Thursday, September 22, 2011

Carrying on the fight

For those who worked to save Troy Davis, we lost that struggle. Though I firmly believe he was innocent, I'm not writing about this case. I will start by honoring him.

Troy Davis proved himself a honorable and caring person, even when he was strapped to the gurney and knew his life would end in minutes. I don't know if I could forgive those who were about to unjustly kill me. He did, proving himself a hero. These are his last words as reported by the Associated Press.

"I'd like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I'm not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.

The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight.

For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls."

I am not writing this as an English Lit exercise. I am writing in an attempt to create change. If you disagree with what I write I would love for you to comment stating exactly where we disagree. If you agree with my writing I would equally love for you to refer others to this page, especially those who disagree.

Capital Punishment

Capital punishment does not deter crime, executes innocent people, is expensive, and is immoral. Where I use the words of others I will give credit.

Capital punishment does not deter crime. (From Amnesty International)

A September 2000 New York Times survey found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty.

FBI data shows that all 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate.

The murder rate in non-Death Penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in States with the Death Penalty.

Overall National Murder Rates of Death Penalty and Non-Death Penalty States

The threat of execution at some future date is unlikely to enter the minds of those acting under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, those who are in the grip of fear or rage, those who are panicking while committing another crime (such as a robbery), or those who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation and do not fully understand the gravity of their crime

Capital punishment executes innocent people. (From Amnesty International)
Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.

Examples of wrongful convictions:
Arizona: Ray Krone, released in 2002
  • Spent 10 years in prison in Arizona, including time on death row, for a murder he did not commit. He was the 100th person to be released from death row since 1973. DNA testing proved his innocence.

Illinois: Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Stanley Howard and LeRoy Orange, pardoned in 2003
  • Sent to death row on the basis of "confessions" extracted through the use of torture by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and other Area 2 police officers in Chicago. They were pardoned by outgoing Governor George Ryan, who also commuted the remaining 167 death sentences in Illinois to life imprisonment.

North Carolina: Jonathon Hoffman, exonerated in 2007
  • Convicted and sentenced to death for the 1995 murder of a jewelry store owner. During Hoffman's first trial, the state's key witness, Johnell Porter, made undisclosed deals with the prosecutors for testifying against his cousin. Porter has since recanted his testimony, stating that he lied in order to get back at his cousin for stealing money from him.
Factors leading to wrongful convictions include:
  • Inadequate legal representation
  • Police and prosecutorial misconduct
  • Perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony
  • Racial prejudice
  • Jailhouse "snitch" testimony
  • Suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence
  • Community/political pressure to solve a case
(My own words) Can anyone honestly say that, because some people were exonerated before being killed, that no innocent people were killed?

Capital punishment is expensive. (From Amnesty International.)
  • A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case. Death penalty case costs were counted through to execution (median cost $1.26 million). Non-death penalty case costs were counted through to the end of incarceration (median cost $740,000).(December 2003 Survey by the Kansas Legislative Post Audit)
  • In Tennessee, death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.
    (2004 Report from Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office of Research)
  • In Maryland death penalty cases cost 3 times more than non-death penalty cases, or $3 million for a single case.
    (Urban Institute, The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland, March 2008)
  • In California the current sytem costs $137 million per year; it would cost $11.5 million for a system without the death penalty.
    (California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, July 2008)

The greatest costs associated with the death penalty occur prior to and during trial, not in post-conviction proceedings. Even if all post-conviction proceedings (appeals) were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences.

Capital punishment is immoral.
I do not believe that "all my friends are doing it" is an excuse or a moral stance. But, when "all my friends" are making a moral decision, then I need to look at why they made that decision. With that in mind, here's a map of the world from Wikipedia showing where capital punishment is used and not used.

Abolished for all crimes
Abolished for crimes not committed in exceptional circumstances (such as crimes committed in time of war)
Abolished in practice
Legal form of punishment

Morality is individual. What I think is immoral, and what you think is immoral will likely be different. I will state some of the reasons I find capital punishment immoral. Each argument taken individually does not necessarily make capital punishment immoral. Similarly capital punishment is not moral just because you disagree with any argument.

Capital punishment is cruel to the accused, to the accused family, and to the victims family. The case of Troy Davis a good example. Troy's execution date was set four times. Four times Troy had to prepare to die, and four times both families had to prepare. This plays mental havoc on everyone. In the case of the victim's family, this delays when they can move on with their lives. Even in the case that their are no delay, capital punishment delays the healing process while the accused is on death row.

The race of the victim is more important in the decision to execute someone than the seriousness of the crime. This chart is from Amnesty International.

The assignment of the death penalty highly arbitrary. These are factors that contribute to the arbitrariness of the death penalty, including the previously mentioned factor of race. (From Amnesty International.)

  • Almost all death row inmates could not afford their own attorney at trial. Court-appointed attorneys often lack the experience necessary for capital trials and are overworked and underpaid. In the most extreme cases, some have slept through parts of trials or have arrived under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Prosecutors seek the death penalty far more frequently when the victim of a homicide is white than when the victim is African-American or of another ethnic/racial origin.
  • Co-defendants charged with committing the same crime often receive different punishments, where one defendant may receive a death sentence while another receives prison time.
  • Approximately two percent of those convicted of crimes that make them eligible for the death penalty actually receive a death sentence.
  • Each prosecutor decides whether or not to seek the death penalty. Local politics, the location of the crime, plea bargaining, and pure chance affect the process and make it a lottery of who lives and who dies.
  • GEOGRAPHIC ARBITRARINESS: Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 80% of all executions have taken place in the South. The Northeast accounts for less than 2% of executions.

Executions by Region

(From Amnesty International)
The execution of those with mental illness or "the insane" is clearly prohibited by international law. Virtually every country in the world prohibits the execution of people with mental illness.
International Resolutions Year Excerpt
UN Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty 1984 " ...nor shall the death sentence be carried out... on persons who have become insane."
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions 1997 Governments that continue to use the death penalty "with respect to minors and the mentally ill are particularly called upon to bring their domestic legislation into conformity with international legal standards."
UN Commission on Human Rights 2000 Urges all states that maintain the death penalty "not to impose it on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder; not to execute any such person."

The execution of the insane – someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment - violates the U.S. Constitution (Ford v. Wainwright, 1986). The Ford decision left the determination of sanity up to each state. Constitutional protections for those with other forms of mental illness are minimal, however, and dozens of prisoners have been executed despite suffering from serious mental illness. The National Association of Mental Health has estimated that five to ten percent of those on death row have serious mental illness.

  • James Colburn had an extensive history of paranoid schizophrenia when he was arrested for murder. During his 1995 trial, Mr. Colburn received injections of Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug that can have a powerful sedative effect. A 1997 post-conviction assessment questioned Mr. Colburn's competency to stand trial at that time, finding he had been "seriously sedated during the time of his trial." He was executed March 26, 2003.
  • On January 6, 2004, the State of Arkansas executed Charles Singleton, who was said to be "seriously deranged without treatment" and "arguably incompetent with treatment." It was only during an episode of "drug-induced sanity" that the state scheduled his execution.
  • On May 18, 2004, Kelsey Patterson was executed in Texas although he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1981 and did not possess rational understanding at his trial.

The State of Texas ranks 46th out of the 50 U.S. states in terms of the amount of money spent per capita in the treatment of the mentally ill, including funds for mental health services in jails and prisons (News 8 Austin, April 21, 2003). It spends an average of $2.3 million to try a death penalty case. (Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992).

(My own words) Texas executes over four time as many people as the second highest state.

In the words of Troy Davis, "I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight." I ask my family, my friends, and others to continue to fight this fight.