The guys over at Vox are arguing about the death penalty again. As usual, everyone is wrong but me. I’ve explained this before, but perhaps I need to explain it again. Here are the highlights:
1. Vox fears that a government that has the authority to kill its citizens will do so for bad reasons. Sorry, dude. That train has left the station. When the government and those in political power refuse to accept any barrier on the exercise of their authority, it hardly matters if they have statutory authority to kill citizens or not. If they can kill you with a drone strike because your name is on a list, or because you are sitting next to a guy whose name is on a list, it’s all the same. If they can decide that they have the authority to shoot down a high jacked civilian jet liner full of passengers, killing everyone on board and the only due process they get is the circuit logic of the AMRAAM missile, then the last thing you need to worry about is the lawful exercise of the death penalty in the courts.
2. The death penalty is not a deterrent. In general, all criminals believe they will get away with their crimes so they don’t fear jail or death penalties. The purpose of prison is not punishment or rehabilitation. It is to separate the criminal from society so that society doesn’t have to suffer additional crimes and the costs associated with those crimes. The purpose of the death penalty is to permanently separate someone from the rest of the peaceful population so that peaceful population can continue living in peace.
3. Life in prison does not permanently separate violent people from society. Those people continue to behave violently against other prisoners. Those other prisoners are incapable of escaping their tormentors and cannot depend on the state to protect them. The state has a moral obligation to protect them from other violent people.
4. The employees of the prison are also endangered by the continued existence of people who are too violent to be allowed to live. While those employees have a choice to be there, logically, SOMEONE has to have that job or the state cannot operate a prison. To the extent that the prison system needs employees, the state (employer) has a legal and moral obligation to protect its enployees from predictable harms in the workplace. Getting shanked by a lifer is a predictable harm.
5. If a criminally violent killer is released from prison some day, there is a larger than zero chance that that person will kill someone else. That person had a right to self-preservation. The state had a legal and moral obligation to defend that right. I suspect that the number of such innocent people killed by released killers is far higher than the number of innocent people executed by the state. Pick your evils carefully. This should be a simple choice.
6. The Innocence Project is a scam. They do not “Prove Innocence” by using DNA. Their “new evidence” doesn’t get seen by a jury, doesn’t get cross examined, and it doesn’t erase the previous jury trials and appeals. DNA by itself cannot convict or exonerate. It is just a piece of evidence that in the larger context convinces a jury.
7. There is no guarantee in the legal system to prevent a witness from giving false testimony, either knowingly or in error.
8. The absurdly long appeals processes afforded to convicted criminals are not a built-in design of the system. They are choices. Choose differently. John Alan Mohammed (DC sniper), put to death in only 7 years. Same for Timothy McVeigh. In cases where guilt is obvious, there is not reason why this can’t be even sooner. The only cases that merit extensive appeals are when the criminal was not caught at the scene and there is a possibility of mistaken prosecution.
9. The choice to kill a violent offender or preserve him indefinitely is not a cost-based decision. The part of the equation that is never considered is the potential damage that is avoided when he is put to death and never gets the chance to harm someone else. Nor do his friends on the outside get to intimidate or kill witnesses in his name. nor do future terrorists get to take hostages to trade for him. Nor can a future judge or governor buckle to political pressure and release him back into the community.
10. It is an undeniable fact that the system isn’t perfect. Thousands of innocent people are going to die every year. A tiny fraction of them will be by the state, using due process and depending on flawed juries of stupid people because all the “smart” people can’t be bothered to be on a jury. But on the balance, I claim (unprovably) that fewer innocent people will die if violent criminals are put to death by the state as soon as possible (under 5 years), than if there is no death penalty. If you REALLY want to ensure an innocent man doesn’t get executed, serve on his jury.
11. It is every bit as much of an injustice that an innocent man would be locked away for his entire life in the company of other violent offenders as it would be to execute him the day after he is found guilty. You can make the claim the swift punishment would be a mercy.
12. There is no defense against a corrupt government taking upon itself the power of life and death over its citizens and using that power without limits on even the most innocent. To deny the benefits of capital punishment to society based on that fear which cannot be mitigated or prevented, is not logical.