« "The Value of Confrontation as a Felony Sentencing Right" | Main | Clemency advocate explains her view on "How to inspire criminal justice reform" »

August 31, 2016

Latino legislator group calls for ending the death penalty

As reported in this NBC News piece, a "group of Latino legislators passed a resolution demanding the end of the death penalty in the United States because it disproportionately affects people of color of all ages." Here is more:

The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators said there is disproportionate punishment for Latinos, Black Americans and Native Americans. "The disproportionate and prejudicial application of the death penalty towards Latinos and other minorities, the high costs of this cruel and unusual punishment to our tax payers and the increasing likelihood that innocent people can be wrongfully executed by the states — among many other compelling reasons — led us to raise our voices to call for an end to capital punishment," said NHCSL President and Pennsylvania State Representative Ángel Cruz in a statement.

The non-profit, non-partisan group is made up of 320 Hispanic legislators in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. "Black, Latino, Native Americans, and all people of color are sentenced to longer prison terms, more likely to be tried as an adult, and are more likely to be sentenced to death in the USA," the resolution reads.

The resolution asks the U.S. congress and local municipalities to search for alternatives to combating violence and repeal the death penalty. The group points out that death penalty cases often cost taxpayers millions of dollars — an Urban Institute study found death penalty cases cost an average $3 million per trial, nearly three times as expensive as a trial without the possibility of a death penalty. "We cannot allow more government dollars to be diverted to killing people, instead of investing them in prevention, rehabilitation, and effective crime fighting measures that ensure greater safety in our communities," Cruz stated....

Rep. Dan Pabón, D-Colorado, said the death penalty is the "civil rights issue of our time."

"Even if repealing the death penalty results in one innocent life being saved, it's worth it. Our criminal justice system should focus on 'justice,'" Pabón said.

As I noted in this prior post, because Latinos make up nearly 40% of the population in California, how they cast their votes in this November's death penalty reform/repeal initiative battle is going to play a huge rule in the future of the death penalty in that state. But, if they focus a bit on the fuzzy thinking of Rep. Dan Pabón, they might end up being inclined to vote in favor of retaining the death penalty. Though the evidence about the deterrence effective of the death penalty are mixed, I think it is likely folks think that the death penalty is more likely to save innocent lives than to end them. For that reason (and because many think justice supports capital punishment for the worst murderesrs), I am not sure he is making a strong argument for repeal.

In addition, I cannot help but find remarkable the assertion that the death penalty, which impacts at most a few dozen people of color each year, should be considered the "civil rights issue of our time." I guess the Representative must think that all the other civil rights issues that impact tens of millions of individuals in the US are now all squared away.

August 31, 2016 at 05:21 PM | Permalink


Why would they focus on the so-called "fuzzy" thinking of one person -- whose thinking amounts to more than the two soundbites a single article provides -- than the overall arguments stated? For instance:

"The disproportionate and prejudicial application of the death penalty towards Latinos and other minorities, the high costs of this cruel and unusual punishment to our tax payers and the increasing likelihood that innocent people can be wrongfully executed by the states — among many other compelling reasons — led us to raise our voices to call for an end to capital punishment."

I don't know what is "fuzzy" about his thinking, except to the extent the brief summary doesn't clarify his full position any more than two sentences would on any major topic. The concern about the government making mistakes and killing an innocent person by the state is a major concern even of some conservatives who otherwise would support the death penalty. I simply don't know what is "likely" for "people" to know, especially people who might be more likely to be influenced by Catholic faith etc. Who might care more than others about the fate of "a few dozen" (and all the people involved, including the families of the victims etc.) than some others.

We get a piece of one sentence without more clarification regarding the civil rights issue of the time. It is remarkable so much is made of it. Does he think, e.g., perhaps the state could be spending a lot more resources not fruitlessly trying to sentence people to die etc. & use it for other things? Is the basic wrong -- in his mind -- of wrongly killing a person symbolic of wider problems that are not only present in this context? Something else?

And, why focus on him specifically?

Posted by: Joe | Aug 31, 2016 9:53:01 PM

Sent to: National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL)

Re: NHCSL's anti death penalty nonsense

Next time, the NHCSL may wish to fact check, PRIOR to making announcements.

It's more responsible and credible to do so.

Some reality:

For the Hispanic- White comparison, the Hispanic level is 4.0 times greater than the White level for homicide, 3.8 times greater for robbery, 2.8 times greater for rape, and 2.3 times greater for aggravated assault.

