A Staunch Pro-Death Penalty Advocate Responds

Jeffrey Deutsch responds to my post “Execution is Proof of Guilt in Texas”:

Hello,

I'm a staunch pro-death penalty advocate. I can't speak for others, but I for one support every effort to follow up innocence possibilities for any convict, even one who has already been executed.

Among other considerations, how can people be expected to trust prosecutors, police or other officials who cover up evidence showing that someone who was executed wrongly?

I care about innocent people being convicted, whether of a traffic infraction, misdemeanor, felony or capital crime. Of course, I care in direct proportion to the severity of the potential punishment.

Furthermore, capital punishment especially requires a degree of public confidence that it will be applied to as few innocent people as humanly possible. Zero innocent victims is not compatible with any human, and necessarily imperfect, institution, but we need to do our best - and be seen to do our best - to save as many innocent people as possible. Otherwise, we jeopardize capital punishment itself.

Last but not least, I also care about the truth. Only in rare circumstances should officials lie or suppress the truth. To the contrary, investigation of the possibility that someone who was convicted and executed for a murder really was innocent is every reason to find the truth and proclaim it - whatever it may be - from the rooftops.

Jeff Deutsch

Jeff, I disagree with your conclusions, but I appreciate the comment, as well as the lack of anonymity. Too many use anonymous commenting on blogs as a way to vent without opening themselves up to any scrutiny or critical response.

Actually, your post fascinates me in some ways. When I say I disagree, I mean more precisely, that I agree with almost everything you write except for the first sentence about being staunchly pro-death penalty. Especially given the rest of it.

We know that police and prosecutors have indeed covered up or hidden Brady material, i.e., evidence that tends to exonerate a defendant. Yes, it may be rare, but you point out that it makes us distrust ‘the system’.

You care “in direct proportion to the severity of the punishment”. Me too. Frankly, I can’t make myself get all worked up when someone is wrongly accused of speeding. It shouldn’t happen, and it’s a shame, but frankly, you were probably speeding five minutes before you got the ticket, or yesterday, and even if you’re the one person on earth who has never sped, it’s ‘only a traffic ticket’.

But then, if you care in direct proportion to the punishment, you have to care the most about capital punishment.

From a logical perspective, I appreciate that you acknowledged that support of the death penalty means accepting that some innocent accused will be put to death or perhaps more fairly ‘murdered by the state’. I’m not being a smart-alec here. Many death penalty supporters insist the innocent have never been executed.

That’s a ludicrous position and you don’t try to make it. Humans err, death penalty trials are abundantly human; death penalty advocates should accept that there is an error rate, even if the exact rate is unknowable. That doesn’t make it 0%.

I just don’t understand, given the premises, how someone with your views can be staunchly pro-death.

Why is it so important to put people to death in the first place?

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Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer - October 1, 2007 11:10 PM
[Hat Tip: Dave Shapiro, who posted this article on the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association listserv.]UTEP hosted a conference called “Interrogations & Confessions: A Conference Exploring Current Research, Practice, and Policy,&...
Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer - October 5, 2007 10:42 PM
Robbie Cooper of UrbanGrounds has weighed in at the comments section of my post ‘A Staunch Pro Death Penalty Advocate Responds’.For some background, the blogversation starts with Radley Balko, comes to “Execution is Proof of Guilt in ...
Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jeffrey Deutsch - September 30, 2007 12:28 PM

Hello Jamie,

I strongly support the death penalty, first and foremost because for certain things it is the only just response. The death penalty brings retribution - just deserts - to certain criminals that no other punishment does.

It's not a paradox that the only way to show how much we value life is to take it. Not when the life we're taking belonged to someone who took someone else's either in cold blood, or while committing another terrible crime (ie, a felony). The person we're executing chose to put his life on the line - a choice he denied his victim(s).

In the same spirit, we imprison kidnappers who chose to forfeit their freedom (usually for much longer than they held their captives), and fine (and often imprison) thieves who chose to forfeit their property.

I might add that capital punishment is underrated in certain other respects:

Incapacitation. 'Nuff sed.

Deterrence. There's a reason we have phrases like "couldn't do such-and-such to save her life" and "do it like your life depended on it". If murderers are executed - not just promised to be executed in provisions in statute books, but actually executed - murderers, other criminals and would-be criminals get the message, and some of them move into safer occupations.

Yes, innocent people do get executed. Only a fool would deny that. Are we going to give up using coal after the recent events in Utah?

Running factories even after workers get injured or even killed in accidents?

