Innocence

Sep 26 2011 Published by under Debate and Discussion, Uncategorized

As you are probably aware there was a lot of hoopla from the lefty libby dirty hippies in the US and kibitzing OldEuro types on social media because the State of Georgia killed this guy. The reasons are pretty well captured in the accompanying article

Davis has repeatedly said he did not kill MacPhail, and seven out of nine witnesses who gave evidence at his trial in 1991 have recanted or changed their testimony.

No murder weapon was ever found, no DNA evidence or fingerprints tie him to the crime, and other witnesses have since said the murder was committed by another man -- a state's witness who testified against him.

This is not hard to grasp.

I have donated to the Innocence Project because I believe in this part of their mission statement.

The Innocence Project’s groundbreaking use of DNA technology to free innocent people has provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects. Now an independent nonprofit organization closely affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project’s mission is nothing less than to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.

I did not do so because I oppose capital punishment. As it happens, another unhappy soul was also executed recently, this time in the State of Texas.

Texas executed Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist who was unquestionably guilty of the gruesome dragging death slaying of a black man in 1998.

I intentionally linked to the leftie-libby DFH argument that these are morally and ethically the same events because I disagree. here's his crux:

The death of James Byrd Jr. -- the black man who was tied to the back of a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas and dragged to his death -- is shocking to recall, almost 15 years later. His murder is almost unimaginably cruel; it is impossible to read the details without being overcome with anger and revulsion. Yet this is what James Byrd's sister had to say on the eve of Lawrence Brewer's execution: "If I saw him face to face, I'd tell him I forgive him for what he did. Otherwise I'd be like him."

I pay exactly as much attention to victims' pleas for mercy as I do to their pleas for vengeance. The reason we have a rule of law in the first place is that justice and punishment have to come from a reasonably detached (blind lady justice?), societal point of view. Remember Dukakis and his famous flail on the question of what he would do if his wife were raped? I think Kerry managed to ass that one up too. The real answer Dems should espouse is my answer.

"I'd want to go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Are you fucking kidding? Anyone would. And given half a chance I damn well would. But there is no place for that sort of gutter, BronzeAge revenge-of-the-powerful jurisprudence in a just society. And THAT is why I support the rule of law."

But in a democratic society we also meander towards approximations via what is, at root, barely managed democracy. The will of the people, so to speak. And the will of this person is that we, as a society and after due process, execute a guy like Lawrence Brewer. And this asshole too. People like this. maybe this gang of assholes.

But I also think our crime solving and crime convicting systems suck and are tremendously error prone. And have incredibly naked and thoroughly established racial and socio-economic biases.

So I donate to a project that wants to improve that. Even if they do, at root, have goals that are at odds with my support of capital punishment as a valid societal option.

61 responses so far

  • PalMD says:

    I'm having trouble with this:

    But I also think our crime solving and crime convicting systems suck and are tremendously error prone. And have incredibly naked and thoroughly established racial and socio-economic biases.

    And this:

    my support of capital punishment as a valid societal option

    I strongly disagree that even in a democracy where a majority favor it, it can be a viable option, given number 1. And I don't see number 1 changing any time soon.

    My own bias is that killing people is never a valid punishment.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Of course you are being disingenuous. You oppose capital punishment a priori and you use the error rate and biases as an excuse. Just like most of the lefty-libby hoopla we've been experiencing. Just sack up and say you oppose capital punishment for the reasons that you oppose it. Did you donate by any chance?

  • PalMD says:

    Meh. I happen to be opposed, but also think your reasoning is off.

  • MonkeyPox says:

    I think all capital punishment should be "death by pit bull"

  • drugmonkey says:

    My reasoning for donating? Or my reasoning for supporting capital punishment? 'Cause I barely touched on the latter.

    MonkeyPox, how would you be sure it was actually a pitbull? There's a lot of biased breed confusion innthe MSM you know. Half of those supposed pitbulls attacking three children and a barber shop turn out to be well over 90% bichon frieze.

  • PalMD says:

    Your reasoning for supporting capital punishment, at least in the country we have, not the one you wish we had.

  • drugmonkey says:

    If people were not being executed would the US population give a care about the deficiencies innthe system?

  • It depends says:

    While I generally oppose the death penalty because it says something bad about our society that we are so willing to kill a citizen, I think it also would say something horribly wrong about our society if we were not to willing to put down say Adolf Hitler, or, on a smaller scale Ted Bundy.

  • PalMD says:

    ZOMG. Did you actually just say:

    If people were not being executed would the US population give a care about the deficiencies innthe system?

