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September 22, 2011

Some comparative perspective on executions and the death penalty

Over at CNN is this new piece headlined "World shocked by U.S. execution of Troy Davis," which suggests that all or nearly all countries of the world find Gerogia's application of the death penalty  shocking.   A more accurate headline would focus on Europeans being shocked, as many countries in Middle East and Far East still use the death penalty regularly.  In particular, as this new Atlantic piece highlights, China is still the world's capital punishment king:

Research by Amnesty International found that 23 countries used the death penalty in 2010. The U.S., ranked fifth, executed 46 prisoners. Iran, ranked second, executed at least 252. China, according to Amnesty International, executed "thousands."  The exact number is a state secret. The Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S.-based human rights non-profit that focuses on China, estimates China kills about 5,000 prisoners annually. In absolute terms, that would be about 14 executions daily, or in three days what the U.S. performs in an entire year. Most executions in China are reportedly carried out by lethal injection or a single gunshot to the head, although, as in the U.S., there does not appear to be a uniform national policy.

The statistics are less unflattering for China when view per capita. China has the largest population on Earth with 1.3 billion people; 5,000 executions would mean one in every 260,000 residents. In the U.S., the rate in 2010 was one in every 6.7 million. Iran and North Korea executed about one in every 300,000 and 460,000, respectively.

Two of the factors apparently contributing to China's frequent use of the death penalty are the troubled court system and a national policy that permits capital punishment for crimes that are not considered capital in most other countries.  Corruption, embezzling, drug-related crimes, and even theft on a large enough scale can all get you killed in China.  Last month, a Chinese telecommunications executive was sentenced to death for accepting bribes. In March, China sparked a diplomatic incident by executing three Filipino citizens on drug trafficking charges.  Other non-violent crimes punished by death have included, for example, 43-year-old Du Yimin, killed in March 2008 after he borrowed $100 million for investment schemes that never panned out.

In addition, Iran is often mentioned as a notable and notorious user of capital punishment, and this recent news report, headlined "Iran hangs convicted teen murderer, drug trafficker," highlights why:

Iran on Wednesday carried out two hangings, including the public execution of a teenage boy convicted of killing an athlete billed as "Iran's strongest man," local media reported.

Despite calls by human rights group Amnesty International for an 11th-hour stay of the 17-year-old's execution, Alireza Molla-Soltani was sent to the gallows at the scene of the crime in the city of Karaj, west of the capital.

A large crowd of people had gathered to witness the hanging and security forces were present "to ensure the sentence was carried out without any glitches," the official IRNA news agency reported. Molla-Soltani was sentenced to death last month for stabbing the popular athlete, Ruhollah Dadashi, to death in mid-July. The teenager said at his trial he had killed only in self-defence after a driving dispute led him and two other youths into a confrontation with Dadashi, according to Amnesty.

Prosecution spokesman Ali Ramezanmanesh said the boy had reached "religious maturity" and was over 18 years of age. "The law views religious maturity as its criterion which is calculated according to the lunar calendar, therefore the convict is over 18 and there are no legal impediments" in the way of the hanging, he told Fars news agency. The Islamic lunar calendar is some 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, with 354 days a year....

Also on Wednesday, a man convicted of drug trafficking was hanged in prison in the southern city of Minab, the state television website reported.

Along with China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions each year. The latest hangings bring to 203 the number of executions reported in Iran so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on media and official reports....

Tehran says the death penalty is essential to maintain law and order, and that it is applied only after exhaustive judicial proceedings. Murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and adultery are among the crimes punishable by death in Iran.

September 22, 2011 at 04:14 PM | Permalink


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If one reads it, the CNN piece does not even come close to suggesting that "all or nearly all countries of the world find Gerogia's application of the death penalty shocking." What it says is that EUROPE finds the execution shocking.

I had not previously been aware that Europe is the world. Some of us think that the world includes other places, such as Africa, the Mideast, the Subcontinent, the Orient and North America -- every one of which uses the death penalty.

The inconvenient truth here is that considerably more people live in countries that continue to have the death penalty than in others. Partly, this is because the world's four largest countries (China, India, the United States and Indonesia) all have the death penalty.

