Thursday, January 19, 2006

Capital Punishment

In the comments of my last post, I was asked to comment on a subject that has cropped up on another blog, about my attitude towards capital punishment.

I started to write in the comments box and realised that there was an entire blog posting's worth by the time I'd finished. As it's been a few days since I last posted anything here I thought I may as well put it here instead...


The question about capital punishment is always one about the state. It is about what kind of country do we want to live in, by what laws, and what fears.

The arguments in favour of capital punishment are generally three-fold: deterrent, punishment and revenge. And it fails in all three of these things.

As a deterrent it makes no difference at all. Anyone who is going to commit a crime such as murder is either doing it in the heat of the moment, in which case they are not thinking of the consequences, or is convinced that they will not be caught, or is prepared to be martyred for their cause. Let's face it, if 20 or 30 years in jail is not going to make you think twice, then being hung/gassed/electrocuted/injected isn’t either.

As a punishment, it can be argued that death is the easy way out. When a criminal is executed they are no longer experiencing any punishment, physically, mentally or emotionally. And certainly they cannot then learn from the experience.

As revenge, it is the most dangerous of things if carried out by the state. Revenge is an emotion that drives an individual to extreme acts. It cannot and should not be driven by a state system - a detached judge and a set of well-paid lawyers.

This is all quite apart from the prospect of a miscarriage of justice. In the UK, for example, during the ‘70s several Irish terrorists were locked away after causing horrible deaths and maiming to ordinary people in series of pub bombings. The crimes were horrific, and if the death penalty had been available as an option to the judges, then it would have been instigated.

But, it turned out, 20 years later, that they didn't actually do the crimes and had in fact been fitted up by the police who were under pressure from an outraged public to do something about it.

The crime may be horrific, but that doesn't justify killing people who "might" have done it.

Every time our government strips away more of our liberties and freedoms, by saying the innocent have nothing to fear, we are in greater danger of miscarriages of justice.

For these reasons I am against capital punishment.

But what, the question goes, if the hideous crime was perpetrated against someone you love and hold dear? Then you would want the bastard dead!

The answer is yes, I would, and I would try and find a way to make it happen. But I would then have to take the consequences of that.

If someone had beaten, raped and killed my daughter, at that point I would no longer care about my life. Ending the perpetrator's would be my only thought. My life would, in effect, be over, as I cannot imagine recovering from such a trauma, so I may as well sacrifice it going after the bastard myself.

But if I killed the assailant, then I will have murdered someone's son/brother/father, and I would have to pay the price for that.

It might sound warped, but I think that revenge is for the individual, not the state, but then they have to pay the price for going down that route. They cannot say I killed him, but I was justified therefore I should go free. The decision about what happens to the person who commits a bloody act of revenge has to be made by the justice system.

23 comments:

fatmammycat said...

If someone raped and killed my daughter, then I would never rest, I would never recover and even though there would be a price, I would happily pay it to tear them limb from limb. And even if it did not make me feel better- how could you be 'better' after the death of your child- it would be worth it.The thought that the person who killed my child might enjoy one moment in his life, might sit outside on a sunny afternoon, might enjoy a book or a meal or a film while my child lay dead, might-and this is the worst one-might think back on his murder and feel pleasure, would envoke such a howling rage in me that vengence could be the only possible outcome. I would never forgive, or ask to understand. I would not pray for anything, I would simply want their blood. I would want my face to be the last thing they say as they died in agony. I would spit on them as they fought to suck in their last breath.
I realise that is a very uncharitable way of thinking but it is absolutely how I would react.

Kim Ayres said...

Clearly this is something you feel passionately about, fatmammycat. I can only hope that if there is past reason for this that you see yourself in terms of a survivor rather than victim, but that's only a topic to discuss if you want to.

Fundamentally, however, I agree completely, and would react in the same way. The question is whether these feelings justify capital punishment, which I don't believe they do. I do not think that you can have the state running around enacting revenge.

It is the job of the state to provide the best course of action for the country as a whole rather than the passions of the individual.

As individuals, if we go charging around enacting our revenge, then we need to be brought to justice for that.

fatmammycat said...

