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July 21, 2013

Is an execution-free, state death penalty system better or worse than no death penalty at all?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Pennsylvania, which carries the headline "Darisabel Baez's killer, like others with death warrants, has many appeals possible; And, there have been no executions in Pennsylvania since 1999."  Here is a brief excerpt from the piece:

No one has been executed in Pennsylvania since July 6, 1999.  There are 190 men and three women on death row, according to the Department of Corrections.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille went on record in 2011, criticizing what he described as the delay tactics and frivolous filings used by the Federal Defenders office, which also represents some of York County's death row inmates.

[Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tim] Barker said that avenues of appeals for condemned inmates can "stretch out the process until it becomes frivolous."

"It's unfair to the victims (and their families) and society in general," he said.

The follow-up question I would like to ask Deputy Prosecutor Barker (and others who are strong advocates for the death penalty) is whether the way Pennsylvania operates its system of capital punishment is worse than having do death penalty at all. Not only have there been no executions in Pennsylvania for almost 15 years, I sense that it is unlikely there will be a resumption of executions in the state any time soon. Given this persistent reality, I wonder if even death penalty supporters would urge the Keystone State to abolish formally what is now functionally a legal fiction of a purported punishment.

(One might arguably view the 2012 death penalty abolition vote in California as something of a referendum on this question. But California completed three executions in 2005 and 2006, and voters in that state at least had a reasonable basis to hope and believe that executions might resume at some point in the not too distant future.)

July 21, 2013 at 04:03 PM | Permalink

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Question: "Is an execution-free, state death penalty system better or worse than no death penalty at all?"

Translated Question: "Given the seemingly never-ending delays, why don't death penalty proponents just give up and surrender to an abolitionist victory?"

Answer: Because we have the law and overwhelming public opinion on our side. The Supreme Court has never held the DP to be per se cruel and unusual punishment, and reaffirmed its legality in Baze. The public supports it by 2-1, and that ratio is constant over the last several years, as Gallup has reported. In particular cases, like this horrendous Boston Marathon bombing, public support is even more overwhelming -- 70 to 27 (http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/297119-poll-seventy-percent-back-death-penalty-for-boston-attack-suspect).

The answer to dilatory tactics used against the DP is not for the public to put an end to the DP, but to put an end to the tactics.

Was that supposed to be hard?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 21, 2013 4:35:46 PM

I would say that an execution free state with the DP on the books is better than the alternative of no DP. It at least admits of the option of a change in how the system operates that could someday allow these killers to be disposed of.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 21, 2013 5:50:03 PM

"overwhelming public opinion on our side"

Said opinion pays little attention to the delays, keeps on electing people who aid and abet them, at times by their own mistakes, and as a whole enables it with their actions and low level concern. This is bothersome to those more strongly concerned about carrying out more death penalties.

Death penalty supporters do not want to remove the death penalty, even in the many states where its on the books and nearly never used, because they feel there should remain the possibility to give certain people, the worst of the worst, the ultimate penalty. Even if the loaded gun is never used.

Some can have their cake and eat it too by it nearly never being carried out. Btw the way, given the number of people on the death row in CA, having THREE people executed in two years really shouldn't lead death penalty advocates to be overly excited about the situation. 1.5 executions "reasonably" is a statistical nullity without more. If anything, it might be counterproductive, since it ratchets up the opposition.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 22, 2013 11:12:00 AM

I think we should join our European friends, our neighbors, Canada and Mexico, countries like Australia, and even Russia, which technically still has the death penalty on the books, but has suspended its use indefinitely, and abolish it across the U.S. One could ask, "what makes our criminals worse than the criminals in other countries?" But the real question is, why are people in the U.S. so bloodthirsty?

Posted by: Liz McD | Jul 22, 2013 2:36:06 PM

Virginia executes within 7 years and has executed 70% (or 110) of their murderers since 1976.


All states could execute within 10 years of sentencing with revised protocols.

================

Liz, we execute less than 1% of our murderers, hardly bloodthirsty.

The reality is that the death penalty is supported fr th same reason all sanctions are.

Justice.

Posted by: dudley sharp | Jul 22, 2013 2:58:42 PM

"But the real question is, why are people in the U.S. so bloodthirsty?"

Au contraire. The real question is why ignorant twits like Liz feel the need to denigrate those of us who think, quelle horreur, that those who deliberately take life ought to have their own lives on the table.

As for our European friends, remember the guy who tortured and killed Robert Dean Stethem, Mohammed Ali Hammadi? Well, our European friends' view of justice was that he was to be released after a short time in prison instead of handed over to the US.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 22, 2013 10:34:26 PM

"Some can have their cake and eat it too by it nearly never being carried out. Btw the way, given the number of people on the death row in CA, having THREE people executed in two years really shouldn't lead death penalty advocates to be overly excited about the situation. 1.5 executions "reasonably" is a statistical nullity without more. If anything, it might be counterproductive, since it ratchets up the opposition."

Of course, there are some people who have been patiently waiting for the unquestionably constitutional law to be enforced. But 'rat judges being what they are (e.g., constitutionalizing a 100 watt lightbulb) decide to inflict more misery on them. It is nothing short of evil, and these 'rats have earned the white hot hatred of members of victims' families.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 22, 2013 10:42:14 PM

End the death penalty to punish the appellate lawyer with unemployment.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 23, 2013 5:45:10 AM

hi

Posted by: andrew | Sep 20, 2013 9:37:35 AM

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