Oh, wait, I forgot. They're not in Europe, so they don't count!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 22, 2011 4:27:02 PM

Way to go U.S. and death penalty fans. Keeping company with the criminal “justice” systems of China, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia --- Nice.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Atty. | Sep 22, 2011 4:47:41 PM

Calif. Capital Defense Attorney --

The Supreme Court denied cert in the principal case without dissent.

It denied last night's stay request, also without dissent.

Is it your view that all the members of the Supreme Court are "death penalty fans" who administer justice in a manner reminiscent of China, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 22, 2011 4:55:17 PM

'China has the largest population on Earth with 1.3 billion people; 5,000 executions would mean one in every 260,000 residents. In the U.S., the rate in 2010 was one in every 6.7 million. Iran and North Korea executed about one in every 300,000 and 460,000, respectively.'

Well with numbers like that I guess we can assume that it does nothing to reduce the crime rate in those countries nor does it seem to be sending a message to the masses about the consequences of capital crime due to the penalties but I'm sure some of the victims may feel somewhat better about it.

Posted by: james | Sep 22, 2011 5:09:30 PM

@Calif. Capital Defense Atty.
And Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. But why bother mentioning them when it interrupts your narrative...

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 22, 2011 6:00:53 PM

Governmental entities are incompetent in many endeavors. Like government-administered tax-collection schemes, governmental administration of capital punishment is carried out by bureaucrats who content themselves with good-enough-for-government work. Anyone who has been involved in capital litigation is aware of the randomness of imposition of death sentences; imposition of the ultimate penalty is more often attributable to matters such as the quality of the defendant's government-funded representation than the circumstances that really matter, viz., the defendant's moral blameworthiness and dangerousness. How many hundreds of uncontrovertably innocent people has government imprisoned in this country over the last few years? Government is not to be trusted, in general. It certainly is not to be trusted in matters of life and death.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Atty. | Sep 22, 2011 7:29:56 PM

'Government is not to be trusted, in general.'

My same sentiments exactly.

Posted by: james | Sep 22, 2011 7:43:24 PM

Caif. Capital Defense Atty --

"How many hundreds of uncontrovertably innocent people has government imprisoned in this country over the last few years? Government is not to be trusted, in general."

I take it then that we'll have to do away with criminal punishment altogether, not so? Is that not the only certain way to prevent this travesty?

Or are you going to avoid that question the same way you whistled past the question about how it came to pass that all nine members of the Supreme Court voted against Davis, and did so twice?

Let me guess. They're all conscienceless fascist pigs.

Just so. 'Twas ever thus, dontcha know.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 23, 2011 12:52:31 AM

Bill - I think you are forgetting that Europe, and you have referred to Europe rather than its constituent countries, is 2.75 times as large as the US in terms of population. Of its 50 states, only Belarus (population under 10 million) retains an active death penalty.

Posted by: peter | Sep 23, 2011 5:26:34 AM

Calif. Capital Defense Attorney stated: "Government is not to be trusted, in general."

James replied: "My same sentiments exactly."

Let me guess. There are exceptions for:
1) Healthcare
2) Social Security
3) Medicare
4) Medicaid
5) Foodstamps
6) Unemployment Insurance (99 weeks)
7) School Lunch Programs (Not to mention breakfast & dinner)
8) Lifeline Assistance (free government cell phones)
9) NEA
10) HEAP
11) HUD
12) Sarbanes-Oxley
13) Dodd-Frank Regulations
14) DoE
15) Etc.

Let's face it. Your distrust of government is likely limited to two or three functions (Pentagon, Langley, and criminal justice) and I suspect that you overwhelmingly trust the government with a huge majority of the items on my list.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 23, 2011 9:15:11 AM

peter --

The proposition set forth in the blog entry is (emphasis added) that "all or nearly all countries OF THE WORLD find Gerogia's application of the death penalty shocking." But the evidence adduced for this proposition is ridiculously thin. Indeed, not a single part of the world outside Europe is even mentioned.

