Sunday, December 04, 2005

The death penalty: Fixable? Or no?

The Fixer sez on his blog that we ought to make the death penalty more immediate so that it would deter more people. Well, there's one basic problem with the death penalty that making it faster would make even worse: We have almost certainly put innocent people to death. Before the era of DNA testing and The Innocence Project, which proved, via DNA testing, that over a dozen people on Death Row were innocent, it is likely that over a dozen *other* people on Death Row who were innocent were executed, we just didn't know they were innocent because DNA testing didn't exist back then. Even now, if you consider that probably the same percentage of *other* people on Death Row (ones without DNA to test) are probably innocent too, that means we probably put to death at least a half-dozen innocent people per year.

The fact of the matter is that the criminal "justice" system in this country is fucked. It reaches its judgements based upon the size of a defendent's wallet, not based upon any notion of truth and justice. An example happened locally. A rich woman turned her back on her toddler for a minute while taking groceries in from her car, and the toddler toddled off, fell into a fountain, and drowned. The Sheriff's Department found that there was no crime there. A poor woman turned her back on her neighbor's toddler for a minute to walk across some railroad tracks to get the baby carriage, the toddler toddled onto the railroad tracks and got hit by the bullet train, and the poor woman is charged with negligent manslaughter. Justice? What justice?

The University of Chicago Law School did a little experiment. They devised several crimes, and "arrested" various people for these crimes. They set it up so that 50% of the people they "arrested" for the crime were actually innocent. They then pulled in experienced prosecuters from the DA's office to "prosecute" these people, and put inexperienced final-year law students, only a few months from staffing your typical public defender's office, to defend them. They then pulled in a random sample of the general public to serve as a "jury" for the "trials".

The conviction rate was 80% -- including over half of the innocent people (remember, only 50% of the "defendents" in this experiment were guilty in the first place!). In short, if you are an innocent man who has committed only the crime of being poor in the United States, and you're being defended by the typical public defender's office, you have an over 50% chance of going to jail. That does *not* make me feel good about the criminal "justice" system in this country!

Finally, sociologists have closely studied criminals and found that it doesn't matter what punishment you apply for murder, because most murders are *not* cold-blooded murders. They happen in the heat of passion, in the heat of an argument, in a panic during an armed robbery, but there is one clear characteristic of the typical murderer: he wasn't thinking of *anything* at the time he did the crime, much less what the punishment for murder was. You could literally state that the punishment for murder would be to be slowly skinned alive while suspended from a cross until you expired of pain, and it would not deter a single one of these crimes of passion.

Now, there's obviously some *real* stone murderers out there, like our pal Tookie, but they generally fall into *another* category of criminal: The criminal who believes he is too smart to be caught. If you're not going to be caught, why would you care about the punishment for the crime?

The fact of the matter is that the mere threat of jail is plenty to keep the typical person from committing murder. That is why there's ten times more people killed in auto accidents than there are murdered. I've felt like murdering some people before -- like the guy who left his car outside my front door with the alarm on, went on vacation, and his damned car alarm was going off for THREE STRAIGHT DAYS every time a jet flew over or a train rumbled by -- but y'know, I'm not young enough or buff enough or gay enough to even dream of enjoying prison. So I didn't even vandalize his $%@# piece of sh*t TOYOTA COROLLA (yes, that's right, TOYOTA COROLLA! In an upscale apartment complex full of Mercedes and BMW cars, this moron thought someone would steal his f'ing TOYOTA!).

Anyhow, to summarize: the criminal "justice" system is too broken to currently trust when it comes to the life of a man, and even if it wasn't broken, and even if it were done instantly and 100% accurately, the death penalty would not reduce the murder rate significantly, because most murderers are either a) not thinking at the time they do the crime, or b) think they're too smart to get caught.

And them's the facts. Make of them what you will. Or don't, if you're a Republican ("facts? Who needs facts when you have faith, FAITH, I say?!").

- Badtux the Fact-spewing Penguin


  1. Pro-social offenders tend to see the punishment of the criminal justice system as a deterrent. But true criminal personalities don’t care about punishment. They don't see the police, the prisons, or the laws as a deterrent. The kind of people they always try to scare with "stricter" sentencing, are the people who don't care. When they get caught, they don't think it is because they committed a crime. They think it was bad luck, or proof that the police/parole officers/judges are out to get them.

    As Americans, it would do us well to follow the Canadian system of criminal justice. They have all but abandoned this puritanical idea of punishment as a vehicle for social equality. They do everything in their power to protect the community, and they focus on curing the human being of their tendencies.

  2. I can't believe they would allow a Toyoto Corrola in the parking area! :)

    I agree that it is most likely the case that people don't think of the consequences at the time of the deed. Afterward, perhaps, they are filled with remorse, especially if caught.

    Regarding the two women who lost their babies, I guess if you have money, you're innocent. If you don't you're guilty.

    I also agree that too many innocent people have been executed. With the DNA testing, they find out, but it's certainly too late for the executed!

  3. They should reserve the death penalty for mass murderers and serial killers, and only those who are nailed dead to rights with uncontrovertable proof. And then, do it quickly, and do it publically

  4. Well, my iceberg is currently parked in the SF Bay area, so even upscale apartment complexes are required to reserve a certain percentage of their apartments as "affordable housing". So yeah, you see beater Toyotas parked beside brand new BMW's all the time here... or even the occasional iceberg :).

    And yeah, I would have gladly murdered the owner of said Toyota if I encountered him while his stupid alarm was going off all night long, except, well, going to jail was a decided deterrent. As it is for most people. Only people who haven't "gotten" that whole cause-effect deal or don't care that they get sent to prison would have done what I and everybody else in this building felt like doing, i.e., track down the owner of this car, beat him within an inch of his life, and tell him to never, *EVER* turn his crappy-assed car alarm on ever again while he was parked in our parking lot. Or, alternatively, take a big-ass breaker bar to the hood latch, rip open the hood, and rip out the wires to the car alarm. We're so damned law-abiding 'round here (or afraid of going to jail, same difference) we didn't even let all the air out of this guy's tires... though he undeniably deserved it.

    - Badtux the Law-abiding Penguin

  5. hey nice blog, your toyota owning friend had reason to be worried about theft, don't forget most cars are stolen for parts, and there tons of corolla's on the road making stealing one attractive


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