Capital Punishment, Part One

I really don’t have much time to write alot here, but I wanted to give a quick statement on my position as regards capital punishment. Even as early as Saturday afternoon I heard rumblings about the need to reinstate capital punishment, mostly as a reaction to the horrific murder of Rhiana Moore. I am also aware that there are some factions within the Party that are very much pro-corporal and capital punishment. This shocks me knowing how much the Party fought against the death penalty when in opposition, a case that was made explicit in the run up to the executions of Larry Tacklyn and Buck Burrows.

Already these sentiments are taking on a more concrete form, with IMHO reporting that a facebook group has been set up to advocate just that. I also understand it has been a topic in todays radio talkshows.

I will post more in-depth on my thoughts on capital punishment later, but I wanted to state quite clearly that I am very much opposed to any steps towards reintroducing corporal or capital punishment in Bermuda. There are numerous studies that prove that it does not act as a deterrent. The only benefit of it is that it can give a sense of revenge, either collectively as a society or more narrowly, as such it is an emotionally reactionary action and nothing else.

I am very much in favour with the right to self-defence even up to the point of killing ones attacker, but capital punishment is simply cold-blooded murder. It does not provide that sense of closure that its advocates argue for. It only allows for revenge. While I understand the frustration of rehabilitation being felt as a burden on law-abiding society, and I understand the emotional reaction of the victims who demand capital punishment, I cannot see how we can, as a society, condone cold blooded murder.

I think it was Ottie who in the run-up to the executions in the mid-70s, at the ‘Peoples Parliament’ convened in Victoria Park said “Who will hang the hangman?”

Any move towards reintroducing capital or corporal punishment must be opposed by all those who consider themselves progressives. As said, I’ll write more when I have the time later, but I felt it necessary to get an initial post up now.

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43 thoughts on “Capital Punishment, Part One

  1. I think it was Ottie who in the run-up to the executions in the mid-70s, at the ‘Peoples Parliament’ convened in Victoria Park said “Who will hang the hangman?”

    … thus laying the ground for the fire that was set at the Southampton Princess in an attempt to kill the executioner of Tacklyn and Burrows … which in turn killed several innocents.

  2. …I am very much opposed to any steps towards reintroducing corporal or capital punishment in Bermuda. There are numerous studies that prove that it does not act as a deterrent. The only benefit of it is that it can give a sense of revenge, either collectively as a society or more narrowly, as such it is an emotionally reactionary action and nothing else.

    i can agree with these sentiments.

  3. If we want to look at concepts of deterrence, look no further than our massive neighbor to the west. In the United States, where there is a mix of states that do have capital punishment and that don’t.

    In 1999 the average murder rate in the CP states was 5.5 per 100,000
    In non-CP states it was 3.6!

    In 2004 the numbers are almost identical: CP states – 5.1, non-CP states – 2.9

    I’m sure the numbers are virtually the same 3-4 years later.

    If we pick out Texas specifically, the state that performs the most executions, and has the second highest number of people on death row (after California), the murder rate is 6.7 compared to the national rate of 6.23 (both per 100,000).

    So it would seem that the effect of the death penalty as a deterrent is garbage, indeed we could form the opposite conclusion, that the presence of the death penalty would seem to increase violent crime. Of course, who knows, perhaps the murder rate in the CP states in 2004 would have been 50 per 100,000 if the CP was not present, but we can not make assumptions like that.

  4. Roland,

    I oppose capital punishment, however your last post makes the major error of mistaking correlation for causation.

    If you want to find data to support your case then you need to look at longitudinal research that compares before/after capital punishment (and controls for other primary crime factors).

  5. Why does everyone spell my name wrong? It right at the top of my posts, geez.

    Anyway, you want some longitudinal data from a before/after example, how about we look at Canada.

    In Canada, the peak homicide rate was 3.09 per 100,000 in 1975, the year before the abolition of CP, since then the rate in Canada has dropped significantly. To 2.41 in 1980, 1.73 in 2003 a whole 44% lower and the lowest rate in three decades. Although this increased to 2.0 in 2005, it remains over one-third lower than when the death penalty was abolished.

    The United Nations has also done longitudinal studies on the effects of the death penalty as a deterrent starting in 1988 and updated twice, in 1996 and 2002. Most lately they have concluded, and I quote from the paper itself “…research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis”.

