A Response to Comments on the California Death Penalty Initiative

A few responses to Ricochet members’ comments on my recent post about the California ballot initiative seeking to abolish the death penalty:

Pig Man:  “It’s not just about money. Many people and groups (including the Catholic Church) think capital punishment is immoral. Obviously you don’t, but some do.”

The California proposition to ban capital punishment is based on its cost, not its alleged immorality. I deal with the morality question in my Prager University talk on capital punishment. And for the record, a number of Catholic theologians such as the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus do support capital punishment for murder. See further the note by Joseph Stanko on the RCC and capital punishment.

 Valiuth: “It seems ludicrous to me to claim it so greatly enhances forensics as to eliminate doubts about the guilt of the convicted.”

Ludicrous is a strong word for a rational position. Moreover, nothing eliminates doubts. Some things eliminate reasonable doubt. And DNA is one of them.

Valiuth: “Is there a reason to think the death penalty would have more deterrence than life imprisonment?”

The question, forgive me, is mind-blowing. Unless one believes that all murderers are out of their minds, of course capital punishment has more deterrence than life imprisonment. Just as life imprisonment has more deterrence than 40 years in prison.

See the fine observations by Stuart Creque and Hank Dagny on this subject.

Vice-Potentate: “For the religious among us the controversy over the death penalty actually comes down to whether we believe there is a requirement in scripture for forgiveness or just a suggestion.”

There is no requirement in Scripture to forgive everyone every sin they committed against everyone else. The New Testament asks that we forgive those who sin against us, not against everyone else. Forgiving those who hurt other people is actually immoral: has Vice-Potentate forgiven Stalin, Mao and Hitler? If so, we possess different moral and religious codes. Moreover, even God does not forgive everyone – one has to atone first.

 Valiuth:  “I just don’t really see why people would be so gung ho about the liberal use of the death penalty. “

Among other reasons:

Because every murderer who is allowed to live out his natural life has literally gotten away with murder. And that is as cosmic an injustice as exists in our world.

Because it lessens the horror of murder to allow all murderers to live.

Because every day a murderer is allowed to live mocks the memory of the murdered.

The Norwegian mass murderer of young people will serve a few months in prison for every one of those he killed. That cheapens their lives.

Midget Faded Rattlesnake: “If I were to commit a heinous crime, I would rather die for it than spend life in prison.”

How do you know? And even if it would be so, you would be among the very few murderers in America to prefer death to imprisonment.They all do everything in their power to stay alive. Life in prison is a lot worse than life outside of prison, but a lot better than death. And with life there is always hope. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Thom Williams

    Dennis, as a regular listener I have been a fan of yours for some time. But your contributions here make me admire you even more. I applaud your willingness to engage our site and follow up on your contributions. That does not seem to be the norm with contributors on the main feed. 

  2. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C
    Dennis Prager:

     Valiuth: “It seems ludicrous to me to claim it so greatly enhances forensics as to eliminate doubts about the guilt of the convicted.”

    Ludicrous is a strong word for a rational position. Moreover, nothingeliminatesdoubts. Some things eliminate reasonable doubt. And DNA is one of them.

    In defense of Valiuth, my Texas-based Assistant DA friend just confirmed my suspicion that the majority of murder trials do not involve DNA evidence.  For instance, if a man murders his wife, what does finding his DNA on her prove?*

    DNA is useful evidence — especially if there’s rape involved — but it’s not quite the game-changer it’s often presented as.

    * On showing him this post, he asked me to mention that in many capital murder cases — in TX, at least — the question isn’t so much guilt as whether or not the crime qualifies for the death penalty.  In these cases, there’s so much evidence against the defendant, there’s no need for DNA testing, but that’s often because capital cases need something beyond just murder; there needs to be rape, or burglary, etc.

  3. Brian Clendinen

    Just because their is forgiveness does not mean all consequences here on earth are wiped away. To often the Christian concept of forgiveness is assumed to be all consequences of an evil action also should go by-by for the forgiven. Consequences of evil being forgotten is only related to the afterlife.

    The idea that capital punish is only a revenge mechanism from the Christian standpoint is wrong. We can forgive the murder but still believe the murder is required to suffer the earthly consequences of his law breaking/sin.

