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Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty

No person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Thus, according to the Fifth Amendment, capital punishment is permissible by the law of the land pursuant to principles of proportionality as laid out in the Eighth Amendment.

But should it remain a legal option? If not, who should champion capital punishment’s demise? Should it be the Left, whose answer to most political, philosophical, and moral questions is usually more government? Or should it be the Right, who have long been advocates of government restraint, fiscal responsibility, morality, and public safety?

Conservatism is not a single-issue monolith. As such, the political Right’s umbrella covers a gambit of interests and differing points of view—take immigration, trade, or national security for example. Yet the closer conservatism remains to its core values, the more credibility it brings to the table. If conservatives want to convince others that a smaller, more nimble government is best, then those values should be reflected in all policy areas, including the death penalty.

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The Founding Fathers explicitly rejected the notion that government is benign. Indeed, skepticism of state power is at the heart of the American identity and conservative philosophy, and for good reason. The United States government has a history of incompetence and malfeasance, ranging from buying $400 hammers to testing the effects of nuclear radiation on U.S. soldiers.

Our suspicion of government should not end with the criminal justice system. With respect to capital punishment, the United States has a track record of acting in an arbitrary and biased fashion. Some examples are obvious. For instance, a 19th century North Carolina law mandated the death penalty when a black man raped a white woman, but gave a maximum punishment of one year in prison to a white man for the same crime.

While such blatantly racist laws no longer exist, the disproportionality in death penalty cases has long been an issue. For instance, a Justice Department study established that, between 1930 and 1972, when an individual was sentenced to death for the crime of rape (a crime that no longer carries the death penalty), 89 percent of the defendants put to death were black men. More disturbing was the fact that in every rape execution case, the victim was white. Not one person received a death sentence for raping a black woman, despite black women being up to 12 times more likely to be rape victims.

Furthermore, a murder victim’s race also seems to influence whether or not the accused will be put to death. Indeed, there is a much higher likelihood of this occurring if the victim is white: over 75 percent of victims in cases that resulted in executions were Caucasian. Additionally, only 15 percent were African American even though they represent a far higher percentage of murder victims. This seems to suggest that, at least through the criminal justice lens, some lives are more valuable than others.

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The simple matter is that the death penalty has an extensive history of overt bias. As America has been reshaped, thanks in part to the civil rights movement, many laws have since been repealed or reformed that once permitted conspicuous racism within the justice system. In the modern era, execution rates by race have begun to more closely mirror America’s racial makeup. While the U.S. has taken great strides, we still have not been able to banish the bias that permeates the justice system. For it to be fair, justice must be impartial and provide defendants an equal opportunity, regardless of race. Put simply, Lady Justice must not only be blind, but also color blind.

The Innocence Project has estimated that anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of currently incarcerated Americans are innocent. Given that there are about two million people behind bars today, that roughly translates into 20,000 wrongly convicted people. If a headline read “20,000 individuals’ guns were wrongfully seized by government agents” conservatives would be infuriated, and rightly so. This makes it all the more curious that such passion for a limited government does not extend to the state’s power over life and death.

Conservatives claim to hold the government and its bureaucrats to high standards. We expect the state to be the flag bearer of moral precepts and criticize it when it fails. Indeed, the Republican platform uses the word “moral” nine times to describe topics ranging from healthcare to the environment. And regardless of a citizen’s source of morality, be it secular or ecclesiastical, the government should reflect those standards.

Despite this expectation, a core belief among conservatives is that the government is too often inefficient and prone to mistakes. Why should the death penalty’s administration by government bureaucrats be any different? We know individuals are wrongfully convicted—and to be sure, some wrongful convictions are unavoidable. However, when dealing with capital punishment, that inevitability could have irreversible consequences and can never be tolerated in a free and law-abiding society.

This is why government should not be in the business of killing its citizens. This view hews to a core conservative tenet, that the government should be inferior to the people from which it derives its power. True, we invest in the state the authority to protect its citizens, which might require lethal protection by police officers in the line of duty. But when it comes to the death penalty, executions aren’t a matter of self-defense or a response to imminent danger. Rather the defendant has already been neutralized as a threat and housed in a correctional facility. In contrast to just wars and police responses, our penal system can and should take all necessary time and devote all appropriate resources to achieve its ultimate end—justice.

