A Thoughtful Look at the Death Penalty

Here's a thought:

It's the job of the government to be thoughtful and rational in dealing with criminals.

An editorial in The Des Moines Register chastises both presidential candidates for criticizing the Supreme Court's decision prohibiting execution as punishment for sex crimes that do not cause death.

Wednesday's ruling is a victory because it further narrows the reach of the death penalty, an uncivilized practice in 21st-century America. ... Killing criminals, whether murderers or rapists, accomplishes nothing. The Supreme Court - and the country - should be working toward abolishing the death penalty, not finding new opportunities to apply it.

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    Which Explains... (5.00 / 0) (#15)
    by CoralGables on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 12:13:03 AM EST
    How you feel is exactly why politicians come out publicly in favor of capital punishment (even if they are against it).

    If all states had life without parole as an option, we would probably see the number of inmates on death row start to diminish and it would be used far less as a political chip.

    There are many substantive reasons for (none / 0) (#22)
    by BackFromOhio on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 10:25:53 AM EST
    Court's decision.
    Because so many sex crimes against young children are committed by family members/close friends, adding the death penalty would have a serious chilling effect on reporting and prosecution of those crimes. You are 7 years old, and you've been raped by a family member; you've been threatened if you tell; it is hard enough to tell under these circumstances, without having to get past the notion that the person you "tell on" could be put to death. It is far better, in my opinion and the opinion of the psych professions, to encourage reporting and prosecution of sex crimes against children than to discourage reporting but knowing in the few cases that may be reported that the criminal can be put to death.
    In addition, by allowing the death penalty, you in effect encourage child rapists to kill and thus silence their victims, as there would be no difference in the punishment at risk.
    Louisiana was preying on knee jerk reactions of "how terrible is child rape" among all of us. No disagreement, but this is precisely why a system that encourages reporting and conviction -- which helps the victims in many ways, than one that focuses on exacting the greatest punishment but which would have the effect of allowing many more criminals to go free while victims decline to get their day in court, at great detriment to their life-long wellbeing.

    No - I apologize if not clear (none / 0) (#26)
    by BackFromOhio on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 12:09:41 PM EST
    children who are victims of rape will be far less likely to report rape by a family member if the death penalty can be imposed. Under-reporting of rape will increase.  See amicus briefs by many mental health organizations who are on the front lines of treating child victims of sexual abuses.  E.g.

    Sorry link failed (none / 0) (#27)
    by BackFromOhio on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 12:13:28 PM EST

    If this does not work again, you can go to abanet.org site.


    Side effect of "no death" Capital Crimes (none / 0) (#28)
    by CoralGables on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 01:00:51 PM EST
    There is also a sidelight to the ruling that has been an issue off and on for years. If death is a possible punishment for rape, kidnapping, etc., those crimes where the only witness may be the victim, why let them live to testify against you if you receive the same possible punishment by killing them. That alone is another excellent reason to eliminate crimes where no death occurs from the list of capital crimes.

    There is a 30 year old book/movie called "The Onion Field" that dealt with capital punishment and kidnapping and The Lindbergh Law.


    Maybe in our lifetime (none / 0) (#1)
    by CoralGables on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 06:32:18 PM EST
    It's true the presidency could probably be a launching pad to ending capital punishment if the same party controls the White House, the Senate, and the House. I'm assuming of course all three would need to have the Democratic Party at the helm. The other approach is a Supreme Court with several more Justices put in place by a Democratic President.

    A state by state method with similar thinking Governors still looks to be the only functional way to end this practice, although I would like to be pleasantly surprised and see Washington DC step up and take charge.

    As long as there are right wing Republicans controlling any of the three branches of government, or being elected as Governors, I don't see it happening on a national scale anytime soon. Mostly, it appears everyone is moving in the direction of how do we execute people in a fair and humane manner as opposed to ending this practice.

    If an individual ran on a strong anti-capital punishment platform on a statewide or national scale the Progressive Community would back them strongly... and the vast majority of them would still go down in flames.

