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January 18, 2017

Making a provocative case for constitutional amendments to enable more executions to drive down crime

I just noticed this recent commentary by Karl Spence titled "How Donald Trump and Friends Can Crush the Great Crime Wave" with the subheadline "A law-and-order constitutional amendment would speed up the process of justice." The piece is provocative and meandering and a bit dated as it suggests that constitutional protections given to criminals, especially with respect to the death penalty, accounts for the nation's crime problems. I recommend the piece in full because of its notable range of historical and rhetorical flourishes, and here is a taste:

Between 1960 and 1991, the per capita murder rate doubled. Property crime tripled. Robbery and forcible rape more than quadrupled, and aggravated assault — boosted by the same advances in emergency trauma care that retarded the murder rate — more than quintupled. Even after receding from its crest of the early ’90s, violent crime remains twice what it was two generations ago. And today, the mayhem is resurgent.

In the last half-century, crime has killed more Americans than died in all our country’s wars combined, save the Civil War.  Its toll dwarfs that of 9/11 — it even dwarfs that of the terrible Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004....

Enter Donald Trump. I was thrilled to hear him pronounce himself “the law-and-order candidate.” Such defiance of the PC gods helped him gain a convincing victory over Hillary Clinton. What remains to be seen is whether Trump will go from talking to thinking about crime, and then to actually doing what is necessary to reach the goal he set forth while accepting the party’s nomination: “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end.”...

For decades, some two-thirds of Americans have told pollsters they favor the death penalty for murder. Yet it’s capital punishment’s opponents who get their way nearly all the time.  In the past half-century, fewer than 1,500 murderers have been put to death in America; murderers, meanwhile, have killed more than 900,000 of us.

How many of those 900,000 innocent lives were lost needlessly?  How many could have been saved by a credible and effective deterrent? Studies have repeatedly shown that the death penalty can be such a deterrent when — and only when — it is actually enforced.  Those studies have been rebutted but not refuted, and the stakes in the dispute are these: If the deniers of deterrence are mistaken, then their interference with capital punishment is itself a death sentence for future murder victims....

What of the fact that most criminals stop short of murder? ... How do you reach those people? With a rope. That’s because most robbers depend on the threat of murder to secure their victims’ compliance, as do many rapists. And aggravated assault is, in many if not most cases, simply unsuccessful murder. Hang murderers, and every hoodlum in the land will notice. And, like the outlaws who fled the vigilantes, they will change their behavior....

The ratification of such an amendment [to overturn Fifth and Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment precedents impeding capital punishment] would free the deep-red states to ramp up enforcement of the death penalty until they achieved results even more dramatic and unmistakable than those seen in Texas, where executions increased from zero in 1980 to a record 40 in 2000 — and the murder rate plunged by almost two-thirds, while murder in non-death-penalty states fell only 21 percent. Seeing crime collapse in places where death for murder had become the rule, people elsewhere would clamor for their states to follow suit, and liberals would immolate themselves in a vain attempt to preserve the crime-ridden status quo, with all its injustice, pain, and horror.

Call it the Madison-Roosevelt-Cardozo Amendment. Donald Trump may be fond of boasting, “I alone can fix it,” but if he really wants to restore law and order, “and I mean very soon,” he’ll need all the help he can get.

January 18, 2017 at 11:45 AM | Permalink


The claim that "today, the mayhem is resurgent" is demonstrably false. The NCVS showed serious violent crime plunging to a new record low in 2015, and UCR data confirmed that the robbery rate was little changed from the record low recorded in 2014. See http://www.ricknevin.com/updates.html to see the actual data on the 2015 crime wave that wasn't.

Posted by: RickNevin | Jan 18, 2017 2:12:50 PM

That article is entirely ludicrous and emblematic of a segment of Americans willing to sacrifice freedom for security and deserve neither.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Jan 18, 2017 8:31:17 PM

Rick. Those data are completely false propaganda by the Obama Administration. Crimes may have reached a billion a year under his administration. The criminals have moved on from street crime, and physical crime. They have gone on line.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 18, 2017 9:24:04 PM

One may need 10,000 executions a year to incapacitate enough criminals to make a difference in the crime rate. The lawyer profession will never allow its business to be decimated by an elimination of crime.

I propose Trump do a Duterte. Have the public kill all the criminals. He did very well doing that. The citizens there, and the Filipino-American community all strongly support his work. He has markedly improved their lives.

In order to legally kill the criminals, one will have to legally kill the leadership of the lawyer profession. They are in charge of the criminal law and not loyal to our country. The Duterte approach, immunizing public self help, is the most effective and proven approach.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 18, 2017 9:28:10 PM

The NCVS and UCR data are not "completely false propaganda by the Obama Administration" - they are the same data that all law enforcement officials and criminologists have relied on for years. I don't doubt that criminals have "gone on line" along with the rest of the world, but that is not what this ignorant commentary is talking about. The author notes that "property crime tripled" from 1960-1991 - citing the same UCR data I am citing - but fails to mention that the UCR property crime rate in 2015 was the lowest since 1966, and the burglary rate in 2015 was the lowest rate ever recorded. The author states that robbery quadrupled from 1960-1991, but doesn't mention that the robbery rate in 2014 and 2015 was lower than at any time since 1966. This commentary does not present a "notable range of historical and rhetorical flourishes", it presents a deliberate misinformation campaign about a "Great Crime Wave" that has not happened.

Posted by: Rick Nevin | Jan 18, 2017 9:54:43 PM

Rick. I know you are a careful thinker. Police reports are subject to political pressure, and are thrown in the trash to avoid getting yelled at by the Commissioner. The Obama administration completely destroyed the validity of the gold standard of crime measurement. It is the yearly DOJ Household Survey of Crime Victimization. They asked, in the past week, what crimes happened to you? It is now worthless. Assume it retained its great validation. It counted 8 FBI Index felonies, which are common law crimes, as defined in Medieval times.

Over a billion electronic records get breached a year. Identity theft now yields more money than the average bank robbery. It has a risk approaching nil. Even if caught, it results in a slap on the wrist, or even in getting hired by the victim to analyze the breach.

There are criminalized regulatory violations. With a million such rules (that is a guess, and the number may be far higher), the violations may number in the billions, not a billion. Assume some of these rules do protect public health and safety, their violations result in physical harm to the public.

Lead poisoning makes people stupid and impulsive. So they are likely to commit common law crimes. The new crimes are committed by sharp and careful, lead free people.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 18, 2017 10:20:22 PM

David - I don't have expertise in identity theft or electronic records theft, and I don't want to get distracted by that discussion because that is not what this commentary is about. This commentary is promoting the Bill Otis false narrative that we have suffered a "Great Crime Wave" - specifically mentioning burglary and robbery, when burglary and robbery rates were at record lows in 2015 according to both crime survey and police-reported UCR data. I don't believe there is any basis for the claim that the Obama administration has somehow corrupted the Crime Victimization Survey, and there is no evidence that local police reports have distorted UCR crime trends reported by the FBI (I know some police departments have been accused of under-reporting crimes, but my comparison of NCVS and UCR data suggests that there was actually more under-reporting in the past than there is today). If people want to ignore all of the available data on a subject then they can believe anything that they want to believe, but that doesn't change the fact that all of the available data on crime shows that there was no "Great Crime Wave" in 2015.

Posted by: Rick Nevin | Jan 18, 2017 10:59:00 PM

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