now be dead for something he did not do, per Parkylondon's concerns, despite the reliability of modern forensic techniques. In this case they served only to wrongly convict him, and how many other cases like it there may be is anyone's guess. If the mistake that wrongly convicted Jama can happen it can happen more than once.

Incidentally, on a purely financial point Jama's case cost the Victorian taxpayer more than half a million dollars. And that's just the compensation - the court and investigative costs would have added to that. How much we'd be talking about if it had been wrongful execution rather than just wrongful imprisonment I can't imagine.

Captain Haddock said...

Fair comment AE ..

But that's still just one single case ..

There are hundreds of convicted murderers/murderesses currently at liberty in the UK alone ..

Muliply that by the number in the rest of the world & the one case you quote takes on a totally different perspective ..

That said, I accept that not everyone thinks as I do .. And, whilst I disagree with it, I respect their right to hold an alternative point of view ..

Angry Exile said...

There are currently just over 200 people in the UK who have been murdered by someone who has already been convicted of murder, sentenced to life and THEN released after a few years.

Then the problem is with the release part, isn't it? If they're not actually out there then does it matter whether they're banged up or buried? Bearing in mind the compo cost of 15 months wrongful imprisonment I mentioned above it wouldn't take that many suits for wrongful executions to make the bill pretty large.

I'd also ask why, if it would be wrong for me to kill someone in the incorrect and unproven belief that he was a danger to me, is it thought okay for the state to do it? Again, using Jama as a 'what if' case, it would seem to be awfully close to the definition of corporate manslaughter.

I would much rather my family and friends were able to walk about the streets with the knowledge that no killers were wandering around. The chances of being accused incorrectly are miniscule, and easily disproven in 99% of cases.

That might be factually correct but would it be the first thing you'd think of if you were in the one percent and standing on the scaffold at sunrise? Or would you be thinking something along the lines of you're about to die despite your innocence? Perhaps you would stick to your guns but if so you are a far more understanding and forgiving man than I am, which is ironic given which side of the argument we're both taking.

In any case, this is all incidental. The main worry I have, and which nobody ever tackles whenever I bring it up, is that the reintroduction of the death penalty requires nothing less than an absolute trust in the government not to abuse it, and not just the current government either but all future governments. You are almost betting your life that no future government will extend the use of the death penalty to a point you're not comfortable with. Remember that death penalty states past and present have on occasion extended its use to include things we wouldn't consider crimes at all, much less capital crimes. The Weimar Republic kept the death penalty for murder and executed a relative handful of people, and then Hitler came along and had tens of thousands executed, including a bunch of students whose heads were cut off for doing little more than slagging off the government and suggesting that the war might have been a mistake.

If you or anyone else can come up with a way which guarantees no future government can abuse it I'd seriously reconsider my opposition to it. The moral argument is subjective and the financial one, while it may prove costly depending on how often they fuck up, is probably still on the right side. But this business of expecting me to trust that no future government will take things too far when plenty of death penalty states past and present have done exactly that is still a big barrier for me.

Angry Exile said...

There are hundreds of convicted murderers/murderesses currently at liberty in the UK alone ..

Yes, but we're only interested in the recidivists. Ones who are released and then behave are not a cause for concern. The dilemma there is that there are people who kill and instantly regret it, and go on regretting it whether they're locked up or on licence, and there are those who kill and couldn't give a fat rat's clacker about the life they took. Worse, there are some who don't obviously fit into either category and some who may start in one and then eventually move to the other. No practical public safety purpose is served by executing any apart from those permanently in the killed-and-didn't-care category. But how do we separate them out from the others?

Muliply that by the number in the rest of the world & the one case you quote takes on a totally different perspective.

Not sure we can fairly multiply that by the rest of the world since so much of it doesn't have those forensic resources. In any case the whole point of that example is that we don't know how many cases like that there are. Jama was convicted not because there was no exculpatory evidence - he had an alibi - but because nearly everybody - cops, prosecution, jury - assumed that DNA evidence is absolutely reliable. The reality is that DNA evidence is no more automatically safe than any other evidence in which a human hand has been involved, and if it has happened to someone else they're now in the unfortunate position of being a convicted prisoner with the burden of proof reversed.

