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September 15, 2013

Do deterrence concerns justify four death sentences in India for gang rape or is it retributive justice?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times review of the recent sentencing for four rapist and the broader problems of sexual violence in India.  The piece is headlined "Many Doubt Death Sentences Will Stem India Sexual Attacks," and here are excerpts:

There was no mistaking the whoop of joy that rose outside Saket District Court on Friday, when word got out that four men convicted in last December’s horrific gang rape and murder had been sentenced to death by hanging. People burst into applause. They hugged whoever was beside them. They pumped the air with their fists....

But some of India’s most ardent women’s rights advocates hung back from Friday’s celebration, skeptical that four hangings would do anything to stem violence against women, a problem whose proportions are gradually coming into focus. “I think a lot of people were hugging each other because they thought this evil is localized, and it will be wiped out, and that is not the case,” said Karuna Nundy, a litigator who has argued before India’s Supreme Court. “The sad truth is that it is not a deterrent.”

From the moment it broke, the story of the 23-year-old woman who became known as “Nirbhaya,” or “fearless,” awoke real rage in the population. Hoping for a ride home from a movie theater, she and a male companion boarded a private bus, not realizing that the six men aboard had been cruising Delhi in search of a victim. After knocking her friend unconscious, they took her to the back of the bus and raped her, then penetrated her with a metal rod, inflicting grave internal injuries. An hour later, they dumped the pair out on the road, bleeding and naked. She died two weeks later of her injuries....

After intensive public discussion of the case, some changes followed with extraordinary speed. Reports of rape have skyrocketed; in the first eight months of this year, Delhi’s police force registered 1,121 cases, more than double the number from the same period in 2011 and the highest number since 2000. The number of reported molestations has increased sixfold in the same period.

The government created a fast-track court for rape cases and introduced new laws, criminalizing acts like voyeurism and stalking and making especially brutal rapes into a capital crime. Scholars have delved into the social changes that may be contributing to the problem, as new arrivals in India’s huge cities find themselves unemployed and hopeless, stuck in “the space below the working class,” as the writer Rajrishi Singhal recently put it in an editorial in The Hindu.

But many were thinking of something more basic — punishing the six (one, a juvenile, got a three-year sentence in August, and the driver was found dead in his cell in March) who attacked the woman in the bus. It was those people who found their way to the Saket courthouse on Friday. Many came like pilgrims, hoping to find closure in a case that had haunted them. Kiran Khullar arrived in a wheelchair, accompanied by her daughter, 17. “I have come here as a mother,” she said. “I came here only to see these men get the death penalty.”

A 62-year-old grandmother, Arun Puri, had scribbled the words “Hang them! Hang them!” on her dupatta, a traditional scarf. Asked whether she felt sorry for the defendants’ parents, she did not flinch. “If these men were my children,” she said, “I would have strangled them to death myself.”

Rosy John, 62, a homemaker watching the furor outside the courtroom, said her only objection to the death sentence was that it was too humane a punishment. “After death, they will get freedom,” she said. “They should be tortured and given shocks their whole life.”

In fact, it is unlikely the four men will be executed swiftly. The order must be confirmed by India’s High Court, and all four defendants may appeal to the High Court, the Supreme Court and the president for clemency. Some 477 people are on death row, inching through a process that often drags on for five or six years. Three people have been executed since 2004, and there were no executions for eight years before that.

Sadashiv Gupta, who defended one of the men, a fruit seller named Pawan Gupta, said he had assured his client that the sentence was likely to be commuted to life in prison, as most are. “I told him: ‘You are going to get the death penalty. Take it in stride, and don’t panic,’ ” said Mr. Gupta, sweating in his stiff white collar outside the courthouse. “I think he shall not be hanged.”

Polls show that Indians remain ambivalent about using the death penalty, with 40 percent saying it should be abolished, according to a survey by CNN, IBN and The Hindu, a respected daily newspaper. For many months already, advocates for women have questioned whether death sentences in the December case would distract people from the more difficult question of why Indian girls and women are so vulnerable to sexual violence.

