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June 29, 2011

"How California and Texas May Help End the Death Penalty"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new commentary by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic.  The sub-heading explains the theme of the piece: "In the Golden State, it costs too much to execute the guilty -- and in the Lone Star State they've likely killed an innocent."  And here is the closing paragraph:

California or Texas getting rid of capital punishment would be a significant blow against the practice. And taken together, events in those states suggest that it's very difficult to get the death penalty right.  Due diligence to ensure innocents aren't executed can easily get so costly that continuing to pursue capital cases is a bad use of taxpayer resources.  And insufficient due diligence can result in the execution of an innocent person -- something most voters find even more barbaric and revolting than the notion of strapping a legitimately guilty man to an elephant.

June 29, 2011 at 12:37 PM | Permalink


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Not a prayer Texas does it. Proving an innocent person was executed will not be a silver bullet ending the death penalty, that's abolitionist fantasy. According to the polling I've seen, a majority of people who think the state has already killed an innocent prisoner still support capital punishment.

Now, if the death penalty cost as much in Texas as in California, an economic case to end it might actually be more feasible in the current political environment. But our cost-per-case number isn't as big. When you run as many through the system as Texas does, over time volume reduces unit costs.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 29, 2011 2:08:01 PM

I cringe for America every time I hear or read that phrase ... "the polling I've seen". Micro-management by poll is not democracy: on the one hand it is tyranny by majority, and on the other, abdication of responsibility by an executive governing body.
No wonder so many Americans actually openly say that America is not a democracy but a republic ... they obviously have no concept of the meaning of either term. The attitudes that Grits suggest prevail in Texas, can change where the political will exists to honestly inform and educate. Even Texas is not without such men in its political ranks. A pity that Grits is not prepared, it seems, to be one of them. Just as jurymen in Texas are increasingly reluctant to give the death penalty when faced with the decision close up, so the public at large can alter their attitudes if the fact of wrongful execution is made large to them. There is every moral reason to do just that. Grits knows full well that the headline of one wrongful execution of an innocent in Texas is far short of the fact, there are certainly others if for no other reason than the practice of the Law of Parties, which traps so many more.

Posted by: peter | Jun 29, 2011 4:56:39 PM

peter --

I have been accused of being repetitive, but I hardly hold a candle to you.

The reason the United States has the death penalty has zip to do with a democracy vs. a republic, and zip to do with a "tyranny of the majority" (you prefer a tyranny of the minority, eh?).

We have the death penalty because (1) we know perfectly well that hundreds of cases are ice cold, beyond any rational person's doubt, and (2) some murders are so horrible, cruel and grotesque that nothing else is justice. It's past time for you to know it too.

Will you please get off your superior high horse and have the modesty to accept as legitimate the disagreement of America's pro-DP majority? To say they're wrong is one thing; to say they're morally inferior to you -- which is the unrelenting undertow of your comments -- is tiresome, rude and false.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 29, 2011 5:47:22 PM

Peter, my point was to refute the fallacy that public opinion would change if people came to believe an innocent person was executed. It won't. Even people who think the worst has already happened still mostly support it. It's not cowardice to say so, just acknowledging reality. There may be a silver bullet out there somewhere but this isn't it. Abolitionists just think it SHOULD be.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 29, 2011 6:12:56 PM

How often do we have to keep going over this? A big majority, almost 60%, AREADY believe that an innocent person has been executed in the last five years -- while an even bigger majority, 64%, continue to support the DP.

The facts are in. If you don't like them, take it up with Gallup. Just speculating is juvenile.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 29, 2011 7:20:06 PM

Whats more likely: Texas executed an "innocent" or a guilty person wasn't convicted? These anti-DP nut jobs are just that. Soon they will argue that LWOP costs too much, so we'll do away with that in 10 years, just like our shinning example to the south, where they hang people from bridges and leave decapitated bodies in the street like trash. Just what price do we pay for Justice? Any is my answer.

Posted by: DeanO | Jun 29, 2011 8:18:17 PM


I am still waiting for the answer to the question I asked you about 2.5 months ago, about providing REAL studies that attribute the decline in crimes from 1980 to the present to the harsher sentences handed out.

Public opinion means nothing to me as mob rule is the tyranny of the majority. Since the majority of the public educated have been indoctrinated for the last 12 years of their life, they believe that congress can repeal the laws of physics and thermodynamics (that is how dumb we've become). Now if we could explain under what circumstance 64% of the public support the death penalty, that discussion would be more meaningful.

Yes! Many defendents deserve the death penalty. With the many lies in the media, by LE, politicians etc., how would you provide greater assurance that the law does not execute innocent people?

PS: Many months ago you correctly identified me as a libertarian. You admitted that you had many of these tendencies at one time but that there were just enough flaws in this position as to make it unworkable. Please explain a little more.

BTW. I cannot tolerate mistruths, represented as facts. Why do conservatives and (I agree) more often liberals, use this tool to mislead the majority of the electorate.

Posted by: albeed | Jun 29, 2011 11:15:23 PM

Grits ... I hate to disagree with you over the importance of establishing the reality of the death of innocents in Texas, and using that to effect reform. Much as Texas has successfully blurred the notion of innocence by the use of the Law of Parties, for which there continues to be political pressure for repeal, successive Governors have trumpeted the validity of the death penalty BECAUSE there has been no definitive evidence of the execution of an innocent. Now, that evidence exists to the satisfaction of the vast majority of expert professional people and organizations. Just as public opinion about off-shore drilling was changed by an oil spill, so too can public opinion be changed about the death penalty, if sufficient awareness of wrongful execution of the innocent occurs. Media organizations continue to play their part ... but public opinion is formed in complex ways, and only when politicians, policy-makers, and men of experience and influence (such as yourself and Doug) begin to add their weight to ensure a full understanding of reality, will there be the seemingly necessary swing of public opinion.
Public opinion is an expression of personal emotion. The emotion of revulsion at the death of an innocent by the State, has to be made greater than the emotion of fear stoked by pro-dp advocates.

Posted by: peter | Jun 30, 2011 2:46:47 AM

Peter, stop listening to what Texas governors say and use your noggin. I understand you think it SHOULD help if people become convinced an innocent was executed, but in reality those who agree that has already happened still (a majority of them, anyway) support capital punishment. Cost is probably closer to a 'silver bullet' than this issue.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 30, 2011 6:45:52 AM

Grits - perhaps our debate is being unduly bogged down by the term "silver bullet". I deplore the reverence of politicians and others to "public opinion" which is too easily manipulated every time a new atrocity occurs. But the truth is that politicians/legislators will often sell their soul on this issue, as with all issues of crime & punishment, for votes. I do not believe that cost will ever be a significant factor in Texas without either a change of political will in trying to force abolition, or there is a swing in public opinion against the dp, or the pressure of abolition in other States so isolates Texas. That is not a state of affairs to be accepted. Neither you nor I can directly affect the latter or the first. We can and should attempt to move public opinion by making the death of innocent men and women a matter of personal relevance and concern to all. A personal and public commitment from ourselves, in accepting the fact and revulsion of the death of innocents, is a necessary prerequisite. There must also be a belief that our fellow man (even Texan) is not so intellectually intransigent as to be incapable of enlightened persuasion. Even if the message gets no further than the legislators of the day, that may be sufficient.

Posted by: peter | Jun 30, 2011 8:34:07 AM

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