Maintaining large-scale industry and its pollution even after some asthmatics and others sicken and die from even minimal levels of pollution (you can't assume they would be the ones to die without industry)?

Fighting wars even after innocent civilians get directly hit and others die from shock, disease, hunger or crime in the aftermath?

Imprisoning non-capital criminals even after some of them have been unjustly convicted? (Yes, death is irreversible. So is the passage of years. So are the psychological and emotional effects of prison, especially after long sentences.)

Capital punishment should certainly be used sparingly, but it should be used - yes, even capital punishment by humans and not angels.

Jeff Deutsch

Mark Bennett - September 30, 2007 4:08 PM

Wow. It is permissible to cold-bloodedly kill some number of innocents in the name of retribution. Who'da thunk it -- Lenin was right!

Seriously, though: ever since the abolition of trial by ordeal, God hasn't been very vocal about telling us who deserves to live and who deserves to die. Without omniscience, many of us are reluctant to declare that justice is this or that. I'm glad the world has plenty of people like Jeff Deutsch who, human limitations be damned, are willing to step into the shoes of the almighty and declare which lives are worth more and which are worth less. I feel much safer.

Keep at it, Jeff, and may you someday get what you deserve!

Jeffrey Deutsch - September 30, 2007 9:23 PM

Hello Mark,

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have simply misunderstood me.

Lenin (and his followers Stalin, and subsequent Soviet rulers, not to mention Mao Tse-tung, Pol Pot, etc) executed people as classes, nations, etc., without regard to individual guilt.

That's what they meant when they said the convicts' guilt had an objective character - it didn't matter what they subjectively intended or even what they individually did, they had to go because they were members of the wrong class or the wrong nation (as with the small minority nations within the Soviet Union, for example).

Retribution is the polar opposite of that. Retribution means you are judged by what you, as an individual, have done, without regard (at least in principle, and often in practice) to your class, nationality, race, creed, color, etc. - or others' perceptions of what your life is worth.

Do you, Mark, actually think it possible to run a criminal justice system, or any powerful system, without some harm happening in practice to individuals who don't deserve it?

It's precisely because we recognize human limitations that we, as a society, do not consider the mere fact that innocent people get hurt to be a reason not to do something. Since innocent people get hurt no matter what, the question is how many innocent people get hurt, and under what circumstances (among other considerations).

Mark, do you feel that the good that capital punishment does justifies the innocent people executed? If not, why not?

Jeff Deutsch

Robbie - October 2, 2007 1:26 PM

First a question:

In 1976, the Gregg v. Georgia ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. The first execution after that occurred on Dec 7, 1982 here in Texas.

Since that time, of the more than 1000 people executed in the U.S. and the more than 400 people executed by the State of Texas --- has a single one of them ever been exonerated by a court of law?

Secondly, I'm also a staunch advocate for the death penalty.

There are numerous reasons:

1) These men are still dangerous to others when they are locked away "for life" --- innocent and hardworking men and women must guard them, administer medical care, and supervise them. Sometimes these cold blooded murderers who are locked up "for life" will kill these innocent people.

I'm sure that you know what a "life sentence" in Texas really means. 40 years. Not life. Just 40 years.

Texas is one of four states - along with Alaska, Kansas, and New Mexico - that does not have a "Life without possibility of Parole" sentence.

2) Some people are just pure evil. And the world is a better place without them. Most of the people who are sentenced to die fit this description.

3) The death penalty isn't about deterrence. It isn't about revenge. It's about justice ó it's about making the penalty for committing the crime equal to or worse than the violence committed upon their victims.

Some people commit such ghastly crimes, that death is the only suitable and just punishment.

4) But mostly, I support it because I believe that the value of human life is so high, that it is best affirmed by killing those who would kill others; that the ultimate price for taking a human life should be to give up your own.

Mark Bennett - October 3, 2007 9:03 PM

Robbie,

Texas now has LWOP, despite the big-county DAs' best efforts.

The value of human life is so high, that it is best affirmed by killing those who would kill others.

What utter and complete hooey.

Jeff, I replied to your question here.

Al - September 21, 2011 1:23 PM

Note that citizens of both England and Spain quickly lost their appetite for capital punishment after an executed convict was later proven innocent. Even a single person being unfairly executed would deal a blow to the death penalty. There are death penalty enthusiasts who feel that occasionally executing someone innocent is a risk society should be willing to take in order to preserve the death penalty but most people view the death penalty as unsavory even if they accept justification of it. For these less enthusiastic death penalty supporters the state wrongfully killing even one person could push them to the other side.

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