If Bill Barr Brings Back Federal Executions, Innocent People Will Die

  
Via:  badfish-hd-h-u  •  3 weeks ago  •  19 comments

If Bill Barr Brings Back Federal Executions, Innocent People Will Die
We need to leave ourselves room for making good when we inevitably convict the wrong people.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


Why should we be concerned about U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr's proposal last week to resume federal executions for some particularly horrendous crimes? Because there's no reason to believe that the flaws that originally cast doubt on capital punishment have become less of an issue.

In his announcement of resumed executions, Barr focuses on "bringing justice to victims of the most horrific crimes." He wants to begin with prisoners "convicted of murdering, and in some cases torturing and raping, the most vulnerable in our society—children and the elderly."

There's no doubt that we're discussing horrific acts. But can we be sure that we've arrested, tried, and convicted the actual perpetrators?

The proportion of death row inmates executed to those set free isn't exactly encouraging. Since 1972, 1,500 people have been executed in the United States. Over that same time, "166 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges and set free," according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


Extrapolating from the cases in which death row inmates were proven to have not committed the crimes of which they were convicted, a 2014 study estimated that 4.1 percent of all death row inmates could be exonerated. "We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States," the authors added.

That's an awful lot of people cooling their heels behind bars for crimes they didn't commit.

When former Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions, in 2000, he decried his state's "shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on Death Row. He said he wouldn't allow executions "until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty."

Capital punishment was formally abolished in Illinois in 2011, inspired by a Chicago Tribune exposé of the human error and malice plaguing the criminal justice system. In the years leading to Ryan's moratorium, 13 state inmates condemned to die had been exonerated instead. Nobody knows how many prisoners who had been executed had not really committed the crimes for which they'd been convicted.

Nothing quite so earthshaking brought about the unofficial suspension of federal executions in 2003, but similar concerns have dogged the practice for every jurisdiction in the country.

Those concerns about getting it right—imprisoning and killing only criminals guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted—continue to cast a shadow over Barr's plan to resume capital punishment, starting with judicial killings of five inmates.

Nationally, the death penalty was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972's Furman v. Georgia over concerns that it was applied in a capricious and discriminatory manner. Further limitations followed in later court cases. And jurisdictions that wished to retain execution as an option reworked their laws in the years that followed to bring their administration of capital punishment into line with the Supreme Court's standards.

The death penalty was restored at the federal level in 1988, and three executionsfollowed: Timothy McVeigh, in 2001: Juan Raul Garza, in 2001; and Louis Jones, in 2003. Without fanfare, the Jones execution was the last such killing by the federal government until—it seems—whatever results from Barr's recent announcement.

The quiet federal moratorium occurred as the criminal justice system across the country came under renewed scrutiny. News reports and independent investigators revealed a litany of tales about incompetent legal representation, lying police, prosecutors suppressing evidence, mentally challenged defendants, dubious crime lab standards, and more. Using relatively new DNA evidence, the Innocence Project boasts of exonerating 365 convicts to-date.

Some of the flaws in the criminal justice system that lead to false convictions are probably inevitable in anything designed by and for imperfect human beings. Others seem fixable, but remain broken because of a lack of political will. In either case, that's plenty of reason to hesitate before imposing an irrevocable penalty on people who might well have been misidentified or even railroaded into convictions for crimes of which they are innocent.


At least something can be done to make things right for the wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. "The federal government, the District of Columbia, and 35 states have compensation statutes of some form," notes the Innocence Project. These jurisdictions offer (often inadequate) monetary compensation, public apologies, counseling, and assistance in reentering society.

In other cases freed inmates have to fight in court to win some redress for the years of their lives stolen from them by the state. But at least they're free and often gain public sympathy.

What do we have to offer innocent people killed by the state because of false convictions for crimes? A lovely bouquet won't do it.

While the evidence suggests that the system is pretty good about getting it right, we do get it wrong. We have lots of room for improvement in the system, including better standards for forensics labs, disincentives to cops to lie and to prosecutors to conceal exculpatory evidence, better legal representation for defendants, and so much more. All of that needs to be done to improve a system that has the inherent power to destroy lives as completely as the the worst criminals it confines do.