September 15, 2013 at 04:53 PM | Permalink


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Not for nothing, but I had read that at least some of the defendants' confessions were later retracted by them. Given the fact that false confessions aren't exactly rare, especially when public pressure is piled on the police to bring people to justice, isn't there a possibility that some / all of them are innocent? If there's physical evidence linking them to the crime, I'm just unaware of it.

Posted by: Guy | Sep 15, 2013 5:35:33 PM

Unable to write its usual racist story that, "No civilized (i.e., white European) nation uses the death penalty anymore," the NYT still has to find something negative to say. So it's got to come up with, "Many Doubt Death Sentences Will Stem India Sexual Attacks."

Well that's cool. How 'bout this one too: "Many Doubt Government Denials That Aliens Are Housed At Area 51"? Is that not also true?

Of course the NYT passes right on by the question whether, on the merits, the DP is deserved here, irrespective of whether it deters (not that deterrence vel non from any one episode could be anything beyond rank speculation).

But not to be outdone by the NYT, Guy reminds us that they're actually innocent because, ya know, there was pressure on the police, so the confessions were false.

If you're opposed to the DP, such pure guessing gets nodding approval, as if it were an actual argument. If you're in favor of the DP, it doesn't make any difference if you put up an actual argument, because you're a Nazi one way or the other.

Such are abolitionist "standards" -- not that we should expect anything different after their years of indignant (and never apologized-for) lying about Roger Keith Coleman.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 15, 2013 6:27:48 PM

Roger Coleman was guilty. Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent.

Posted by: Poirot | Sep 15, 2013 9:48:04 PM

Poirot --

"Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent."

According to abolitionist websites, sure. But not according to statements made by any court (including the one with the jury that convicted him), his wife and his own lawyer.

"Roger Coleman was guilty."

But for ten years, we heard about Coleman exactly the same furious protestations of innocence, the same accusations of corruption, the same arrogant looking-down-the-nose at the system that we now hear about Willingham.

But he was guilty all along, wasn't he? And the people who made all the charges about we-executed-an-innocent man weren't telling the truth, were they? And they haven't apologized for their years of false accusations against the cops, the prosecutor, the judge and the jury, have they?

What do you think of behavior like that?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 15, 2013 11:00:04 PM

I find it quite amusing how you are more concerned with the lack of apologies of some of Coleman's defenders than you are with Governor Perry's conduct throughout the Willingham case. Willingham's trial was tainted from the beginning with absolute junk science, that arrogant cops, prosecutors, defenders of the system, and above all a very arrogant Governor Perry brushed off. The courts aren't too relevant here because all post-conviction proceedings are conducted with increasingly heavy thumbs on the side of the prosecutions scale, determined more and more to give heavy deference, first to the jury's science-fiction induced verdict, then to the state court's deference to the verdict on federal habeas, etc. Every expert de-novo review of the evidence conducted by people not directly involved with the case that I've seen has come to the conclusion that more likely than not, the fire was not sent intentionally. That ought to be way more than enough not to send a man to his death.
Frankly, Governor Perry has blood on his hands, since he ignored the report sent to him from Florida before the execution that debunked the whole fire-science field. I consequently chuckled when he was claiming in Texas that he cared about the taking of human life, but the common denominator is politics. He could care less about the taking of potentially innocent human life when bad for his career or image, and obstruct investigations into its taking (As an aside, note the hypocracy of the system where Barry Bonds's obstruction of justice convction is affirmed for giving evasive answers that the prosecutor didn't seek to follow up upon, but a state Governor is able to brazenly obstruct an investigation into an intentional killing of a helpless man he played a role in and could never be prosecuted for it. This far worse than what Blagoyevich did with the Senate seat in Illinois, but Blagoyevich is the one doing time here. It has made my blood boil), but when polls show other unprotected innocent human life that the majority of state voters actually care about he is happy to join their bandwagon. He hasn't apologized and it looks like you haven't either.

Posted by: Poirot | Sep 15, 2013 11:58:46 PM

Bill Otis, you are so hung up on apologies. When will prosecutors apologize for all the countless cases of Brady violations, of prosecuting innocent persons (those who were convicted and then were exonerated with DNA)?