    Are you suggesting that in order to raise awareness of the inequalities in our criminal justice system, we gotta put down a few felons?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nope. Answer the ?

  • PalMD says:

    I believe that people would care just as much/little about inequities in the system whether or not we murdered people for their crimes.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nice planet you live on....but not realistic. Nor true.

  • WhizBANG! says:

    Some people commit crimes so heinous that they forfeit their right to live in our society. Death is the surest way to exclude them forever. Timothy McVeigh comes to mind, and he freely admitted his guilt. He did not contest his death penalty. Philosophically, I have no qualms with the penalty in his case.
    However, too many cases present a degree of doubt. In contested capital cases, the cost of appeals run higher than life imprisonment without parole. The latter is thus cheaper and correctable if error is ultimately proven.
    So I oppose the death penalty primarily on economic grounds.
    I also support The Innonence Project. Because even life in prison is too harsh if you didn't do it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ted Bundy, it depends, but not the gay bashers?

  • drugmonkey says:

    There are solutions to your cost issue Pascale. One might include taking every capital appeal straight to the SCOTUS. Another might be abandoning our adversarial system in capital cases, in favor of a full court press on determining the truth. Costs are but excuses.

  • Dirkh says:

    Life imprisonment in isolated maximum security facilities. Then you don't have to worry about later DNA evidence exonerating a dead guy. (I say guy because we almost never execute women or rich white men). I give to Amnesty Intl., they cover the waterfront.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Which goal of a justice system would be approximated with that solution dirkh?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Deterr?
    Prevent?
    Remove?
    Revenge?
    Rehabilitate?
    (Philosophical Ideal of )Justice?

  • Dirkh says:

    Effectively remove them from society, would be the point. That's the whole idea of state-sanctioned killing, yes? I'm not interested in the punishment or deterrent angles.

  • WhizBANG! says:

    I don't think straight to SCOTUS will provide "better" judgements at lower costs. Last weeks events certainly showed the tendency of SCOTUS to judge precedent over evidence or lack thereof.
    I don't know that our legal system can be altered to overcome the faults of society, often magnified in the courts, especially racial biases. I guess in the absence of a perfect system I favor eliminating the death penalty. The costs of prosecution (and defense since most defendants become indigent) plus the cost of being wrong are too high to justify it the vast majority of the time.

  • becca says:

    It is noble to assert the (aspirational) value of "relatively detached" liberty and justice for all.
    It is foolhardy to assert the (in point of actual fact) detached, impartial, or just nature of our so-called justice system.

    This is not a function of an imperfect system that can be perfected. Science is much better as a pursuit of Truth than criminal justice, and it approximates truth only inasmuch as we haven't found the limitations of our facts yet. It's virtue, ultimately, is it's self-correcting nature. Which a justice system dependent on permanent punishment cannot ever be.

    Error rates and biases aren't a reason to oppose the death penalty as it happens to be implemented, but as it could ever be implemented.

    And yes, I oppose the death penalty on the "two wrongs don't make a right" principle, in addition. Technically, I don't support any 'justice' that only has punitive purposes, but then, it's easy to have that position when no one has ever done anything truly despicable to you or your loved ones.

  • chall says:

    IMHO the key thing is your own quote about "personal" vs "support of the law". If everyone was going for personal revenge we'd end up with the blind people country where the one-eyed ones would be in charge until someone took out their remaining eye too....

    In a perfect world we might have non-biased juries - alas, I do not think that is the case in plenty of places at the moment. We can only make do with what we have, but imho we could avoid pursuing vengance for the sake of revenge... in the end, I would hope we (if victims) can find peace and not keep hate burning inside since that will hurt us more in the end.

    (I'm aware it might sound very hippieish but I think it would be better for us in the end)

  • drugmonkey says:

    Juries and the adversarial system are not the only way to adjudicate chall.

  • chall says:

    DM: I'm aware of that. Maybe even more since I grew up where we don't have the jury system as like the one in the US....

  • drugmonkey says:

    And no doubt it had advantages and disadvantages by way of comparison?

  • chall says:

    well, nothing is perfect. The system I'm "used to" has its advantages in that it's not choosing by the defense and prosecution, the disadvantage (among other things) would be that the "lay people" would be more of a "professional without law training and being more of a homogenous group" ... as I said before, nothing is perfect - every system has its flaws, which is part of why I have a problem with this death penalty and limited way of appeal. That said, I might surprise people since I am understanding of death penalty in terms of treason against the state in war time... a whole other thing though, imho.