    This is why I have always been against Christians wanting death penalty over-ruled for Christian converts. This position is pretty  hypocrite for many people who advocate it.This concept is a perversion of justice. I fully believe they will go to heaven, still does not mean they should somehow not suffer the consequence of being a murder via dying.

    From a Christian and sound law standpoint the law should  never take into consideration  someones heart, only the action. We should punish actions even if there is real repentance because it is God who judges the heart. Judge and Jury should only judge the action not the motivation behind it.

  4. Frank Soto
    C

    For further emphasis, I don’t believe the murders themselves seem all that afraid of prison.  

  5. Vance Richards

    When computing the financial cost, do they take into account the money saved when someone takes a plea to avoid the death penalty?

  6. captainpower

    The death penalty DOES have a deterrent effect, but only when it is consistently enforced.

    Criminals are not deterred by empty threats.

    Here’s a great site (unfortunately defunct) from an incognito Economics professor analyzing data surrounding the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20070902062509/http://engram-backtalk.blogspot.com/2007/01/prior-posts-on-capital-punishment.html

  7. Misthiocracy
    Frank Soto: For further emphasis, I don’t believe the murders themselves seem all that afraid of prison. 

    The question then becomes, would they be more afraid of the death penalty?

    In the case you link to, if the actual result of a death sentence is years (perhaps a lifetime) of incarceration anyways, thanks to the long appeal process, etc, then there is little to distinguish one punishment from the other.  Either way, the criminal in that case would get to see Monday Night Football in the jailhouse.

    (Apropos of nothing, but Freakonomics.com has lots of information about the death penalty, the gist being that because it’s an empty threat it offers no greater deterrence than life imprisonment.)

  8. Stuart Creque

    If I am ever am wrongly convicted of capital murder, I pray that I am sentenced to death.  Not because I want to die, but because the Innocence Project and other groups who seek to exonerate those who are wrongly convicted will pay far more attention to my case far more quickly if I’m on Death Row than if I am in the general population doing life without parole.

  9. Canuckski

    I’ve never been able to shake the argument that society is simply better off with certain people dead — starting with contract killers, serial killers, and pedophiles.  Dead men tell no tales, and commit no crimes.

    One thing that gives me pause about the death penalty is the effect is has on those who must carry it out.  I don’t know if this has been formally studied, but anecdotally, such people seem to suffer poverty, social exclusion, mental illness, and alcoholism.

  10. Tommy De Seno
    C
    Dennis Prager

    There is no requirement in Scripture to forgive everyone every sin they committed against everyone else. The New Testament asks that we forgive those who sin against us, not against everyone else.   

    Dennis,

    What then of the Lord’s Prayer?  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. ”   It doesn’t say against “me.”

    I’m more interested though about this:  Why in both your posts and your video you fail to confront a particular concept:  REVENGE.

    I won’t speculate on why you don’t address it.  I run the risk of being unfair to you if I speculate wrong. 

    But I’d like to hear from you about the concept.

     

  11. Man With the Axe

    We have a social contract that for certain murders the punishment is death.  If one doesn’t want the death penalty, one shouldn’t commit the murder.  If you do commit it, there doesn’t seem to be any moral question about the penalty, which was previously agreed upon.  

    What about the potentially innocent man convicted of murder?  The proper way to deal with this possibility is to wait a reasonable time (say, 5 years) for the defendant to raise all relevant issues relating to guilt (with govt. providing adequate resources for the purpose), and if at that time there is no reasonable doubt impose the punishment.

    If the penalty for murder were a $10 fine, there would be an inefficiently large number of  murders.  As the expected punishment increases the number of murders committed should go down.  Society incurs costs in order to reduce murder, both in punishment costs and in police costs.  Currently, we have something like 14,000 murders per year and maybe 45 executions.  Although the possibility of an innocent person being executed is a cost, it might be worth it to bring the number of murders down by 1,000 or so.

  12. Melanie Graham
    C

    In California, the death penalty is an empty threat. In Texas and Florida perhaps a little less empty. Thank God evil men like Ted Bundy do stupid things and travel from Washington State to Florida.

  13. Joseph Stanko
    Ken Owsley:  Or, on the other side:  “Here’s a guy that raped an murdered 3 little girls, and he got life in prison and was later found to be not guilty.”  Also a no brainer.  So…hmm.    I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as either side likes to say. 