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Death penalty proponents often claim that executions are beneficial because they serve as a general deterrent to murder. According to this argument, people will hesitate to commit the most heinous crimes for fear of capital punishment, which could mean the firing squad, gas chamber, electric chair, lethal injection, or hanging—which are all legal in some states today. The problem with this theory is that there is very little valid data to support it.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, death penalty convictions increased sharply, particularly in the South. Indeed, in 1977 there were just over 400 people on death row in the U.S.; by 1983, that number tripled to 1,200; by 1990, that number had nearly doubled to over 2,300. Each year, death row continued to swell until hitting its maximum at 3,581 in 2001. Since then, the numbers have been slowly decreasing to what they are today at 2,743.

To determine if capital punishment accomplishes its main goal—deterring crime—researchers have conducted several studies, including: 1) comparing murder rates between neighboring states that do and do not have capital punishment; and 2) comparing murder rates in states that have had the death penalty and abolished it.

Daniel Nagin and John Pepper’s 2012 publication, “Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” was the largest-ever survey of deterrence studies. After conducting their examination, the authors concluded that no evidence exists to suggest that the death penalty serves as a general deterrent to murder. In fact, when analyzing homicide rates between states that share comparable economic, demographic, and social characteristics, there is no statistically significant difference between murder rates in states with or without the death penalty.

Further, the difference between states’ homicide rates before and after abolishing capital punishment tends to undermine death penalty advocates’ arguments. One of the more recent examples of this is New Mexico, which repealed the death penalty in 2009. At that time, the state’s homicide rate was 9.9 per 100,000 citizens. Since repeal, the murder rate has steadily decreased to 6.7 per 100,000 as of 2016. This is especially stunning given that nationally, from 2009 to 2016, there was a slight uptick in murders per capita. Homicide rates have declined in virtually every state that has repealed capital punishment with the exception of Maryland and Illinois, but this is because of increased gang violence isolated in neighborhoods of Baltimore and Chicago.

Some argue that the debate over general deterrence is superfluous. For them, the basic argument is this: executions prevent murderers from killing again, and thus are a win. But this ignores the real possibility of accidentally executing an innocent person. It also turns eye-for-an-eye vengeance into one of the death penalty’s goals. Indeed, most capital punishment proponents do not support this kind of retribution for other crimes. Few, if any, advocate for raping a rapist, assaulting an assaulter, or robbing a robber. Yet, when it comes to the death penalty, such otherwise-rejected logic is embraced. Further, if the death penalty’s objective is to prevent individuals from killing again, then sentencing them to life without the chance of release can accomplish that goal.

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There is a growing list of examples demonstrating how easily someone can be wrongly placed on death row, and Ray Krone’s case is one such cautionary tale. He served honorably as an Air Force sergeant, and, after his tenure, began working for the U.S. Postal Service. Up until then, he had never been arrested. That changed one day when he was accused of murdering a waitress at a nearby bar, despite being home at the time. No evidence connected him to the crime—save for a mangled bite mark on the victim’s body that an “expert” linked to Krone using bite-mark analysis. He was even dubbed the “snaggletooth killer.”

Krone’s defense counsel was underfunded and ill-prepared. Meanwhile, the prosecutor withheld evidence, and consequently Krone was convicted and sentenced to die. Years passed, and researchers eventually discovered DNA evidence, which was presented in court. The new finding identified a known criminal as the likely culprit. As a result, Krone was exonerated, but not before losing 10 years of his life.

Unfortunately, his story is not unique. Krone is one of over 160 individuals who have been wrongly convicted, sentenced to die, and ultimately freed from prison since 1973. That equates to roughly one erroneous conviction and release for every nine executions. A 2014 study by Samuel R. Gross estimates that at least 4.1 percent of those sentenced to die are likely innocent, suggesting that this problem may be more pervasive than many think.

More often than not, prosecutorial misconduct, mistaken eyewitness testimony, coerced confessions, inept defense attorneys, and faulty forensics are behind these erroneous convictions. In fact, forensic analyses that were once considered a near-perfect science have since proven to be unreliable, and may have even led to wrongful executions.

It is impossible to know how many innocent people have been executed, but Carlos DeLuna might be one of those pitiable people. He was convicted of murdering a convenience store clerk, though no physical evidence linked him to the crime. Detectives failed to follow basic crime scene procedures, and the prosecution largely relied on the eyewitness testimony of one man who later admitted that he couldn’t readily distinguish people of Hispanic descent.

After being accused, DeLuna identified a police informant named Carlos Hernandez as the true killer. Hernandez had been arrested dozens of times, looked similar to DeLuna, and considerable evidence pointed in his direction. On multiple occasions, Hernandez even bragged about committing the murder and the wrong Carlos taking the fall. Despite all of this, DeLuna was executed.

Conservatives take great pride in championing the sanctity of life and respecting its intrinsic value, but a death penalty system that repeatedly and unnecessarily risks innocent lives does neither.

