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July 6, 2014

Robert Blecker suggests "5 ways to improve the U.S. death penalty"

New York Law School's Professor Robert Blecker is one of the most vocal academic defenders of capital punishment, but he is quick to acknowledge that application of the death penalty in the US could and should be improved. In this recent CNN commentary, Blecker sets out five suggested improvements, and here are excerpts from the piece:

1.  Let's have better definitions for who should die.

I've spent decades visiting prisons and interviewing convicted killers and corrections officers. I'm convinced that states with the death penalty can and should morally refine their statutes. My crime and punishment memoir, "The Death of Punishment," details many changes and suggests a model death penalty statute, reserved for especially heinous, atrocious and cruel killers....

2.  Let's be more certain that they are guilty.

Western culture has essentially committed us to a presumption of life, of innocence and we have long required special proof of guilt before we punish with death. "Super due process" requires vigorous defense counsel challenging the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury.  Death (or life without parole) as society's ultimate punishment demands even more, however.  A jury should not only be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the condemned did it, but also that they deserve their punishment....

3.  Let's choose a better execution method....

The execution scene I witnessed resembled final goodbyes at a hospital or hospice for the terminally ill.  The dying person lies on a gurney, wrapped in white sheets, an IV attached, surrounded by medical technicians with loved ones in attendance.  We should oppose lethal injection, not because it might cause pain, but because it certainly causes confusion, wantonly merging punishment and treatment.  The firing squad seems to me the best of traditional methods, but a state might give a member of the victim's family a choice among available constitutional options.

4. Let's take a hard look at inmates' prison lifestyle.

Most vicious killers a jury condemns to die will never be executed.  And even those we do kill, will live out much of their lives on death row.  For the worst of the worst whom we have condemned, daily life on death row should be their punishment....  Specifically, within constitutional bounds, those we condemned to die or live a life in prison with no chance of parole -- the worst of the worst -- should be allowed only the minimum constitutionally mandated exercise, phone calls, or physical contact. They should not be permitted any communal form of recreation or play. For the rest of their lives, their food should be nutraloaf, nutritionally complete and tasteless. Photographs of their victims should be posted in their cells, out of reach, in visibly conspicuous places....

5. And when mistakes are made?...

In the unusual but real case where we later discover an innocent person has been condemned to die or imprisoned for life without parole, the state shall not only release that victim, but also pay substantial reparations to the wrongly condemned or surviving family, regardless of whether any public official intentionally or recklessly miscarried justice.

July 6, 2014 at 11:44 PM | Permalink

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"Let's take a hard look at inmates' prison lifestyle ....................." And that tells us all we need to know about the man. Inhumane prison conditions designed to drive inmates insane is a clear breach of duty to maintain the health and dignity of prisoners .... the more so (if that is possible) given his acceptance of the facts that wrongful convictions do occur. All the compensation in the world cannot give back a man (or woman) a life destroyed by such evil and unchristian treatment, nor taken by wrongful or unnecessary death.

Posted by: peter | Jul 7, 2014 6:23:36 AM

How could Blecker himself be mistaken about anything?

Posted by: Bleaker Street | Jul 7, 2014 2:51:08 PM

Are there actually states that allow prisoners on death row to partake in "communal form[s] of recreation or play"? I would be surprised.

Posted by: Anon21 | Jul 10, 2014 11:39:04 AM

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