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Executed Offenders - My thoughts on the death penalty.


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Executed Offenders - My thoughts on the death penalty.
Topic: Society 12:27 am EST, Dec 12, 2003

Here you can see the last statements of people executed in Texas. There seem to be five categories, some of which overlap.

1. People who deal with facing death by becoming religious.
2. People who apologize and seek forgiveness.
3. People who believe that they were in the wrong, but cannot accept their punishment.
4. People who proclaim their innocence and condemn their executioners.
5. People who say nothing (or maybe these are the ones who freaked out rather then making a formal "statement").

All tolled, I recommend reading a few of these. Its something that people ought to think about. Its like unedited war footage. It is raw data.

This is an occasion to discuss my perspective on the Death Penalty. I've been thinking about it a lot recently as I've been asked to serve on a jury, and whether or not you are willing to meter out such a punishment can determine whether or not you are allowed(/forced) to serve on a jury. I've been thinking about whether I support the death penalty, and if I don't, whether I should meter it out anyway if required as a juror is not a legislator nor a king.

The second question was easier to answer then the first. Conscientious objection now has a fine tradition in our country, and the history of the Second World War makes it clear that one must not allow ones role in society to overrule ones better personal morality.

What's more, the Supreme Court has decided that the ability of prosecutors to find a Jury willing to meter out death penalties outweighs the defendant's right to a jury that really represents their community. Being a systems professional, I'm quite comfortable with the idea that the system of checks and balances in our government can fail. More then three things fail all the time. This is one of the better examples I've seen. If you are moving outside of the local community in order to find people who will execute the law, you've raised the legislative authority of the republic of a wide geographic area above the more relevant perspective of the local community in question. The entire notion of trial by jury seems intended to prevent this precise activity. Why not simply do away with jury trials all together and have the judge (a trained legal professional) make the decisions precisely on the basis of the law?

I think community shopping for this reason ought to be illegal. I think that if I supported the death penalty there would be enough in this to make me tell them I didn't support it. If they are going to shop around for juries who will execute their bidding instead of REALLY turning to the community, then they aren't actually running jury trials. So, what is the point of participating if its just for show?

I've also decided, finally, that I oppose the Death Penalty. It really breaks down into two issues. One is whether I support the death penalty as administered by the U.S. Government, and the other is whether I support the death penalty at all.

The American Bar Association has called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the United States because defendants in capital trials usually have poor legal representation. Of course its a political tactic to get more money for public defender's offices, but that doesn't mean its not true. I'm sure the ABA's position is well defended. Defending positions is what these people do for a living. At the risk of making an incomplete argument, I'm going to give this one to them.

In fact, it doesn't really matter if you agree with the ABA's specifics, because we don't have to get into specifics about the quality of legal representation in order to come to conclusions about this subject. We know that we are executing innocent people. Most of the people we execute are guilty, but not all of them. We have applied new DNA techniques to cases on Death Row which were past their final appeal, and we have discovered some innocents.

When the government takes an innocent person away from their lives and families, locks them up, and eventually kills them, it inflicts the exact same harm on society that this system of criminal justice is supposed to deter! We have the ultimate punishment being metered out by an imperfect government bureaucracy. These are mistakes that cannot be undone.

But maybe it is worth it? Maybe it is alright for us to kill a few innocent people if it makes society in general safer from violent criminals. Unfortunately, it doesn't. It is well know that capital punishment does not deter violent crime. Study after study after study has proved this out. So why do we do it, if not because it is a rational approach to crime control?

The answer is obvious, but no one is willing to admit it. No one will admit it because it doesn't fit well into a rational political argument. No one will admit it because making a society really look at itself in a critical light is the fastest political suicide one can commit.

We have the death penalty for irrational, emotional reasons. We have the death penalty because it feels good. We have the death penalty because it is violent. We have the death penalty because we wish to inflict violence upon those who would harm us and our loved ones.

There is a reason that the rest of the world looks warily at our death penalty system; passing international human rights resolutions that put us on the wrong side of the law; refusing to extradite suspects to us for trial... The international community views our system as barbaric because it IS barbaric. We are a violent people, and we inflict violence upon each other.

So, even if we had an ideal system in which no innocent people were ever executed, I must say I would still oppose the death penalty. I'd go one further then to argue against the notion that this penalty deters violent crime. I'd say its self defeating. The death penalty contributes to violent crime. The statistics seem to show a correlation, but frankly its obvious when you really think about it.

We have a real problem in America with oversimplified responses to complex problems. When kids are shooting up their high schools we march on the video game companies. Obviously most people who play video games don't kill people. Obviously some video games can encourage some people to become more violent. Inconsistent results mean we are dealing with a symptom and not the source of the problem.

We never manage to boil it down, because its everywhere, and hence no where specific. Its a systemic thing. Kids shoot up their schools in America because Americans are violent people. Americans believe, ultimately, that violence solves problems. American men get in fist fights when they are angry. American states execute people when they commit crimes. Americans believe that they are superior to their competitors in the world, ultimately, because they could beat them in a war. When Americans feel like their interests are threatened, they call the Marines, not Jimmy Carter.

If you want to address the problem, you have to start by finding ways to actually be less violent. How do you do that? Well, I'll tell you, its not by banning video games, or movies, or hunting rifles, or other things that look like violence, but aren't. You have to actually be less violent. That means less actual violence in the home. That means less tolerance for actual violence on the playground. That means less actual violence in international affairs. And yes, it means less actual violence in your criminal justice system.

You will find that if you choose to be less violent that people will follow you. If your institutions do not uphold violence people won't be so likely to conclude that it is a valid way to handle problems. Conversely, the best way to encourage more violence is to support it directly, by backing the death penalty, for example. If the state solves its problems with violence, then why can't everyone?

As I wish to have less actual violence inflicted upon my friends and loved ones, I ought to oppose violence where possible. I do not mean for this to be a stupid, unbending rule. This is a principal to apply when it makes sense. If you have to employ violence in self defense (like to track down a terrorist network that is blowing up your buildings) then maybe you have to. I'm certainly not arguing that we dismantle the military here. But in general, you ought to avoid violence where ever possible. It is certainly possible for us to live without the death penalty. Therefore, I must oppose it.

(BTW, If you like this essay, please do NOT recommend it. Click the REPLY button, cut out all the text save a paragraph or two, and post your reply to your MemeStream. People should not be completely re-quoting long rants. I know the UI has to change to make this more intuitive. We're working on it. It should be done soon.)

Executed Offenders - My thoughts on the death penalty.

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