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16 US States Justice Systems Admit Defeat

On March 10, 2011, the mainstream media announced that the state of Illinois has joined 15 other US states, throwing in the towel by banning the use of capital punishment. “Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it,” Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement quoted by John Schwartz and Emma Fitzsimmons.

In other words, the court systems in these states have become so ineffective, so incompetent even in murder trials that the Governors and legislators have given up executing criminals who have been condemned to death by their heinous acts. They would rather keep all of these murderers alive, paying for their health, housing, and sustenance (using your tax dollars and mine, of course) than working harder to ensure that those convicted are actually guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. These governors and legislators should be ashamed of themselves.

There is no doubt in the minds of objective and rational people that capital punishment works as a deterrent to crime. Studies are voluminous, well documented, and respected by scholars in this field. Those who attack the studies are tilting at windmills. While there are significant differences among the number of innocent lives that capital punishment saves per execution (they vary from about 5 per execution to about 30 per execution), the correct number is irrelevant. Capital punishment – without any rational doubt – deters crime and saves innocent lives. Citing FBI statistics, University of Chicago Law School professors Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, in their treatise on this topic entitled: “Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? The Relevance of Life-Life Tradeoffs,” point out: “The foundation for our argument is a large and growing body of evidence that capital punishment may well have a deterrent effect, possibly a quite powerful one. A leading study suggests that each execution prevents some eighteen murders, on average. The particular numbers do not much matter. If the current evidence is even roughly correct, then a refusal to impose capital punishment will effectively condemn numerous innocent people to death. States that choose life imprisonment, when they might choose capital punishment, are ensuring the deaths of a large number of innocent people.”

The truly sad part of all of this is that American legislators are increasingly able to abdicate their responsibility and simply remain unaccountable. Consider the case of a young Illinois senator who simply didn’t show up for work – abstaining from voting on issues that were clearly important enough to voters in that state to make it to the docket – about one third of the time. This Senator abstained from voting more than 75% of the time on key issues like agriculture, and over 60% of the time on controversial issues such as abortion. Budget & Tax issues? Civil Rights issues? Abstained almost half (45%) of the time. This young Senator’s name is Barrack Obama. Clearly checking out and not doing your job has positive consequences when one is a politician! So let me ask you this; at your workplace, how would things go for you if you just decided not to do about a third of your work?

So here we have 16 cases where states have decided that, because they have no confidence that their justice system can convict the appropriate person, they simply wont condemn anyone to death any longer – ensuring that some number between 5 and 30 innocent people for every convicted murderer they protected are going to die. This is true no matter how you look at the data – even at a national level. Consider this quote from the Sunstein and Vermeule paper: “In the period between 1972 and 1976, the Supreme Court produced an effective moratorium on capital punishment, and an extensive study exploits that fact to estimate the deterrent effect. Using state-level data from 1960–2000, the authors make before-and- after comparisons, focusing on the murder rate in each state before and after the death penalty was suspended and reinstated. The authors find a substantial deterrent effect. After suspending the death penalty, 91% of states faced an increase in homicides—and in 67% of states, the rate was decreased after reinstatement of capital punishment.”

So even the argument that States have no moral authority or right to end a human life is made null and void, because NOT executing convicted murderers costs far more in innocent human lives than the life of the innocent-but-convicted exception. Mathematics shows us that the only way this scale tips in favor of abolishing the death penalty is when there are far more innocent people convicted than guilty ones. Execute an innocent person and you have lost one life, and done serious emotional damage to that person’s family & friends. Fail to deploy capital punishment and for every guilty person that would have been executed you essentially sentence between 5 and 30 innocent people to death, with equally deleterious effects on their families and friends. Do the math.

No one is arguing that determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a capital crime is easy. The fact that it is so difficult is the compelling reason that America spends so much money, and works so hard, to protect the rights of our citizens in these situations. But it must be dome, and be done effectively. Otherwise, if the course of these 16 states continues to be followed, many more innocent people will die – at the hands of incompetent jurists, and inadequate politicians.

What do you think?

The 16 States Who Have Given Up This Far:
(As of March 10, 2011)

Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington D.C., West Virginia, and Wisconsin

For a more thorough historical perspective, state by state, see William Browning’s article.

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