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When murderers were hanged quickly (2014) (bbc.com)
41 points by areoform 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 231 comments

The trial of 24-year-old Evans and Allen, who was 21, began on 23 June at Manchester Assizes. On 7 July the men were found guilty and sentenced under the 1957 Homicide Act to suffer death "in the manner prescribed by law". Their appeal was heard just two weeks later - and dismissed the next day. A final appeal for clemency was rejected by the Home Secretary on 11 August. Less than five weeks elapsed between conviction and execution.


Tony Medina was convicted in 1996, aged 21, for a drive-by shooting that killed two children at a new-year party. Since then, for 23 years, he has been awaiting execution. [In solitary confinement.]


This seems a divisive topic. I have few moral objections against executing people that are impractical to release back into society because of stuff they did. But there are too many practical ones to ever be sure and the price of getting it wrong is obviously too high. You can't un-execute someone.

The way it is practiced in the US is both inefficient, incompetent, often unjust (racism, poor legal representation, biased judges/juries, evidence tampering, unreliable witnesses, dna evidence, etc), often controversial, needlessly cruel, and obviously not working in terms of its supposed preventive function. It's a mess.

That's the reason why an increasing number of states are opting not to. It's just too controversial of a topic and the political price of getting it wrong is too high. It's a PR nightmare and it's one of those things that is only getting harder because of all the recent problems failing to get it right. At this point all executions are highly political and typically only pursued in states where this is relatively uncontroversial. All opponents have to do is point all of the above out. Which of course they do.

The hypocrisy around trying to humanize what is basically state sanctioned murder has resulted in weird practices around multiple executioners pushing a button to avoid knowing for sure whether or not you killed the person, weird rituals around selecting the means to kill where the result is neither humane, particularly efficient, or cheap. The whole thing is a weird guilt trip gone wrong. Ironically this has made it more controversial, not less.

From what I understand, killing people swiftly and painlessly is not technically hard. Any vet or butcher knows how to put down an animal humanely. This is done routinely every day. E.g. a bit of N2, N2O, CO, or similar is all you need for what is pretty guaranteed fatal and painless. Hypoxia followed by unconsciousness in seconds and death in minutes, typically. The main objection against this particular method seems to be that it is too humane (make up your mind already). The key point of that is that the death penalty is primarily about revenge and not about prevention. Stating this further de legitimizes the death penalty and is in itself controversial. State sanctioned torture is even more controversial than the state sanctioned executions.

At least the Brits were efficient and competent about hanging people. It's the systemic incompetence around the death penalty that is killing it in the US. Either way, I'd suggest fixing that level of incompetence and getting that off the table at least. I'd say the Brits were wise to get away from that.

You can't un-execute someone.

You can't give a person two decades of their life back either.

Sure, it's better to only take away two decades from someone than all of their remaining years but not as much as people like to believe. Especially when you consider that earlier years have a much higher utility than later years. And later years have again higher utility if you could freely spend your earlier years creating a life you would enjoy, in particular have kids to watch them grow up.

I would challenge you to find a person that was exonerated after an incorrect death sentence that wished they were executed instead of eventually released.

It wouldn't be as hard as you're implying.

The rate of suicide is much higher in prison than out, and is also higher after release for people who have served their prison sentence.

And that's without an impending death sentence - just a regular prison term.

I can't imagine it'd be that different because they were incarcerated incorrectly.

This isn't some hypothetical challenge. There's only a few hundred known cases in the US and most of the dismissals are recent because of the feasibility and availability of PCR and other DNA amplification techniques. Anyone could exhaustively read through every case in a few days (which seems to be only fair when you're talking about taking people's lives).

Here's a list, for example: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-cases

edit: and why would you expect differently about suicide rates? Prison is awful. It is punishment, and it the punishment doesn't end after you have left because loss of vote, inability to work in many fields, social stigma, and broken relationships. However, generally speaking, most people in prison are guilty (even if many are not). It is a distinctly different group than people than those exonerated after a death sentence, who are invariably not guilty and they know it. The two groups aren't comparable even though one is a subset of the other.

Why? I just wrote that it's obviously better. Just not nearly as much better as people seem to believe.

Given our ability to exist in just one universe, the choice is not an alternate history versus present reality. It makes your framing odd. If you take the wrongful conviction as an axiom, the choice between death penalty and life imprisonment seems like an infinitely better improvement. If you can solve wrongful conviction (a separate issue that is much wider ranging that just the death penalty, given being barred from many lines of work and loss of one's right to vote after felony convictions, among other things) then that would obviously be better.