No Kim, no past reasons. Just the absolute conviction that is how I would be. Remember when those two little girls went missing in the UK a few years ago and then it transpired Ian Huntley had killed them and tried to burn their bodies? That sickened me so much. What those poor parents went through and still go through, horrific.

michael the tubthumper said...

your article is a bit like the gandhi line about "an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind"

Stella said...

Hmmmm, heavy stuff..... I agree with you Kim, I don't think capital punishment is ever right - no-one has the right to take another's life. So what of murderers? Well of course they are wrong but taking their lives doesn't make it right, doesn't bring back the victim, doesn't make everything right for the victim's family.

I do believe a life sentence should BE a life sentence.

As to revenge...........yes sweet at the thought but accepting of the consequences.

Seven years ago my 78 (almost) 79 year old father was attacked in the most horrific way. He was on his own in the house and went to answer the door. He had a porch but never locked it (anyone with elderly parents in the same situation please urge them to be security conscious) and as he reached to open the latch the window was smashed and two thugs forced their way in. Dad was beaten terribly, stabbed with a needle and hog-tied (hands tied to his ankles)and beaten some more, all the time the two scumbags demanded money. He had very little money in the house but they didn't believe him and thought they could beat it out of him. He begged them not to kill him, offered to go to an atm and get money for them. At 79 and having suffered years of ill-health Dad was very very frail and couldn't resist and didn't resist so why, oh why, did they abuse him so much? In the end they gave up but left him tied up - it was March, it was very cold, it was dark when they left him (this happened at about 4pm) and my brother was working late and my father was left in that state for 9 hours. Only his determination kept him alive as he was frozen, had wet himself, was battered and bruised and his hands had swollen so much that my brother had to cut the phone-wire very carefully from his wrists.............

Believe me, I am crying as I write this and recall the despair, the anger and the lust for revenge that I felt at the time. Actually that lust for revenge has never gone away - I have just realised that as I yearn, as I did then, to get my hands on the scum who did that to my father and do unthinkable things to them.

My point is that while, yes, I would love revenge I know I will never exact it as I have my family to think of, they don't need a mother in prison, they need a mother at home.

One of the perpetrators was arrested and maybe a year later was in court. Thankfully Dad didn't have to testify but the scum got 3 sentences, totally 9 years to be served (can't remember the term but it meant the sentences were to be served together and not one after the other) and was out in a few years and we have read of him in the papers, still up to his evil doings. My Dad, after the trial, said "Justice has been done, we must put it behind us now"...........a better human being than I will ever be........

Dad died in September 2004, having suffered strokes, dementia and a leg amputation but you know, he started at loud noises, youths shouting, was so so nervous and scared in the hospital, always looking over his shoulder - he never recovered.........

Yes, revenge would be so so good, but just not possible.

Sorry for hijacking Kim.

SafeTinspector said...

If my Samantha were murdered, I would very likely kill myself. Not sure...I have another little one on the way, and I would probably stay to be there for that little one. If I lost my wife and daughter and the one on the way....
I think I'd have to go eat some lead.

That said, I would like to think that revenge is not what I would seek.

A human life is so brief in comparison to civilization, and time in general. It goes in a blink of an eye. If I, or the state, kill an adult, then that adult is no longer on this earth, no longer redeemable, no longer condemnable. But the difference between that purpetrator dying at 30 or 80 is insignificant. The instant that existed prior continues to exist, albeit in the past, and that being is just as eternal as every moment stuck in time.
What would it accomplish? Would it do anyone any good to end that person's life early? Remove that creature from society, try to ensure it can/will not transgress meaningfully again.

This is regardless of the fact that the state is not infallable, and sometimes gets the person wrong, or metes out its justice in ways disproportionate to anything except for income level.

SafeTinspector said...

Now...would I kill to PREVENT harm coming to my family?

Oh, yes.

Binty McShae said...

Causing death of an assailant whilst trying to prevent the death of a loved one? Different kettle of fish, and I'd probably do the same. Likewise I would probably allow myself to come to harm or be killed if it meant saving a loved one. But retrospect killing, just for revenge.... I couldn't and if anything did happen to me I would be disappointed if anyone ever did seek vengeance in my name.