    “All too often politicians have found the death penalty a useful tool in appearing to address crime and make the public feel safe. In reality, the death penalty has no such effect and simply distracts from the need to address the causes of crime and providing effective remedies.” – Amnesty International

    Rather, it would seem that most longitudinal studies show that the best deterrent for crime is actually a high rate of capture and conviction (of course high conviction rates can lead to their own problems).

  6. Good points all around!

    While I feel that the death penalty is an entirely fair punishment for most murderers, I ultimately believe that it is unfair to the public who the penal system is actually designed to protect since it likely increases violence in the community by reinforcing the belief that violence can be a valid response to real or perceived wrongs. I believe that our society seems to rely too much on the concept of punishment as a crime deterrent even though the statistics clearly show that severe punishment alone does not reduce crime. The thought process seems to be, “If crime becomes worse – make the punishments more unpleasant. If prison violence gets out of hand and rapes and assault become common place – Great! Prison is supposed to be awful.” One of the biggest problems with this kind of thinking is that we still plan to let most of these people out at some point and while severe punishment may be fair on the criminal it is unfair on the public who have to deal with the enormous recidivism rates that result. By all means, lets make the punishment awful, more awful even, but if we want to see a reduction in violent criminality outside of the penal system, we need to make sure that violence within the penal system is not tolerated wether it be state-sanctioned in the form of capital punishment or if it be state-condoned in the form of allowing violent criminals to victimize other inmates.

    Probably much more important than the “violence is no solution to anything” argument against capital punishment is the “how sure can you be” argument. While I have to admit I would love to see some awful things happen to a lot of these sickos, how sure can we ever be that they really are guilty? With so many people being released from prison due to new DNA evidence, I could almost never be sure enough of a person’s guilt to agree that it would be acceptable to perform the one completely irrevesible punishment on them.

    Finally, how severe and how satisfying is capital punishment as it occurs in Western society anyway? Would I really get more satisfaction out of knowing that a killer was quietly and painlessly put out of his misery after numerous expensive appeals and stays, than I would out of knowing that he/she would spend the rest of their life in a tiny cell?

  7. When I graduated from my legal studies, I was absolutely opposed to the death penalty. Having worked in the criminal defence field since then, now I’m not so certain.

  8. Um, try personally dealing directly people that have committed horrific murders, torture and child rape and see whether your certainty on the subject of capital punishment is shaken somewhat.

  9. Are you trying to say that before, you didn’t think they deserved to die? You maybe even thought that some could be rehabilitated? Now you have been exposed to some of these people and you see that some of them, at least, do deserve to die? Or do you think that some of these people do murder because the punishments are not severe enough of deterrents?

    Personally I think most of them deserve to be killed and worse but I still oppose the death penalty for reasons stated above.

  10. I am trying to put myself in the shoes of the parent whose child is murdered, and the truth is I’m not sure how I would feel.

    If ‘revenge’ enters my thinking – consciously or otherwise – should I be against the death penalty given that there is a “safer” way of removing the vermin from society, i.e. prison?

    I have a feeling that I would feel better about imprisonment if “life meant life”, thereby removing the possibility of society being violated again by the murderer.

    Undecided.

  11. Well, I imagine that if the victim was someone close to me, sure, I would want the death penalty. But I would be biased and in no position to provide an impartial just sentence. But I totally agree with you that life should mean life. I get really irritated with these sentences of x number of years only to find out that they really mean y number of years. I’m all for rehabilitation done right, and recognise that some people may nt be able to be rehabilitated, but I cannot support the death sentence whatsoever.

    On the separate issue that ‘Troll’ mentions, the arson attack ont the Southhampton Princess that killed those innocents was defintely counter-productive. As I understand it a rumour went around saying that the executioners were staying there, leading to it being fire-bombed. Several (three?) tourists died from smoke inhalation in one of the lifts as a result. An attempt to kill the executioners because one opposes the death penalty was a contradiction in logic.

  12. Well I, like many have been close to at least three victims of brutal crimes in the last 5 years (two rapes, one murder). The murder was even the result of terrorism, and while I’ll admit emotions at the time can be almost over powering, I also think it is necessary to make a cool headed decision.