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Beginning no later than the early 1990s, states and counties were confronted by the death penalty’s exorbitant costs—pushing some localities to the brink of bankruptcy. One such example occurred in Lincoln County, Georgia, where a prosecutor was bent on securing a death sentence for a South Carolinian named Johnny Jones. The trial quickly strained the county’s finances, and, in 1990, Lincoln County officials were forced to raise taxes to cover the case’s costs. Eventually, they even went so far as to sue the defendant’s home state in order to recoup their losses.

Jones was initially sentenced to die, but his conviction was overturned due to irregularities. This started the proceedings anew. Frustrated with the process and expense, Lincoln County commissioners balked when asked to fund Jones’ retrial. The presiding judge subsequently threw the commissioners in jail. Hungry for a decent, warm meal, they relented to the judge’s demands and were released after a 24-hour stint in lock-up. Ultimately, in 1992, they raised taxes again to bankroll the legal proceeding. In the end, Georgia never executed Jones.

Stories like these can be found elsewhere. The death penalty’s high costs have threatened the solvency of many local governments, while similar outcomes resulted. In the 1990s, Richardson County, Nebraska, mortgaged their ambulances to fund two death cases and Jasper County, Texas, raised property taxes by 7 percent to finance capital proceedings. In response, many states have since shifted much of the financial burden from the local to the state level, but the high costs remain.

More recently, numerous cost studies have examined the death penalty’s expense and found that it far outweighs the price of life without parole (LWOP). A study found that the state of Florida spent roughly $3.2 million per death case from initial trial to execution, and the costs have almost certainly risen dramatically since. By replacing capital punishment with LWOP, North Carolina could have saved around $11 million per year from 2005-2006, and Nebraska roughly $14 million in 2015.

Meanwhile, since 1978, California has shockingly spent at least $4 billion dollars maintaining and pursuing capital cases. Yet, in this same time period, the state has only executed a total of 13 people. These examples of capital punishment’s expense are not outliers. More than two dozen cost studies have all demonstrated the death penalty’s high price in states across the country.

These high costs are just a symptom of the American legal system’s design, and of statutory and Supreme Court mandates. First, our system requires attorneys to provide the best representation possible for their clients. Second, capital cases are given what is called “super due process” to reduce the chance of executing an innocent person. The marriage of these factors guarantees an expensive process.

Initial trials are far longer and resource intensive, and death cases even have an additional trial not found in LWOP cases, which exists to determine whether an execution is merited. This is followed by a longer, multi-tiered appeals process with more appealable issues than LWOP cases. Meanwhile, once sentenced to die, inmates are housed on death row, which, due to increased security protocols, is more expensive than housing in the general population. Put simply, by following the law and corrections policies, every level of the process is necessarily more complex and costly. Given the death penalty’s high costs compared to LWOP, it’s clear that capital punishment is antithetical to fiscal conservatism.

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Reverend Billy Bosler was a Florida minister who opposed capital punishment. On at least one occasion, he even informed his daughter, Suezann Bosler, that if he were ever murdered he wouldn’t want his killer to be put to death. Sadly, one day, a man forced his way into the Boslers’ parsonage whereupon Bosler was murdered and Suezann was critically wounded.

Before long, the perpetrator was captured and charged with murder. The prosecutor sought the death penalty, but Suezann remembered her father’s uncompromising stance on capital punishment. Through the long process, Suezann objected to the death penalty, but the prosecutor evidently didn’t care. In fact, when called to testify, Suezann was threatened with being held in contempt of court and jailed if she revealed her death penalty views. Suezann’s story is a lamentable reminder that, while people are told that the death penalty is in part exercised for the benefit of victims and victims’ families, their wishes are not always considered.

The death penalty process fails victims’ families in other ways too. They desire a system that is swift and sure. Contrary to their needs, the proceedings are complex, time-consuming, and heart-wrenching. At every court appearance over the course of decades, victims’ family members must repeatedly relive the worst moments of their lives—ensuring that healing is elusive. If an execution ever comes to fruition, it usually occurs around 15 years after the original conviction date. Further, the families of murder victims must live in constant uncertainty because death sentences are frequently overturned on appeal, which starts the process anew. In fact, there are serious, reversible errors in more than two thirds of capital cases.

Murder victims’ families deserve better than the system that they must endure, but policymakers are faced with a catch-22. The death penalty process cannot be shorter, less complex, or have its appeals limited without virtually guaranteeing that innocent people will be executed by the state. It seems that if murder victims’ well-being was a primary focus, then prosecutors would more frequently seek a briefer, simpler, surer proceeding like LWOP.

