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 Texas,” and has sparked a new thread at Defending People.

Before we get to the meat of Robbie’s comment, let me set the table.

First, Mark pointed out that Robbie was unaware that Texas does now indeed have Life without the possibility of parole in capital cases. And indeed, many Texas District Attorneys opposed giving the jury the option to sentence a defendant to LWOP. And support the destruction of evidence that could prove a defendant’s innocence post conviction, as long as we’re on the subject.

Most defense lawyers believe that opposition to the LWOP option was based, at least in part, in the prosecutors wanting to be able to subtly argue that if the defendant wasn’t executed, he’d be released soon – perhaps even ride the elevator down with the jurors!

Defense lawyers were overwhelmingly in favor of the Life Without Parole option. Go figure.

Back to the main points in Robbie’s comments as to why he favors the death penalty. #1 was ‘there ought to be LWOP’ combined with ‘convicted murderers can still kill while imprisoned’. The rest:

#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 — 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.

I’m glad you didn’t mention general deterrence.

OK. Point by point.

#2) Some people are just pure evil. Perhaps true, perhaps not. It’s somewhere between a matter of opinion, and a matter of semantics.

But given that the comments from Jeff Deustch earlier in the threads focused on the absolute mathematical certainty that you can’t have a perfect death penalty system and supporters should expect some innocent deaths, it seems out of place. 

I mean, we started the discussion with Balko’s point about Texas DA’s opposing DNA testing for an already executed defendant. Robbie, it’s that kind of thinking that answers your question:

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?

Not when folks aren’t allowed to investigate. Kind of makes it impossible to prove. And for the most part, well over 99.99% of the time, the defense lawyers stop working after their client is killed.

But defense lawyers should also acknowledge that we use a variation of this argument ourselves at times. If you can throw in a healthy dose of ‘the S.O.B. needed killing’ into your self defense argument in a murder trial, you’re going to do it. Yes, there are obvious differences, but let’s admit we aren’t above playing that card ourselves.

#3) The death penalty isn’t about deterrence or revenge. It’s about justice. Again, it’s only justice if you’ve got the right guy. And that’s one of my main problems with the death penalty.

Actually though, I think the point is about restitution. I think that’s the proper legal term for it.

If someone is convicted of theft, they are ordered to pay back what was stolen or damaged. If someone is convicted of a DWI involving a collision, they will be ordered to pay the owner of the other vehicle, or perhaps just the deductible if insurance paid.

The main argument, although rarely enunciated this way, that the State has going for it is the belief by the jury that the family of the decedent will feel better if the defendant is executed. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I believe that in fact, there are studies that show that families who initially supported the death penalty in fact get no satisfaction from it.

Assuming that a loved one has been murdered, and that the defendant is the murderer, if the family members don’t actually get this ‘restitution’ as I’m labeling it, I think this argument fails. But, I think in some ways it’s the strongest argument for capital punishment.

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

Honestly, and I’m going easy on this one… I just don’t get it.

You either believe #4, or you don’t.

This is an important subject; please feel free to weigh in…

  • Lance Stott

    Somebody walks him to the chamber, somebody straps him in, somebody injects the poison. Did he deserve it? Maybe – Probably. But I’m not really worried about him. It bothers me that we as a society do this thing. I’m worried about what it says about us.

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  • Jeffrey Deutsch


    With all due respect, your response to point #2 is what’s out of place.

    By your logic, removal cannot be a fitting response to a cancerous kidney, simply because a Long Island doctor a few years back mistakenly removed the wrong one.

    The doctor made a horrible mistake, but that in no way changes the fact that removal is often the best, if not the only, way to save someone’s life if s/he has a malignant body part.

    And some people are just so evil that killing them is the only way we can deal with them, even if that means we mistakenly kill a few others.

    So, if someone murdered me, I’d want to know my life was so precious that the ultimate measures would be taken against whoeever did it.

    I hope you don’t seriously believe that every human life is worth exactly the same and thus there is no difference between one killing and another. Otherwise you would have no right to defend yourself, because your killing an armed assailant would be no better than his killing you.

    To extend your logic further down, if a woman fights off a would-be rapist, their violence would be exactly equal – after all, he harmed her, she harmed him.

    “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” eh? Well, presumably just like you, your other readers, the authors of the blogs you read and reference, etc., I’m alive, free and have perfect vision. That’s because we act forcefully enough against enough people who would attack us that we can live in peace.


    Jeff Deutsch

  • daniela

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