Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rome Lights the Colosseum

 

From the International Herald Tribune [Rome lights up Colosseum to celebrate UN vote on death penalty, abolition in New Jersey].
The city of Rome lit up the Colosseum on Wednesday to celebrate a U.N. vote calling for a moratorium on the death penalty and a decision by the U.S. state of New Jersey to abolish capital punishment.

The ancient arena was bathed in white light as Italy celebrated the U.N. General Assembly resolution approved Tuesday despite opposition by supporters of the death penalty, including the United States, Iran and China.

Italy, a firm opponent of capital punishment, spearheaded the drive for the nonbinding resolution, which was co-sponsored by European Union states and 60 other countries.

Italy also hailed the signing Monday of a law abolishing the death penalty in New Jersey, making it the first U.S. state to abolish capital punishment in more than 40 years.

Rome's Colosseum, once the arena for deadly gladiator combat and executions, has become a symbol of Italy's fight against capital punishment. Since 1999, the 1st century monument has been lit up every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a country abolishes capital punishment.
About 133 civilized countries have abolished the death penalty but there are still 100 countries that retain it. According to Amnesty International, 90% of all executions worldwide take place in only six countries: Chain, Iraq, Iran, the United States, Pakistan and Sudan [UN Assembly calls for moratorium on death penalty].



32 comments :

  1. The death sentence is justifiable in many cases.

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  2. How can you justify it when you can't guarantee the guilt of those executed? See David Milgaard.

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  3. I see Larry has acquired an all-purpose conservatroll. I suppose no rational blog should be without one. ;)

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  4. mats says,

    The death sentence is justifiable in many cases.

    Violence is almost never justifiable or necessary. Voluntarily killing someone is about the most violent act imaginable. Permitting your government to do it in your name is disgusting. Pretending that such violence is okay is even worse.

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  5. Violence is almost never justifiable or necessary. Voluntarily killing someone is about the most violent act imaginable.
    I am guessing you are pro-life aswell?


    Permitting your government to do it in your name is disgusting. Pretending that such violence is okay is even worse.

    Does the word "justice" rings any bell in your mind?

    The death penalty is justifiable in mant cases, like, mass murderers.

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  6. I am guessing you are pro-life aswell?
    And a fruitarian also?

    I can respect most of the anti death penalty arguments but pretending that your minority opinion, is morally superior is pretty silly.

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  7. Topical article Larry as on the news last night here in the U.K. was the case of a Scotish man who has just had his conviction overturned on appeal after spending 20 years on death row in the U.S.

    mats, do you think that it is justifiable that innocent people are killed by the death penalty due to miscarriages of justice?

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  8. It is not a matter of whether the death penalty is "justifiable" or not, or whether that particular penalty suits the crime.

    The issue turns on the simple fact that the human race has to move beyond its vindictive, cruel past. Killing someone for the crime of murder doesn't bring the victim back. Most of us, with the exception, it seems, of the leaders of the mentioned countries, have moved beyond the need to seek revenge.

    I'm all for stiff justice for criminals, but the death penalty is simply wrong.

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  9. mats, do you think that it is justifiable that innocent people are killed by the death penalty due to miscarriages of justice?
    Do you think thatis justifiable that guilty mass murderers get to live with all expenses payed by public money?

    The death of innocent people is not a problem caused by the death penalty, but a problem caused by bad lawyers and bad judges. You are shifting the blame.

    Secondly, the death of an innocent is only problematic if death is irreversible.

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  10. mats wrote: The death of innocent people is not a problem caused by the death penalty, but a problem caused by bad lawyers and bad judges. You are shifting the blame.

    We'll stop "shifting the blame" as soon as you find us jurors and judges who are always 100% perfectly accurate and correct to sit on all death penalty cases.

    Secondly, the death of an innocent is only problematic if death is irreversible.

    Wowee. Cue Twilight Zone music....

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  11. The justice system, like any human institution, will NEVER be perfect. I speak as one who is intimately familiar with that system (I am a forensic scientist). It is therefore a certainty that as long as the death penalty exists, innocent people WILL be executed. All honest proponents of capital punishment are morally obligated to confront this fact. Few indeed do so.

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  12. I would still be opposed to the death penalty even if there was a 100% guarantee that only guilty people would be executed.

    The fact that innocent people are executed is tragic but it's not the most important reason to oppose the death penalty.

    In many discussions about the death penalty the execution of innocent people is not only a red herring but ultimately counterproductive.