  • juniorprof says:

    you've totally lost me here DM. You appear to be arguing that we live by the rule of law but then suggest that we change the system that is enshrined by the constitution and 200 years + of interpretation of the system (e.g. your straight to SCOTUS idea). The constitution is our ultimate rule of law document, no?

    I am against the death penalty because I believe it places an undue burden on our jury system, which, for criminal cases, is the way our system works. In having a death penalty option we place the burden of making the right choice on the jury or that jury is potentially signing the death warrant for an innocent man/woman.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Rule of law does not mean sticking fixedly to any particular set of laws, juniorprof.

  • Hermitage says:

    Laws, prosecutions, and sentencing are all balanced around class, power, and race, not impartial justice. For that reason alone, allowing such a system the power to kill people is ridiculous.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why is not allowing such a system to lock people up forever not also "ridiculous"?

  • Eli Rabett says:

    The Duke really blew it. Remember the guy who asked the question was Black. The answer should have been,

    Yeah, you want me and my neighbors to go out there with guns and a rope and find the first Black guy we come across and lynch him the way it has traditionally been done in this country. That the kind of justice you want asshole? My whole life has been dedicated to two things. First to provide the protection that women need. We've done that rape is down by 50% since I am governor here and we are going to drive it down more. Second through the law to catch the real criminals and put them away. We do that too. They get put away for a long, long time.

  • It depends says:

    "Ted Bundy but not the gay bashers?"

    Correct, unless the gay bashers were up to a count of 30+ in which case I'd say down with them too.

  • I am opposed to the death penalty in general, because I believe that--independent of the magnitude of the risk of executing an innocent person--the moral and practical costs that it imposes on our society outweigh the benefits. I *also* believe that it is morally and practically worse to execute an innocent person than a guilty one.

  • Passing Postdoc says:

    Ahem. According to the most influential justice on the SCOTUS, "actual" innocence is not a reason to stop an execution on constitutional grounds:

    "This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable." - Antonin Scalia

    While in theory I don't have qualms about the death penalty for heinous crimes, I cannot support a system in which executing innocent people is accepted. And that is the system we have in the US.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    that is interesting, it depends. all about the body count for you?

    now me, I would view the compulsions of a guy like Ted Bundy to be considerably less intentional, and therefore less intensely culpable, by way of comparison with hate-basher-assholes who finally take it to the ultimate end and kill someone

  • It depends says:

    "all about the body count for you? "

    That's a bit crude. I see it as two competing rights or principles. Or to be more precise two competing sides of the same principle, namely, the sacredness of human life.

    You see, the same reasons that make me hesitant to execute a person accused of burning his two daughters (be him guilty or not), make me hesitant not to execute someone who has undisputedly killed very many people.

    p.s. I don't get the all-important focus on intention. Who knows what drives someone to do things and how strong are the motivations at the end of the day.

    p.p.s A much stronger standard of evidence for the death penalty as compared to just going to prison would also be called for.

  • Dr. O says:

    For spiritual reasons, I believe no person ever has the right to kill another person. Would I want to hurt, maybe even kill someone else if they hurt my child? My husband? I'm certain I would, but I'd bet that neither personal nor institutional revenge would ever right that kind of pain. The death penalty itself does not serve as a deterrent; it is simply an arcane philosophy of revenge. And nobody can say that institutional revenge is justice free from passion.

    Admittedly, an obviously guilty monster being put to death doesn't keep me up at nights, but it does make me feel icky to think I had something to do with their death (and we all do when the state carries out that sentence). More so, it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach to think of an innocent person being killed, and yes, Hubby and I have donated to the Innocence Project to try and prevent those wrongs. On the other hand, there would be no need for such a donation (or organization) if we would just do away with the death penalty.

  • drugmonkey says:

    On the other hand, there would be no need for such a donation (or organization) if we would just do away with the death penalty.

    See what I mean, PalMD?

    The death penalty itself does not serve as a deterrent

    I don't think you can ever possibly know this. My belief that is does has exactly as much or little evidence as does your belief. Maybe even more. Because the harder population to characterize are those who never kill anyone, i.e., who have been effectively deterred.

    it is simply an arcane philosophy of revenge

    That may be the basis for some support for capital punishment. "Removal" and "Prevention" are also bases that need have nothing to do with revenge. As is belief in "eye for an eye" type of grounding for a system of Justice.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I don't get the all-important focus on intention. Who knows what drives someone to do things and how strong are the motivations at the end of the day.

