01 November 2006

Hopefully not a step in the wrong direction

Next Tuesday, voters in Wisconsin will be asked to consider a referendum on whether to reinstate the death penalty after more than 150 years without it. The referendum asks:

Should the death penalty be enacted in the state of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence?

On the surface the proposition seems logical. After all isn’t DNA evidence pretty conclusive? There is not doubt that Alec Jeffries’s technique has been an invaluable forensic tool, but it should not be used to justify the retention or the reintroduction of the death Penalty.

David Couper, formerly Chief of Police for the city of Madison makes an eloquent argument for rejecting the referendum.

…I got to thinking: we have become so sophisticated we take life by a simple injection. today it has become the dominant method of executing criminals in our country since the death penalty was reinstated. Since that time, we, as a nation, have executed over 1,000 people. And the overwhelming majority, 867, were by lethal injection. While it might appear easy, "humane," "clean," or "medical," it is, nevertheless, killing another person.

At the same time, I was thankful that I worked in Wisconsin a state that did not have the death penalty. I think if that was not the case, it would have been very difficult for me to continue to work as a police officer knowing what I did about the system and how it worked. What I came to know about the system and the death penalty is this:

The death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime. Crime has not decreased since the death penalty was re-enacted in the late 1970s.

The death penalty risks killing innocent people. When that happens, we are all responsible.

DNA evidence is not infallible. Unfortunately, poor equipment, sloppy lab work and poorly trained technicians can contaminate evidence. For example, 11 people in Oklahoma have been executed based on contaminated DNA evidence.

The death penalty is more expensive than a life sentence. Death penalty cases cost more than "life without parole" cases. A number of U.S. counties have gone bankrupt because of a single death penalty case.

The death penalty is neither fair nor just. African Americans account for more than 40 percent of the death row population, and most death row inmates are poor and uneducated and were unable to afford quality legal representation.

Our state is a great state. We have done without the death penalty for more than 150 years. We have an excellent and creative criminal justice system that can and has operated effectively without recourse to killing people. It simply makes no sense for our state to enact a death penalty. Wisconsin does not need a death penalty. Killing is wrong for a state and for a person.


Frank Partisan said...

The USA is the only industrialied country that practices capital punishment.

I agree with every word of your post.

jams o donnell said...

Japan too Ren, but that hardly makes it beter... it would be a sad move if Wisconsin reinstated the Death Penalty

Steve Bates said...

Thanks, jams, for this post. You may not have been reading my blog long enough to know that this is one of my ongoing signature issues. Once the American elections are over, I'll probably resume posting on it.

Chief Couper hits on many of the reasons the death penalty is wrong. Here's another: there is growing evidence that lethal injection may violate the prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" in our Constitution's Eighth Amendment. The same "cocktail" of drugs used in Texas and most states that practice lethal injection has been prohibited for use by veterinarians in euthanizing animals, because there is evidence that the creature is still conscious but unable to move or make a sound as it dies a horribly painful death.

I've known some Texans to say that the potential cruelty makes them like lethal injection even better. There's no accounting for what these fine, upstanding, "moral" people will do.

MC Fanon said...

Amazing post. Your last point is right on the money. So many studies and cases have been done about the inherent racism in the death penalty to the point where I feel it's undeniable.

Even so, what is the purpose of the punishment? As you pointed out, it's not a good general or specific deterrence. It's not rehabilitating the criminal. The only condition it falls under is retribution, which should never be a goal of punishment. It's been said before but taking another life doesn't bring a dead person back.

I completely agree with you Jams. Good post.

jams o donnell said...

Despite my gut feelings I am glad we dont have the death penalty. The last executons took place here on 13 August 1964. Allen and Evans were the last two men to have a date with the hangman. The last execution in Scotland was in 1963 (Scotland has a separate legal system to England and Wales)

Despite their horrible crimes I would rather murderers spend their lives in prison rahter than be executedzqop

jams o donnell said...

Dave, thanks for your comment. I think Albert Pierrepoint, the famous British hangman said it well when he looked back at his career: I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people.

beakerkin said...


The fact that other countries do not practice something is irrelevant. The death penalty should be used and is appropriate. However, you are a hypocrite as workers gufaw paradise kill people after show trials.

The death penalty is appropriate for the following crimes.

Terrorism The Crackpots who blew up the WTC in 93, Bill Ayers, Dorn and those that knowingly aid terrorists like Lynne Stewart.

Killing Law enforcement officers and fellow prisoners.

Any premediated homicide

Treason like the good people at Code Pinko who gave money to our enemies in Falujah. The first amendment does not protect criminal acts.

Jams is an idealist with whom I disagree but respect. His argument is a respectable different sort.

Renegade are you going to lecture the USA about human rights while advocating a system that produces planned starvation. What is the official Marxist idiot line for that death is an alternative form of liberation.

Shall we go into the history of persecution of homosexuals under Marxist thug governments. Why did the Marxist jail the Jehovas Witnesses and Jews who wanted to leave.

I could go on with this but the point has been made.

elasticwaistbandlady said...

I'm pro-death penalty on a case by case basis. Certainly not a blanket advocacy of the punishment, though there are some crimes, especially against children, that only death seems proper. My Mexican born husband retains Mexico's anti-death penalty stance.

We don't discuss the topic much at home.

Steve Bates said...

Years ago, my UU minister gave a sermon with the unwieldy title, "Some days, I want the death penalty... but those are not my best days." Exactly so. I believe a desire for revenge is human... actually, probably inherent in any creature with a well-developed brain; I've seen Stella's cats indulge in it occasionally... but we humans have the capacity to go beyond our instincts in considering how crimes should be punished, and in my opinion we are obliged to use that capacity, whatever conclusion we may come to.

In Texas, there is a lot of unthinking support for the death penalty; Mr. Bush is of course a very visible example. All I ask is that people think seriously about it, starting with the reasons jams lists for not executing people.

(By the way, I found it odd that someone above said jams's argument is of a different sort. No; jams's and Chief Couper's list is pretty much the standard set of reasons, at least among people I know who oppose the death penalty, though of course some people add moral arguments to that list of practical ones.)

jams o donnell said...

Very nicely put steve, I agree punishment must not be about revenge

Cutting to the chase beakerkin, the death penalty does not work. it does not deter. If it did, retentionist states would have low murder rates. In the main they are higher than abolitionist ones.

Best to agree to differ eh, ewbl