« New DPIC page on religion and the death penalty | Main | A bunch more government Booker wins in the Circuits »

February 26, 2007

Shouldn't all executions now be recorded on video?

Tony Mauro has this new Legal Times article about today's SCOTUS oral argument in Scott v. Harris, entitled "Chase Video Steals Show as High Court Hears Case on Police Force."  As the title suggests, the article details that, intricate legal doctrines notwithstanding, "what justices kept coming back to was the video of the six-minute chase, taken by dashboard cameras in the police cars involved."

Besides being a great reminder that facts and hard evidence is always important regardless of the court hearing a case, this article has me wondering why we do not expect jurisdictions to make video records of any and all executions.  Federal judges in California and Missouri and Ohio and other states, not to mention the special commission working in Florida, must wonder about lethal injection realities and struggle to assess needed reforms without the important information and insights that videos of actual executions would surely provide. 

I am not encouraging American execution videos be readily available on the web as is the uncut Saddam execution video (though I do think it strange that I can visually assess an Iraqi execution protocol but not any American execution protocols).  Rather my point is simply that, now that so many state-citizen encounters are preserved on video to provide evidence of what transpired, shouldn't a video recording be a standard part of any modern execution protocol?

February 26, 2007 at 05:02 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Shouldn't all executions now be recorded on video?:


Does this mean you are coming around to my viewpoint on this? Now all we need to do is state the argument in 1st amendment terms.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 26, 2007 6:13:18 PM

professor berman:

interesting point, but why stop short of advocating that such a video be made available for public inspection or broadcast?

with prior arrangement and prisoner permission, virtually all detention facilities allow the press to videotape individuals serving sentences of incarceration; on any given night one can turn on the television and encounter countless images of actual individuals experiencing their sentence. and in this respect, death hasnt always been different -- historically many american executions were public events open to any and all citizens who wished to view.

and whatever one's view about the magnitude of the death penalty's deterrent effect, surely the death penalty would be more likely to deter if the general public could witness executions.

so long as the defendant consents (and there are, therefore, no privacy concerns), i cant imagine a reason not to tape executions and make such images available. unless of course one fears that upon viewing such images the american public would become uncomfortable with what it saw.

Posted by: dm | Feb 26, 2007 6:29:33 PM

While I favor public display of executions (including in schools) so that the electorate can make an informed decision about whether the state should be allowed to kill people, I don’t think it would necessarily result in any degree of deterrence. After all 1) many people still think they can get away with it (and the condemned might look stupid); and 2) only a fraction of people that kill would be sentenced to death anyway.

Finally, some people might watch the wacky remix of the Saddam hanging and think it isn’t so bad.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 27, 2007 6:06:05 AM

I could care less about recording executions - why in the world would you want to? What positive purpose would it possibly serve?

Now recording interrogations - that would improve things.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 27, 2007 7:53:13 AM

Grits, My reason for recording, televising, and broadcasting executions is that the public would be able to make an informed decision on whether state-sponsored killing is a good thing or not. At the moment, most states seem to be able to shield their dirtiest work from public scrutiny.

If kids (from 5 years on up) are shown, at school, the last gasps of a condemned man (as well as the occasional post-death exoneration) they might make different choices in the state legislators.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 27, 2007 8:17:21 AM

Right, but if we had video footage of the crimes these people committed, some would wonder if the death penalty is harsh enough.

Posted by: | Feb 27, 2007 2:32:02 PM

Doug, it's not video, but the Florida lethal injection commission plans to recommend to the governor that two correctional officers make notes during executions (one from within the chamber where the gurney sits and another from the rooms where other executioners cause the chemicals to flow).

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Feb 27, 2007 3:40:09 PM

I agree with Grits, record interrogations. there is absolutley no reason, why car dealerships can record every single transaction, but the FBI/DEA/Task Forces cannot. I've seen cases with hundreds of hours of video surveillance, yet no video or audio of the confession

Posted by: rob | Feb 27, 2007 4:52:06 PM

Anon, You probably need to understand that the upper limit of cruelty of an execution is bounded by the constitution, of which the electorate has little control. The 8th amendment could be repealed, but the public has been more interested in prohibited gay marriage as of late, and most people agree that is more important. However, the electorate is always free to eliminate the death penalty, or legalize anything they want.

Relying on notes of executive officers doesn’t take care of 1st amendment obligations.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 27, 2007 6:45:11 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB