Some Misconceptions about the Death Penalty

I wasn't going to post any more essays on contraversial life and death issues, because I felt it might be viewed by some people as a cheap way of seeking reviews, but I have read and reviewed a few essays on this topic on Fpnet, and I want to discuss some points I think were overlooked and maybe clear up some common misconceptions. I am talking mainly about Death Penalty laws in America since I assume that's where most of the reviewers and readers are from, this being an American site.

Most recently I read 'Lt. Torres' essay Death Penalties. Lt. Torres listed, among other objections, the execution of people who are mentally ill. People seem to have trouble believing that this happens. I noticed one reviewer, Dark Sorceress, said

'People that committed a crime do (sic) to mental problems are NEVER given the death penalty'

This is unfortunately not the case. On the eighth of December, 1999, David Long, a 46 year old schizophrenic was executed in Texas. He had to be flown to the death chamber from a hospital intensive care unit, accompanied by medical staff there to ensure he stayed alive long enough to be lethally injected. This was by no means an isolated incident. "Since 1977, more than 40 mentally retarded prisoners have been executed. Another 25 with borderline mental retardation have been executed since 1986. There are approximately 300 prisoners with an IQ of less than 75 (normal is 100) currently on death row" (ACADP). We're talking about the executions of people with the minds of children.

Speaking of children, the US is also the number one executer of child offenders, ie. people who were under 18 at the time they committed their offence. 'Amnesty International reports that 12 of the 17 recorded executions of juvenile offenders worldwide in 2002 were carried out in the U.S. International human rights treaties prohibit anyone under 18 years old at the time of the crime to be executed' (ACADP). Teenagers minds are still developing, and they do not yet have the same impulse control and understanding of the consequences of their actions that an adult would. This is why people under the age of 18 aren't allowed to vote or consume alcohol. For the same reason they ought to be protected from the death penalty. I am not by any means suggesting that they should not be punished. They should be imprisoned and rehabilitated. Rehabilitation is often much more effective on young offenders, and if they live to regret what they did, they may come to make some useful contribution to society. Of course this doesn't bring the murdered person back to life, but neither would an execution. It would just create one more dead person, and one more grieving family.

Another reviewer suggested that the accidental execution of innocents was not a major problem because it 'rarely' happens. Once again, this is unfortunately untrue.

"The U.S. death penalty law is full of flaws, discrimination, racism and corruption. Misconduct by law prosecutors have seen innocent people sentenced to death. A 23-year-long study (Liebman Study) completed in February 2002, states that two-thirds of all capital punishment cases contained flaws serious enough to warrant that they be retried. Of those retried, 82% ended in less harsh sentences and 9% of those people were found not guilty and eventually freed. Since 1973, 108 prisoners have been released from death row'.

If an innocent person is sentenced to life in prison then there is a chance she will be able to prove her innocence and eventually be released. If she is executed a posthumous pardon doesn't help her. Personally, I think that how often this happens is largely irrelevant. One innocent killed is one too many.

I didn't set out to attack the U.S. It just turns out they are one of the worst offenders against international human rights standards when it comes to the death penalty.

"In 2002, 81% of all world executions took place in China, Iran and the USA. 71 prisoners were legally executed in the USA. They included two mentally ill males, three child offenders, one female, three foreign nationals, several people whose legal representation was inadequate, prisoners whose guilt remained in doubt, a Mexican national denied his consular rights, and a Pakistan national abducted from Pakistan by U.S. agents ignoring human rights safeguards" ( )

This is completely at odds with the idea of the U.S. being a human rights 'watchdog', as Washington spin doctors would have us believe. Of course gross violations of human rights occur in other countries too. In Japan prisoners are given only minutes notice of their executions, allowing no time to say goodbye to relatives, who are only notified of the execution after the fact. In China prisoners are shot at public rallies before cheering crowds, and if the condemned person's family wants to reclaim the body they must pay for the bullet. In 2001 two women convicted of prostitution were publicly hanged in Afghanistan. In Saudi Arabia offences which attract the death penalty include apostasy, drug dealing, sodomy and witchcraft. Prisoners are beheaded, and it may take several sword strokes to sever the head.

Mainly the U.S. stands out because it is the only retentionist (as opposed to abolitionist) Western nation. The international community would have less trouble with the U.S. interfering with the sovereignty of other nations on the grounds of 'liberating' the people if their own human rights record was not so bad. As it is, such claims come across as hypocritical.

This essay was just to address a couple of specific points in relation to capital punishment. I may post another about my personal views on the subject (I oppose it unconditionally). Please feel free to review or email me with your ideas about it, although I will ignore any rabid flames, and please refrain from insulting murder victims and their families (that means you Omelettes).

I got most of my information from the Australian Coalition Against the Death Penalty website ( ), which I found very interesting.