Thursday, December 01, 2005

On the Death Penalty

I am unique among criminal defense attorneys, in that I do believe that there is a need for a death penalty. Not the way that it is used now, but to acknowledge that there are some people that are just plain evil. Whether from being sociopaths, or whatever, they are a danger to everyone no matter who who they are. I remember that guy who attacked the woman at the Seeley Lake work center and almost killed her. While he was awaiting trial, he beat another guy to death in jail with an exercise bike seat. The guy he killed was in jail for a DUI. I don't think that DUIs merit the death penalty. His killer was sentenced to death but committed suicide instead.
On the other hand, there is the story linked above about an actual innocent man who was executed. So, how to deal with the twin paradox? My solution is to change the standard for a death penalty from beyond a reasonable doubt, to beyond any doubt.
Most juries don't understand the concept of reasonable doubt. They want to support the State in their prosecution on the defendant. Some brave souls will resist the herd mentality, but most jurors want only to get out of there and get backwith their busy lives.
Since a defendant's freedom is on the line, we require the highest level of legal proof. For their life to be on the line, maybe we need more proof.


Wulfgar said...

The analogy I tend to use isn't one of good or evil, but rather this: the death penalty should be reserved for those who are an incurable desease upon the species. Serial killers, serial rapists, serial pedophiles.

For me, it kind of boils down to this, the only way to prove guilt worthy of being eradicated beyond "any" doubt is to ackowledge a mounting pattern of behavior that eschews any hope of redemption or change. If we accept that the death penalty is not a deterant (and I think there's a hella argument to made that it isn't) then the only thing it is useful for is extinguishing that which has no value or hope for value ... ever. Probably a lot more to say, but time is short. I hope I was clear enough.

Steve said...

I agree that it only deters the person being executed. No one says, "I better not do this crime, because of the penalty."
The best use of the death penalty is preventative, in that there are some people who will kill no matter what. We should not have to subject prison guards and other prisoners to their predations. Those are the only ones who really do deserve a death penalty.

Matt Singer said...

I'm pretty split on the death penalty, because in some ways I'm a pretty text book liberal. That said, I think the death penalty can be appropriate as an agent of both individual prevention as you both note and also as an appropriate demonstration of community anger.

That said, even if the death penalty is wrong, it really is administered so rarely that I can't imagine spending a lot of time fighting that particular battle.