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The creation of the Grand Old Party, and in many ways the modern conservative movement, traces its lineage to anti-slavery abolitionists. Their beliefs about human dignity have influenced current conservatives’ views on the sanctity of life. Conservatives should return to the root principles of liberty and dignity to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair, just, and respects life.

It’s not hard to see what the Right stands to gain by making real attempts to exemplify the 2000 presidential campaign slogan “compassionate conservatism.” Conservatives can shed the impression—deserved or not—that the Right has no mercy or compassion for the underprivileged. Showing grace to those who some may feel deserve the death penalty would go a long way toward accomplishing this.

Forgiveness and empathy are firmly rooted in Christianity. In fact, modern Catholic teaching has attempted to embody the notion of grace. Pope John Paul II strived to respect life’s invaluable worth, provide all humans the best chance of redemption, and truly exhibit compassion. Thus, in 1997, Pope John Paul II updated the Church’s position on the death penalty to reflect these ideals. The revision greatly limited capital punishment’s approved application to instances in which executions are absolutely necessary to suppress the guilty.  However, with the advent of modern prisons, this is never the case in America. Today, there are other options available to neutralize the convicted as a threat to society and protect the general public without executing the guilty.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis built upon Pope John Paul II’s teaching. He ordered the Catechism to be updated so that it declares the death penalty to be “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Regardless of whether or not one is a Catholic, a philosophy that respects life, offers the opportunity of salvation, and extends compassion to others should be embraced.

Perhaps more than anything else, opposition to the death penalty should boil down to a lack of faith in a woefully error-prone government. After all, how willing are you to trust your life to this system?

Arthur Rizer is the criminal justice and civil liberties policy director for the R Street Institute and adjunct professor of law at George Mason University Law School. Marc Hyden is the Southeast region director for the R Street Institute. This article was supported by a grant from the R Street Institute.

38 Comments (Open | Close)

38 Comments To "Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty"

#1 Comment By James D. Sullivan On January 9, 2019 @ 10:26 pm

Yes, Thou shalt not kill. No qualifiers in that command. A man confined in prison is defenseless. He cannot hurt anyone any longer. For us to kill him is barbaric. A killer acts out of ignorance – he knows not what he does. He likely understand what he did while he’s in jail. Allow him a chance for redemption. You can’t teach reverence for life by killing. And of course, many innocent men have been executed by us, making us the guilty killers.

#2 Comment By Matthew Etzell On January 10, 2019 @ 12:39 am

The solution to the problem of unequal justice is to eliminate the “unequal” part, not the “justice” part. Instead of allowing judges to impose a range of punishments (or allowing prosecutors to request a range of punishments), we should simply define a single punishment for each crime. There would no longer be a sentencing phase at trial, because only one sentence could be imposed upon conviction of a particular crime.

Likewise, the solution to the problem of lax evidentiary standards is to strengthen those standards, not to eliminate punishment.

#3 Comment By Bob McFee On January 10, 2019 @ 2:11 am

Making the assumption that deterrence is the primary reason for capital punishment is a fallacy. For some people it may be true. My primary reason is that these people are a danger to society and need to be permanently removed from it. Deterrence is also good in and of itself, but the focus should be on getting dangerous people completely out of society.

For that reason, I am against leniency for mental illness or insanity. If they were dangerous enough to kill somebody in the first place, it doesn’t matter why. They need to be removed.

I am also not a fan of that trope that its better to let 9 guys walk than kill an innocent. If letting them go results in just one more person killed, the trade off wasn’t worth it.

As for governmental mistakes, almost all executions make it all the way up the ladder in the judicial system, so there is plenty of redundancy in the process to prevent that.

For most of my life, I’ve been told that capital punishment won’t bring back the victims of murder. I’ve never contested that. Then one day it struck me. The price paid by a murderer in the form of death is too low, not too high. But it’s the most we can do.

Then there are the additional victims from not taking care of business. See the numbers of deaths due to violence to correctional facility personnel. It would have been nice to see the breakdown by type of criminal to see how many fatalities were due to lifers.

As for methods of completing an execution, I’m opposed to being nasty and cruel, so I’m no fan of electrocution. I just want these people gone. The most painless way I can think of is using pure nitrogen. People die from it accidentally because they don’t know they’re not getting oxygen. No need for drugs, needles or medical type people.

And, just for humor’s sake, I’ll point out that I’ve donated platelets over 200 times, with needles in both arms. Several times the insertions were botched. I lived to donate another day.