    Are you aware that in the US we have Degrees of killing someone? Degrees that decide the perpetrator's penalty and are based very much on that person's intention, drive to do the thing and motivation at the end of the day....or on prior days....or in the minutes and seconds of the act itself.

  • It depends says:

    Are you aware that in the US we have Degrees of killing someone?

    Yes, and outside manslaughter (e.g. accidentally driving someone over) versus intentional homicide, I really don't think the distinction is that important or even well defined.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I really don't think the distinction is that important

    So far as I am aware it requires first degree to be a capital case, does it not? So that is an important distinction.

  • It depends says:

    What I meant to say there is: I don't think it should be that important.

    You are correct that in the current American system it is very important which is not to say it is right.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    Two things which have been mentioned ad nauseum, but which together are persuasive, in my opinion:

    (1) The rate at which African-Americans are executed is vastly higher than the rate at which European-Americans are executed, even once a vast array of potential confounders are accounted for.

    (2) The list of the countries which still permit use of the death penalty does not include any whose models of jurisprudence I'd want the United States to emulate. Not one.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The list of the countries which still permit use of the death penalty does not include any whose models of jurisprudence I'd want the United States to emulate. Not one.

    That is the functional equivalent of an ad hominem argument and therefore carries very little water.

  • drugmonkey says:

    What I meant to say there is: I don't think it should be that important.

    from Wikipedia:

    First Degree Murder is any murder that is willful and premeditated. Felony Murder is typically first degree.

    Second Degree Murder is a murder that is not premeditated or planned in advance.

    Voluntary Manslaughter sometimes called a "Heat of Passion" murder, is any intentional killing that involved no prior intent to kill, and which was committed under such circumstances that would "cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed." Both this and second degree murder are committed on the spot, but the two differ in the magnitude of the circumstances surrounding the crime. For example, a bar fight that results in death would ordinarily constitute second degree murder. If that same bar fight stemmed from a discovery of infidelity, however, it may be mitigated to voluntary manslaughter.

    wow, that particular example of mitigation is spectacularly unconvincing to me, but whatevs...

    but seriously, getting all drunk and rowdy and fighting in a bar....and some dude ends up killed because you didn't stop punching him in the head.

    ...versus getting all drunk and racist/homophobist ranting at the bar and then rounding up your drunk ass friends to go and "beat up some fags/niggers/towelheads/volvodrivinglattesippers"....and someone gets drove over and killed after you beat him up.

    ....versus plotting for days to shoot your philandering (but not beating) husband and bury him under the hog shed.

    These are all exactly the same and deserve the same punishment under the law?

    I think not.

  • Alex says:

    Drugmonkey, what if we got you a written guarantee that you can support hate crimes legislation AND support the racially discriminatory Drug War AND oppose the death penalty and still be considered a liberal in good standing? Would you back down from your absurd defenses of the death penalty?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Whut? Can anyone understand that?

  • Simjockey says:

    The will of the people, so to speak. And the will of this person is that we, as a society and after due process, execute a guy like Lawrence Brewer.

    I think it's a bit dangerous to just do what the people want. We need to do what's fair and correct ( which I recognize is a difficult enough choice ), and not what people can be manipulated into voting for.

  • drugmonkey says:

    In the US, our "democracy" is not a gutter democracy of the instant, i.e., "what people can be manipulated into voting for" at the time. We have many political and societal arrangements that buffer this. For good reason.

    At the moment you might consider that this buffer is perhaps maintaining what has been previously been judged to be "fair and correct" (i.e., capital punishment) against the whims of the immediate, gutter democracy (i.e., DFH demands to end all capital punishment because one executed individual appears to have been wrongly convicted).

    It is silly, in other words, to only define your own positions as "fair and correct" and other positions as "what people can be manipulated into" supporting.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    "That is the functional equivalent of an ad hominem argument and therefore carries very little water."

    Abject nonsense. There is an extraordinarily strong correlation between the use of the death penalty and other abuses of human rights. Such a correlation cannot be so glibly dismissed.

  • Thomas Joseph says:

    Because the harder population to characterize are those who never kill anyone, i.e., who have been effectively deterred.

    Seriously? You can't tell? What about comparisons between states that HAVE the death penalty, and those that do not? That's a pretty good comparison to make.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That is a totally useless comparison, TJ. I am not referring to overt decision making. I am referring to the gradual socialization that keeps most people from murdering someone else. If you want a comparison population, perhaps look to a country that is in near anarchy of civil war and tit-for-tat genociding to convince yourself that the relative stability of stable civil societies is not because of humans' native proclivities.

