On the Death Penalty and Money

There’s a measure on the ballot in California (where they’re called propositions) tomorrow to eliminate the death penalty. The idea behind this measure, Proposition 34, is that the death penalty is too expensive and therefore should be abolished. The idea is so morally vapid that it’s hard to believe people would take it seriously. Justice should never be a matter of money.  Do supporters of Prop. 34 really mean to suggest that, yes, heinous murderers should be executed, but because it’s costly we should allow every murderer to live? 

Isn’t the obvious and better answer to do something about the endless and usually pointless appeals process that makes capital punishment expensive? 

The reason the death penalty is so expensive is that groups that oppose capital punishment (like the ACLU), with their nearly bottomless resources, manipulate the legal system to keep murderers alive. Now these very same groups come back and say to the voter, “we’ve got a big problem, the death penalty is too expensive. Think of all the money we can save if we abolish it.” 

The opponents of capital punishment make capital punishment more and more expensive, and then demand the abolition of capital punishment because it’s more and more expensive. If it weren’t angering, it would be funny. 

Regarding the rightness of capital punishment, I have created a new course at Prager University making the moral case for capital punishment. I didn’t make it as a response to Proposition 34. In fact, I don’t address the cost issue. But I would submit that it’s hard to watch this five minute lecture and not come away with a clearer grasp as to why capital punishment for murder is so necessary and so moral. 

You can watch it here

  1. Douglas
    Dennis Prager: The idea is so morally vapid that it’s hard to believe people would take it seriously. 

    We’re talking about California here. That state is often the source of what is immoral and vapid.

    Mister D:  I would never want to remove the right of appeal, and be very cautious about limiting it. · 1 hour ago

    Should there be unlimited numbers of appeals? Because in practical terms, that’s the situation we have in many states. In some places, murderers know they’ll never march to the gallows because lawyers will simply file appeal after appeal after appeal. There HAS to be a limit of some kind, or sentences will never get carried out.

  2. Joseph Stanko
    Pig Man: Many people and groups (including the Catholic Church) think capital punishment is immoral.

    Actually the Catholic Church’s position is more complex than that, from the Catechism:

    2267    Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

    And from a letter written by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004:

    While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

  3. Nigel Cones

    huh, this is fun (as fun as moral quandaries can be?) just because the immediate and most apparent financial argument seems to rest pretty squarely with the pro-Death Penalty side – it seems, on the face of it, much cheaper to kill criminals than to keep them imprisoned for life. So opponents are basically resting their anti-death penalty case on the costly flaws of the appeals process? Because that ultimately makes sense…

  4. Douglas
    HANK DAGNY:   

    Sure is easy to forgive somebody for killing someone else’s daughter ain’t it? · 14 minutes ago

    Just as it’s easy to be generous and compassionate with someone else’s money. Funny how these things seem to go together.

  5. Jim  Ixtian
    Douglas Just as it’s easy to be generous and compassionate with someone else’s money. Funny how these things seem to go together.

    Rich countries can afford to be a little stupid for a short time. The US has been stupid for a long time. Considering the amount of debt racked up at the local, state, and federal levels I think the US will soon be at the point of dealing with the question of whether it can afford a level of justice demanded by its citizens.

    Just for S&G’s I’ll add that after living and working in Singapore and Malaysia among many places in SE Asia I’m also pro-caning more than I’m pro-death penalty nowadays.

  6. Douglas
    Joseph Stanko

    Pig Man: Many people and groups (including the Catholic Church) think capital punishment is immoral.

    Actually the Catholic Church’s position is more complex than that, from the Catechism:

    2267    Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

    And from a letter written by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004:

    While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    0 minutes ago

    That’s interesting. Didn’t know that. The Church needs to address that, because from watching priests and nuns at various protests, you’d think the official position was “no executions, period”.

  7. Vice-Potentate
    HANK DAGNY:

    Sure is easy to forgive somebody for killing someone else’s daughter ain’t it?

    It’s not easy to forgive anyone, but a statement of righteous indignation, even if right and proper, obscures the moral question of forgiveness.

  8. 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. The issue is further complicated by the question, to what degree should the religious pass off such moral questions to an amoral state apparatus?

  9. kylez

    forgiveness is great if the forgivee is repentant. most death row inmates are not.

  10. Xcheesehead

    The commandment “Do not kill” translates to “Do not murder”. It makes a distinction between killing innocents, and carrying out a sentence of capital punishment.

  11. Austin Fusilier
    kylez: forgiveness is great if the forgivee is repentant. most death row inmates are not. · 1 hour ago

    This isn’t really the right topic for a more thorough theological discussion, but the difficulty of the duty to Forgive (as experienced by a Christian believer) is that it is not dependent on the offender’s repentance. The State, of course, is under no such compunction.

  12. ConservativeWanderer
    Valiuth:  Is there a reason to think the death penalty would have more deterrence than life imprisonment?   · 7 hours ago

    Yes.

    Dead people do not murder, and they can’t be pardoned or paroled by a soft-headed lefty politician.

