« New report examines value of video visitation for kids of incarcerated | Main | "Rajat Gupta Should Walk Free Wednesday" »

October 16, 2012

Rooting for crime and punishment questions at tonight's town-hall Prez debate

600x399101In this post before the first debate in Denver between the Prez candidates, I correctly predicted that there would not be a single question dealing with criminal justice issues (despite the reality that a significant portion of federal government spending and a massive portion of state government spending is devoted to these big government programs).  Tonight's scheduled town-hall tussle on Long Island is probably going to follow the same script.  But I think there is at least a slim chance that one of the real people being allowed to ask real questions might be allowed to really press the candidates on the really interesting issues for sentencing fans like federal pot prohibition or mass incarceration or even the administration of the federal death penalty or perhaps state felon disenfranchisement. 

For old-times sake, I tracked down the last memorable discussion of crime and punishment in a town-hall debate.  Specifically, almost exactly 12 years ago, on October 17, 2000 to be precise, the death penalty came up during the town-hall debate between then-Governor George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore.  Here are excerpts from this capital Q&A from a dozen years ago via this debate transcript:

Mr. ANDERSON:  In one of the last debates held, the subject of capital punishment came up, and in your response to the question, you seemed to overly enjoy, as a matter of fact, proud that Texas leads the the nation in execution of prisoners.  Sir, did I misread your response, and are you really, really proud of the fact that Texas is number one in executions?

Gov. BUSH:  No, I'm not proud of that. The death penalty is very serious business, Leo. It's an issue that good people obviously disagree on. I take my job seriously, and if you think I was proud of it, I think you misread me, I do.  I was sworn to uphold the laws of my state.  During the course of the campaign in 1994 I was asked, `Do you support the death penalty?' I said I did if administered fairly and justly, because I believe it saves lives, Leo. I do.  I think if it's administered swiftly, justly and fairly, it saves lives....

There have been some tough cases come across my desk.  Some of the hardest moments since I've been the governor of the state of Texas is to deal with those cases.  But my job is to ask two questions, sir: Is the person guilty of the crime, and did the person have full access to the courts of law?  And I can tell you, looking at you right now, in all cases those answers were affirmative.  I'm not proud of any record.  I'm proud of the fact that violent crime is down in the state of Texas.  I'm proud of the fact that we hold people accountable, but I'm not proud of any record, sir. I'm not....

Vice Pres. GORE:  I support the death penalty. I think that it has to be administered not only fairly, with attention to things like DNA evidence, which I think should be used in all capital cases, but also with very careful attention if, for example, somebody confesses to the crime and somebody's waiting on death row, there has to be alertness to say, 'Wait a minute, have we got the wrong guy?'  If the wrong guy is put to death, then that's a double tragedy, not only has an innocent person been executed but the real perpetrator of the crime has not been held accountable for it and in some cases may be still at large.  But I support the death penalty in the most heinous cases.

Mr. LEHRER:  Do both of you believe that the death penalty actually deters crime? Governor?

Gov. BUSH:  I do. That's the only reason to be for it.... I don't think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don't think that's right.  I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people's lives.

Vice Pres. GORE:  I think it is a deterrence.  I know it's a controversial view but I do believe it's a deterrence.

Back to the present day, In this prior post and in many others, I have already detailed some of the federal criminal justice questions I would love to hear asked of the candidates this season.  Perhaps readers will join in my on-going (and seemingly futile?) debate game by adding some queries of interest  via the comments.

A few recent and older related posts: 

October 16, 2012 at 07:20 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Rooting for crime and punishment questions at tonight's town-hall Prez debate:


Brief comment on deterrence. I want fairness credit, in that the comment is for the defense.

Specific deterrence is nonsensical idea in the context of the death penalty. The latter ends all behavior, and has no effect on the decision making of the defendant. One is getting rid of a person.

General deterrence violates Fifth Amendment procedural due process right to a fair hearing. One cannot punish a person to intimidate and scare a speculative stranger who may or may not commit a crime in the future. This stranger is unknown to the defendant and unrelated to the case. It is just unfair. This violation should result in a mistrial if uttered in a trial. Even if it general deterrence were extremely effective, it would still be unlawful.

The benefit of the death penalty must be restricted to incapacitation, the sole mature and lawful goal of the criminal law.

Why can't First Tier Law grads see the self-evident?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 16, 2012 7:44:01 PM

Supremacy Claus: : "General deterrence violates Fifth Amendment procedural due process right to a fair hearing."

Amend V: : : "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb".

Is this about which you speak?

"General" deterrence is not only constitutional but one of the few fundamental goals of all legal punishment ! ! !
[It violates the 5th Amendment to the extent that Public Service Announcements discouraging drug use do so, no?]

Blackstone: "…I proposed to consider the subject of this book or our commentaries;
viz the means of preventing the commission of crimes and misdemeanors...all
punishments inflicted by temporal laws may be classed under three heads; such as
tend to the amendment of the offender himself,
or to deprive him of any power to do mischief,
or to deter others by his example:
all of which conduce to one and the same end, of preventing futre crimes, whether that be effected by
disability, or
example." {Blackstone, Commentaries et al Bk. 4, Ch. 18, 1765-1769)
<->Blackstone was found one of the top 3 most cited sources by the Founding Fathers--along with Locke & Montesquieu--whilst excluding the Bible<->

"The broad aim of the criminal law is…to prevent harm to society…This is accomplished by punishing those who have done harm, and by threatening with punishment those who would do harm."
{W. LaFave & A. Scott, Criminal Law (1972)}

Posted by: Adamakis | Oct 17, 2012 3:09:19 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