Jan 20th 2014

Stone Age Rituals in Modern Society: Let's Move On

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

The death penalty is difficult justify in any modern civilized society. Forget the obvious left-wing and right wing divide; the issue is greater than partisan politics. A sober evaluation of the costs and benefits of state-sanctioned death clearly demonstrates that the death penalty is not viable.

Let's look at the basics. The rationale for imprisoning a convicted criminal is threefold: to protect society from future harm, to deter other would-be criminals and to punish the offender. All three can be accomplished without putting prisoners to death. Nothing derived from these three purposes of incarceration can justify killing an inmate when compared to a life sentence with no possibility of parole. Revenge is not a motivation sufficiently sound for society to justify the accidental killing those wrongly convicted.

The penalty of death is too permanent to account for inevitable errors or willful misconduct on the part of police, judges, or prosecutors. As with all human institutions, the criminal justice system suffers in various degrees from corruption, incompetence, or malfeasance. Proof lies in the fact that 312 people previously convicted have been exonerated by DNA evidence; that the system makes mistakes is beyond dispute. Even the most ardent supporter of the death penalty would agree that, in some cases, innocent people are convicted, and the guilty walk free. Given that stark reality, the real danger of executing an innocent person is greater than the societal benefit derived from putting a guilty prisoner to death, particularly when reasonable alternatives exist.

Advances in DNA testing have proved that in the last 10 years at least 140 prisoners in the United States, innocent of the crime for which they have been convicted, have been sentenced to death. Dennis Williams and Verneal Jimerson spent 18 years on death row in Illinois for a crime they did not commit. Kirk Bloodsworth wasted nine years on death row as a child killer while the murderer roamed free. There are 140 other known examples, and these are the "lucky" ones who were eventually freed before execution.

Others were not so lucky. Carlos DeLuna was executed in Texas in 1989, but evidence later called into question his guilt. This story is exposed in depressing detail in the excellent book by Professor James Liebman at Columbia University, "Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution." Ruben Cantu was executed, also in Texas, in 1993, later exonerated (to the extent possible in such circumstances) by an investigative series from the Houston Chronicle. There are at least 10 cases of innocent men being executed by the state; and given that few of the total executions have been revisited the number is likely much higher. With wrongful executions, not only do the wrong men get killed, but the real killer remains at large. A double hit to society. Let's be clear here: do not make the mistake of confusing opposition to capital punishment with being "weak on crime" or the consequence of liberal bias. What could possibly be weaker on crime than letting a killer roam free?

The distance between the state killing an innocent man and a criminal committing murder is difficult to resolve even with a powerful microscope. When the state executes the innocent, we all become the murderers we seek to punish. That is justification enough to end the practice, but there are other compelling reasons. The most obvious is the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Up until now, the Court has taken the side that the Eight Amendment does not per se prohibit capital punishment. But societies advance and evolve; we no longer have spittoons, or throw trash out of our cars, or smoke in public buildings, or collectively believe it acceptable to discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed or sexual orientation. We need to evolve our thinking on capital punishment as we have with many other practices once considered perfectly acceptable.

Like most words in our founding document, the ideas about the death penalty are open to interpretation; and indeed, the Supreme Court justices have over time modified and refined their interpretation of what constitutes such prohibited punishment. We need to continue that evolution of thought. A compelling need to reevaluate is the recent execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio; he appeared to visibly suffer during the 25 minutes that elapsed between the initial injection and his death. Few would argue that this was not cruel; and cruel is expressly prohibited.

The Court's history demonstrates significant discomfort with capital punishment, with the justices placing ever greater restrictions on the practice. The big criterion is that the punishment has to be commensurate with the crime, with a relatively elaborate but porous means of making that determination. But the Court continued to further exclude from capital punishment more crimes previously covered: the crime of raping an adult woman (Coker vs. Georgia 1977); in the case of the mentally retarded (Atkins v. Virginia 2002); and for persons under 18 at the time the crime was committed (Roper v. Simmons 2005).

Plenty of justices have gone from supporting the death penalty to opposing it, includingJohn Paul Stevens, Lewis Powell, Harry Blackmun; but none have gone the other way, once opposing and then supporting the death penalty. Evolution of thought always leads away from capital punishment.

The rest of the world is ahead of the United States in this evolution. The U.S. is the only G7 country still to execute people; we are in the company of China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen as among those countries that still do. That alone should give us pause; these are not generally the company we seek.

Let us admit that the time for capital punishment is over. Proponents can offer no compelling reason to continue the practice. Every conceivable purpose of executing a prisoner can be achieved by other means, all of which can be reversed in the case of wrongful conviction. Opponents of capital punishment have history on their side in the long march toward human decency and dignity, expanding with each epoch since the dawn of the Renaissance. We are not the brutal societies of past, storming castles and gutting our enemies. We no longer throw chamber pots out back alleys at night. We do not celebrate beheadings in central squares, or stone prisoners to death. All of those practices were considered normal and acceptable -- until society moved on. The time has come to relegate capital punishment to that pantheon of past practices now considered barbaric. Capital punishment accomplishes nothing. We do not need the death penalty; we do not benefit from it; we are diminished by it; we are better than that.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post. Posted here with the kind permission of the author.




 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "If anything has become clear in our recent Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling in Iraq, is that most Iraqis are tired of their country being used as a playground for regional conflict, especially the conflict between the US and Iran. In fact, our polling has shown Iraqis increasingly upset with the role played by both the US and Iran in their country. Majorities see both of these countries as having been the major beneficiaries of the wars that have ravaged their nation since the US invaded in 2003. "
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Under his [Suleimani's] leadership, Iran helped Hezbollah beef up its missile capabilities, led a decisive intervention to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported the Houthi rebels who have been waging a war against Saudi-led forces in Yemen, and backed a wave of resurgent Shia militias in Iraq. According to Gadi Eizenkot, who completed his term as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of general staff last year, Suleimani had plans to amass a proxy force of 100,000 fighters along Syria’s border with Israel."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: ".....stunning technological progress during the 2010s makes it possible to cut GHG emissions at a cost far lower than we dared hope a decade ago. The costs of solar and wind power have fallen more than 80% and 70%, respectively, while lithium-ion battery costs are down from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $160 per kWh today. These and other breakthroughs guarantee that energy systems which are as much as 85% dependent on variable renewables could produce zero-carbon electricity at costs that are fully competitive with those of fossil-fuel-based systems."
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "Predicting the next crisis – financial or economic – is a fool’s game. Yes, every crisis has its hero who correctly warned of what was about to come. And, by definition, the hero was ignored (hence the crisis). But the record of modern forecasting contains a note of caution: those who correctly predict a crisis rarely get it right again. The best that economists can do is to assess vulnerability. Looking at imbalances in the real economy or financial markets gives a sense of the potential consequences of a major shock. It doesn't take much to spark corrections in vulnerable economies and markets. But a garden-variety correction is far different from a crisis. The severity of the shock and the degree of vulnerability matter: big shocks to highly vulnerable systems are a recipe for crisis. In this vein, the source of vulnerability that I worry about the most is the overextended state of central-bank balance sheets. My concern stems from three reasons."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."