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April 5, 2014

"Is the Death Penalty Starting to Make a Global Comeback?"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing Slate commentary.  Here are excerpts:

An Indian court today sentenced three men to death for the horrific gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai last year.  They are the first to be sentenced under India’s tough new anti-rape law.

The sentence hammers home something that’s been obvious for some time now: After appearing to be on the verge of abolishing the death penalty entirely, India has now firmly rejoined the ranks of the world’s executioners.  It’s one of a number of countries — including some of the world’s largest democracies — that have recently re-embraced capital punishment.

A 1983 Indian Supreme Court decision allows for capital punishment in only the “rarest of the rare” cases, and from 2004 to 2011 the country didn’t carry out any executions at all. From 1995 to 2012, it carried out only three.  Then in 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the last surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, was hanged in secret in what appeared to be an unusually swift and haphazard execution.  The Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru was hanged under similar circumstances last year.  Seventy-two people in total were sentenced to die in India last year, including four of the men involved in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi in 2012 — a case that shocked the country and prompted the drafting of laws aimed at speeding up the prosecution of rapists.

India’s not the only country heading in this direction. Amnesty International’s 2013 death penalty report noted that executions were up 15 percent last year — and that’s not even counting China, where the number of executions is a state secret.  Just three countries — Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia — accounted for 80 percent of executions, but to my mind, the most interesting recent trend has been been the countries that, like India, have been bucking the general global movement away from the death penalty.

In 2012 Japan carried out its first executions since 2010. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, four rounds of “secret executions” have taken place.  Nigeria carried out its first executions in seven years last year and Indonesia its first in five years.  Vietnam resumed them after an 18-month pause with the execution of seven people by lethal injection.

It’s true that in terms of number of countries, the world is moving away from the death penalty. According to Amnesty’s numbers, 37 countries had the death penalty in 1994, compared with 22 today.  In Europe and Latin America, the practice has essentially been entirely banished and an increasing number of African countries are reviewing their laws.

On the other hand, with the exception of Brazil, where it’s banned, and Russia, where it’s legal but abolished in practice, the world’s 10 biggest countries are all death penalty states.  With India, Japan, and Indonesia rejoining the U.S., the world’s largest democracies are death penalty countries and the practice has heavy popular support in all of them.

UPDATE: This interesting international article highlights related death penalty developments under the headline "Vietnam is sentencing corrupt bankers to death, by firing squad."

April 5, 2014 at 01:10 PM | Permalink


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But Doug, those countries are just filled with dirty brown people. The racist left only cares about what the enlightened Western Europeans (and Canada) think.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Apr 6, 2014 5:34:11 PM

TarlsQtr --

And while we're at it, where are all the abbies who've been snickering for years that "the death penalty is dying"?

We don't seem to be hearing much from them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 6, 2014 6:34:36 PM

An easy fix .

Do not go for 2nds on rape offenses .
Do not go for 1sts on rape offenses .

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady - Columbus OH 43209 | Apr 6, 2014 8:30:32 PM

Doug, how does the 8th Amendment address the possibility that the "evolving standards of decency" might evolve along a different path?

Posted by: Z.Y.U. | Apr 7, 2014 9:57:15 AM

Z.Y.U. --

The famous "evolving standards of decency" did a lot of evolving from the early Seventies to the late Seventies, and abolitionists have been furious ever since.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 7, 2014 12:06:03 PM

| We are clueless to the fact that we are the laughing stock of the rest of the civilized world (over 110 countries have outlawed the death penalty since ..--M. Moore, 2001 |

So, globalists, why should we not follow India’s new swiftness and firmness for rapists,
lest we be laughing stock?

| India court sentences 3 men to death for brutal rape APApril 4, 2014, 8:48 AM
| NEW DELHI -- An Indian court on Friday sentenced to death three men who raped a photojournalist inside an abandoned textile mill in the financial hub of Mumbai last year.
A fourth defendant was sentenced to life in prison, prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said. He said he asked for the death sentence under a strict anti-rape law
introduced following public outrage over a fatal gang rape in New Delhi in 2012.
The three men were found guilty last month of [the July 2013 rap[e]] …Nikam described the three as habitual offenders.