Even then, however, we'll never get it completely right. There's always going to be room for malice, incompetence, and corruption. That's why we should punish people for committing the sort of horrendous crimes that Barr highlights while leaving ourselves room to make good when we inevitably convict innocent people.

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†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
1  seeder  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh    3 weeks ago

It's difficult to get unanimous agreement on anything but I think we can all agree that murder is immoral and wrong. My question to you is if we are in agreement why would we allow our own government to sanction such behavior?

I am opposed to the death penalty for a variety of reasons. Supporting the death penalty doesn't make you tough on crime it makes you stupid. It is significantly cheaper to house an inmate for life than put them on death row due to the appeals process necessary for capital punishment. I'm cheap.

I also belief none of us are qualified to sentence a person to death. Our justice system is imperfect and has a history of making mistakes. If we have no way to reconcile a mistake I want no part in such judgement. There is no way to prove 100% the person the state is sentencing to death is guilty. It's statistically impossible. The perfect punishment is unsuitable for such an imperfect system guided by such imperfect beings.

 1,500 people have been executed in the United States. Over that same time, "166 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges and set free," according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
1.1  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @1    3 weeks ago

I'm in total agreement with you. If you execute just one wrong person, then the system is bad. 

 
 
 
r.t..b...
1.1.1  r.t..b...  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @1.1    3 weeks ago
If you execute just one wrong person, then the system is bad. 

That is on top of the list of compelling reasons to abolish the death penalty. Let us not forget the moral implications of state-sanctioned revenge killing. Is that what we really want to be...lock them up and throw away the key. No appeals, no mistakes...done.

 
 
 
†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
1.1.2  seeder  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh  replied to  r.t..b... @1.1.1    3 weeks ago

I often struggle to understand how a court room displaying the Ten commandments reconciles the disobedience to the god many claim to dedicate their lives to.

 
 
 
r.t..b...
1.1.3  r.t..b...  replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @1.1.2    3 weeks ago
how a court room displaying the Ten commandments

A whole 'nother layer to this. One of the basic tenets being repentance through faith. Should those who have been granted redemption according to scripture be subject to sentences made by man-made and thus flawed courts? Rather Old Testament in application.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
1.1.4  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @1.1.2    3 weeks ago

An article I read some years ago was about the fact that the 10 Commandments was removed from an American courthouse because it was contrary to (what I think was) the Establishment Clause, or keeping the separation of church and state. 

 
 
 
WallyW
2  WallyW    3 weeks ago

If guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, I have no problem with it.

Life without parole in solitary would be more just, but some would call that 'cruel, unusual, and inhumane'

 
 
 
†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
2.1  seeder  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh  replied to  WallyW @2    3 weeks ago

11% were found innocent as they waited for death, but we can't be sure. It is extremely likely we execute innocent people. Who wants to take that chance? Who would be willing to take that gamble? I can't, I won't. 

Then of course one would think a conservative would chose the most cost effect course of action. Remember? Conservatives are allegedly more fiscally responsible?

 
 
 
Kavika
3  Kavika     3 weeks ago

This case is the perfect example of why there should not be a death penalty...This case is currently unfolding.

To win a murder conviction, police and prosecutors made up evidence and secretly paid a witness, St. Louis DA finds

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/to-win-a-murder-conviction-police-and-prosecutors-made-up-evidence-and-secretly-paid-a-witness-st-louis-da-finds/ar-AAETL4a?li=BBnb7Kz

 
 
 
†hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh
3.1  seeder  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh  replied to  Kavika @3    3 weeks ago

Oh come on Kavika, that never happens.....s/

jrSmiley_98_smiley_image.gif

I don't give a shit if someone thinks they have dna or video, we are just incapable of being perfect. So no death penalty. 

Let me know when we have the ability to dig up the body from a grave and give them their life and freedom back and I may reconsider.

 
 
 
Kavika
3.1.1  Kavika   replied to  †hε pε⊕pレε'š ƒïšh @3.1    3 weeks ago

One of the five to be excuted is L. Mitchell, a Navajo...Covicted of two 1st degree murder charges (he confested). What this does it bring up a legal point. 