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  13. True, there are "false positives" (type I errors) i.e. innocent people being executed, and there are problems of systemic sentencing biases related to race but perhaps even more so to class. Both of these problems can be addressed and are ameliorable (though not entirely - few issues are).

    Robert Tanner, Associated Press, 6/10/07:
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=3263838

    "[A] series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years ... claim to settle a once hotly debated argument — whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer. ...

    "Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it," said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect."

    A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?"

    Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. ...

    Among the conclusions:

    Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14). ...

    Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor. ...

    The studies' conclusions drew a philosophical response from a well-known liberal law professor, University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein. A critic of the death penalty, in 2005 he co-authored a paper titled "Is capital punishment morally required?"

    "If it's the case that executing murderers prevents the execution of innocents by murderers, then the moral evaluation is not simple," he told The Associated Press. "Abolitionists or others, like me, who are skeptical about the death penalty haven't given adequate consideration to the possibility that innocent life is saved by the death penalty.""

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  14. mats wrote: The death of innocent people is not a problem caused by the death penalty, but a problem caused by bad lawyers and bad judges. You are shifting the blame.

    jud wrote: We'll stop "shifting the blame" as soon as you find us jurors and judges who are always 100% perfectly accurate and correct to sit on all death penalty cases.

    So you are saying that we should only get perfect people when we are looking for people who will make judgments on others? Do you aply the same standard everywhere else in life?


    mats says:
    Secondly, the death of an innocent is only problematic if death is irreversible.

    jud says:
    Wowee. Cue Twilight Zone music....


    You did not answer this point.

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  15. I would still be opposed to the death penalty even if there was a 100% guarantee that only guilty people would be executed.

    Just to clarify, so would I. But in the US, to get rid of it we will need the support of people who do not have this scruple but who can be persuaded by the prospect of innocent people being executed.

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  16. Steve says,

    But in the US, to get rid of it we will need the support of people who do not have this scruple but who can be persuaded by the prospect of innocent people being executed.

    Now I get it. You weren't talking rationally, you were "framing"! Right?

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  17. As a hypothetical, if it could be shown that having the death penalty reduced the likelihood of innocent people being murdered, would people support it?

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  18. stevef wrote: "As a hypothetical, if it could be shown that having the death penalty reduced the likelihood of innocent people being murdered, would people support it?"

    The premise, frankly, just doesn't scan (though I know this goes against received U.S. cultural wisdom). I'm not sure how one would show such a thing, since it involves predicting numbers of murders in a complex and ever-changing social environment, unless the statistics were just overwhelming. The only overwhelming statistics I'm aware of point the other way, with other Western democracies that have outlawed the death penalty having homicide rates that are fractions of what the U.S. records. But then people will argue that these statistics don't apply, and you're back to the problem that the premise is essentially unprovable.

    I feel the death penalty is wrong, for many reasons. Certainly the killing of innocents is among them. (Many people are unaware of just how large a problem this is. A conservative Republican governor of the U.S. state of Illinois suspended executions there after DNA tests and other investigations showed at least *half* of the death row inmates in that state were wrongly convicted. In the majority of instances, the source of the new facts came from outsiders, not from within the judicial system on appeal [got that, Mats?]. One man was exonerated 2 days before his scheduled execution through evidence found by undergraduate journalism students.)

    There is also my personal moral logic, which reacts to "We kill people to show that killing is wrong" with a hearty "WTF?"

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  19. It's not framing when everything you say is both true and sincere. ;) It's a fact that innocent people are certain to be executed as long as the death penalty exists, and I have no problem at all allying myself, in working for abolition, with those who have that as their only objection. It's an important and entirely valid one, even if you or I may consider it a secondary one.

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  20. Jud,

    I'm inclined to agree with you. I still think it's a question worth pondering though, particularly in light of the fact that there are studies that purport to show fall in murder rates and a correlation with the death penalty (in the US):

    Mochan, H.N. and Gittings, R.K. (2003) Getting off death row: Commuted sentences and the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Journal of Law and Economics, 46, 453-478.

    This paper merges a state-level panel data set that includes crime and deterrence measures and state characteristics with information on all death sentences handed out in the United States between 1977 and 1997. Because the exact month and year of each execution and removal from death row can be identified, they are matched with state-level criminal activity in the relevant time frame. Controlling for a variety of state characteristics, the paper investigates the impact of the execution rate, commutation and removal rates, homicide arrest rate, sentencing rate, imprisonment rate, and prison death rate on the rate of homicide. The results show that each additional execution decreases homicides by about five, and each additional commutation increases homicides by the same amount, while an additional removal from death row generates one additional murder. Executions, commutations, and removals have no impact on robberies, burglaries, assaults, or motor-vehicle thefts.