    I am in full agreement with (none / 0) (#2)
    by MO Blue on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 07:18:03 PM EST
    the quote from that editorial.

    Ditto. (none / 0) (#3)
    by santarita on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 07:25:33 PM EST
    The death penalty is state sanctioned barbarism in theory and in practice.

    I fonly our good friends in Iowa... (none / 0) (#4)
    by citizen53 on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 07:28:26 PM EST
    could also deal with their biased administration of justice:

    Blacks would seem to be under special surveillance in Iowa.  The state might have been the first in the nation to support Obama on the road to the White House but it is also first in the rate of racially disparate mass incarceration.  According to a recent Sentencing Project report, Iowa locks up African Americans at 13.6 times the frequency that it imprisons whites, the worst record in the nation.

    This is more than twice the terrible national black-white race disparity (5.6) in incarceration rates. Mississippi and Alabama both lock up blacks at 3.5 times the rate at which they imprison whites, making them look like bastions of progressivism...

    FWIW... (none / 0) (#5)
    by citizen53 on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 07:34:00 PM EST
    The death penalty should not exist, period.

    If we truly wanted to punish, we could turn the bad guys over to Bush and his friends.

    Seriously, there are much more effective ways, in my view, to deal with those convicted of heinous crimes.

    I understand that McCain would be silent, but I keep hearing that Obama is progressive.

    Oh yeah, he's the only game in town, so he can show his real self.


    It was worse in 1994 (none / 0) (#19)
    by JSN on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 07:16:19 AM EST
    The earliest B/W incarceration ratio I have for Iowa prison inmates is 16.2 in 1991  and it increased to 19.2 in 1994. Since then it fell to 13.0 in 2002 and has stayed at about that level since then.

    The Hispanic/White ratio was 2.2 in 1993 and the maximum was 3.0 in 1997 and since 1999 is has averaged 2.0.

    There is nothing new in the Sentencing Project report but it did expose Iowa to international ridicule and that might result in some changes. The legislature writes the rules of the game but the game is played at the local and county level. If there is institutional racism in the Iowa criminal justice system it has to operate at the county level.

    There are counties in Iowa where about 50% of the prison admissions are minorities. There is no county in Iowa with a minority percentage that large. My recollection is that Black Hawk County has a 10% minority population and that would be the largest. The majority of the prison commitments are from five counties.

    The criminal justice process starts with an arrest and booking and one possible outcome is incarceration in prison. In my county the ratio of prison commitments to booking is 120/8000 or about 1.5%. However very few of the bookings are at the aggravated misdemeanor or felony level where a prison sentences is an option. It turns out that parole, probation and work release revocations are responsible for over half of the prison admissions.

    It should be noted that Iowa has people in prison charged with serious and aggravated misdemeanors and all felonies and they are being compared with states that use jail for all misdemeanors and some also put class D felons in jail. that makes a big difference because misdemeanors  and class D felonies are common and class C - A felonies are rare.


    Not True (none / 0) (#6)
    by pluege on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 07:39:51 PM EST
    Killing criminals, whether murderers or rapists, accomplishes nothing.

    it accomplishes the branding of the society administering state sponsored murder as barbaric.

    Political capital (none / 0) (#7)
    by lmv on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 08:07:19 PM EST
    Wouldn't it have been a great use of Senator Obama's supposed popularity and political capital to support the Supreme Court's decision?  

    How refreshing would that have been?  

    Wouldn't that have helped our standing in the world?  

    His pandering on this, of all issues, is unconscionable.  

    Death Penalty - a look in the mirror (none / 0) (#8)
    by koshembos on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 08:40:43 PM EST
    The death penalty is a reflection of our societal violence and lack of moral fiber. Now, we retaliate against some criminals because we cannot elevate ourself to a moral level where it saddens us to see the victims and realize that we need to confine the criminals.