    I’ve always thought that the classical “an eye for an eye” was the basest of human emotions, and as such I have always thought we should try to rise above rash decisions made during a time of hot-headedness.

  13. “I have a feeling that I would feel better about imprisonment if “life meant life”, thereby removing the possibility of society being violated again by the murderer.”

    Could not agree more!

  14. What about if it wasn’t the victim that you were close to.
    What if it were the perpetrator?
    What if your son or daughter or one of your parents was the murderer?

  15. I would still oppose it. I’ld be extremely sad, no doubt angry and embarassed. Reckon I’ld still love the person, not what they did of course, and that would affect the relationship. It would provoke alot of introspection.

    I am suprised that I haven’t really heard any pro-capital punishment arguments yet to be honest.

  16. I agree with the death penalty,

    I ask myself do I think a criminal should be punished for his/her crimes?

    Yes

    I think the punishment should fit the crime.

    When it comes to killing an innocent person, the murderer has shown through his actions that he is not a rational human being, he’s an animal, a detriment to all of those around him, and it is governments job to see justice is done. Put him down like you would any other dangerous animal.

  17. As I also said, I’m against the death penalty, here’s why, while it’s easy to instruct someone to kill another human being in cases such as this, would I be able to take the life myself? I would have to say no. As angry as I know I would be, as much as I would inflict violence on any given person who harmed my children, I know that deep down, I am not a killer, and as such it wouldn’t sit right with me to instruct someone else to kill either. I know that it would haunt me, deep down, that I had a hand in taking another persons life.

    I would get much more closure from knowing that for the rest of their lives, or the majority of it at least, said person(s) would lead a misreable experience, suffering in a prison that fits them, working like a mule every single day recontributing back to society. I think that death is an easy out for these guys personally and they should be made to suffer for the rest of their lives like the people who’s lives they affected.

  18. Isn’t that a form of self-defence? I mean, if someone was attacking my daughter, or anyone for that matter, I would intervene to defend the victim. If that intervention leads to the death of the attacker, wouldn’t it still be self-defence friend?

  19. Galt,

    Is it acceptable to you that many people have been wrongfully convicted and executed in the past? If not, how would you prevent wrongful executions in a society that employs the death penalty?

  20. Would it be possible to reinstate the death penalty just for murder cases where there is sufficient dna evidence to warrant a guilty verdict?

  21. “Is it acceptable to you that many people have been wrongfully convicted and executed in the past?”

    No it is not.

  22. “When it comes to killing an innocent person, the murderer has shown through his actions that he is not a rational human being, he’s an animal, a detriment to all of those around him, and it is governments job to see justice is done. Put him down like you would any other dangerous animal.”

    Is this not based on the rather optimistic assumption that the laws surrounding murder/unlawful killing, etc, are rational, though? An example of this would be the outdated laws relating to diminished responsibility, which tend to favour male reactions to stress, to the detriment of females. If a woman is convicted of murder because her assertion of diminished responsibility is rejected, does that mean that she should be put to death, even though the law that convicted her is irrational and unjust?

  23. “Is this not based on the rather optimistic assumption that the laws surrounding murder/unlawful killing, etc, are rational, though?”

    Loki you are talking about apple’s, I’m talking about oranges.

  24. “Loki you are talking about apple’s, I’m talking about oranges.”

    Not at all. You stated that, “the murderer has shown through his actions that he is not a rational human being, he’s an animal”, which means that someone who is a murderer is not a rational human being. That is not true, as my example demonstrates: the mere fact that someone is defined as a murderer does not make them an irrational person, as the criteria used to define them as such is not necessarily rational.

  25. I actually said “When it comes to killing an innocent person, the murderer …..”

    oranges,

    I think?? you want to argue that some one could be called a murderer, when they are actually not guilty of murder, or perhaps killed in self defense, or an accident resulting in the death of another.

    which are apples.

    I am saying that if a person murders an innocent person, they have chosen not to respect the right to life of others and there for should foreit their right to life.

  26. I’m saying that someone could be defined a murderer by the legal system for killing a wholly innocent person, and yet because what defines that person as a murderer is not rational, the vast majority of people would not believe that person to be morally culpable for their ‘crime’. According to your blanket statement (if there’s any apples and oranges issue here, it’s because of the broadness and generality of your statement), that person deserves to forfeit their life, regardless of moral culpability.