This is not to say that the majority are wrong or even a significant minority. It's just to challenge the assumption that modern forensic techniques make wrongful conviction highly unlikely. It's precisely that assumption, that unshakeable belief that forensics are necessarily reliable, that put Farah Jama away despite the other evidence. If you're a prosecutor you can almost walk in, point at the dock, say "DNA blahblah forensics match blah" and get a fucking conviction on that alone if the jury is mad up entirely of CSI fans.

parkylondon said...

So, using your logic then Captain H, it's better to kill innocent people for crimes they didn't commit to be sure you got the ones that did than bang them away for life?

Perhaps you should leave the country? May I suggest Saudi Arabia?

David Gillies said...

AE: do you honestly think that had the Weimar Republic not had a death penalty it would have deterred the Nazis from introducing one? They invaded multiple countries and put people in gas chambers, for God's sake. I don't think they were overly concerned with propriety. Nazism wasn't a slippery slope: it was a step change. Its the reason why we shouldn't have Nazis, not why we shouldn't have capital punishment.

The argument from wrongful conviction is cogent, but fraught with logical problems. It's the Sorites Paradox, really. "Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent be convicted," we say all piously. OK then, what about eleven guilty men? What about twelve? What about a hundred? Might as well empty the jails because there could be one guy banged up who didn't do it. There isn't any bright line criterion we can draw, so ultimately we have to fall back on some sort of utilitarian calculus (we do this in other walks of life, e.g. we don't make cars perfectly safe even though people will die as a result.)

English Viking said...

Gillies,

Shut up with your Godwin shite.

AE, At least I got a reasoned argument from you.

The point I am making is that hundreds of innocents are dead because of repeat murder offenders, a situation that will only get worse.

Life does not mean life, never has done. A pathethic fraction of those convicted of murder will stay in jail. Even if it was all of them, why should the law-abiding pay for the continuance of the meaningless existence of a murderer?

With regard to the 'falsely accused', how many can you think of. Please don't quote Bentley or either of the IRA terrorist cells, they were all guilty.

English Viking said...

AE,

BTW I would say it is an equal crime to let a murderer go free, as it is to execute the wrong man.

The former happens daily. The latter once in a blue moon, if ever.

Angry Exile said...

DG, no, that's not what I believe. There was the Enabling Act that gave Hitler the power to pass unconstitutional laws so clearly the lack of a death penalty would not have prevented him. Does go quite a way to legitimising things though. Consider two states which both want to reintroduce the death penalty and extend it to, say heroin dealers. One has a constitution expressly forbidding capital punishment and one does not. Both can do it - ultimately they are states and have a monopoly on force against which individuals are almost powerless - but we don't need to ask which is going to have an easier job of it.

Don't get hung up on the Nazis just because I used one of the most extreme examples. I do tend to go for them automatically rather than some other examples because the Sophie Scholl movie blew me away but there are others. For example, several states today will cheerfully off you for possession of a relatively modest amount of puff, Singapore for any 'unlawful' discharge of a firearm - which would seem to be broad enough to include an ND - and so on.

Would Britain or Australia go that far or even further? Probably not, but not 'certainly not' - the state's monopoly on force remains. With that in mind would you trust the Heath government not to abuse it when they deceived the whole country over Europe to win a referendum? Or Blair's government when the case for invading Iraq was being made? Or Snotty McFail who... well, take your pick. Or here, where Gingery Dullard has gone back on a firm election pledge not to have a carbon tax? Not related to criminal justice, true, but what logical reason is there for trusting liars, thieves and reprobates with anything at all? If I can't trust them with my wallet how can I trust them with my life? To their credit each and every one of the ones I mentioned hasn't tried to bring it back, though I'm uncertain as to whether it's because they don't trust themselves with the it either or because they have even more fear of being strung up in the future than the rest of us.
:-)

"Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent be convicted," we say all piously. OK then, what about eleven guilty men? What about twelve? What about a hundred? Might as well empty the jails because there could be one guy banged up who didn't do it.

I don't think Blackstone was arguing in favour of emptying the jails so much as just being bloody careful before you put someone in it, and as Parkylondon points out that is reversible if it turns out to have been in error. Remembering that the ten We might reword it as better than ten guilty men are permitted to live (not saying anything about their liberty here) than one innocent man's life is taken. The Sorities paradox no longer applies because we could just as well apply it to eleven or twelve or a hundred or any arbitrarily large number.