    Our penal system is cruel, inhuman, non rehabilitating and increases violence.

    death penalty opinion (none / 0) (#9)
    by davidjames on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 09:40:51 PM EST
    even God has an opinion on this one -- #46 below:

    50 ways that you can work toward building a great society:

    1. If you have children, carefully monitor their television time and internet use; know who their friends are; check their homework nightly; provide them with healthy nutritious meals every day; ensure that they get physical activity and that they get enough sleep; spend time with them and engage them in fun wholesome activities. Talk to them and tell them how much you love them often. If you don't have the time or energy for all this, do not have more children.

    2. Don't scream at, denigrate, or hit children.

    3. Be truly honest with yourself and others. (This is not the same as being mean or sarcastic.)

    4. Study the issues before voting using a variety of sources. If you don't have the time to thoroughly understand the issues, don't vote.

    5. If you see someone throw their cigarette butt or other litter on the street, let them know that you don't appreciate it.

    6. If you see someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in an area that children use (parks, on a train, near shops, etc.), notify the police.

    7. Avoid using or buying cars as much as possible. Walk, bicycle, use public transportation, move closer to work, get a job closer to home, etc.

    8. Do not contribute to suburban sprawl. Do not engage in new construction; renovate an existing structure instead.

    9. Avoid hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, farmed salmon, sodium nitrate. Check ingredients.

    10. If you are a parent of school-age children, insist that school administrators remove disruptive children from the classroom. If you are a teacher, insist that school administrators remove disruptive children from your classroom and always fully report and document any violent or abusive behavior engaged in by students.

    11. Vote with your pocketbook: If you don't want to support pedophiles, don't pay for movies directed by pedophiles. If you don't want to support child abusers, don't buy music created by child abusers. If you don't support prostitution, don't pay for movies starring someone who uses prostitutes. Ask like-minded people to join you in this effort.

    12. Keep your charitable donations in line with your principles. For example, if you believe that men and women should be treated equally in the workplace, you should not give money to an organization that decrees that women may not occupy the top job.

    13. Be aware of how your charitable donations are being used, in order to keep the usage of your donations in line with your principles. There are many well-meaning people who have spent many dollars on organizations that purport to help unwed mothers. However, these organizations actually talk these unwed mothers out of getting pre-natal care. And then as soon as the baby is born, the organization will no longer help. Always be very careful about who is pocketing your contributions and exactly every way that the monies are being used.

    14. If you believe that a college or university is not providing appropriate stewardship of its students, do not attend classes at that institution, do not send your children to that institution, do not recommend that institution, and think twice about hiring graduates of that institution.

    15. If you are a smoker, don't smoke in the vicinity of non-smokers. If you are a non-smoker, stay far away from someone who is smoking.

    16. Lobby your lawmakers and courts to keep violent criminals behind bars while keeping non-violent criminals on house arrest. Lobby for bigger fines for lawbreakers, especially in corruption cases. If your lawmakers and judges will not listen, move to replace judges and/or consider running for local office yourself.

    17. Tell your political leaders that you expect them to uphold and enforce the law. (Write letters, protest, get creative on how to send this message.)

    18. Vote for those who promise to rid us of the huge deficit and debt. Tell your lawmakers that you are sick and tired of pork and corruption.

    19. If you are a patriotic American, buy American goods and services.

    20. Stay healthy: Eat nutritious foods, get some exercise, have the occasional physical and dental checkup, remember to take any prescribed medications, avoid dangerous sports, use SPF when outdoors, use condoms if you engage in intercourse, get enough sleep, etc.

    21. Ask the brightest and most honest people you know to volunteer for your local Board of Elections. If you are a registered voter, volunteer to staff polling places on election days. (Many companies will allow their employees to take a personal day for this purpose.)

    22. If you are married, do not have an affair without first telling your spouse that you are thinking about it. Either be honest about your feelings and give your spouse fair warning, or don't have the affair.

    23. Make your opinions and principles known to others. (This is not the same as giving advice.)

    24. Do not press your religious or spiritual beliefs on others, and do not allow anyone to insist on pressing their beliefs on you or your children.

    25. Reject materialism. If you have a garage or spare room full of unused stuff, it is time to reassess your spending habits. If your house or car is larger than what you need, downsize.