Samuel said...

Very well put, Kim. This was a well thought out entry and I enjoyed reading it immensely.

I can see both sides. I don't think it's the state's right to kill someone, though, because then they themselves are killers. It's complicated and there are no "right" or "wrong" answers.

Thanks for shedding some light on it, though.

Sam

Sarah said...

i can't of course say that i would react one way or another until put into that situation.

hope that never happens.

Kim Ayres said...

Wow, this has really stirred up some debate and strong feelings. Thank you all for taking the time to comment.

Several newcomers to my blog too - welcome!

michael - welcome to my ramblings. Great quote, and very apt.

Stella - that's a horrific story about your father, and my thoughts are with you. I know it will not have been easy to write all this down, but I thank you for doing so. Don't have a 2nd thought about hijacking.

Safetinspector - I think this is your first visit to my site, though of course I know you from others. It's an interesting idea you raise about the justification for killing someone before the crime, but not after

Binty - Like Safetinspector, I think this is your first post here, so welcome. It was, of course, your blog entry that got me started on this, so I appreciate you taking the time to come over here to comment.

Samuel - Welcome to my ramblings and thank you for your input.

Sarah - another newbie here - welcome. I too hope that none of us are ever put in the situation where we ever have to find out exactly how we would react.

Binty McShae said...

I can't believe that was my first comment - I've actually visited a few times!

Anyway, I thought you might also be interested in another response to my blog, by Anti-Barney... http://selfunemployed.blogspot.com/2006/01/hanging-is-too-good-for-em.html

This subject really has drawn a few folk out of the woodwork.... makes for an interesting discussion!

SafeTinspector said...

I think I've been, but it may have been some months. I've read it more frequently than that, but not by much. I'm a lazy blogger by nature, posting only about twice a week, and normally lightweight non-sequiters.

SafeTinspector said...

binty:I've seriously approached the question of wether or not I would die for a loved one.
And I know I definitely would.
Hell, I'd die for Sam or Heather just to prevent permanent non-fatal harm to them. (paralysis, chronic disease, drug addiction, loss of limbs)

Gyrobo said...

I once wrote a report on capital punishment. My research found that once you factor in all the court time appeals would take, a life sentence would cost roughly a third of the money.

But as to ending the death penalty, my state hasn't executed anyone in decades. I think the state legislature formally passed a moratorium on capital punishment last year.

fatmammycat said...

A burning topic to be sure. Thin Lizzy is on in the background and I am away. have a good weekend Kim.

Asher Hunter said...

Fourth Argument: Protection

If someone has proven to be a danger to society - especially a sick bugger who preys on children -it can be argued that that person should be put to death.

As a society, we have an obligation - some might say a sacred duty - to protect those that cannot protect themselves. If a we have a repeat child-molester on our hands, should we incarcerate and release? Or should we protect our children, and eliminate that threat once and for all?

RNP said...

I have done a bit of research on this matter in college myself. I agree with the gyrobo on the cost factors. I have no idea about the costs involved with caring for those incarcerated in the UK, but I can tell the cost in the states is enormous. Yet amazingly, I know of one state that actually has a brand new prison sitting vacant, because upon completion they decided that they could not afford to operate it. Since 2001, it has been a large topic of discussion and to this day, it is still not in use. The location in Thomson, Illinois is actually considering allowing the State of Iowa to house its inmates there.

It seems unreasonable that a state would build a prison they cannot afford to run. It is estimated that the Illinois Department of Corrections spent 1.8 million dollars telephone, utilities, and staffing, while it set empty. Was this state without a proper business plan? Most intelligent people would say that at some point during the research and planning stage they would have figured out they cannot afford to operate it? I will refrain from jumping on the soapbox about how I believe the government misappropriates funds they do not even have to spend in the first place, but I will say it seems unreasonable to allow the amount of funds for legal defense, court, and death row during the long drawn out appeals.