Additionally, I’ve been put to sleep and had my heart stopped with potassium chloride, and been mostly dead for 9 hours. Just like they do for lethal injection, with the very large difference being I got to wake up afterward and discover that I am now part pig.

So when it comes to executions by lethal injection, I’ve been there, done that. Not a big deal.

#4 Comment By Johann On January 10, 2019 @ 7:43 am

The death penalty is needed for the mental health of the public. That is what justice is all about, whether people want to admit it or not. This is especially true for heinous crimes of cold-blooded murder, especially of children.

And for capital punishment to serve justice, which also serves the purpose of public mental health, it must be carried out quickly. No, its not revenge, its justice. When justice is not carried out, people have feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, accompanied by sorrow, anger, and outrage.

But, capital punishment should not be allowed unless the proof of guilt of the defendant or defendants is overwhelming, like for example scores of people witnessed the killing, the killing was caught on film, or if some other similar irrefutable evidence is available. In other words, the standard should be more than beyond a reasonable doubt for the death penalty.

#5 Comment By JTShaw On January 10, 2019 @ 8:38 am

Mr. Rizer concludes: “Perhaps more than anything else, opposition to the death penalty should boil down to a lack of faith in a woefully error-prone government. After all, how willing are you to trust your life to this system?”

Precisely. My opposition to capital punishment stems from this profoundly conservative appreciation of how government actually works. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could remedy the execution of an innocent person. That is an irredeemable exercise of government power.

In my estimation, those who argue support for capital punishment abandon conservative principals to favor vengeance and vendetta. I find their arguments decidedly unpersuasive, especially when they invoke religion to mask their bloodlust.

#6 Comment By Roy Fassel On January 10, 2019 @ 9:02 am

Capital punishment seems to be the most prevalent in states that have a higher percentage of devout Evangelical Christians. And Christianity of “redemption.” The current right-winged, fundamentalist Christian movement seems to be much more of an Old Testament version than the New Testament Sermon on the Mount version of redemption.

What does it mean to be a “Christian” these days?

#7 Comment By TomG On January 10, 2019 @ 9:22 am

I agree absolutely that elimination of the death penalty should be a conservative tactic to its purported values for restraint, life and liberty. If one looks down the spectrum all the way to misdemeanor charges, we see the gross abuse of these values for the poor who are jailed and penalized with fees and fines on top of fines until their life and liberty are ruined. In the middle of all this we have the unjust bail system and the pressure tactic of plea bargaining.

Justice should not be an adjustable value based on wealth, and yet that very clearly defines our justice system. It would be nice if we had actual conservatives in policy making roles, but alas I haven’t seen a thoughtful, compassionate conservative on my ballot in my lifetime.

Until we have such conservatives in such positions we seem destined to wallow in our sins of injustice–killing the wrongfully convicted and maintaining the ridiculous racist/classist per capita incarceration rates that persist decade upon decade.

#8 Comment By Peter On January 10, 2019 @ 11:22 am

Thank you. My only quibble is with your need to distinguish between the approaches of the Left and the Right. To me, the answer to “who should champion capital punishment’s demise?” is “everyone.” But I’d be perfectly happy for conservatives to carry that mantle, since I honestly think the effort would carry more weight.

#9 Comment By mrscracker On January 10, 2019 @ 11:49 am

“The Innocence Project has estimated that anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of currently incarcerated Americans are innocent. ”

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I’m absolutely no supporter of the death penalty outside of extremely rare circumstances where there’s no other way to protect society. I think we have to leave that window open just a crack but seldom to never use it.

I have some experience working with folks who have criminal records including homicides, & we had a family member employed in a prison.

There are always outliers, but I’ve noticed that often by the time someone’s been actually convicted of a felony they’ve previously plea bargained away a couple others or prosecutors just didn’t feel they had enough evidence to go to trial.

Occasionally it’s about being totally innocent of all crimes- including the crime one’s convicted of- but I suspect often it’s delayed justice for other offences that fell through the numerous cracks of our legal system.

#10 Comment By Tono Bungay On January 10, 2019 @ 1:10 pm

Certain crimes merit death as a punishment; I think it is splendid to say that taking another’s life is so objectionable that the murderer should be killed to emphasize the point. But the question of whether we should grant government the right to administer capital punishment is valid. Would it be too coldly rational to ask that the writer also consider, when he calculates the cost to society of wrongful convictions and the execution of innocents, how often the government fails to keep violent criminals in its prisons and releases them to do harm again?

#11 Comment By Stephen Gould On January 10, 2019 @ 1:17 pm

It’s a pity that Professor Rizer feels he has to flatter conservatives and conservatism in order to make his well-argued case.