English Viking said...

AE,

BTW (again)

The difference between a murderer taking a life and the State doing so as a form of justice and retribution is obvious; the State would not do it because you looked at them funny, spilled their pint or made a compliment to their girlfriend.

They would do so only in the most extreme of circumstances, circumstances that were completely avoidable by the person concerned.

It is a wickedness in the extreme to allow a murderer to walk after 11 years.

Angry Exile said...

The point I am making is that hundreds of innocents are dead because of repeat murder offenders, a situation that will only get worse.

I may be misreading you but you say that as if it's inevitable that it will get worse, and I don't see the inevitability bit at all. Agreed, people are dead because of repeat murderers, but that was as easy to avoid by not letting them out as by killing them.

Life does not mean life, never has done. A pathethic fraction of those convicted of murder will stay in jail.

This is an argument that the some of the sentences are wrong, not that keeping them alive is wrong.

...why should the law-abiding pay for the continuance of the meaningless existence of a murderer?

Meaningless is a very subjective term. Per my earlier comment, some murderers instantly regret it and continue to do so their whole lives. Such people are not a danger to society and don't need to be killed, yet you can hardly have the court let them off either, so you lock them up. Others may genuinely reform themselves and be of some value. Sure, many will not do either and objectively would be no loss at all, but we can't predict the future or read minds, and to work out which prisoners really are disposable we'd need to be able to do both.

With regard to the 'falsely accused', how many can you think of. Please don't quote Bentley or either of the IRA terrorist cells, they were all guilty.

How long have you got? JuliaM maintains a list of falsely accused right here. Ah, but not murderers, you might say. Fine, you'll turn up more on Google for as long as you're prepared to keep looking, but off the top of my head how about Stephen Downing? Or one you probably won'f have heard of, Alan Gell?He was on Death Row in North Carolina for five years before the state found out that the witnesses against him actually committed the murder, though you'd have thought someone might have noticed that Gell was in fucking jail for car theft on the day of the murder (see Penn & Teller: Bullshit s4ep3).

And Bentley? Even if I was convinced that "Let him have it, Chris" meant "Shoot the cop", and for all I know it might have, I don't buy it that that makes him guilty of murder. It was the other guy's decision to pull the trigger no matter what was said to him. He could have said no and surrendered - he chose to shoot instead. Calling it common purpose and hanging someone who was already under arrest and in handcuffs when the shot was fired just makes me worry about the use of common purpose as well as capital punishment.

All of which is incidental to my reluctance to trust liars, thieves and reprobates with that kind of power. Christ, I don't trust them with what they have already. I don't fancy giving them any more.

Angry Exile said...

The difference between a murderer taking a life and the State doing so as a form of justice and retribution is obvious; the State would not do it because you looked at them funny, spilled their pint or made a compliment to their girlfriend.

But states past and present can and do kill for reasons as equally trivial as those. We're just trusting that the same thing won't happen in our countries (or happen again) if we reintroduce capital punishment. Well, obviously I'm not, but reintroduction would force us all to whether we really did trust them or not.

It is a wickedness in the extreme to allow a murderer to walk after 11 years.

No argument from me there but again that's a just a good reason to keep them in longer, not to have them killed at the earliest opportunity. Generally prison should, I believe, have three aims. First is rehabilitation, but always with the practical consideration that a lot of prisoners won't play ball. That brings us on to the second function which is simply to give everyone a break from their crimes by keeping them locked up. The third is to deprive them of liberty for as long as seems reasonable to act as a fair punishment. Even if a murder is a spur of the moment thing in circumstances that can't possibly happen again and the first two functions aren't relevant eleven years doesn't seem long enough for the third one.

English Viking said...

AE,

This could go on forever.

So far you have found (maybe) 2.

I have found over 200.

String them up!

Hang them high!

PS If they are not accused of a capital offense, why mention them? A false accusation of a parking infraction doesn't really count, does it?

We have to come to the point where we realise that the current system blows, but mine (for example) would be better.

Sooner or later, we will revert to 'Might is Right'. It's just a matter of time.