Posted by: onlooker | Sep 16, 2013 1:44:53 AM

The American lawyer traitor on the Supreme Court would have protected the defendants from their fate. Thge lawyer traitor wants more symmetry and has adopted the retributive model, the one from the Bible, written by crude Iraqi peasant tribesmen. The world would have been far better off had Rome not fallen for the Christian scam. The Romans were civilized, the authors of the Bible were pigs. I invite everyone to read the entire text of Genesis. Disgusting.

Nevertheless, general deterrence, sending others a message, is inherently unfair, and violate the Due Process in the Fifth Amendment. You cannot penalize someone to intimidate a total stranger who has nothing to do and is unknown to the defendant. General deterrence should be dropped as a justification for the death penalty.

The death penalty is not even a punishment subject to the Eighth Amendment, but an expulsion.

From that perspective, the defendants have outworn their welcome on earth. It is time for them to go.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 16, 2013 5:49:22 AM

A method that would STOP evil , predatory attacks by any an all means necessary , including death of the predator, is better than the death penalty.

Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Sep 16, 2013 8:44:49 AM

onlooker --

You start off with, "Bill Otis, you are so hung up on apologies." Your very next sentence (which is everything else in your post) is a huffy demand for apologies.

Unintended irony is so cool!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2013 10:00:52 AM

Just Plain Jim --

I heartily agree that preventing evil is better than punishing it. Unfortunately, no one has discovered how to entirely prevent it, and even a totalitarian state would not be able to do so. This is apart from the fact that a totalitarian state would itself be evil.

What democratic society can do is fully incapacitate evil-doers before they get another shot, and carrying out the death penalty on sadistic killers is the surest form of incapacitation.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2013 10:09:27 AM

Poirot --

You know more about Willingham's guilt than his wife and lawyer???!!!

Hey, look, that's cool. You run into a lot of people on the Internet.

BTW, Doug's entry here is about the utility of the DP for the several Indian defendants who violently raped a woman, resulting in her death.

To get back to that topic, I think their behavior warrants the DP, and the Indian court agrees. Do you have an opinion on that subject, as opposed to your long-ago correspondence with the Governor?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2013 10:17:42 AM

"Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent...[which] a very arrogant Governor Perry brushed off."
::Posted by: Poirot

Here's the observational truth which supports Perry's "arrogance", Part I.

1.)"For Hensley, [a certified arson investigator] the most damning evidence came from Willingham, who told officers that 2-year-old Amber woke him up. Firefighters later found her in his bed, with burns on the soles of her feet. Yet, Willingham didn’t take the girl with him when he fled, nor did he receive burns walking down that same hallway, Hensley pointed out."

["Willingham was taken to the hospital where doctors did a blood-gas analysis on him, a standard test for someone who’s been inside a burning house.“He had no more (carbon monoxide) than somebody who had just smoked a cigarette,” Hensley said."]

2.)"Dr. Grady Shaw and his team spent an hour at the emergency room trying to resuscitate Amber while next door Willingham complained about his own suffering, Shaw said. “I remember this case very clearly…” Shaw said. “[Willingham's] complaining and asking for attention when everybody was trying to save the little girl’s life was grossly inappropriate.” "…[T]he children inhibited his lifestyle,” said John Jackson, former district judge.

3.)"Evidence of accelerants was found, but Willingham had an excuse for that, too. Willingham told investigators he poured cologne on the children’s floor “because the babies liked the smell,” he blamed a kerosene lamp for any accelerant in the hallway, and said spilled charcoal-lighter fluid happened while he was grilling, Fogg recalled." "Doug Fogg, a Corsicana firefighter for 31 years, was the first responder to arrive."

4.)"Willingham had a lot of excuses for the fire, Fogg recalled, including that a stranger entered the house and set the fire, that the 2-year-old started it, that a ceiling fan or squirrels in the attic caused an electrical short, or the gas space heaters in the children’s bedroom sparked it."

5.)"The investigators searched for electrical shorts, but found none; the gas-powered space heaters were off because the family’s gas supply had been cut off at the meter; and “we didn’t find a ceiling fan. Willingham said there was one, but we didn’t find any signs of one,” Fogg said."
~Corsica Daily Sun, 9/6/09, 9/7/09

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 16, 2013 10:20:33 AM

Here's the observational truth, Part II.