    Now, there are articles that argue against this. However, I still think it's a hypothetical worth thinking about. If execution reduces the number of murders, can it then be morally justified? A lesser evil if you will.

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  21. Since when is human life a valuable commodity on this planet?

    How many of the posters here, who argue valiantly for the abolition of the death penalty, are willing to, say, give up their Christmas fund to help babies from dying of malnutrition in Bangladesh, or have gotten off their desk chairs to end the slaughter in Darfur?

    Answer - no one. Because if one felt strongly about the sanctity of human life, one would have sold their computer to save one more life.

    How many death penalty abolitionists here are pro-choice when it comes to abortion? Anyone? Don't all speak at once! :D

    The fact is, human life is dirt cheap, always has been, and may always be, unfortunately.

    And the idea of putting the convicted in prison for life, instead of executing them, does not seem to me to be a thoughtful response based purely out of regard for the convicted.

    We do, after all, put dogs out of their misery, and many of us believe in euthanasia. Is not the desire to punish the guilty with incarceration until the time of their death rather more cruel than a merciful end?

    Surely the enlightened society we all hope for will not be interested in punishing anyone at all? Should the state be allowed to be brutally cruel, but not ultimately cruel?

    Well... my viewpoint is that we all really DO want the State to be cruel, and that no one is committed to the sanctity of life beyond what is convenient.

    I also believe that SOME - a select few - criminals really need killing. The killer of Polly Klaus (sic?) comes to mind.

    Here is a gentleman who broke through the window of a suburban home, grabbed the adolescent daughter and sped away with her. After raping and killing her, he drove around the countryside with her in the back of his pickup, just for shits and grins.

    During his trial, he often caught the grieving father's eye and japed at him, miming his glee.

    I'm sorry - but that is a creature that needs to be dead, not alive. To keep such a monster around says too much about compassion wrongly placed, in my opinion, as the family waits and waits for final closure.

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  22. Sometimes it's amusing to watch people attempt to rationalize their own sociopathy.

    BTW, I don't see anyone here making the case for the "sanctity of human life". What I see are arguments against allowing the government to conduct premeditated killings of their own citizens. The civilized world outside of the U.S. has come to the conclusion that such a practice is barbaric, and we seem to be in such auguste company as China, Iran and Sudan. Strange that the rest of the civilized world also seems to enjoy lower violent crime rates. Some "deterrence".

    As a sidenote, the studies purporting to show a deterrence effect of capital punishment have been cited. Here is a collection of critiques of those studies, in the interest of fairly representing the dispute.

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  23. A study by Mochan, H.N. and Gittings, R.K. (2003) says,

    The results show that each additional execution decreases homicides by about five ...

    That's truly amazing. It means that if America abolishes the death penalty the murder rate will increase almost five-fold.

    The United States already has a murder rate that's higher than most Western industrialized nations. The idea that it could be many times higher except for the death penalty is, .... well, unbelievable.

    Why is it that proponents of the death penalty seem to be so stupid?

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  24. gingerbaker asks,

    How many of the posters here, who argue valiantly for the abolition of the death penalty, are willing to, say, give up their Christmas fund to help babies from dying of malnutrition in Bangladesh, or have gotten off their desk chairs to end the slaughter in Darfur?

    Not me.

    I'm opposed to the idea that my government, acting in my name, will commit an extremely violent act by taking the life of a human being in captivity.

    I'm not sure I see the connection between my position against the death penalty and the situations in Bangladesh or Darfur. Perhaps you can explain it?

    How many death penalty abolitionists here are pro-choice when it comes to abortion? Anyone?

    I keep forgetting what "pro-choice" means but I think it means allowing women to decide whether they want to have an abortion or not. If that's correct then I'm "pro-choice."

    I don't see what this has to do with being against using violence as a way of solving problems.

    And the idea of putting the convicted in prison for life, instead of executing them, does not seem to me to be a thoughtful response based purely out of regard for the convicted.


    But that's not my position. I don't favor putting convicted murders in prison for life. In some cases they can be rehabilitated and released much earlier.