    26. Don't do anything you'd be embarrassed about if everyone knew that you'd done it.

    27. If you are aware of fraud or corruption, report it.

    28. Do not have unnecessary surgery. Do not pay for unnecessary surgery for someone else.

    29. If you witness someone breaking the law or behaving suspiciously, take the time and effort to report it to the police.

    30. Obey your local laws. If there are laws that you don't agree with, lobby and organize to change them.

    31. Do not protect someone you know to be a child molester by keeping it secret.

    32. Do not have a child out of wedlock.

    33. If you want a child, unless you and your spouse (as well as your extended families) are both in perfect physical, mental, and emotional health, adopt a child that needs a family instead of getting pregnant. The number of orphans is close to 44 million.

    34. Do not have a child if you are not happy with your life.

    35. Do not have a child if you are not completely positive that you and your spouse will remain happily married for the rest of your lives.

    36. Do not have a child if you would not happily support that child financially for the rest of your life.

    37. Do not have a child if you would not be completely thrilled about it, regardless of the child's sex.

    38. Do not have a child before you are very financially secure.

    39. Do not have a child until you have been married for at least a year.

    40. Do not have a child until you have either achieved a college degree or have experienced success in your chosen field.

    41. Do not have a child if you argue with your spouse about taking care of children or step-children you already have.

    42. Do not have a child if you already have a child or step-child with special needs.

    43. If you are divorced and have children with your former spouse, do not remarry until the children are adults. If you do not have custody, reside within walking distance of your children's residence.

    44. Do not have children with more than one person.

    45. Put your children first. (This is not the same as using your children as an excuse for staying in a bad marriage. Children do not thrive in a loveless or tense environment.)

    46. If you are both Christian and for the death penalty, consider this: "'Vengeance is mine', saith the Lord."

    47. If you are a dad, understand that your daughters need as much quality time with you as your sons do.

    48. Don't lie to children.

    49. Don't help to cover up someone else's bad behavior or addictions.

    50. Forward this email to everyone you know.

    Death Penalty (none / 0) (#10)
    by lilburro on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 09:59:47 PM EST
    I still don't understand why "the death penalty is an appropriate outlet for moral outrage" argument is still tossed around.  I was surprised Obama supported it on that ground.  You could at least say it deters violent crime (though I don't think it does).  

    Down with the death penalty.

    And it's racially biased (none / 0) (#11)
    by lmv on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 11:15:14 PM EST
    Or didn't he learn that at Harvard?  

    I was shocked that a supposed liberal, African-American senator - from a state that had a moritorium on the DP because it was flawed - would make such a stupid statement.


    Warning: anecdote. (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 11:18:43 PM EST
    I've never discussed the death penalty with any of my family.  But when I mentioned Obama's statement on death penalty for rape of a minor, a family member sd., everyone agrees with that.  Rather surprised me.

    Yup (none / 0) (#13)
    by CoralGables on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 11:50:38 PM EST
    And that's why I say, come out strong against the death penalty and get your head handed to you in an election. I don't like it, but that's the way it is (for at least awhile longer)

    What I want to know is (none / 0) (#16)
    by phat on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 01:05:27 AM EST
    why is it that Iowa has so many voices against the death penalty and Nebraska doesn't. Thread that needle and the problem is solved.

    Charles Starkweather? (none / 0) (#17)
    by oculus on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 01:23:42 AM EST
    The party leaders in the Iowa legislature (none / 0) (#18)
    by JSN on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 06:30:35 AM EST
    have no idea how their members will vote on a DP bill. The last time it came up the Republican leadership thought they had enough votes to pass it and they were wrong because many of their members voted against it and they did not pick up enough Democratic votes to offset the loss. It is a very emotional issue and there were hard feelings that lasted for a long time.

    Heh (none / 0) (#23)
    by Steve M on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 10:29:22 AM EST
    Why don't you just write SYFPH?

    It's not polite... (none / 0) (#24)
    by chrisblask on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 10:30:07 AM EST