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Thread: The Slow Death of the Death Penality

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    The Slow Death of the Death Penality

    Book Review: ‘Let the Lord Sort Them,’ by Maurice Chammah - The New York Times
    In 1972, the Supreme Court meted out a death sentence. The condemned was the death penalty itself. The American apparatus of state killing was effectively shut down, the punishment judged too final given the flawed human beings who gave it. But this death wasn’t final. A bipartisan band of bloodlust resurrected the death penalty, needling the annual count back up to a peak of 98 executions in 1999. From there, the death penalty began again to die. This time, it wasn’t a high edict that doomed it, but the unsung, helter-skelter, hydra-headed, revolution-by-a-thousand-cuts process through which real change often comes.
    It wasn't a big once-and-for-all victory, but a slow death as activists win small victory after small victory after small victory.
    How? Not through big ideas in Washington, D.C., but through tedious grass-roots whittling. Not through purity tests but through unlikely coalitions of the righteous, the tainted and the grappling. Not by raising an issue’s visibility but by keeping its profile down.

    ...
    When the Supreme Court finally ruled in 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, it didn’t declare execution unconstitutional in principle. Rather, a divided court found capital punishment to be ruled by caprice, irregularity and discrimination, and thus, as Justice Potter Stewart put it, a “cruel and unusual” violation of the Eighth Amendment.

    And what you have to understand about America, and about the state Chammah focuses on, Texas — which is to America what America is to the world — is that many interpreted this historic ruling not as an invitation to step back and reimagine the justice system but as an invitation to retool the death penalty to get those heartbeats stopping again.

    The ensuing rise and fall of “the death,” as some inmates are known to call it, is a national phenomenon, but Chammah homes in on Texas, because of what can be called its exceptionalism, as captured by the historian T. R. Fehrenbach: “its almost theatrical codes and courtesies, its incipient feudalism, its touchy independence and determined self-reliance, its — exaggerated as it seemed to more crowded cultures — individual self-importance and its tribal territoriality.”

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    My Brane Hertz spikepipsqueak's Avatar
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    I'm not sure where you want to go with this, but it has always astonished me that the nation which refers to itself as "the leader of the free world" keeps such abysmal company amongst the few remaining countries which undertake judicial murder of their own citizens.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Virginia's Senate votes to abolish the death penalty | TheHill
    The Virginia's Senate voted on Wednesday to abolish the death penalty in a move that could make the commonwealth one of the first states in the South to abolish capital punishment.

    Twenty-one Democrats voted to abolish the death penalty while 17 Republicans voting to keep it, and one person abstaining, the Washington Post reported.
    With state Senate vote, Virginia moves closer to abolishing death penalty - The Washington Post
    Virginia's Senate voted Wednesday in favor of abolishing the death penalty as a similar bill advanced in the House, putting the onetime capital of the Confederacy on track to become the first Southern state to eliminate capital punishment.

    ...
    With Gov. Ralph Northam (D) backing abolition efforts, capital punishment appears to be on the way out in the state that has practiced it longer than any other.

    Since 1608, when Jamestown colonists executed a spy for Spain, Virginia has put more people to death than anywhere else in what’s now the United States. Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Virginia has executed 113 people — more than every other state but Texas.
    A part of the rise of the Democratic Party there, it seems. Might Georgia be next? North Carolina?

    Democrats Unveil Legislation To Abolish The Federal Death Penalty : NPR
    Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., are unveiling legislation that would seek to end federal capital punishment, putting a focus on the issue as their party prepares to take over complete control of Congress, along with the White House.

    ...
    For his part, Biden has said he wants to work with Congress to pass a law to eliminate capital punishment at the federal level and to "incentivize" states to follow that example.

    Last year, transition spokesman T.J. Ducklo told NPR that "the president-elect opposes the death penalty, now and in the future, and as president will work to end its use."

    Pressley said she has been in "active conversation" with the Biden-Harris transition team about the issue, and that she is "very optimistic" about the chances for passage of the legislation. Late last year, she led her colleagues in a letter to the incoming administration, calling on it to abolish the death penalty as well as to use executive action to end all federal executions.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Capital punishment by country
    Executions Around the World | Death Penalty Information Center
    Death penalty statistics, country by country | visualisation and data | World news | theguardian.com
    Capital punishment in the United States

    In the US, the number of executions per year steadily rose over its history, getting as high as 200/year in the 1930's. It then dropped precipitously, stopping almost completely over 1965 - 1980. It then rose, getting to 100/year in the late 1990's, but it is now falling again.

    The first states to abolish the death penalty were northeastern and northern midwestern ones.

    On a worldwide scale, many nations have abolished this punishment or use it very little. The main exception is Communist China, with an unstated execution rate that is estimated to be in the thousands per year - more than all the rest of the world's nations put together.