6.)"The other explanations just didn’t add up, Fogg said, adding: “We eliminated all accidental causes.” "[F]our empty bottles of charcoal lighter were found just outside the front door."

7.)"Tony Ayala [neighbor] told Corsicana police Detective Seth Fuller on Oct. 6 that he saw Willingham packing his vehicle and moving it out of the carport as smoke poured out of the house."~Sfgate.com, 10/16/09

"Todd Morris was the first police officer on the scene and he found Willingham trying to push his car away from the house to save it from the fire, while his children were inside burning up, Hensley said.

8.)"[T]he Texas Forensic Science Commission reached no conclusions about whether Willingham was convicted and executed based on evidence now considered scientifically unreliable."~Austin American Statesman,4/14/11

9.) "[Stacy Kuykendall]…told reporters that Cameron Todd Willingham set the fire that killed the girls: "My ex-husband murdered my daughters, and just before he was executed, he told me he did it- he stood and watched while their tiny bodies burned," Kuykendall said.~ Austin American Statesman,10/6/10

10.) Willingham's last words: "I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby. I hope you rot in hell, bitch; I hope you fucking rot in hell, bitch. You bitch; I hope you fucking rot, cunt. That is it."

How now, Inspector?

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 16, 2013 10:25:58 AM

Adamakis --

What do you think you're doing posting actual facts? And with citations, even? Don't you know it's better to avoid facts -- like onlooker -- and devote your attention to the Total Evilness and Very Bad Behavior of prosecutors?

But still, I'll forgive your obsession with facts because the ones you give are, after all, a pretty revealing bunch.

Not that they're going to do any good. Willingham's innocence is now an article of faith with the abolitionist crowd the same way Bush's complicity in 9-11 is an article of faith with the Truther crowd.

Argument you can deal with; faith is something else.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2013 10:48:03 AM

sorry i'm with bill and adamakis here. i also don't thing this will change much in india by itself.

but Doug shame on you. that title sucks.

I'm pretty sure considering how india normally treats sexual assault the death penalty is not for the rape but for the MURDER! of the young woman.

All i can say is i'm glad to see it. Shoot em all.

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 16, 2013 12:59:58 PM

As the take down provided by Adamakis convincingly shows, Cameron Todd Willingham is only innocent because Poirot and his fellow killer coddlers need him to be.

Emotions and "feelings" are all that matter to the pablum pukers. Things like details and facts are irrelevant.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Sep 16, 2013 1:52:58 PM

Sounds like the people whose interests are specifically at issue here -- local women -- are conflicted on the appropriate approach. The core thing here is that violence of all sorts against women must be addressed strongly and strenuously.

There are going to be a myriad of cases here and just killing everyone won't do the trick. Sounds like many women here are wary that a few executions will deter and provide retributive justice as a whole as needed. They seem to think it is something of a side show, fearing the wider problem won't be addressed while these persons' executions are focused upon.

Both deterrence and retribution motivates the death sentences. It is unclear if either justifies them.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 16, 2013 8:13:21 PM

Joe --

"The core thing here is that violence of all sorts against women must be addressed strongly and strenuously."

But Joe, the prisons are already bulging. And they cost so much! Couldn't we better use the money on sensitivity training?"

"There are going to be a myriad of cases here and just killing everyone won't do the trick."

I don't recall anyone's suggesting that we kill "everyone." But some of the most sadistic, like these guys, you bet.

"Both deterrence and retribution motivates the death sentences. It is unclear if either justifies them."

Things become clearer when there are courts to examine the defendants' behavior in detail. That's what happened here.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2013 9:09:02 PM

:: "Both deterrence and retribution motivates the death sentences. It is unclear if either justifies them."
Posted by: Joe

Have "deterrence" or "retribution" ever clearly justified a death sentence to you, Joe? One time, perhaps?

If not, is your motivation to cloud rather than clarify?

Posted by: Adamakis | Sep 17, 2013 11:01:28 AM

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