#12 Comment By A DC Wonk On January 10, 2019 @ 1:26 pm

a core belief among conservatives is that the government is too often inefficient and prone to mistakes. Why should the death penalty’s administration by government bureaucrats be any different?

Indeed. I never understood that.

Thanks for the article.

#13 Comment By JWJ On January 10, 2019 @ 1:34 pm

Preventing a murderer from killing again is not an eye-for-an-eye “vengeance”. Life without parole just means that the murderer can kill (or injure) other inmates and guards in the prison. The murder rate in jail & prisons is anywhere from 4 per 100K to 54 per 100K. At the higher rate that is over 1,000 inmates being murdered every year.

#14 Comment By Zgler On January 10, 2019 @ 3:24 pm

“I am also not a fan of that trope that its better to let 9 guys walk than kill an innocent. If letting them go results in just one more person killed, the trade off wasn’t worth it.”

You wouldn’t feel that way if you were the guy getting killed. What an immoral stance.

#15 Comment By The Avipisces On January 10, 2019 @ 3:31 pm

Every question of which punishments may be employed must begin with whether the proposed punishment is deserved. The vital issue which is never once touched in this article is whether capital punishment is a just.

The question of whether the punishment is just considering the crime committed is the fundamental end to which all other ends must be subservient. If our end is deterrence, then why not punish an innocent which the public is convinced is guilty? If our end is rehabilitation, then why not keep the criminal at the mercy of the correction system’s psychologists and psychiatrists till he is completely rehabilitated? If the emotional health of the victim’s family is paramount should we allows those families so inclined, for reasons of their mental health, to let the criminal go free and other families so inclined, for reasons of their own mental health, to draw and quarter those convicted?

Before you go anywhere else, before any other ends enters the picture, you must answer whether the punishment in question is a just response to the crime committed. If it is not, then let it be prohibited no matter what other ends it may accomplish.

Finally, if the justice system is corrupt, inefficient, fallible, and riddled with administrative and legal blight, but it’s punishments themselves remain just, then that is only an indication that we should improve its integrity, efficacy, wisdom, and vision.

We might start by attending more to first principles and less to political maneuvering.

#16 Comment By mrscracker On January 10, 2019 @ 3:35 pm

James D. Sullivan says:

“A man confined in prison is defenseless. He cannot hurt anyone any longer.”

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I wish that was correct but if you check out prison violence statistics they’ll show a different story.

#17 Comment By Jeeves On January 10, 2019 @ 3:42 pm

The “no deterrent value” argument is a red herring. The purpose of capital punishment is retribution–a vindication of the value we give innocent life. There is no purpose, beyond a rhetorical one, in rehearsing the sordid history racially motivated executions. Don’t trust the government? I trust the government to catch the criminal and conduct a trial (and to kill our enemies, should we ever have another declared war). But it’s the voters, not the government, that ultimately decides whether a crime is punishable by death. How is that “un-conservative”?

#18 Comment By Brian Villanueva On January 10, 2019 @ 5:03 pm

It’s refreshing to see an article that understands what pro-life actually means.

I am pro-life.

That means I am opposed to abortion. In all cases. Even the hard ones like rape.

It also means I am opposed to the murder. In all cases. Even the hard ones like whether to execute a child rapist and murderer.

My only exception is for war, and to that end, I follow Aquinas’ “just-war” theory, so the exception is very limited.

I know others disagree (the unborn baby is innocent vs the killer is guilty — maybe). I’ve always been surprised that more conservatives don’t see the issue the same way though.

#19 Comment By joef On January 10, 2019 @ 5:28 pm

The inflexibility of no death penalty, under any circumstances goes against the reality, which is something Conservatives should uphold (that is Truth).

What if you were a Correction Officer guarding an inmate who is already doing ‘double life without parole’, and now that same inmate kills another inmate or Corrections Dept employee?

What if he escapes prison and goes on a murder rampage.
What are we going to do with him: triple life?
Oh please, time for a reality check.

#20 Comment By Dan Herbison On January 10, 2019 @ 6:51 pm

My wife worked as a dentist in a high security prison, and had to work on convicted killers that were serving a life sentence, with sharp instruments they could have used to harm her in close proximity.

Will you tell her that she was in no danger working around this human scum? No personnel in prisons are in danger of harm from prisoners? really?

You assert that “Further, if the death penalty’s objective is to prevent individuals from killing again, then sentencing them to life without the chance of release can accomplish that goal.” Really? How much time have you spent around the murderers you talk about?