When considering capital punishment, I do not agree. Research shows that it is not a deterrent to other criminals, and an eye for an eye may make the victim’s family or friends feel better but it will not bring the loved ones lost back. Revenge is not a justified reason for murdering someone who has committed the act on another. While I am certain that most people feel they want revenge in the beginning, the bottom line is that if everyone reacted to all of life’s injustices with revenge there conflict would escalate rapidly and peace would not exist. I am sure there was a time in society where this was an acceptable means of behavior, but it just is not anymore. So why would we condone such an action to exist in this day and age?

There have been cases here in the US, and I imagine this is not uncommon in other countries, whereas someone has been executed and DNA or other facts later show the person was wrongfully accused and the punishment, well it is not as if one take bring a person back from the dead. I have often wondered how the person who actually carries out the action feels committing the act executing another human’s life. I would venture to guess there are many skeletons in the closet of such a person. I do not think there is anyone who could completely remove the emotional impact of such an action from his or her mind.

As long as there are people on this earth there is going to be crime. Who determines whether a crime is worthy of execution, well as you mentioned, governments make these decisions. Nevertheless, all people feel the consequences for the action-in one way or another each of us is somehow affected. It does not matter whether or not it is merely a simple “oh well” or an emotional heartfelt plea against such action. We all pay the costs in taxes, we all live with our government's deficits for the operation of what each country deems as our judicial system.

Ok, I am certain I have formally exceeded the proper length of a comment post-so sorry Kim!

Naomi said...

Very well put Kim, I disagree with capital punishment but think that a life sentence really should be a life sentence. Giving some a "life sentence" at say 20 years old when they'll probably get out by age 35 and have another 40 years to do whatever they want doesn't sound right to me.

I couldn't pre meditate killing someone, no matter what they'd done to my family. If on the other hand my kids were in immediate danger then UI'd do whatever it took to protect them

Kim Ayres said...

Binty - now that's a thing in itself. How many people are visiting this site, but not leaving comments? The vast majority if I'm to believe my stat counter. But I guess that's true for every blogger. Great discussion topic, though, and really interesting when it starts spreading out across several blogs

Safetinspector - I think it's one of those things that you'll never truly understand until you become a parent. At that point you stop being the main reason for living, and your children take on that role. You can easily ascribe it to the priority of the genetic code protecting the line, but the feelings are intensely real nonetheless.

Gyrobo - interesting. You would naturally have thought that execution was cheaper than incarceration.

fatmammycat - hope you have a good weekend too. Coincidentally I've been learning Whisky in the Jar on the mandolin.

Asher - castration is another option, but I guess that's a topic for another blog

Rebecca - please don't apologise. I get to read an entire blog entry without having to click through to another site :) Great comments and very thought provoking. Thank you.

Naomi - it's true, in the UK, life almost never means life, which makes you wonder why they call it life imprisonment.

Gyrobo said...

The appeals process is very costly, and I calculated that incarcerating someone for a lifetime on a subsistence diet would cost about a third of an execution.

Prosecutors cost a lot, and that's not even counting the thousands of hours it takes adds to the already strained court system. Remember, the American prison system holds roughly two million people.

No one in the federal and state governments will even touch capital punishment; it's just not politically feasible. About two thirds of the American people support it, though that number was a lot higher a few years ago.

Mary Witzl said...

I am with you on this, Kim. I can't see that capital punishment is a deterrent or fitting punishment, and the idea of the government carrying it out, rationally and in the light of day, is sickening. It brings the state down to the level of the murderer, and all too often, the pressure to catch and punish is so great that innocent people get killed.

But having said that, I would kill to protect my family, if I knew that whoever was attacking them meant to kill or hurt them badly. There are some crimes -- mainly those against humanity, or involving children -- that are so hideous, I can hardly bear to think about them. That any person could trade the health and mental well-being of another race, or even just one human being, for their own crackpot ideology, or a few minutes of their own aberrant pleasure, just boggles my mind, and it's hard not to wish that people like that just taken out of this world -- quickly and painlessly.

Kim Ayres said...

Hi Mary - what brought you all the way back to this post 6 years ago? I had to read it myself as I don't really remember writing it. Seems to make sense though and I think I still agree with my sentiments :)