We are in agreement that the current bunch of #"*^^)(%$# thieves are absolute scum.

When I am King, they will be first against the wall.

Really, no, honestly. Give me the gun/rope/needle.

Solomon killed his hundreds, but David his thousands.- the Viking would do immeasurably more than this.

Line them up - my pity is all gone on kittens and bunny-rabbits.

English Viking said...

AE,

We agree on one thing, but differ in the letter.

Prison should, in my opinion, achieve at least three things-Punish, Punish and Punish.

Feck rehabilitation.

Take it from me. I've been to prison. It's shit. I went in for a disagreement with the State, I came out not one bit better. I do not consider myself a 'criminal', merely one that refused to conform to the nonsense demanded of me. I hurt no-one, except the Tax Office.

You appear to speak from ignorance. I speak from experience.

I'll be amazed if I either;

a) live so little that I don't go to prison again,

b) change so much I'll avoid prison again

BTW If you look down your nose at me because I am a 'jailbird', please think again.

Can you not think of at least one 'jailbird' you thought was a decent man?

I suppose we are coming at it in 2 totally different ways, and that we will never understand each other?

English Viking said...

AE,

Are you still out there?

Downing wasn't executed.

I'm not concerned with the US, any more than I am the French, Cuban or Bhutanian.

JuliaM said...

"...simply put, you can't unkill someone if they are later proven innocent. "

Which is why, as Capt Haddock points out, it should be considered only in the most water-tight of cases.

"The solution is simple. Do not allow endless appeals."

Quite a few checks are inbuilt intro the US system - some appeals are automatic.

"If it is just a numbers game, if we keep the system we have now, a huge amount of innocents are going to continue to die, compared to the tiny fraction of those falsely accused."

That's a good point.

"The science may be precise but it's still being carried out by fallible human beings, and a mistake by one such fallible human being in 2006 led to the conviction for rape here in Melbourne of a completely innocent man, Farah Jama."

Over-reliance on any forensic technique carries that risk, though? Aren't they all carried out by humans?

JuliaM said...

"If you or anyone else can come up with a way which guarantees no future government can abuse it I'd seriously reconsider my opposition to it."

I don't think that's possible, is it? Mankind is endlessly inventive when attempting to find a loophole!

"The dilemma there is that there are people who kill and instantly regret it, and go on regretting it whether they're locked up or on licence, and there are those who kill and couldn't give a fat rat's clacker about the life they took. "

Despite the obfuscations on the psychologists, I think most people would find it quite easy to tell one from the other.

"There isn't any bright line criterion we can draw, so ultimately we have to fall back on some sort of utilitarian calculus (we do this in other walks of life, e.g. we don't make cars perfectly safe even though people will die as a result.)"

Good point.

"Life does not mean life, never has done. A pathethic fraction of those convicted of murder will stay in jail. "

Which, I seem to recall, was the bargain made when the DP was abolished...

David Gillies said...

EV: if you're going to be bloody rude, please explain how a response to someone invoking the Nazis is 'Godwin shite'?

AE: It would be astonishingly difficult for, say, the US to extend the categories of crimes for which the death penalty is applicable (the tendency is in the opposite direction). In fact, I can't think of a single example in recent history where a State has broadened the scope of its capital punishment statutes without there having been a pretty violent rupture in the constitution of that State, in which case a narrow focus on this issue is obscuring much greater problems.

From the point of view of British jurisprudence, the compact offered the people was that, in exchange for abolishing the death penalty, prison sentences would be long and rigourous. The abrogation of this is where the untrustworthiness lies. And just as you can't un-hang a man, you can't un-parole a murderer until he does something bad again, in which case it's too late. The main virtue I see in both capital punishment and whole-life terms is the prophylactic one of incapacitation. It's the same reason I'd bang robbers and burglars up for ten or twenty years: not because I thirst for vengeance, but because while they're inside they're not nicking things.

Angry Exile said...

