“With death penalty, let punishment truly fit the crime”
This is a refreshing bit of anti-Mike Farrellism. Prof Robert Blecker, NY Law:
No matter how vicious the crime, no matter how vile the criminal, some death penalty opponents feel certain that nobody can ever deserve to die — even if that person burned children alive, massacred a dozen strangers in a movie theater, or bombed the Boston Marathon. Other opponents admit the worst of the worst of the worst do deserve to die. They just distrust the government ever to get it right.
Now that pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply the lethal drugs that U.S. corrections departments have used for years to execute criminals — whether from their own genuine moral objections or to escape a threatened economic boycott — states have begun to experiment. Death penalty opponents, who call themselves abolitionists, then protest the use of these untried drugs that just might cause a condemned killer to feel pain as he dies.
Let the punishment fit the crime. We’ve mouthed that credo for centuries, but do we really mean it? We retributivists who believe in justice would reward those who bring us pleasure, but punish severely those who sadistically or wantonly cause us pain. A basic retributive measure — like for like or giving a person a taste of his own medicine — satisfies our deepest instincts for justice.
When the condemned killer intentionally tortured helpless victims, how better to preserve some direct connection short of torture than by that murderer’s quick but painful death? By ensuring death through anesthesia, however, we have nearly severed pain from punishment.
An unpleasant life in prison, a quick but painful death cannot erase the harm. But it can help restore a moral balance.
Lethal injection conflates punishment with medicine. The condemned dies in a gurney, wrapped in white sheets with an IV in his veins, surrounded by his closest kin, monitored by sophisticated medical devices. Haphazardly conceived and hastily designed, lethal injection appears, feels, and seems medical, although its sole purpose is to kill.
Witnessing an execution in Florida, I shuddered. It felt too much like a hospital or hospice. We almost never look to medicine to tell us whom to execute. Medicine should no more tell us how. How we kill those we rightly detest should in no way resemble how we end the suffering of those we love.
Publicly opposing this method of execution, I have found odd common ground with Deborah Denno, a leading abolitionist scholar who relentlessly attacks lethal injection protocols. Although Denno vigorously opposes all capital punishment, we both agree that the firing squad, among all traditional methods, probably serves us best. It does not sugarcoat, it does not pretend, it does not shamefully obscure what we do. We kill them, intentionally, because they deserve it.
Some people may support the firing squad because it allows us to put blanks in one of the guns: An individual sharpshooter will never know whether he actually killed the condemned. This strikes me as just another symptom of our avoidance of responsibility for punishment. The fact is, in this society, nobody takes responsibility for punishing criminals. Corrections officers point to judges, while judges point to legislators, and legislators to corrections. Anger and responsibility seem to lie everywhere elsewhere — that is, nowhere. And where we cannot fully escape responsibility — as with a firing squad — we diffuse it.
My thousands of hours observing daily life inside maximum security prisons and on death rows in several states these past 25 years have shown me the perverse irony that flows from this: Inside prisons, often the worst criminals live the most comfortable lives with the best hustles, job opportunities and sources of contraband, while the relatively petty criminals live miserably, constantly preyed upon.
Refusing to even contemplate distinguishing those few most sadistic murderers who deserve to die painfully, states seem quite willing haphazardly and arbitrarily to expose prisoners in general, regardless of their crimes, to a more or less painful life, or even death at the hands of other criminals.
Ironically, even as we recoil from punishing those who most deserve it, we readily over-punish those who don’t. A “war on drugs” swells our prisons. We punish addiction and call it crime; we indiscriminately and immorally subject a burglar or car thief to the same daily life in prison we also reserve for rapist murderers.
The time has come to make punishment more nearly fit the crime. To face what we do, and acknowledge, with regret but without shame, that the past counts.
So part of me hopes the abolitionists succeed with their latest campaign against death by lethal injection. We should banish this method. Let the abolitionists threaten to boycott gun manufacturers. See where that gets them. Meanwhile, the rest of us will strive to keep our covenants with victims, restore a moral balance, and shoot to kill those who deserve to die.
Rest assured, when we can only achieve justice by killing a vicious killer, We, the People will find a constitutional way to do it.
I’ll go one step further: I say we allow the aggrieved relatives of victims the opportunity to pull the trigger, as well.
Our supposed moral betters chide us for our desire for “vengeance,” hoping to shame us into confusing our vengeance — the reason we’re willing to exact the ultimate punishment from those who have aggrieved us — with the rationale for the punishment, which is that it fits the crime, and re-establishes, as Professor Blecker notes, a kind of moral order.
– Or, if you don’t buy into the notion of morality here, fine. Instead, think of it as engaging in a form of equality and fairness.
Consistently liberal media has presented us with the character of the conflicted righteous killer, the cop who shoots a rapist, or who is haunted by the criminal he killed in the line of duty.
And yet, while I’m sure some of that does exist, I believe that the extent to which such soulful torture and long-term regret actually occurs is far more rare than we’re “nudged” to believe, and that our own feelings — me, I wouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep putting a bullet into the head of a someone who raped and killed a child, or shot a woman pumping gas with a sniper rifle, or killed a jogger just because he and his buddies were bored — far from being sociopathic or barbaric, are far more mainstream than the almost caricaturish depiction of anguish we see coming from those who, politically speaking, tend to support the scrambling of preborn babies right in the womb.
Evil people exist. And when they’re caught for doing heinous things that take the lives and dignity of their fellow man — who’ve they determined they can treat as subhuman playthings — it doesn’t take any kind of “strength” to “show mercy.” It takes a form of self-righteousness that, in many cases, has less to do with altruism and more to do with easy grace and showy politics.
Regardless, there will always be available those willing to do the job. If not the relatives of the aggrieved, or professional sharp shooters, then citizens in a voluntary lottery.
You can go right ahead and call me a monster, then try to conflate my actions with the actions of criminals, where we are told that exacting justice for injustice makes our just act equally unjust.
That’s bullshit. And the professor is correct: it is a corruption of the very notion of justice to run from our responsibilities as members of society to police that society and remove its monsters.
In exchange for such a system, I’d gladly accept a thorough, state-subsidized use of DNA tests and ask, in return, for a rapid appeals process.
Nothing quite so concentrates the mind, to paraphrase Dr Johnson, as the prospect of a hanging. And if there’s to be real anguish, it should be with the man to be hanged, not to those who do the hanging.
Because if we be monsters, we’re the kind that you rely on to keep the social balance. So a thank you might not hurt from time to time.