Now, if a murderer has a life sentence, what deterrent, other than the possibility of a death sentence would he have to keep him from harming my wife?

#21 Comment By J. Smith On January 10, 2019 @ 7:56 pm

@ Zgler
My sentiments exactly. I was aghast at the arrogance of “the trade-off wasn’t worth it.” Wow.

#22 Comment By Whine Merchant On January 10, 2019 @ 8:21 pm

The faux macho mystique of the great ‘Murican frontier lives on in the thirst for death at the hands of self-styled Gary Coopers and John Waynes. If they cannot pull the trigger themselves, they do it by proxy through the so-called justice system.
Evidence? Just look at how many people volunteered to participate in the [very few] firing squad executions conducted in the US in the 20th century. The public doesn’t get to actually participate, but that didn’t stop people from volunteering to join-in.

#23 Comment By tz On January 10, 2019 @ 9:04 pm

A strange admixture.

The war on drugs costs more and helps less but apparently ending it is not “conservative”, though you say we should eliminiate the death penalty for cost reasons.

Solitary Confinement is considered cruel and even a form of torture, but you will shrug at life in solitary because it isn’t the death penalty (see solitarywatch.org for more).

You also confuse pseudoscience where there is no evidence – even of intent – with someone, who say, goes and kills someone in front of dozens of people and drops the gun and waits for the police.

There is a severe misuse and I reject deterrence – see CS Lewis (add “doodle” to get videos) “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” which addresses it

#24 Comment By Robert On January 10, 2019 @ 9:09 pm

After reading this, I still don’t see a single indication of what possible alternatives to the death penalty conservatives should be championing. There is a good reason for this. The alternatives happen to be worse, everywhere they have been tried.

(a) Life imprisonment that really does mean life imprisonment. Resulting in prodigious wastage of taxpayers’ money so that child-murderers and terrorists can live high on the hog for decades at our expense. That’s conservative how exactly?

(b) Non-life imprisonment, de jure as well as de facto. That’s what Norway has, leading to the absurd situation whereby the country’s ruling class has to clutch at some excuse for pretending that Anders Breivik is insane, because a sane person cannot be imprisoned in Norway for more than 20 years, however satanic his crimes. That’s conservative how exactly?

(c) The abolition of long-term imprisonment in favor of “psychotherapy”, the definition of which is to be decided by the Therapeutic State. I say for a third time: That’s conservative how exactly?

Of course there have been cases of innocent people condemned to death. (The Founder of Christianity was one such; Scriptures do not tell us that He advocated abolitionism, though He of all persons had a right to do so.)

The best way to prevent the innocent being condemned is not to outlaw the death penalty, but to bring some sanity to bear on matters like jury selection. Magna Carta did, after all, speak of trial by one’s peers. What we now get all too often is “trial by a bunch of 12 reality-TV-addicted Honey Boo Boos who no more understand evidentiary requirements than they understand quantum physics.”

#25 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 11, 2019 @ 7:58 am

“I trust the government to catch the criminal and conduct a trial (and to kill our enemies, should we ever have another declared war). But it’s the voters, not the government, that ultimately decides whether a crime is punishable by death. How is that “un-conservative”?”

Few other countries can claim ownership of their governments behaviors as we do in the US. That makes the policy a public matter. And in short we are two error prone to make those judgements.

Governments exists by God’s grace — to extol justice. And when they don’t, the believer should speak up, in my view. One of the great failings of our western tradition is to have adopted the faith as a series of rules or laws — and certainly such laws exist. Capital punishment is not forbidden by God. In fact, Jesus did not condemn argue against capital punishment (in the case of the woman caught in adultery) he made one simple admonition —

“Whoever has not ever erred — ”

The issue is here whether our system or ourselves is error free enough to cast such a stone. I think the evidence has always been clear —

“No.”

Based on the same, as wrongly convict, it is a very safe bet to acknowledge we wrongly execute. And that people of faith have been a party to celebrating anyone’s execution is a very disconcerting part of our history.

For the believer: we all deserve death — there but by God’s saving grace. Christ on the cross.

#26 Comment By SAChaplin On January 11, 2019 @ 9:41 am

The author of this excellent article makes short shrift of most all the reasons society puts forth for capital punishment, but dismisses retribution/revenge out of hand. He makes these sentiments out to be nothing more than primitive, venal motivations. But retribution is more than that. It is a part of the notion of justice, of vindication for society. This was very well articulated by commentor jeeves: “The purpose of capital punishment is retribution–a vindication of the value we give innocent life.” So, if one were to admit to retribution as a valid reason for capital punishment, perhaps we could also come to a common agreement as to when and how capital punishment should be melted out: The crime must be extremely heinous and senseless. Guilt must be beyond all doubt (i.e., supported by video evidence, DNA evidence or the like). Appeals must be fast tracked and execution must occur within three years of conviction, and must be painless.