The murders were comitted on the Navajo reservation and it was intra Indian murder. As a sovreign nation they have to right to be consulted as to the death penalty. This was not done as the Navajo nation asked that he not be excecuted as did the victims family. The death penalty is oppossed by almost 100% of the tribes in the US. Life without parole is what the tribe requested. 

 

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
3.1.2  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Kavika @3.1.1    3 weeks ago

The tribes and the wishes of victims should be honored, especially since the tribe is a sovereign nation. I find stories like this very frustrating since it is a total disrespect to everyone involved. 

 
 
 
Tessylo
3.2  Tessylo  replied to  Kavika @3    3 weeks ago

I can't imagine how many times dirty cops and complicit prosecutors have gotten away with shit like this

 
 
 
Sunshine
4  Sunshine    3 weeks ago

I think capital punishment is barbaric...equivalent of the medieval era.  We are supposed to be civilized people now.

I felt inhumane having my dog euthanized for biting my daughter.  I can't imagine having to decide a death penalty.  I couldn't do it, I would not be able to serve on that jury without prejudice.

 
 
 
Ender
4.1  Ender  replied to  Sunshine @4    3 weeks ago

One place we may actually agree.

It is not up to me to decide to take someones life.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
5  Nerm_L    3 weeks ago

So, what's the alternative?

If 10 pct are wrongfully convicted that means 90 pct have really committed horrendous crimes.  And in 100 pct of all these cases the innocent have already suffered; someone has committed a crime in all these cases.

Are we to allocate limited resources for lifetime care of the 90 pct who have committed horrendous crimes?  Resources dedicated to the care of these criminals cannot be used for other purposes.  These criminals take resources away from the innocent, too.  Why doesn't that make the crimes they committed even worse?

Do the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many?  It's necessary to make choices in almost everything done by society.  No, that's not fair.  Yes, people get hurt.  But what's the alternative?

 
 
 
Kavika
5.1  Kavika   replied to  Nerm_L @5    3 weeks ago
So, what's the alternative?

Life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

If 10 pct are wrongfully convicted that means 90 pct have really committed horrendous crimes.  And in 100 pct of all these cases the innocent have already suffered; someone has committed a crime in all these cases.

Are you implying that it's OK to have a 10% error factor? This results in 10% that are innocent being executed.

Are we to allocate limited resources for lifetime care of the 90 pct who have committed horrendous crimes?  Resources dedicated to the care of these criminals cannot be used for other purposes.  These criminals take resources away from the innocent, too.  Why doesn't that make the crimes they committed even worse?

Studies show that it is less expensive to sentence the person to life in prison than to execute them. 

Do the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many?  It's necessary to make choices in almost everything done by society.  No, that's not fair.  Yes, people get hurt.  But what's the alternative?

Once again the alternative is life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

 
 
 
Nerm_L
5.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  Kavika @5.1    3 weeks ago
Are you implying that it's OK to have a 10% error factor? This results in 10% that are innocent being executed.

It's impossible to eliminate error.  Everything we consume has resulted in people dying to make it available.  More people die resulting from medical diagnostic errors than die from an error in criminal conviction.  Error is part and parcel of our modern lifestyles and those errors do cause deaths.  So, what's an acceptable level of error?

How is a conviction error resulting in execution really different than any other error that results in accidental death?

Once again the alternative is life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The average time on death row is 15 years.  (Death Row Inmates, 1953-2013)  How is that more humane?

Housing Federal general population inmates costs about $35k per year.  (Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration)  The cost of housing death row inmates is considerably higher but eliminating death sentences doesn't mean these inmates could mix with the general population, so the housing costs will always be higher.

It's really a matter of how resources should best be allocated to benefit society.  There really isn't a magic money tree regardless of what politicians want us to believe.  Prison inmates aren't going to pay their own way.  Even if the death penalty is abolished, these inmates are going to die in prison.  How does directing public resource toward housing these inmates going to benefit society?

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
6  Buzz of the Orient    3 weeks ago

Canada abolished Capital punishment in 1976.  Most civilized countries have done so.  Then, of course, there is the USA.   

Better that 10 guilty persons go free than one innocent person be executed.

 
 
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