Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 18, 2006
LAW: Death Penalty Box

As I have said before, while I am ambivalent on many aspects of the death penalty, at least as applied to ordinary crime, few things make me more likely to support it than the shenanigans of its opponents. For yet another example, Patterico tears to ribbons a flimsy opinion declaring the California death penalty unconstitutional.

UPDATE: While I have discussed the issue before here, I'd forgotten that I never re-posted my longer death penalty post at RedState over here. Let's do that now:

I am probably not alone in having decidedly mixed views of the death penalty. On the one hand, I've always had a gut-level affinity for applying the maximum penalty to the worst crimes, and while I am pro-life I recognize that there is a world of difference between executing the guilty after due process and exterminating the most innocent of lives without any legal defense at all. Certainly the State has every right to take a life for a life, by any measure; that's almost the definition of the purpose of the State. And my support for the death penalty tends to rise in direct proportion to my exposure to its opponents.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church has long been at best deeply skeptical about the death penalty (call me a theocrat, if you will, but that does matter), and one does have to bear in mind at all times that this is, after all, the deliberate taking of a particular human life. There are problems with administering the death penalty on a broad scale to ordinary criminals - not least that it's frightfully expensive - it's potentially unfair if applied selectively to such criminals, and the deterrent effect is questionable if you limit it to the really spectacular cases of gleeful and unambiguous evildoing.

The strongest case for the death penalty would seem to me to be where it is used as a weapon of societal self-defense to incapacitate members of an organized group - terrorists especially, but arguably members of organized criminal syndicates. Such organizations are notoriously effective at continuing to use imprisoned members as an asset. And - at least for those who are in the crime business as opposed to religious fanatics - executing members of a particular organization may have a more focused deterrent effect on their remaining cohorts.

One argument that sometimes gets made by death penalty opponents is that life imprisonment is worse punishment than death. But there's an obvious response to that: if it really is a more effective punishment, it should be viewed that way by people who are sentenced to death. And yet, virtually without exception, the vast majority of death row inmates take every possible avenue of appeal to overturn their sentences. If you count how they 'vote with their feet,' they vote overwhelmingly that they would prefer life in prison to execution.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:36 PM | Law 2006-08 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

few things make me more likely to support it than the shenanigans of its opponents.

Crank. Couldn't someone who's "ambivalent on many aspects of abortion" say the same about abortion opponents' shenanigans?

If you're against the death penalty because you're morally opposed to the taking of human life, then the acts and arguments of your opponents shouldn't matter.

Morality isn't so flexible.

Posted by: Mike at December 18, 2006 10:05 PM


The difference is Crank said he is ambivalent on the death penalty. No one is ambivalent on the abortion issue. One involves society deciding to protect its citizens from someone who has been convicted of murder. The other involves killing an innocent child for the crime of being inconvenient. Not a real good analogy.

Personally, I can accept someone arguing that they disagree with the death penalty and they think we should foot the bill of housing and feeding these criminals for life (especially since the lawyers have screwed up the system so much it takes decades to carry out the death sentence anyway). However, they lose me when they whine about the murderer feeling a little pain on the way.

Posted by: largebill at December 19, 2006 8:30 AM

I'm with Bill, the death penalty and abortion are apples and oranges. As for whether the death penalty should be painless, I believe the convict should go out feeling some of what they inflicted on the person they killed.

Posted by: maddirishman at December 19, 2006 9:21 AM

I share alot of Crank's sentiments on the issue. After college I went from supporting the dp to opposing it, based mainly on a feeling that it was unjust to take a human life, even if said person had himself taken a life. But I've never really felt passionately about the issue, and there have been recent events that have made me at least feel sympathetic to the pro-dp cause - the latest being the guy in CA who was also a children's book author.

When one's on the fence about an issue, you tend to be more sensitive to the different viewpoints, and I've usually found more meat on the pro- rather than con side. So I also see where Crank's coming from. I understand what Mike is saying - right is right even if those on the side of right are not always good representatives of the cause - but if you're not truly sure which side is right, then the strength of the various arguments becomes that much more important.

Oh, and as for the constitutionality of the dp - that is one area where I am sure where I stand. I may not like the dp, but it is constitutional.

Posted by: paul zummo at December 19, 2006 9:51 AM

While I think the definition of cruel and unusual will always float around a bit, the idea that the courts claim the death penalty be virtually pain free is absurd. It's like permitting perpetual motion patents--no such thing.

As most of you know, I am for abortion rights. Doesn't mean I think it's a form of birth control-nor will I argue the pros and cons here, it's not the forum. The death penalty is a different thing. We, as a society, have decided that various homo sapiens among us have destroyed a fabric of society so heinously that we (collectively, through the courts) have decided this person may no long live. That is not the same as life BTW-can't be. If you are a lifer and kill someone, I guess you get a freebie. Plus, the activists who claim that life in prison is crueler than death, well then if death is cruel and unusual what is a fate worse than that?

