Friday, October 13, 2006

Why Capital Punishment Doesn't Work

Before I get into the gist of what I have to say, I have a question for those of you who follow some form of Judeo-Christian religion and yet support the use of capital punishment: Isn’t God supposed to be the one who decides who lives and who dies? And who are you (or the judge, or the jury) to play God? That’s not for me to answer, as I am an atheist.

I don’t believe in killing people except in cases of actual self-defense. What do I mean by "actual"? Well, if someone were trying to kill or seriously harm Jane or me and I thought that deadly force would be the only way to stop the danger to us, then I could live with myself if I managed to kill the person. I would prefer to find a way to stop him that didn’t involve taking his life, but if I had no other choice, then I could do it. I'd much rather knock him over the head really hard and call the police.

Once a potential killer is in custody and no longer is a danger to anyone, then killing him is unnecessary. I do not favor the use of capital punishment by the state. I’m not saying it’s unconstitutional because clearly the Framers accepted that it would be around; I just don’t believe it does any good. It’s clearly not a deterrent. Take the state of Texas, for example. Texas has a number of ways that you can legally kill people (such as stopping theft of property during the night), yet people still murder other people illegally. And it’s not as though Texas is one of those states where death row inmates are unlikely to have their sentences carried out; they carry out quite a few executions throughout the year. So the theory that “if you take someone else’s life, yours will be taken in return” clearly hasn’t stopped people from killing each other in Texas.

In fact, if you were to look at the murder rates in states without capital punishment versus those with it, you will find that the states without capital punishment tend to have lower homicide rates than the states that do (or there is virtually no difference.) So you can’t argue that “it stops the killing” because it clearly doesn’t. And what is accomplished by putting someone to death for a murder committed years before? Punishment? I think not. It’s more like revenge than anything else. The guy’s locked up and, if proper procedures are followed, he’s not going to harm any innocent people. So why kill him?

Some argue that they don’t want their tax money spent feeding this guy for the rest of his life. I have news for those people: it’s cheaper to do just that than to sentence him to death. Anyone sentenced to death gets automatic appeals that the taxpayers pay for. These appeals can cost as much as $2,000,000 and when it’s over, will still likely end with the person being executed anyway. Numbers vary, but if it costs $50,000 a year to house an inmate, then that two million would pay for forty years of imprisonment, assuming the prisoner lives that long. So it’s clearly cheaper for the taxpayer to sentence someone to life without parole than it is to sentence them to death.

Does anyone really believe that these killers prefer to spend decades in prison over having their misery ended? Not likely. Take the case of Timothy McVeigh. He decided to waive all his appeals and petition the president for some kind of clemency. Apparently his lawyers forgot to tell him that the president was George W. Bush, the man who laughed at the idea that James Byrd’s killers were going to “get the death penalty” (insert big smile and grin here.) He also ridiculed Karla Fay Tucker’s pleas for mercy. So I don’t know what McVeigh was thinking if he thought his sentence would be commuted. So why did he do it? Because he did not want to spend any more time in prison. Given the option of a few more years of staying alive behind bars versus having his misery ended, he chose to end his misery. If you wanted to punish him, really punish him, you could have commuted his sentence to life without parole and make him spend the rest of his life behind bars. Instead, he took the easy way out, and we taxpayers still paid for his appeals. So no, these guys fear spending decades in prison more than they fear being put to death. I believe that one reason people use guns in a crime is that they hope the police will kill them in the process. Then they don’t even have to go through a trial let alone spend years in prison. So they fear being alive in prison more than being put to death. Generally speaking.

Finally, what if the person you’re planning to execute really didn’t do the crime? Innocent people have been executed, it’s undeniable. How is justice served by putting someone to death for something they didn’t do? The real killer will easily get away with it even if caught because they can raise enough reasonable doubt about their supposed guilt. After all, the state already executed somebody else for that crime. Are prosecutors going to start arguing that the state was wrong the first time? Why wouldn’t they be wrong the second time? Under our system of law, once someone is found guilty of a crime and executed, the entire integrity of the system depends on pretending it was right all along. Otherwise, all the justifications for sentencing someone to death fall apart.

One last thing: The “Kitty Dukakis” question. Some of you may remember the 1988 presidential candidate debate when CNN anchor Bernard Shaw asked Gov Michael Dukakis (a known opponent of the death penalty) if he would support the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife Kitty. His answer was so devoid of emotion that it wouldn’t surprise me if some people fell asleep during it. My answer to the question if I would support the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered my wife, Jane, would be, “No, I’d want to kill the fucking bastard with my own two hands. But I would not want the state to do it on my behalf. And I would gladly accept spending the rest of my natural life behind bars because to live without Jane would make me useless to society anyway.” But that’s about the only time I’d want to kill someone. So don’t hurt my wife, because I love her that much.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wayne,
Good going! I will visit regularly.

Anonymous said...

Just surfing around. Came across your blog. Would like to see some links to what sources you used in your "Essay". Just would help soldify your statments. Anyone can say they are stating facts, but with out the links to what your using for your facts who knows if your not just pulling things out of thin air. Will enjoy looking at all the data. Thanks.

Wayne A. Schneider said...

Since I did not have the source information at my disposal, and since I was so excited about writing someting for my very first blog entry, I did not take the time before to gather data to support the facts I cite. Believe me when I tell you that I did not make any of them up, and that I probably tempered my remarks somewhat because I could not direct people to the proof I know is out there. Once I get a computer at home and can spend time at night doing research, I will come back and update this essay with some links to supporting data.

Thanks for visiting the blog, and do come back again.

Bluedahlia said...

That's how my husband and I feel about the death penalty as well. His bumpersticker is that well known quote from Ghandi that says "An eye for an eye makes the whole world bllind". Beautifully spoken words about your wife. I would feel the same if someone were to hurt my husband. It is nice to know that there are other people and couples who have similar beliefs. I enjoy reading your posts here and your and your wife's posts at TP. Although it can get kinda juvenile and dark there sometimes. =-)

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