  27. I’m not sure why you are blaming me for the Apples and Orange situation, I’ve giving you my example, and you keep wanting to move in another direction.

    please give me an example where “someone could be defined a murderer by the legal system for killing a wholly innocent person, and yet because what defines that person as a murderer is not rational, the vast majority of people would not believe that person to be morally culpable for their ‘crime’. ” so I can better understand where the disconnect is.

  28. “please give me an example where “someone could be defined a murderer by the legal system for killing a wholly innocent person, and yet because what defines that person as a murderer is not rational, the vast majority of people would not believe that person to be morally culpable for their ‘crime’. ” so I can better understand where the disconnect is.”

    Well, there was a euthanasia case in the UK recently, where a husband of 70+ years killed his wife to spare her the pain and misery from which she was suffering as a result of terminal cancer. He was convicted of murder, for which your blanket test would put him to death, and yet I daresay that most people would be unsettled by his conviction for murder in such such circumstances.

  29. “Would it be possible to reinstate the death penalty just for murder cases where there is sufficient dna evidence to warrant a guilty verdict?”

    Possible, yes. Failsafe, no. DNA evidence is new technology that has revolutionized criminal investigation but it is by no means a magic bullet. For starters there are varying grades of DNA quality which means that some DNA evidence may identify an individual with far less certainty than others. Then there is the problem of laboratory contamination and error. Finally, while DNA has been revolutionary it often amounts to little more than another piece of evidence that can tie a person to a crime scene rather than prove beyond a shodow of a doubt that the person is a muderer.

  30. “…for which your blanket test would put him to death,..”

    Now that’s just silly Loki, I’m sure you understand my point, in your example if the husband killed his wife, without her consent then yes my statement would apply to him, if he assisted in her suicide, then it wouldn’t.

  31. “Now that’s just silly Loki, I’m sure you understand my point, in your example if the husband killed his wife, without her consent then yes my statement would apply to him, if he assisted in her suicide, then it wouldn’t.”

    It’s hardly my fault that you made a statement so broad in its application that you now have to back pedal with exceptions, is it? The law has defined him as a murderer: whether you like it or not, your broad-brush philosophy means that he is by definition now an irrational individual who should be put to death. Now, if you didn’t mean to say what you actually did say, then simply refine your statement and let us know what you meant to say, but as your own statement stands (notwithstanding the exception that you’ve just thrown into the mix) he should be put to death.

  32. Loki,

    I’m not back pedaling, did the husband murder his wife? or did he assist in her suicide?

  33. “Loki,

    I’m not back pedaling, did the husband murder his wife? or did he assist in her suicide?”

    Sure you are. He was convicted of murdering his wife. Therefore, he has been defined as a murderer, for which he should be put to death according to your broad-brush statement. Remember what I said earlier about how your approach presumes that the legal system that defines someone as a murderer is rational?

  34. Apples and Oranges you are talking about the law calling the man a muderer, and I am talking about an actual murderer, someone that has actually committed the act. So do you see now its not a broad-brush statement,

    I did not say if someone is found guilty of murder, they deserve to die, I said “When it comes to killing an innocent person, the murderer has shown through his actions that he is not a rational human being….”

    meaning they have actually taken a life.

    Mike had asked “Is it acceptable to you that many people have been wrongfully convicted and executed in the past?” to which I replied no,

    He then asked “how would you prevent wrongful executions in a society that employs the death penalty?” to which I’m flattered by the question, thinking I would be smarter enough to come up with an answer for, but alas I have no answer , but my orignal statement did not include wrongful executions, or people wrongfully convicted, it just covered my reasoning why I think Death is a suitable punishment for those that kill. Apples, not the legal system, or layers or any other thing you will try to cram under my blanket statment 🙂

  35. “meaning they have actually taken a life.”

    There are many circumstances in which a person can take another’s life, with varying degrees of moral culpability. How does your ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the death penalty deal with this? They all die?

  36. “There are many circumstances in which a person can take another’s life, with varying degrees of moral culpability”

    I’d agree, give me a couple examples, and tell me if you would call the person in each instance a murderer.

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