This is left to each state to decide. The list for methods as I quickly find them: lethal injection; hanging, electrocution; hanging. They are not painless, but then, nothing is painless--these methods were adopted to promote a quick and reduced pain death. That will be the best we could ever hopw for.

Europeans have also noted that only we, the Chinese, the Saudis, and some other nut jobs have the death penalty. They don't. I do love moral judgments from the fine folks who gave us two world wars, death camps, indifference in the Balkans, the introduction of international slavery, brutal subjugation and colonization of Africa. Maybe they should have it still.

I like what Larry Niven once wrote: "You humans lack a sense of proportion. Cruel and unusual crimes deserve cruel and unusual punishment."

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at December 19, 2006 11:59 AM

I wouldn't attribute the fact that prisoners on death row fully pursue their appeals to mean they would prefer life imprisonment. The more likely reason is that a death sentence comes with more open avenues of appeal than any other conviction. For inmates not convicted to a death sentence, a denial of a request for a writ of habeas corpus is pretty much the end of the road. Cases where courts will entertain a second habeas petition, or the equivalent in state court, for an inmate not sentenced to death are few and far between.

By contrast, persons sentenced to death are generally permitted to seek additional avenues of relief, which in rare cases lead to the entire conviction being overturned. In addition, courts are far more likely to examine a second or successive habeas petition from someone on death row.

It all really boils down to opportunity. There is more opportunity to pursue avenues of appeal to prisoners on death row.

Posted by: Nick Lagemann at December 19, 2006 12:31 PM

That's true, but it's also true that many of those appeals either only challenge the death sentence or have only a reasonable prospect of overturning the death sentence.

Posted by: The Crank at December 19, 2006 12:37 PM


No one is ambivalent on the abortion issue.

First of all, let me introduce Exhibit #1 in the Ambivalent Evidence Files: Me.

I'm ambivalent about abortion. It's a terrible method of birth control, with a negative effect on both potential parents, with many costs, economic & otherwise, over condoms, pills, or other methods.

One involves society deciding to protect its citizens from someone who has been convicted of murder. The other involves killing an innocent child for the crime of being inconvenient.

Wrong. One involves society putting the awesome power to decide when a human being lives or dies in the hands of The State, and the other places the important, but far from awesome, power of determining when to abort a formless blob of cells that may one day develop into a human being into the hands of the mother . . . which is exactly where it belongs.

I'm ambivalent, and I'm sure the mother is too, about whether it's a good thing to abort that blob of cells, precisely because it could develop into a human being. But because the mother is a human being, who will bear the responsibility for that unwanted child should she carry it to term, it's her decision to make.

In neither case should The State make the decision. And I remain unable to comprehend how somehow who will fight for the "rights" of a potential human can be so willing to justify the killing of a actual human.

Who's killing for convenience?

Posted by: Mike at December 19, 2006 12:40 PM

I'm ambivalent about abortion

a formless blob of cells


Posted by: paul zummo at December 19, 2006 1:46 PM

Sorry if that answer bothers you, Paul, but that's how it is.

When we have a mouse in our house, I have to choose between my wife and the mouse. My wife wins.

But I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me a lot to kill the mouse. Because it does.

Posted by: Mike at December 19, 2006 2:01 PM

I always disagreed with most of those who are pro death penalty and anti abortion, and the other way around. If a human life is sacred--that sacredness being based generally on someone's religious beliefs, then no human being should be allowed to terminate another life.

Most folks against abortion rights don't go far enough to say, "OK, WE'LL adopt that child." --who wants to be raised by Bill O'Reilly anyway? And there are too damn many self righteous people out there who don't want you get an abortion, but also don't want to teach you how to avoid getting pregnant in the first place. I know, I know, abstinence. Well, priests don't practice it, why should anyone else--and if they did, it's the first generation in the history of humans that do.

And for those against executing Ted Bundy (or Jose Padilla), if you feel that strongly, then take them in. But don't expect me to pay room and board for creatures like Timothy Mcveigh.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at December 19, 2006 2:46 PM

I think the key to the death penalty/abortion arguement was pointed out earlier. It is the difference between terminating the life of a person who has killed another human being (without justifiable cause) and terminating the life of an innocent. The arguement about being born to a mother that does not want you does not fly either. There are thousands of loving couples in this country that are continually jumping through hoops to adopt a child. I don't believe there is such a thing as an unwanted healthy child and most children that are not healthy still stand a chance of being adopted. Instead we do not hold a mother (or father) responsible for their actions and allow them to terminate the result of their indisrection.

This discussion started about what was crual and unusual punishment. Maybe we should be discussing whether it is crual and unusual punishment for that unborn child to be killed before it has the chance to make its make in life. As for the convict that has been sentenced to die, appeals should be limited and sentence should be carried out within one year unless there is a valid concern about the evidence presented in the trial.

Posted by: maddirishman at December 19, 2006 4:07 PM
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