#27 Comment By Argon On January 11, 2019 @ 10:16 am

Bob McFee: “I am also not a fan of that trope that its better to let 9 guys walk than kill an innocent. If letting them go results in just one more person killed, the trade off wasn’t worth it.”

It’s not a matter of letting 9 guys walk to save an innocent. It’s about not killing an innocent just so you can also kill 9 guys. Those 9 guys aren’t walking out. Eliminating capital punishment does not eliminate lifetime sentencing.

#28 Comment By WRW On January 11, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

I expect better of AmCon than this theoretical naval gazing. Capital punishment is unquestionably appropriate in certain cases of incorrigible murders. It’s expense is driven by opponents. And Catholics can’t make a biblical argument against the death penalty based on want scripture actually says. It’s fine for them to say they hold a position based on a catholic ethical teaching because the Pope and church hold equivalent authority to scripture. None of us who reject that 7th century innovation will agree of course and Paul’s instruction on the role of the state in punishing criminals in Romans 13 cannot be overcome by any catechism or encyclical. As evidenced by the psychopath in wisconsin arrested today who murdered a young girls’ parents to kidnap her as his sex slave, the death penalty is appropriate for some. And the family of two Maryland inmates suing the state when their relatives were murdered in prison by a convicted murderer who Maryland’s liberal Catholics would not seek the death penalty for would no doubt disagree that these murderers are no longer a threat.

#29 Comment By Jake V On January 11, 2019 @ 1:13 pm

The Commandment is properly translated “Thou shalt not murder.” Killing a murderer (who has been convicted on overwhelming evidence) is not immoral.

That said, I have no objections to appeals to mercy to not kill murderers via the death penalty – but only if the convicted are kept in a prison far away from the population where, should they escape, they would die in the wilderness.

#30 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 11, 2019 @ 1:19 pm

“Guilt must be beyond all doubt (i.e., supported by video evidence, DNA evidence or the like). Appeals must be fast tracked and execution must occur within three years of conviction, and must be painless.”

There’s no doubt the purpose of capital punishment. And in simple quid pro quo, it makes sense. Your contention regarding retribution as part of justice makes sense, until you attempt to eschew the purpose of pain. That too would part of the process of societal relief. Making it painless is not for the condemned as much as it is some internal observation of the questionable nature of the act itself.

But above all we operate a process loaded with errors. That should put anyone on notice. And it should vert disconcerting that we continue to promote men and women who have violated the norms in order to get a conviction. There is little or downward pressure to get justice as opposed to convictions.

#31 Comment By JND On January 11, 2019 @ 5:01 pm

Bias doesn’t necessarily make the outcome wrong.

If my bias leads me to conclude that the sky is blue, well . . . it’s still blue.

#32 Comment By JimDandy On January 11, 2019 @ 7:40 pm

You had me at the headline. Those who are most aware of the dangers and fallibility of big government should be the most opposed to the death penalty.

#33 Comment By Dudley Sharp On January 12, 2019 @ 1:30 pm

These rebut all their claims

Few Conservatives Embrace Anti Death Penalty Deceptions
[1]

Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty:
Just another dishonest anti death penalty group
[2]

#34 Comment By Dudley Sharp On January 12, 2019 @ 1:39 pm

Did the authors fact check anything?

#35 Comment By Gene Smolko On January 12, 2019 @ 7:03 pm

I wonder how those who dismiss the certainty of innocents being executed would feel if it was them or an innocent loved one wrongly convicted and sitting in the execution chair.

Very differently I assume.

#36 Comment By Dudley Sharp On January 17, 2019 @ 12:51 pm

To Gene Smolko:

Innocents are much more at risk when we allow murderers to live, by a huge margin.

#37 Comment By Dudley Sharp On January 17, 2019 @ 5:35 pm

Brian:

There is a pro life position for the death penalty.

The basis for all sanctions is taken away that which is valued: Time and labor with community sanction, money with fines, freedom with incarceration and life with execution a pro life position.

There are very solid positions that the death penalty protects more innocent lives, in three ways, than does a life sentence – a pro life position.

#38 Comment By Mark Koch On February 12, 2019 @ 4:26 pm

Sandra Day O’Connor apologized for sending me to the gas chamber. Please see: [3]
Quite the “Oopsie”.
If you would like to talk you have my email. Cordially,
mark