Viking, I haven't 'found' two examples. I knew of them off the top of my head. You challenged me to think of any and without even using the interwebs I knew of two immediately. If you want me to go looking we both know that I will be able to find many more. I did not mention, because I can't recall names and details immediately, a case in the US where several men were charged with the same rape/capital murder with no physical evidence that there was ever more than one offender. Just a bunch of contradictory confessions that came after long police interviews - strangely unrecorded except for the actual confession - which with one exception were later retracted. The exception was that of the man against whom there was physical evidence, and according to his confession he acted alone. As I recall about half, including the one man against whom there was any evidence at all beyond a confession, ended up doing time for it anyway. If you want me to go to Google I have no doubt we can swap case of released murderer for case of wrongful conviction ad infinitum.

If they are not accused of a capital offense, why mention them? A false accusation of a parking infraction doesn't really count, does it?

I don't think I've reached the level of parking infringements ;-) but if we're only going to talk offences for which someone was actually executed then we automatically exclude every wrongful conviction in the UK in the last half century, in Australia over a similar period, in the US for a few years in the 70s when they stopped using it, in Europe since 1977, and so on. Since we're arguing over what ifs I think it's fair to say 'what if we had that system over there over here as well' and use any example of wrongful conviction of something which is a capital offence somewhere - excluding obvious lunacy such as stoning women for showing a bit of ankle etc.

Sooner or later, we will revert to 'Might is Right'. It's just a matter of time.

But it is and always will be, and there's none mightier than the state. That is why we should fear putting the death penalty back in its hands.

Prison should, in my opinion, achieve at least three things-Punish, Punish and Punish.

But why would you not also rehabilitate where possible? Punish, yes, absolutely, but if the opportunity is there - and I accept that for a large proportion it's probably a waste of effort - there is no reason not to take it. You are also forgetting the very important second function which is to prevent reoffending simply by placing a substantial locked door between the felon and the rest of us. If you could segregate all criminals from decent folk would you care if they felt being where you put them was a punishment? For that matter why kill if you wish to punish? You can't punish a dead man.

...my pity is all gone on kittens and bunny-rabbits.

I never had any in the first place. Do not think I'm speaking primarily out of concern for criminals. I would lose not a wink of sleep if every single individual you would like executed was shot dead resisting arrest. Not a wink. My main concern is and always will be my own skin and the fact that my level of trust for those who control the judicial system is not much larger than my level of pity for murderers. The idea of capital punishment under Blair, Brown or Cameramong - or Howard, Rudd or Gillard for that matter - is a chilling thought.

Angry Exile said...

If you look down your nose at me because I am a 'jailbird', please think again.

I wasn't because I had no idea. Changes nothing from my pov. Re: your point about your non-rehabilitation, from the sounds of things there was nothing to rehabilitate you for. It was just the state being a cuntish bullyboy because it could.

Can you not think of at least one 'jailbird' you thought was a decent man?

Yes, and possibly more. I don't know how many I have met who have been in prison and not told me. Shows that some can reform though, doesn't it? Well, except for any jailed for bullshit reasons that should never have got a custodial sentence.

I'm not concerned with the US, any more than I am the French, Cuban or Bhutanian.

How can you compare death penalty vs non death penalty systems without looking abroad and imagining foreign systems in place where you live? You place impossible conditions on the argument: you want me to give examples of wrongful conviction of capital crimes but then restrict me to a jurisdiction where there is no longer any such thing as a capital crime.

Angry Exile said...

Over-reliance on any forensic technique carries that risk, though? Aren't they all carried out by humans

That's kind of my point.

I don't think that's possible, is it? Mankind is endlessly inventive when attempting to find a loophole!

That's kind of my point, though I don't know for sure that it is impossible. Just that I've never seen any suggestions and I haven't come up with an idea myself.

Despite the obfuscations on the psychologists, I think most people would find it quite easy to tell one from the other.

There are certainly plenty which are very easy to pigeon hole. It's the ones who aren't that make it tricky, and there are plenty of them too. And even then the best trick cyclist in the world can only tell you about a person's state now - anything they have to say about the future is speculative.

Angry Exile said...

It would be astonishingly difficult for, say, the US to extend the categories of crimes for which the death penalty is applicable (the tendency is in the opposite direction).

What makes you say so. They can change the highest law in their land with a simple two thirds majority in the HoR and Senate. How hard can it really be to extend the use of capital punishment if there was an appetite for it? The real obstacle is probably that for the moment there is no appetite, but there is no guarantee that that will never change. Until recently Americans were happy to get on a plane as if it was a bus and would be outraged if they went through the kind of security procedures that is now routine at US airports. Now they demand it. Why couldn't some high profile incident drum up support for executing certain criminals other than murderers?