    Regardless of DNA evidence we can never entirely eliminate the possibility that an innocent man might be wrongfully convicted, therefore we should abolish the death penalty.

    Furthermore, we can never entirely eliminate the possibility that police officers might mistakenly shoot and kill an innocent bystander.  Therefore, our police should never carry guns, like in the U.K.

    Furthermore, we can never entirely eliminate the possibility that the Air Force might miss its target and mistakenly drop a bomb on an innocent civilian.  Therefore, we ought to abolish the Air Force.

    Follow this line of reasoning out and you end up with your typical “war is never the answer” hippie.  Their reasoning is consistent, I’ll give them that much credit.

  14. Blake Neff

    There’s a great deal of bloodlust in this topic. Yipes.

    The death penalty is not necessary to prevent further unjust acts by the convicted person, and thus is gratuitous as a punishment. If one responds that the value is the deterrent effect of execution on other future criminals, than we are using a person’s life (or should I say death) as a means to an end, which is immoral. Therefore, I cannot see a reason to back the death penalty in the present, or at least, I can’t see a reason that is consistent with Christian principles.

  15. Frozen Chosen

    One can argue about whether or not the death penalty is a deterrent to other potential murderers but there can be no argument that it is a 100% effective deterrent for those who are executed.

    How many times have convicted murderers been freed from prison to kill again?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  It is a sad but irrefutable fact that we cannot trust our justice system to keep killers locked up for life or any other term and far too often these released murderers kill again, which is a horrible travesty of justice.

    Execution instead?  Problem solved.

  16. Frozen Chosen
    Blake Neff: There’s a great deal of bloodlust in this topic. Yipes.

    The death penalty is not necessary to prevent further unjust acts by the convicted person, and thus is gratuitous as a punishment. If one responds that the value is the deterrent effect of execution on other future criminals, than we are using a person’s life (or should I say death) as a means to an end, which is immoral. Therefore, I cannot see a reason to back the death penalty in the present, or at least, I can’t see a reason that is consistent with Christian principles. · 8 minutes ago

    That’s a nice sentiment in theory but it fails horribly in the real world.

  17. Misthiocracy
    Frozen Chosen: One can argue about whether or not the death penalty is a deterrent to other potential murderers but it is a 100% effective deterrent for those who are executed.

    How many times have convicted murderers who have been freed from prison killed again?

    Ah, but then in that case we wouldn’t be talking about life imprisonment without parole as the alternative.

    How often is a jury asked to choose between the death penalty or life imprisonment WITH the possibility of parole?

    In those cases where a convicted murderer was set free, one may assume that the death penalty would never have been an option.

  18. Leslie Watkins

    Might you consider, Blake, that your post is a bit bloodless?

    Blake Neff: There’s a great deal of bloodlust in this topic. Yipes.

    The death penalty is not necessary to prevent further unjust acts by the convicted person, and thus is gratuitous as a punishment. If one responds that the value is the deterrent effect of execution on other future criminals, than we are using a person’s life (or should I say death) as a means to an end, which is immoral. Therefore, I cannot see a reason to back the death penalty in the present, or at least, I can’t see a reason that is consistent with Christian principles. · 13 minutes ago

  19. Misthiocracy
    Frozen Chosen

    That’s a nice sentiment in theory but it fails horribly in the real world. 

    1. In the cases you cite the problem was not that life imprisonment is ineffective.  The problem is that parole was a possibility.

      The choice being made here is not between the death penalty and parole, it’s between the death penalty and true life imprisonment.

    2. I note that many of the states in the list you cite do, indeed, have the death penalty.  It simply wasn’t used in the cases you cite.
  20. Donald Todd

    Pig Man:  “Many people and groups (including the Catholic Church) think capital punishment is immoral. Obviously you don’t, but some do.”

    Since I am a Catholic, I’ll challenge that statement.  The position of the Catholic Church is that the decision to execute a criminal or to make war belongs to the State, not the Church.  

    If the Church advocates for mercy, and generally it does, that doesn’t mean that the State has done anything immoral in executing a criminal or in deciding to go to war.  

    It is always best to know what one is about before tossing ideas around. 

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