Tag Archives: death penalty

Troy Davis and the death penalty: the tale of flawed justice

Having spent twenty years behind bars and faced down 3 execution dates for the murder in 1989 of an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail – Troy Davis was executed on the night of the 21 September 2011.

Troy Davis.

Anti-death penalty campaigners, along with the European Union’s high commissioner have expressed “deep regrets” in what was a symbolic case in the continuing efforts to abolish capital punishment in the remaining states of the Union.

Yet the significant factor in the Troy Davis saga was undoubtedly the controversies that enshrouded the initial trial; flawed ballistic tests, non-existent DNA links to incriminate Davis, combined with the fact that out of the 9 original witnesses, 7 would later go on to retract their testimony and claim that they were subjected to police and judicial pressure, were indicative of a judicial vengeance that sought to act swiftly and repressively. Former convict now turned journalist, Erwin James argues that in a system of elected judges, combined with mass media interest, there is bound to be a level of pressure exerted on both lawyers and judges in protecting and serving their interest – yet when justice becomes driven by emotion rather than reason, where does one draw the fine line between vengeance and justice? It is men who make the justice system work, and like all men, they sometimes make mistakes.

From his years of incarceration to his last moments before execution – Davis continued to maintain his claims of innocence, which according to prison psychologist Steve Gassian, “Is incredibly difficult to maintain and repeat your innocence over the years, especially when you are guilty”.

Image from an 'I am Troy Davis' vigil.

For the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), capital punishment in the US condemns the innocent to die – “the use of plea bargains and leniency in exchange for snitch testimony often results in the least guilty serving the most time. Often, police and prosecutors—-whether under pressure or in the effort to further their careers-—make quick arrests and ignore evidence that might point in another direction.”

The conviction and execution of a black man in the southern state of Georgia is, for the campaigners of the CEDP, a confirmation of the relationship between capital punishment, institutional racism and poverty; or put it bluntly, “capital punishment is racist”. While, African Americans constitute 12% of the total American population, 42% of death row inmates are black, this figure rises anywhere between 50-60% in states including North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, and Ohio.

Map of Executions 1608-2001 – The Guardian

Stephen Bright, author of “Neither Equal, Neither Just” argues that such trends are inextricably linked to poverty; 90% of defendants charged with capital crimes are not able to afford an experienced lawyer. For Bright, a major flaw of the system is that, “Good lawyers are a luxury, and many are reluctant or financially incapable or unwilling to defend ‘the poor’. As a result, the lawyers tasked to do so, are often overworked, inexperienced or overwhelmed.”

Furthermore, statistics have shown that the death penalty held no impact on crime rate. In fact, although 80% of executions take place in the Southern states, the “South” continues to have a higher murder rate than the North. In a study conducted by Thorsten Sellin on the patterns of crime in relation to the usage of the Death Penalty between 1989 and 2002 in California (1 death) Texas (239 executions) and New York (0) concluded in finding similar patterns of crime rates, with Death Penalty Champions Texas holding a slightly higher overall average figure.

roughsociety’s final word

Whether or not the United States will ever see a constitutional ban on the death penalty remains to be seen. In its report dedicated to the execution of Troy Davis, Foreign Policy ranked the world’s “top executioners” in accordance to the number of convicts executed per annum. Amongst the regulars, the United States stood as the only “western” and “democratic” nation to execute prisoners at a level that is on par with the likes of North Korea, China, Iran and Yemen.

For more- Death penalty statistics, country by country (The Guardian)

Death penalty statistics from the US: which state executes the most people? (The Guardian)

Sanders Arampamoorthy.

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Death Penalty: Are we no better than an eye for an eye?

Today has seen the intensification of debate surrounding the idea of reinstating the death penalty in the United Kingdom. It defies belief that we are even entertaining this idea in a 21st century liberal democracy. Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) has been plastered over the BBC news channel today explaining that an e-petition to reinstate the death penalty for child murderers and people who kill police officers has been backed by almost 100,000 and has been pushing forward his twisted agenda with clever rhetoric, citing opinion polls which suggest c. 60% of the UK would be in favour of the return of capital punishment.

This is ludicrous. If you were to ask any human being what they think should be done with a child murderer, the emotions, the paternal and maternal instincts will propel the idea of a swift revenge, the promotion of an eye for an eye attitude in its rawest form and this therefore suggests that the polls are misleading as a full and open debate has not taken place in the public sphere, let alone a rational one. It is all well and good Mr. Staines pointing to opinion polls, but if the people polled have been mislead or provoked it really doesn‘t stand up as a real measure of public opinion. It is extremely important that we take a step back from the emotive language, the rhetoric and consider the arguments at hand.

The contraption for the lethal injection.

Those in favour of the death penalty have three real arguments at hand. The first of these is deterrence. With a death penalty in place, people will be less likely to commit the worst crimes in a premeditated sense, because they have too much to lose. It seems to be a pretty comprehensive argument at its most basic level, but this is not entirely true. Deterrence is not ultimately conclusive with the introduction of capital punishment, America being a prime example, but also China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia etc. It is also important to factor in a second argument here. Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP, would like to see terrorists put to death. Again at first, this seems to be an argument that would resonate well with the public. Deterrence in this case is nigh on redundant. Death penalties for terrorists result in martyrdom. Martyrdom results in idolisation. Idolisation results in more terrorists.

The second argument is one of revenge or retribution. The most important factor to consider here is that by putting a murderer to death, the State itself is promoting the use of violence, and justifying the death of a human being. If a State can kill its own people, regardless of the crime committed, this will only foster hostilities and resentment. In no liberal state should the government be allowed to put its citizens to death. It is a dangerous idea that a liberal democracy can do this. Again, America is a prime example. Again, let us factor in a second counter argument. The perpetrator has a family. Does subjecting the mother, the father, the daughter or son count as retribution? Do they also deserve the punishment?

The final, almost non, argument is one of cost. Killing a perpetrator is cheaper than rehabilitation or imprisonment. The fact that this has been thrown about on major news coverage of this issue is outrageous. Not only is it factually inaccurate (one only has to look to the constant appeals systems and “death row” in the States to see that in actual fact the process is a long, drawn out and ultimately expensive affair), but is it morally acceptable to literally put a price on life?

When the dust settles on a case, and it comes to light that an innocent man has been put to death, no amount of compensation can account for that. In no country where the death penalty is in place (or has been in place) has there not been cases where innocent people have been murdered by the State. It cannot be allowed to happen.

By all means, debate. Please do not just look at the raw emotive side that comes with a question such as “should a child murderer be allowed to live”. This sort of questioning merely scratches the surface of a difficult moral and ethical issue which ultimately will involve giving the state the power to put people down, with an entirely real risk of more innocent death.

Nico Leon.

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