I can't think of a single example in recent history where a State has broadened the scope of its capital punishment statutes...

Singapore, though I'd have to check. But I reckon it would probably have had a common policy on what offences merit execution with Britain during its time as a colony, i.e. just murder. These days there are plenty of other offences - possession of drugs over a certain (fairly modest) quantity has a mandatory death penalty, even if there is no intent to supply; any unlawful discharge of a firearm, as I mentioned earlier; kidnapping in at least some circumstances. I think there are others, but the point is that unless they brought all that lot in together when they became independent, which seems unlikely, Singapore has indeed broadened the scope of its capital punishment statutes in exactly the way we're discussing.

... the compact offered the people was that, in exchange for abolishing the death penalty, prison sentences would be long and rigourous. The abrogation of this is where the untrustworthiness lies.

Agreed, we were lied to by untrustworthy people. Should we therefore now trust them not to abuse power that we give back to them? Forgive me but that's just another example that the fuckers are not to be taken at their word, though of course I agree that a return to the kind of prison sentences we're talking about would be a good move.

And just as you can't un-hang a man, you can't un-parole a murderer until he does something bad again, in which case it's too late.

True, but again that's less an argument for the death penalty than it is for longer sentences and/or more 'whole life tariffs'.

The main virtue I see in both capital punishment and whole-life terms is the prophylactic one of incapacitation.

Agreed, but that being so there is no reason in terms of effectiveness to choose the one that is irreversible - and requires me to trust my life in the hands of a a collection of deceitful people who I wouldn't trust with a five dollar note - over the one that is not.

English Viking said...

Gillies,

I apologise. Completely the wrong end of the stick, my fault entirely.

Sorry.

JuliaM said...

"But why would you not also rehabilitate where possible?"

Maybe, if the punishment is severe and - above all - appropriate, that provides the rehabilitation incentive in and of itself, without the need for 'extras'?

"And even then the best trick cyclist in the world can only tell you about a person's state now - anything they have to say about the future is speculative."

Good point!

"Gillies,

I apologise. Completely the wrong end of the stick, my fault entirely."


One day, I hope to see this level of polite discourse on a left-learning website... ;)

David Gillies said...

EV: no problem.

AE: the 2/3 majority required for a Constitutional Amendment is in fact an astonishingly high hurdle, and deliberately so. Think about it: the original document was adopted 223 years ago (as of April 2011) and the requisite impetus to amend it has been garnered fewer than thirty times. This is why I say a gross extension of capital punishment statutes would require a Constitutional rupture. Of course the US is sui generis, but globally the trend has been to narrow the scope of the death penalty (while perhaps intensifying its focus, q.v. Singapore.)

As far as the over-weening State impacts the life of the ordinary person, the fear of being wrongly hanged is a long way down the list of grievances. In fact I think you could say that a State in which it would be preposterous to fine someone for putting kitchen waste in the wrong bin would be one in which a wrongful hanging would be thoroughly inadvertent. That's what I mean when I say the problem with the Nazis hanging people left, right and centre was the Nazis, not the hanging (no matter how nuanced the distinction might have been for the hangees.)

Angry Exile said...

DG, "incredibly" high depends on one's perspective. I look at it as being sufficiently achievable that it's been done on nearly thirty occasions - in fact it works out on average to be once every second Presidential term. And I was only offering it as an example of how the very highest law of the land could be altered if about 300 people (of a population of 300 million) chose to do so. I was not suggesting that that would be necessary as I'm far from certain extending capital punishment would actually require that much effort since the Constitution clearly allows for its use in principle. I suspect it would happen at state level.

I'm not sure how you can say that Singapore has intensified its focus rather than broadened its scope. Perhaps, like incredibly high, this is a matter of perspective. For me if it has moved beyond murder into kidnapping and drug offences as low level as simple possession that's broadened. Yes, most western nations have moved the other way in recent years, and that's one of the very few things I think their governments have got right, even if I'm occasionally rather cynical about their motives. But you said you couldn't think of any example of a state that had made capital punishment an option for other offences and I gave you one.