Judge Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi said the offense was diabolical in nature and the punishment would send a strong message to society.

India increased penalties for sex crimes and moved rape trials faster through its notoriously slow justice system after a 23-year-old medical student was gang raped
on a moving bus in the capital and later died. Four men were sentenced to death in the New Delhi case. The trials in New Delhi and Mumbai cases were completed
within seven months.
The four men convicted in the Mumbai case can appeal the death sentence in an appeals court within three months.
Also Friday, 24 men were sentenced to prison for raping a teenager who was abducted in Kerala state … It was completed in six months, prosecutor Anella George said….
The men convicted in Ernakulam town included a retired professor, lawyers, businessmen and government officials.”
© 2014 The Associated Press.

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 7, 2014 1:49:03 PM

I certainly think, Z.Y.U., that the ability for the Supreme Court to reference international norms in support of death penalty restrictions under the Eighth Amendment can/will/should be impacted by the international developments noted in this post. But, of course, the SCOTUS Justices in the majority in the Kennedy case (which constitutionally prohibited the death penalty for child rape) showed that they are quick to disregard and/or look past international realities when such realities did not serve the ends of their jurisprudential Eighth Amendment judgment.

I suppose it would be really interesting if lots of "reputable" nations like India and Japan started imposing death sentences regularly for rape AND then had some evidence suggesting rapes were reduced following this use of the death penalty AND then a few US states enacted new capital rape statutes making express findings based on developments in these nations and asserting that society has now (or should) evolve beyond the Coker and Kennedy ruling based on the viable evidence that capital rape statutes/prosecutions can help prevent rape. If a state were to in this way mount a "modern" deterrence/public safety "evidence-based" case for a modern capital rape statute, I think that state could (and surely should) be able to argue for Coker and/or Kennedy to be reversed based on the evolving nation of the Eighth Amendment.

Posted by: Doug B, | Apr 7, 2014 5:08:20 PM

// I suppose it would be really interesting if lots of "reputable" nations like India and Japan started imposing death sentences regularly for rape AND then had some evidence suggesting rapes were reduced following this use of the death penalty //

-- It would have been quite thrilling if the "reputable" SCOTUS justices in "Kennedy" had begun prohibiting death sentences regularly for rape AND then had some evidence suggesting rapes were reduced following this non-use of the death penalty.

[They didn't, and banned it anyway.]

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 7, 2014 9:26:37 PM

[1. They didn't ban the DP based on evidence of deterrence,
and you would expect them to reverse based on evidence?
2. Since the 19c., have evolving standards of decency ever saltated toward more conservative, Biblical based punishment?]

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 7, 2014 9:36:03 PM

I think for the US Supreme Court to take serious account of very limited evidence of increasing international support for the death penalty, in circumstances where such activity is taken in jurisdictions where political and judicial corruption is an everyday occurrence, and where either or both secrecy and likely torture are ingredients of the process, would plumb the court to new depths of irrationality in the modern era. A resort to the death penalty is a mark of failure, not something to be bragged about. As the report says, the real evidence of trends is that fewer and fewer countries are supporting the death penalty, and many others have it under serious review (alongside many US states!).

Posted by: peter | Apr 8, 2014 3:38:44 AM

| A resort to the death penalty is a mark of failure, not something to be bragged about.|

Ah, that impenetrable logic again.

Here’s another naked and abject claim:

"Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow … Except the highs hadn’t been about that … I got high for just the opposite effect, something that could push
questions of who I was out of my mind, … blur the edges of memory," -- Dreams from my Father, 93-94


"Obama paid tribute to Franklin Thursday for turning the 1965 classic into "a rallying cry for African Americans…”
Franklin, 71, and Obama, 52, go way back: she serenaded the crowd at his first inauguration in January 2009, and she sang [for him] in October 2011 [and December 2013].
When he first introduced the singer, however, he misspelled "RESPECT" as
[OBAMA: When Aretha first told us what R-S-P-E-C-T meant to her.]
-- eonline.com

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 8, 2014 9:16:15 AM

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