    Trying to establish the contribution of conventional morality, chances of getting caught, nature of the punishment, etc is an impossible task. Given that, any assertion that the nature of the punishment does not contribute is as unbased as any other assertion about the "real" ways that murders are kept in check.

    yet there very clearly IS a deterrence of murder in a civil society such as the US one. That is a good thing and it give credence to the idea that broad scope deterrence of murder is possible and therefore a legitimate goal (and obligation, I would say) of society.

  • drugmonkey says:

    There is an extraordinarily strong correlation between the use of the death penalty and other abuses of human rights.

    So if one can identify a society that is an outlier from this alleged correlation what does that mean for your argument, exactly?

    You seem to be implying with your ad hominem rationale that the US affection for the death penalty means it also is inclined to these other abuses, furthermore that if we happen to ban the death penalty it would magically improve us on these alleged other abuses. That is utter nonsense, of course. And it illuminates your rhetorical device quite clearly for the smear job that it is.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    "So if one can identify a society that is an outlier from this alleged correlation what does that mean for your argument, exactly?"

    Your argument requires a demonstration that the U.S. is in this respect exceptional. U.S. incarceration rates overall, and the racial biases in U.S. incarceration in particular, suggest that you've got a steep hill to climb.

    Have at it, DM.

  • drugmonkey says:

    In what respect?

    Your comment which I called the functional equivalent of an ad hominem was this:

    The list of the countries which still permit use of the death penalty does not include any whose models of jurisprudence I'd want the United States to emulate. Not one.

    Your implied point is that our use of capital punishment is objectionable because other countries which use it have "models of jurisprudence" that you find otherwise objectionable

    You are trying to create an impression of a correlation with multiple factors....that may or may not exist. Of course, the point of a smear like this is precisely to avoid making specific arguments that might actually be addressed, rebutted or even agreed with.

    My counter to you stands, nevertheless. Even if there IS a correlation between the death penalty and some aspect of jurisprudence that you dislike, there is no evidence that stopping executions will fix said problems. I refer you to my little exchange with PalMD about the fervor people have/don't have with wrongful conviction in the context of various punishment option. Not to mention the confirmation of my position conveniently provided by Dr. O.

    I also look forward to your exposition of why, if there is a clearly objectionable aspect of jurisprudence in another capital punishment country that does not exist here, how you continue with your absurd logic in the face of this incongruity.

  • becca says:

    DM, I'd say Occam's razor is on your side- the simplest explanation is that lack of respect for human rights and such 'objectionable' models of jurisprudence lead to support of the death penalty. Or, most likely, an unspecified third factor (e.g. "low value on an individual human's rights/life") causes both. But I do think it is formerly logically possible, albeit difficult to test, that endorsement of the death penalty results in people accepting other things (extraordinarily capricious models of jurisprudence, torture, war, 'cruel and unusual punishment') that we do currently, collectively, oppose.

    Indeed, if you can prove that people do *not* cognitively bundle concepts such that support for the death penalty does not make one more accepting of cruelty in general, that would be a powerfully persuasive argument to my mind. Enough so that I would reconsider whether support of the death penalty is an evil.

  • dsks says:

    "Why is not allowing such a system to lock people up forever not also "ridiculous"?

    The key difference is that such a judgment is at least reversible. That is, an innocent man incarcerated for life unjustly, possibly due to a bias criminal justice system, at least has the hope/chance that the system will become more just, reflect on past wrongs, and investigate leads that might potentially exonerate him. Such people may only make up 1% of such criminals, but even that seems to high a rate of collateral damage to me.

    I'm not necessarily against the death penalty but I think the bar ought to be raised a lot higher in terms of the nature of the crime and the proof that the crime was committed. My faith in witness testimony, even mass witness testimony, has been seriously undermined after going off on a UFO documentary kick recently. Shit, if entire neighbourhoods in cities and towns can becomes convinced that they saw aliens cruising around the skies then either ET is seriously here, or human witness testimony is even less reliable than we previously feared. Certainly, nobody should be put to death on the basis of witness testimony alone.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Some 18 months on homes? Wow, you are a stalwart.

  • drugmonkey says:

    But yes, eyewitness testimony failure has been pretty well destroyed by the experimental psychology literature for 25-30 years.

    This joins recent revelations of bolloxed crime labs and totally invalidated physical evidence standards (like fingerprints) to reinforce my suggestion that truth finding needs better standing in our system.

    Science. It works.

  • dsks says:

    Whoops. Chrome history click failage.

Leave a Reply