In his “ConservaTibbs” blog yesterday, Scott Tibbs wrote that governments here should abolish lethal injection as a means of capital punishment. We, as a people, should employ firing squads, hanging, or electrocution as means by which people “who deserve to die” are killed.
Mr. Tibbs perhaps has missed the past couple of hundred years of legal evolution.
At the time the Framers met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention, there were about 60 crimes, in the colonies, for which a person could be executed. Prisons were uncommon until a reform movement of the early Nineteenth Century, promoted by those pesky Quakers.
By the late Twentieth Century, the United States Supreme Court determined States only could execute people for Murder, and then, only after due process rights of a criminal defendant were safeguarded. As the Court has made clear, “death is different.” If a person is imprisoned in error, that person possibly, one day, can clear her or his name and be free. In capital cases, errors cannot be rectified to the benefit of an innocent person upon whom the sentence of death has been carried out. In a “Naked Gun” movie, as Frank Drebbin clears out his desk, he finds a piece of evidence from an old case and says, “How about that? He really was innocent?” To which George Kennedy’s character says something like, “Frank, he was executed two years ago.” Drebbin shrugs his shoulders and tosses the item. There have been a lot of people in recent years, sentenced to death, who have been “cleared.”
Several elements common to death penalty cases are poverty, race, and mental illness or other impairment. As Phil Ochs once sang, “A rich man never died upon the Chair.”
We can click through the possible reasons for capital punishment:
1) Deterrence. If the death penalty deters crime, we would expect to see lower homicide rates in those States with the death penalty and, conversely, higher homicide rates in those States without the death penalty. Yet out of the top ten (10) States for homicides in 2012, nine (9) had the death penalty. Texas and Florida, where numbers of executions seem to be matters of gubernatorial pride, ranked 24th and 17th, respectively, in homicide rates. Homicides are not deterred by the death penalty. One may argue an individual who kills and is executed will not kill again. Unfortunately, one must make sure that person really is guilty for this argument to have efficacy. Given the number of people erroneously convicted and sentenced to death, this argument “for” DP is not strong.
2) Retribution. This is a good reason to execute someone—if one embraces passions of the 18th centuries and centuries earlier. In 1851 the Indiana Constitution provided that principles of reformation and not vindictive justice would guide our penal code. Ind.Const. Art. I, Sec. 18.
3) Money. If one wishes to carry out “vengeance,” it would seem to be cheaper to “kill” than to incarcerate. Because our Supreme Court has—correctly—tried to safeguard rights of the accused in capital cases, the bill for a capital prosecution and subsequent appeals is rather high. The bill for a DP case can run a couple of million dollars. Advocates of DP might say this is a weakness of capital punishment. If we just shoot (or hang or fry) the bastards, there will be less uncertainty and more deterrent effect of capital punishment. Given the high rate of error in this particular area of law, swift justice is not “justice”—“fair and proper administration of laws”—at all. The execution cuts short a determination of truth.
Of 195 countries in the World, fifty-one percent (51%) have abolished the death penalty. Another twenty-five percent (25%) have announced or in practice have in place a moratorium on executions. As our civilization has advanced, the death penalty has receded.
I agree with Mr. Tibbs. We should abolish lethal injection for executions. We should abolish ALL executions.