Death Penalty News And Views
First, the news.
You remember Troy King’s promise to introduce legislation that would extend the death penalty to child molesters? Well, it does not mention King’s proposal – maybe because King thinks “The ABA is a liberal, activist organization with an agenda they constantly push” – but the American Bar Association Journal has an article this month discussing similar laws in other states. The intro:
No one in the United States has been put to death for a crime other than murder since 1964.
But if the state of Louisiana has its way, convicted child rapist Patrick O. Kennedy would become the first inmate in more than four decades to be executed for a crime in which the victim wasn’t killed. The state supreme court is expected to decide Kennedy’s fate this year.
In pressing for Kennedy’s execution, prosecutors also have put Louisiana on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1977 banned executions of rapists who don’t kill. That means prosecutors and politicians in states with similar laws likely will follow Kennedy’s case as it winds its way through the system toward an all but certain date with the justices.
As with any legislation, this raises two questions: Is it a good idea? And is it constitutional?
As for the first, the article does a good job summarizing the pros and cons. All I’ll say is that I find troubling this language by an Oklahoma Democrat who sponsored one of these bills:
“We allow the death penalty for someone who has killed a body. We shouldn’t allow someone who has killed a soul to escape.”
Equating damage to “the soul” with damage to “the body” would be a very radical departure from the current state of the law. Would mere insults now be sufficient to imprison someone for battery? And what about proof? Would the state need expert testimony about the viability of the victim’s soul? Who would that be? A psychiatrist? A pastor? Or could the victim testify to her own deadness? Also, what does this say about the victim? She is no longer a person? Should we now cast her out into the wilderness?
Then again, we have capital punishment because the Bibe says an eye for an eye, so why not adopt the Bible’s rule for child rape? After all, “the Judeo-Christian God [is] the source of our law and liberty.” Deuteronomy 22:28-29 lays out that God’s plan for child rape:
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
How’s that for good ‘ol Judeo-Christian/traditional/family values?
Then again, given our state’s recent Constitutional Amendment barring gay marriage, the Bible’s rule for child rape would pose perhaps insurmountable problems where the attacker and the victim were the same sex.
Anyway, to the constitutional issue. As the article points out, in the 1976 case of Coker v. Georgia, Scotus held that executions for rape violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The rape victim in Coker, though actually 16, was called an adult in the opinion, whereas the new laws extend the death penalty to the rape of children. The argument will be whether or not that is a distinction with a difference.
The result? Well, to start, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer can all take the day off. We all know right now – and they all know right now – exactly how they will rule in the case. The first four will say hang ’em high; the latter four will say no way. That leaves Kennedy as the decider. My guess? His vote has recently done much to limit the application of the death penalty, so I’ll tentatively guess he’ll vote no.
Now, the views. Yesterday I posted a clip of Saddam’s execution set to the music from Benny Hill and asked if it was bad taste or insightful commentary. I think it is the latter, on two levels.
The Tuscaloosa News today highlights the first.
The hanging, with its hooded, taunting goons and cramped, makeshift gallows, resembled the snuff films terrorists were routinely putting out at the beginning of the Iraq war as they beheaded prisoners for shock value.
And if you don’t think the execution showed not the strength of the Iraq government and the “democracy” we are trying to foster there, but its weakness, consider this: the actual noose that was placed around Saddam’s neck is now reportedly in the possession of none other than Shiite leader Muqtada/sal-Sadr, and not the government of Iraq.
Ridiculous is the only word I could think of to describe the execution. It made a complete joke of the entire trial that led to Saddam’s death. Like the editorial says, if our goal in Iraq is stability and the rule of law, that execution set us back quite a ways. I thought the video captured this very well.
But the video speaks to more than just Iraq. Albert Camus famously observed that if the death penalty is supposed to deter crimes, then the government “would give executions the benefit of the publicity it generally uses for national bond issues or new brands of drinks.” In other words, rather than hiding the execution inside the walls of a prison and allowing less than a dozen people to see it, we ought to have every execution occur in full public view.
Every time Alabama executes someone, it ought to be done in the open. Perhaps on the grounds of the courthouse where the condemned was convicted. Here in B’ham, that would be the middle of Linn Park. We could turn off the fountains and set up the gallows in their place. If you worked in City Hall, the Courthouse, or some of the adjacent office buildings, you could watch it without even going outside. And in case anyone missed it, it ought to be released on video. Just like Saddam.
In short, if we want the death penalty to deter – or if we even want an honest discussion of what we are all doing when we execute people – than we all must see things like this as they happen:
Think of the many benefits of having things like that occur in public.
As they argued that the death penalty is essential to a civilized society, death penalty proponents would be able to point at the severed head, or dangling corpse, or bullet riddled body, or smoking eyes, whichever the case may be.
It would greatly deter crime. Surely someone in the audience would think something like this: “I was planning to go out tonight and indulge in illegal drugs as a means of coping with the abuse I endured as a child, and then when someone insulted me, I was going to get into a fight with them, and when the affects of the abuse, my temper, and the fight combined to push me over the edge, I was going to kill the guy and take his wallet. But I guess now I won’t do that.”
The friends and family of the killer’s victim would feel much better with this scene as the closing and finale of their tragedy. How comforting it will be for them in the future to recall such images.
And what of the friends and family of the killer himself? The public execution will also teach them important lessons.
Sure, the executed killer was at one time a newborn child. Maybe his parents even loved him. Perhaps he even requited their love. Could be some folks continued to love him even as he was executed in full view of the entire world.
Well, even if that is the case, none ought to pity them. The execution is also the fault of the parents. The Bible clearly teaches (Proverbs 22:6):
Direct your children onto the right path,
and when they are older, they will not leave it.
So if the child departs, then obviously it is because the parent failed to put them on the right path. The execution will remind all of us as parents to diligently discipline our kids.
Some may object that their child is unruly, and will never obey. Well, the Bible has something to say about that as well (Deuteronomy 21:18-21):
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.
Hence, if the excuse is an unruly child, then the state is simply doing what the parents ought to have done long ago. Again, the public execution will remind parents that they ought to go ahead and do their Biblical duty, rather than letting the state one day do it for them. It’s called personal responsibility.