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    Emotional thinking dies hard. When I watch some of the more ghastly true crime narratives on the ID Network, I fully understand the support the d.p. gets. But in the larger picture, and at the most basic level of argumentation, when the state executes the innocent, it is just as ghastly an event. I met four exonerees at a public speaking event, and I've read widely on the typical paths that lead a (usually poor) innocent human to the death cell. I've often read columnists who write something like, "The American justice system is not nearly fool-proof enough to condemn the guilty to death", but the truth is, no justice system is fool-proof enough.
    BTW, the four exonerees included a man who was convicted because eye witnesses not only gave conflicting descriptions, but in some cases changed their original descriptions so that he was more likely the felon; another man who was part of a construction crew, and the actual killer among them fingered him because the police got to him first; and another man who was convicted after the local DA suppressed evidence that tended to show innocence.

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    Contributor repoman's Avatar
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    Maybe white nationalist murderers being executed can keep the death penalty alive.

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    Cyborg with a Tiara
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    I’d rather not. It is possible theyy could change. I’d prefer to just keep them out of society for as long as they are not safe in it.

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    To me, the death penalty fits the description of cruel and unusual punishment, but then a lot, if not most of America's prisons are very inhumane too. It's not just the private prisons either, but prison reform is a different topic, so I'll leave it at that.

    We can't allow dangerous violent people to be in our midst, but we can at least treat them humanely. Treating a criminal as a criminal has treated others is too OT. Nope. We should be better than those who we prosecute for violent crimes.

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    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
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    I used to be indifferent to the death penalty.

    I could see both sides.

    On the one hand, there are people I assume the world would be better off without. Charles Manson comes to mind. So I just didn't mind capital punishment.

    I assumed that sometimes innocent people were executed, but I also assumed that the burden of proof, "beyond a reasonable doubt," kept those to an acceptable minimum.

    If the burden of proof failed to protect the innocent from conviction, then it wouldn't be the death penalty that was my sticking point. Think of all the people in jails and prisons. If a significant number of them are falsely accused, then our crime is much much greater than what we do with the death penalty.

    Then I became, for awhile, a criminal defense lawyer. I saw the injustices that happen in courtrooms. I saw the deliberate, purposeful, determined, routine injustice. I saw judges who gloried in injustice, and who were untouchable. There was no way to discipline them.

    When I made a speedy trial argument, a judge told me that he didn't do Constitutional law.

    One County judge refused to set bond, and said that was his general policy. When the State Court of Appeals tried to correct him, he told them they didn't have jurisdiction over him.

    One judge sentenced a defendant and then said, "And don't let me catch you crawling off to some higher court."

    One judge said that something would definitely be child abuse if whites had done it, but he didn't know that much about blacks.

    One judge explained a harsh sentence by saying, "You should have gone to church more."

    One judge acquitted a rapist because his victim had been drinking. The judge reasoned that the rapist should have been charged under the "too drunk to give consent" part of the statute rather than the "sleeping" part of the statue. In this judge's view, if you were sleeping because you were drunk, your sleep itself didn't count as failure to give consent.

    This was long ago. I used to have many examples of misbehavior, much of it deliberate, by judges and prosecutors and juries. (One juror sent me a letter saying that, since I hadn't proven the defendant to be innocent, the jury had just had to assume that the prosecutor was right.)

    Every trial is, to some extent, a coin flip.

    If you believe that it's important to have the better lawyer, then you do not believe that courts do justice.

    We can hope that justice is done on average. Innocent people may be convicted once, but they aren't too likely to be prosecuted again; chronic criminals may be acquitted repeatedly, but they are likely to be convicted eventually.

    But I no longer think we may expect justice in individual cases. The death penalty is always an individual case.

    Some judges intend to misbehave within the limits of their discretion. Some of those judges have no idea what those limits are.

    As a general rule, it is impossible to remove a bad judge from office.

    So long as the judiciary cannot or does not choose to police itself, it should not have the big gun.

    -

    That's the end of that argument. Now I make a separate point.

    In a town of sixty thousand, the prosecutor told me that it would make a big difference to the town if he could just lock up one hundred people and keep them locked up.

    Higher up in this thread, I read that the whole country may execute 100 people a year.

    That's insignificant. It's not enough to make a difference. It might work for a town of sixty thousand, but it can't have much effect on a country hundreds of millions.

    I read a line once: "I don't believe in the electric chair. I believe in electric bleachers."

    I'm not onboard with that. We execute far too few people to do any good, and I don't want us to go in for the wholesale killings that would be necessary to accomplish anything.

    -

    I don't believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent. Drug dealers get killed all the time. There's a very slight possibility that they'll be legally executed after years of appeal, but that can hardly factor into their decisions when they have a significant chance of being killed by rival gangs tonight.

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