My tea party opposition to the Death Penalty

B-Daddy B-Daddy 6 Comments

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An issue that had completely disappeared from my view was thrust in front of me this morning when I opened the U-T to find that a repeal of the death penalty had qualified as a California ballot initiative for November. I am not in the mainstream of conservative thought in my opposition to the death penalty; but my reasons that should resonate with tea party and conservative thought.

The tea party is nothing if not skeptical of government. Yet through the death penalty, we entrust to government the ultimate power of deciding the life or death of American citizens. I do not trust that our institutions of justice can apply the penalty fairly or without error. The thought of a man (and it is usually men) who would be wrongfully put to death is too horrible to contemplate. Yet, we have any number of cases where those on death row have been exonerated. My skepticism of government leads me to conclude that it cannot be trusted with a task such as deciding life and death, even of criminals.

The death penalty is expensive to carry out, surely a factor for fiscal conservatives. One might argue that part of the reason it is so expensive is that the appeals process can be abused or over used. However, given that some on death row have been later exonerated and given the finality of the sentence, can one blame defense attorneys for using all available means to prevent the execution of their clients? Of necessity, the process will be costly in our system of justice.

I do not believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to murder. The studies are mixed but reputable scholars who have good pedigree in statistical methods assert that the studies do not show high correlation with deterrence. From Jeffrey Fagan’s testimony.

These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication and basic comparisons with other scenarios. Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in New York State compared to others, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or executions deter murder.

I am pro-life, and I am sure many of my readers would identify themselves as such. I cannot condone the state sponsored killing of any human being. Euthenasia, abortion and the death penalty have this in common, they take human life based on the judgement of other human beings under government approval. We have seen earlier where argument for “after-birth” abortion based on the same logic that leads to allowing abortion. Similarly, it seems inconsistent to be pro-life and in favor of the death penalty. We should be against “death panels” and the death penalty, because only by respecting the sanctity of all human life can we restore a moral foundation for our society that has been lost through the widespread acceptance of abortion.

Further, there is evidence that the race of the victim is highly correlated with whether the death penalty is applied. Even if we find causal factors other than race for this outcome, it is not acceptable in our desire for a color blind society. This disparate outcome gives rise to great moral passions that undermine respect for the rule of law.

As a Christian, though not a Catholic, I still look to the Pope for moral inspiration and guidance. Here is some of what Pope John Paul said in 1995.

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) says that punishment “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity,” that is, only when it would be otherwise impossible to defend society. And the pope teaches that such cases of absolute necessity where society cannot be defended in any other way are “very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” (#56) That view is echoed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which applies the principle of self-defense to the protection of society, and states:

“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

“If however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” (#2267)

I would ask fellow conservatives to consider voting to abolish the death penalty this November.

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Comments 6

  1. Californians voted overwhelmingly (65% to 70%) for the Death Penalty for
    convicted Murderers in 1972 and again in 1978, following court decisions
    severely limiting its use.

    In September 2011 The California Field Poll sampled State opinion again,
    and found 68% of Golden State voters still back its use. Read the full
    report here: http://field.com/fieldpollonline/subscribers/Rls2393.pdf

    Of note, Field found 84% of self-described California CONSERVATIVES back
    Capital Punishment for the ultimate crime, with just 12% against.

    Safest bet in town is that would-be Murderers will still have to think
    about the Death Penalty after this November’s balloting.

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  3. B-Daddy I completely agree with your post. I never understood how the side that gives so many valid reasons for being pro-life has such an easy time embracing the death penalty. Giving the government the right to take a life is the ultimate big government move. Justice is not revenge. And vice versa.

    A human’s life is so important and the respect we give a human’s life is so vital to our success as a society that truly the only reason to justify taking a life is if it is done in defense of another life.

    Thanks for writing this.

  4. The death penalty a deterrent? Not in CA. Just the opposite.

    If I kill somebody and get the death penalty, I just arranged for myself free, full lifetime healthcare in my doddering years — usually within walking distance. Shucks, even if the death penalty is repealed, I still get the exact same lifetime service at taxpayer expense.

    Such a deal! Hope the word doesn’t get out.

  5. B-Daddy:

    You are right to a degree – the IMPULSE killing is not much affected by the Death Penalty. The law makes allowances there, and those are usually prosecuted as 2nd Degree Murder or Manslaughter.

    Abundant Police data and interviews with PROFESSIONAL criminals tell another story. It is common-place for burglars and even robbers to avoid carrying a fire-arm to avoid Death Row if a victim puts up a fight. They consider some prison time to be a cost of their business, but they want no part of Murder One. It is not in dispute that a Death Penalty law affects the professional criminal.

    As to the Moral principle, it’s in the Declaration of Independence. “Life” is the first word the Founders use in explaining their cause. All of us have a right to remain alive. Thus, it is essential that potential murderers know they will pay, and pay dearly.

    Live long, B-Daddy!

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