    I'm sorry - but that is a creature that needs to be dead, not alive. To keep such a monster around says too much about compassion wrongly placed, in my opinion, as the family waits and waits for final closure.

    And your attitude is exactly the sort of "violence begets violence" attitude that I oppose. I would like to see a society where revenge isn't an excuse to kill someone. I would like to see a society where the idea that someone deserves to be killed is abhorrent.

    I would like to live in a society where the word "closure" doesn't mean revenge.

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  25. I would also like to live in a society where "closure" is strictly a mathematical term. I am heartily sick of that bit of psychobabble. It is used to "justify" all sorts of stupidity and even, in the case of the death penalty, barbarism.

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  26. Larry said:

    That's truly amazing. It means that if America abolishes the death penalty the murder rate will increase almost five-fold.

    The United States already has a murder rate that's higher than most Western industrialized nations. The idea that it could be many times higher except for the death penalty is, .... well, unbelievable.


    Yeah it does seem rather difficult to believe. Still, if thats what they data suggests......

    Anyway, as I said, there are a fair few studies that reach an opposite conclusion. For example, more recently:

    Zimmerman, P. (2006) Estimates of the deterrent effect of alternative execution methods in the United States: 1978-2000. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 65, 909-941.

    Using a panel of state-level data over the years 1978-2000, this article examines whether the method by which death penalty states conduct their executions affects the per capita incidence of murder in a differential manner. Several measures of the subjective probability of being executed are developed, taking into account the timing of individual executions. The empirical estimates suggest that the deterrent effect of capital punishment is driven primarily by executions conducted by electrocution. None of the other four methods of execution (lethal injection, gas chamber asphyxiation, hanging, and/or firing squad) are found to have a statistically significant impact on the per capita incidence of murder. These results are robust with respect to the manner in which the subjective probabilities of being executed are defined, whether or not a state has a death penalty law on the books, the removal of state and year fixed effects, controls for state-specific time trends, simultaneous control of all execution methods, and controls for other forms of public deterrence. In addition, it is shown that the negative and statistically significant impact of electrocutions is not driven by the occurrence of a "botched" electrocution during the relevant time period.


    Here's an interesting looking article that was submitted to the US government. They basically say that both sides can cite evidence in support of their case. They attempt to evaluate these and find no real influence from a adeterrent effect:

    http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/216548.pdf

    Still, it's a thought provoking hypothetical. Plus, I'm of the opinion that real data should always be used to inform moral decisions. If it could be conclusively shown that executions reducing murder rate, that would be something seriously worth considering IMO. In the absence of such date, I'll remain anti death penalty (and might not even change my mind even if it did exist).

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  27. "The results show that each additional execution decreases homicides by about five ..."

    Larry Moran: "That's truly amazing. It means that if America abolishes the death penalty the murder rate will increase almost five-fold."

    Only if every perpetrator of every murder has already been arrested and convicted, and is currently on death row - which is obviously not the case. The total population of death row inmates is a small sampling of the total population of murderers.

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  28. Anonymous says,

    Only if every perpetrator of every murder has already been arrested and convicted, and is currently on death row - which is obviously not the case. The total population of death row inmates is a small sampling of the total population of murderers.

    Yeah, I was wondering if anyone would quibble about that.

    Let's say we execute every single person who is found guilty of murder. Since each execution reduces the total number of future murders by five, it seems to me that the USA could essentially be a murder-free society in about a decade. No?

    All you have to do is catch and convict 20% of murderers.

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  29. "All you have to do is catch and convict 20% of murderers."

    Do you know how long it is from conviction to execution in US? It takes years if not decades for appeals to be exhausted. By the time those currently on death row are executed, the murder rate could well have changed (which it has over the last couple of decades - namely, declined).

    In any case, there is no reason to assume that the 1:5 effect, assuming it is valid, is isometric across the range of proportion of total murderers executed. There could be a nonlinear relationship, with the ratio of deterrence to executions declining with rising executions. (However, it would still be the case that more executions -> more deterrence - again, assuming the model is valid.)

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  30. anonymous says,

    In any case, there is no reason to assume that the 1:5 effect, assuming it is valid, is isometric across the range of proportion of total murderers executed. There could be a nonlinear relationship, with the ratio of deterrence to executions declining with rising executions. (However, it would still be the case that more executions -> more deterrence - again, assuming the model is valid.)

    Cool. The data comes with its own goalpost mover.

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  31. Of course; whoever heard of a nonlinear function in sociology, economics, or biology?

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