  13. Valiuth

    I still remain skeptical, and unenthusiastic about the death penalty. I do not think it to be immoral per say, but I wonder. Would I myself be willing to carry out the sentence? I’m not really sure I could. I certainly don’t think I would want to do it, if given the chance. Who many of the relatives of the victims of murderers would really be willing to themselves perform the execution? 

    Maybe I am just being a squish here, but I just don’t really see why people would be so gung ho about the liberal use of the death penalty. 

  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Dennis Prager: Justice should never be a matter of money.

    Maybe it  should  never be about money, but in a world of finite resources, it sometimes will be.

    Justice in God’s eyes — justice in the cosmic sense — is not about money. But to demand that justice here on earth never be a matter of money is to expect something of the world that it cannot give; it is an unconstrained vision. The most anyone could hope for is to minimize the role money plays in earthly justice.

    I’m not opposed to the death penalty, incidentally. If I were to commit a heinous crime, I would rather die for it than spend life in prison. And if I were wrongly convicted of a heinous crime and had exhausted my avenues of appeal, I would also rather die than spend life caged up for something I didn’t do. I guess I take “live free or die” rather seriously.

  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    HANK DAGNY

    If any advocate for a particular death row inmate is successful in stopping his execution, I think it would only be appropriate that that person or organization should be held responsible if that inmate later goes on to kill a prison guard or other prisoner, or gets out and kills again.

    An interesting idea… Many criminals are judgment-proof, while the organizations that defend them are not. What if defending someone meant issuing a surety bond on his future good behavior? If the guy you successfully defend later commits more crimes, you’d owe in proportion to his crimes. Businesses already use sureties and crime insurance, why not the justice system?

    But interesting ideas aren’t always workable. Suppose you knew someone was innocent of a criminal accusation. Would  you  want to defend him successfully if that meant taking on an obligation for any future crime he  might  commit? Surely, we don’t want a justice system that’s reluctant to defend even those innocent of an accusation.

    If an idea like this were ever to work (if it ever  could  work), a lot else about our system would have to change, too. Do you really want that?

  16. Foxfier
    Pig Man: Its not just about money.   Many people and groups (including the Catholic Church) think capital punishment is immoral.  Obviously you don’t, but some do. · 10 hours ago

    You are mistaken.  Unlike two other forms of killing humans– abortion and euthanasia– capital punishment is not against binding Catholic teaching.

    Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    Please do not contribute to the ever popular mistake of claiming the Church teaches something she does not.

  17. Foxfier
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    I’m not opposed to the death penalty, incidentally. If I were to commit a heinous crime, I would rather die for it than spend life in prison. 

    This point is exactly why the “it costs too much” argument is silly.  If there is no death penalty, the resources now focused there will shift to getting people out of life sentences.  Then long ones.

    Eventually, we end up in the same situation as Norway, where a man who shoots up a summer camp full of kids can’t be sentenced to more than 21 years.  (but it’s OK, because he’ll be kept after his sentence is served…so various news source say, no mention how they decide who gets the super-secret life sentence, or if they just declare someone insane or something)  For crimes against humanity, they allow thirty!  No mention if that would also be extended. 

  18. Perry Palmer

    How can a person be against the death penalty but for abortion, which Liberals seem to be.  I understand the Catholic Church, they are against both.  But it seems the Godless are all for killing babies and saving murderers.  Let’s call the death penalty “late term abortion”, then the Liberals will approve.

  19. Foxfier
    Douglas

    That’s interesting. Didn’t know that. The Church needs to address that, because from watching priests and nuns at various protests, you’d think the official position was “no executions, period”. · 8 hours ago

    You’d also think that we’re pro-abortion, pro-socialism, anti-self-defense, anti-nuke power and want everyone unionized.

    Folks of some stripe are perfectly willing to take authority that is not theirs to support what they think is right.

    The letter Joseph and I both quoted is the Church addressing that– before he became Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  And he wrote that rather scathing letter because various activists were trying to target Iraq War supporters and excuse pro-abortion advocates.  I’m rather impressed that it was even shared publicly, though I’m glad of it.

    Incidentally, do you really think the news is going to focus on the traditional believing nuns and priests, any more than they recognize that the Dali Lama isn’t all for “free love”?  Or they interviewed Gold Star Moms that supported the wars?

  20. Foxfier
    Perry Palmer: How can a person be against the death penalty but for abortion, which Liberals seem to be.  

    Emotion and ease.  It sounds cheap, but that is what I’ve gathered from talking to a lot of folks.  Note: the ones that go nuts probably have personal pain as justification, but I can’t know.

    Being anti-abortion means that if a child results from your sex act, you have to deal with the kid, and maybe a partner when you wanted a sex toy.  If abortion is an option to “fix” it, you have a back-up when you hit the off side of that 90-something % effectiveness for hormonal birth control.

    Being anti-death-penalty means someone else has to deal with it (very small chance that it’s your family and friends who will die from any given criminal) AND you can feel morally superior.    

    Note, this is specific to the question, not all who oppose capital punishment; I am aware that some folks follow the “seamless garment” theory that no human should be harmed, ever.  Obviously, I do not agree, but at least it’s not self contradicting like “kill the infants, protect the murderers.”