As far as the over-weening State impacts the life of the ordinary person, the fear of being wrongly hanged is a long way down the list of grievances.

Currently it's not on the list at all because we don't have it, and that suits me fine. Where it would be if we did have it depends on how much it's used, how often the incompetent bastards stuff it up and how often they're made accountable. It might be in entirely safe hands. Or it might not. I'm not prepared to bet my life, the only one I'll ever have. More to the point I'm not prepared to bet yours either, or Julia's or English Viking's and so on.

Angry Exile said...

...a State in which it would be preposterous to fine someone for putting kitchen waste in the wrong bin would be one in which a wrongful hanging would be thoroughly inadvertent.

And the UK is no longer such a state. The public might think it's preposterous but the powers that be are clearly fine with disproportionate punishments for garbage offences (in both senses). They're also okay with creating complicated rules that are hard to follow, making it easier to fall foul of the law. Which side are you arguing again? ;-)

That's what I mean when I say the problem with the Nazis hanging people left, right and centre was the Nazis, not the hanging...

To an extent I agree, but you're assuming that the same can't happen in our countries. Let's never forget they were democratically elected and dab hands at both populism and demonising certain groups - outsiders first and then their own people who disagreed later (I think it was generally guillotines or firing squads rather than the rope, incidentally). They also had the Enabling Act. You don't see any parallels at all with our 'free' nations in recent years, especially the UK? Democratically elected parties demonising people. Law changed to grant the executive sweeping powers? No?

You spoke of a step change rather than a slippery slope but in fact it was neither - it was a succession of small steps, 'salami slicing' as many call it. Each step in itself not hugely objectionable as it doesn't change things that much, but the difference between the beginning and end of the process is can be vast. We're going beyond a death penalty discussion here but I'm certainly not the first to say that salami slicing has been going on in the UK over past 10-15 years. A return of the death penalty could be yet another slice, possibly not the thickest but still thicker than some.

I'm not going all tin foil hatty on you - I don't suggest it's likely but we have certainly moved in the same direction recently. UK society, or at least the bit that decides things by rocking up and voting every few years, seems to be flirting quite seriously with authoritarianism. The world's worst examples of authoritarian states are still within living memory, some even for Gen X-ers like me, so I think people would probably get cold feet and pull back from that. So no, not likely, and certainly not very likely, but I'd honestly say less unlikely than it was. Again, I wouldn't want to bet my life on it.

David Gillies said...

AE: the upshot of all this is that we are broadly in agreement but differ in where exists the point d'appui to counter this baleful tendency. I say, nip it in the bud (although, as you say, certain efflorescences of the over-mighty Rechtsstaat are in full bloom.)

Angry Exile said...

DG, pretty much how I see it too. Where we are now WRT violent criminals and our protection from them is not a desirable place to remain. That much we can probably all agree on. Whether something the death penalty is part of the solution is the sticking point.

I feel that a big part of the problem is that where we were once entitled and able to protect ourselves the state has arrogated that role, and it's not terribly good at it - as the old cliché has it, when seconds count the police are only minutes away. I'd naturally lean towards solutions which increase, or better still, maximise liberty and which also decrease, or better still entirely remove, the state. Since I don't have any deep objection to violent criminals getting themselves killed in the act of committing crimes I believe part of the answer (only a part, mind - I doubt violent crime has one single, neat, simple solution) is to allow law abiding citizens to arm themselves in defence once more.

Realistically the criminals will arm themselves anyway if they wish, ignoring the law being what they do anyway, and safely go about their business knowing that their intended victims are almost certain to be unarmed. The odds are very uneven and will remain so unless police numbers are increased by an order of magnitude or more - a whole other can of worms in my opinion - or citizens regain the responsibility for their own defence and the freedom to own effective means of doing so. You'd only need a significant minority to go armed in order to give many criminals second thoughts - is that guy armed, has she got a gun in her bag, even if they haven't might a passerby be armed, ah bollocks, I'll break into a car instead. The ones who can't work this through in their minds are likely - hopefully - going to get themselves shot in self defence.

Chances of either happening soon: comical to non-existent. Hoplophobes and do-gooders are in charge and insist on looking after citizens, which naturally means preventing them from looking after themselves.