For the Hispanic–Black comparison, the Black level is 3.1 times greater than the Hispanic level for homicide, 4.1 times greater for robbery, 2.4 times greater for rape, and 1.9 times greater for aggravated assault.

For the White–Black comparisons, the Black level is 12.7 times greater than the White level for homicide, 15.6 times greater for robbery, 6.7 times greater for rape, and 4.5 times greater for aggravated assault.

As robbery/murder is, by far, the most common death penalty eligible murder, the multiples will be even greater.

White murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers
56% of those executed are white, 35% black

From 1977-2012, white death row murderers have been executed at a rate 41% higher than are black death row murderers, 19.3% vs 13.7%, respectively. ( Table 12, Executions and other dispositions of inmates sentenced to death, by race and Hispanic origin, 1977–2012, Capital Punishment 2012, Bureau of Justice Statistics, last edited 11/3/14)

"There is no race of the offender / victim effect at either the decision to advance a case to penalty hearing or the decision to sentence a defendant to death given a penalty hearing."

Sources and more, here:


Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Sep 1, 2016 8:13:52 AM

That you don't get that why state killing constitutes a most meaningful civil rights issue is really quite sad.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 2, 2016 12:21:36 PM

Can you explain to me, Anon, why you think it is "quite sad" that I struggle to understand why the execution of a handful of murderers is "the "civil rights issue of our time"?

Candidly, I think it disconcerting that you and Rep. Dan Pabón and perhaps others view as seemingly less important other civil rights issues that directly impact so many millions of (innocent) individuals --- e.g., full voting rights, equal pay for equal work, access to education and health care.

I am not saying that opposition to the death penalty is unimportant, but I do think this issue of only symbolic importance and has very little practical impact on more that a very, very, very small number of Americans (and, in the end, only on people whose lives have likely already been profoundly impacted by a murder/murderer). In contrast, voting rights impact the operation of our entire political system and equal pay/education/health care impact every American's life every day. That seems a whole lot more important in the grand scheme of civil rights, no?

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 3, 2016 6:10:53 PM

Anon said "a most meaningful" civil rights issue. Not "the" most meaningful. You don't have to ignore the importance of the other issues to think this. Maybe, the one word difference doesn't amount to much. I don't know. Like Rep. Dan Pabón, it's hard to tell from reading one or two sentences of a person's beliefs. Then, I don't know why we are so concerned about him specifically. The article isn't even about him alone.

As to it not being even a "most meaningful" issue, well, lots of people think otherwise. The government killing people is seen as quite important, putting aside the costs involved that could be used in other ways. For instance, you yourself are upset we focus so much on the death penalty in lieu of other criminal justice matters such as high incarceration rates. If the death penalty was actually off the table -- and the very few people actually executed helps the case there -- we could focus on that more.

The "symbolic" nature of it is also quite important and doesn't just apply here. For instance, take waterboarding. From what I can tell, only a very few people were actually waterboarded by the U.S. government. But, it was of central importance as a matter of principle and went far beyond that one thing. The same applies to the death penalty and this is seen, e.g., in Western Europe where the horrors of WWII etc. was one reason they deemed even for heinous murderers should not have their lives taken by the state.

A basic principle is at stake here and it flows downward. In practice, Pabon et. al. aren't just concerned about the death penalty. Some rhetorical hyperbole (to assume that for sake of argument) expressed by a couple quotations notwithstanding, he is quite concerned about other issues too. Anyway, doing a search, I see he might be a bad representative for the cause for quite another reason.

Then, again the "National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators" is not him alone.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 4, 2016 12:44:07 PM

It seems to me that your lace of ocncern is essentially utilitarian at heart, and as such does not place much importance on the essential nature of the act of state killing. Instead, you are more concerned with the numbers involved. Yes, that is sad.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 4, 2016 1:16:43 PM

Anon: you are right that my moral instincts are more consequentialist than deontology all. But, that said, I do not think I am alone in being much more concerned with the lives and fates of millions of innocent Americans nationwide than with whether a few states (in a democratic way) opt to end the lives of a few convicted murderers rather than just keep them locked in a cage the rest of their lives. Indeed, I find it pretty sad that a lot of political elites prioritize the interests of a few convicted murderers over the civil rights of millions of innocent individuals.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 5, 2016 5:07:30 AM

After all this time, you still just don't get it. No words could suffice.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 5, 2016 5:00:47 PM

There is a basic difference in mind-set between Anon and Doug B. but in these philosophical debates I tend to see factual overlaps at the end of the day.

The passion-less guy in "12 Angry Men" voted "not guilty" too, etc.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 6, 2016 10:18:14 AM

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