There are 196 countries in the world. The article refers to exactly 3 -- England, France and Germany. It also mentions the EU, which I will take as a rough stand-in for the 50 countries of Europe.

Are 50 countries out of 196 "all or nearly all the countries in the world?" Are 3?

It's absurd on its face.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 23, 2011 10:14:14 AM

Tarlsqtr --

My guess is a bit different from yours. I would guess that James distrusts practically all the agencies you mention, because they don't send out enough taxpayer money to fully force people who work to pay the bills of the people who don't.

Or, as the Left is prone to say, "The true measure of a country's morality is how thoroughly it has enslaved its productive people to carry the load for everybody else."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 23, 2011 10:23:50 AM

Let's try "government programs that take life and liberty away shouldn't be trusted in general." Yes, giving food stamps (or corporate welfare -- potshots at "the left," the rich gets LOADS of government goodies) is different than that sort of thing. It's good to be always wary of the government, but locking people in little cages, taking their liberty away etc. is different than taking less away in taxes than in average in the Western world, and even there, loads of people get very little tax burdens (no, not just the "lucky duckies" poor).

The accuracy, btw, is nice, but the company we are keeping here doesn't leave that good of a taste in my mouth. I think we should spend a lot of time saving the lives of the thousands of preventable deaths of non-found guilty of heinous crimes citizens too. I'm willing to trust the government some in that respect. The tiny relative number of people actually given the death penalty (now or in the past) not doing much in that department, if anything, I'll pass on that use.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 23, 2011 12:39:45 PM

Joe stated: "Let's try "government programs that take life and liberty away shouldn't be trusted in general.""

A) That is not what they said.

B) Even your "new and improved" bait-and-switch does not work very well. So we should abolish the police and military, both of which "take life and liberty" away?

Keep in mind that James and CCDA were not using the phrase "should not be trusted" to mean "oversight" or "regulation." They do not intend to regulate the DP, they want to abolish it.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 23, 2011 1:02:11 PM

'Let's face it. Your distrust of government is likely limited to two or three functions...'

TarlsQtr & Bill Otis

You both assume too much but I do notice it doesn't stop either of you from calling others on it also. I do admit, I enjoy reading your perspectives even though they're so predictable and hypocritical. I'm sure you could and do make the same statement against others whom don't see eye to eye with you. The one redeeming value I do take away from all of these posts though is that thankfully for the time being there are others out there in the world that don't see it entirely one way (i.e. your way) and still have the freedom (at least in the U.S) to voice it.

Posted by: james | Sep 23, 2011 2:32:46 PM

Below is the list of countries that still have the death penalty. Of those executed worldwide, 88% are in China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Once conservatives and flag-waving patriots bragged about how the US was a shining beacon on a hill. Keeping company like this makes me think we are hiding our light under a bushel.

Antigua and Barbuda
China (People's Republic)
Congo (Democratic Republic)
Equatorial Guinea
Korea, North
Korea, South
Palestinian Authority
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Saudi Arabia
Sierra Leone
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United States

Posted by: DHMCarver | Sep 23, 2011 6:05:19 PM

DMHCarver --

Do you disagree with a single word I said at Bill Otis | Sep 23, 2011 10:14:14 AM?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 23, 2011 6:12:45 PM


It is duly noted that you never get around to stating WHERE my assumptions are wrong before you launched your ad hominem.

It may be useful for you to state:

A) Which of the listed programs you do not support.
B) Your reasons for not supporting them.

I eagerly await your clarification.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 24, 2011 12:29:37 PM

What are all these political comments? Isn't this a sentencing blog? Death penalty issues are not about Democrats v. Republicans. While some Republicans publicly cheer high-volume executions, some cowardly Democrars, like Obama, voice support for the death penalty and order due process-free executions. Some rational Democrats and Republicans oppose the death penalty because 1) imperfect government bureaucracies should not be making life and death decisions, 2) death penalty systems are extraordinarily costly boondoggles, 3) premeditated murder is premeditated murder even if carried out in the name of the State, and 4) killing is wrong.

Does Bill Otis not understand the limited significance of a cert. denial?

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Atty. | Sep 26, 2011 12:34:03 PM

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