You’ve never been to jail, huh?

Nope, have you? I don't see how it matters. I'm 100% sure I'd rather go to jail than be executed if I were falsely convicted.

I was condescending for a reason. Lots of people lose their minds when they realize it’s gonna be like that forever.

I’m sure you’d change your mind.

> You can't un-execute someone.

You also can't un-imprison someone. Sure, you can release him, but he'll never get those years back; his relationships will never be the same again; the trauma of imprisonment will never leave him.

I think the thing which needs to be done is to fix the judicial system: if we can't rely on it to correctly impose death, then we can't rely on it to correctly impose imprisonment. Maybe we need to incentivise prosecutors differently; maybe we need to conduct investigations differently; maybe we need to adjust the jury system.

Some people are against capital punishment in any case even if it is 100% painless and the judicial process is completely correct. I don't really have anything to say to them: it's obvious to me that there are certain crimes which absolutely merit that punishment and that to refrain from killing the guilty in that case is a profound injustice.

"Some people are against capital punishment in any case even if it is 100% painless and the judicial process is completely correct. I don't really have anything to say to them: it's obvious to me that there are certain crimes which absolutely merit that punishment and that to refrain from killing the guilty in that case is a profound injustice"

Well, a good thing is to not immediately cut off any possibility of reaching a common ground.

I think you describe the issue perfectly. Given an imperfect criminal justice system, how to you administer punishments?

Maybe the DA, the police involved, the judge, and every member of the jury should all be summarily executed in the case of wrongful conviction involving the death penalty? I can see some crimes that merit the death penalty, and if everyone involved had to risk their own life to apply it I would be more comfortable that it was not applied lightly because of racial/socioeconomic issues, police misconduct, or the political ambitions of a district attorney.

> refrain from killing the guilty in that case is a profound injustice.

That's only the case if you believe in free will ideology. The injustice is "society" villainizing a person who had no control over their fate if you understand free will is an illusion because of determinism and how the brain functions.

By that logic there's no guilt on society's part, either. In fact, there's no such thing as injustice. Only fate.

Idk, injustice is a human expression and shared between one another as a word. Maybe it doesn't exist or maybe people can still find injustice towards their existence. The meaning of a lot of words can sure take a different shape with understanding fate. Guilt would even shape differently into an expression denoting misbelief & shame with society not wanting to fix the system of punishment to something else. We're all part of the existence for one another after all.

Yeah, I don't want to get bogged down with irrelevant semantics. My point is that you're saying no moral judgement can be placed on human behavior because humans don't have free will, but such a judgement can be placed on society. How do you square this? Are you saying a society has free will, but the humans it's composed of don't?

I think my previous message isn't just semantics or irrelevant to what you wrote.

Free will doesn't exist in society and similar to humans. The will of society is a summation of all the preceding forces upon generations and without any real control. The result being what we experience today as our society we live in.

This all is important to understand because hidden in it is the knowledge of why we have what we have now. Also the fact of how important the majority operates, behaves and thinks.

Currently, the majority thinks contrary to the fundamental truth of how their life will play out. I hypothesis if this wasn't the case, our society would adapt and because there is something similar to moral judgement.

Basically, the collective unconscious of society. The objective is made with effort of being positive, fair and right. That's assumed with how the majority believes the justice system we experience today is right and without understanding the true knowledge making it neither positive, fair or right.

The incorrect perspectives of how reality is,.. collectively prevents evolution of society and because the collective unconscious is still fixed upon incorrect beliefs. Thus, I think I'm sort of answering your question.

"It's the systemic incompetence around the death penalty that is killing it in the US"

Part of it is the incredible disparity between the equitable application and quality of defense based on class and race. Seems like you have to fix the criminal justice system before you make an ultimate and irreversible punishment more efficient.

>"But David Cameron went into the 2010 election with a manifesto commitment to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act. A lack of an overall majority prevented him from doing so. But Home Secretary Theresa May reiterated the promise to scrap the act at the party conference last year."

This gives me a flashback to when statisticians found that the number one issue that predicted whether or not a Brit voted for Brexit was their opinion on the death penalty: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36803544

Assuming the predictive link goes the other way, does this mean that a referendum on the death penalty would be somewhat likely to go in favour of reinstating it?

There was an opinion poll in 2015 with a slim majority against reintroduction: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32061822 , original report http://www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media-centre/archived-press-rele...

Shortly before the EU Referendum, support for remaining commanded a similarly small majority but then lost. Those supporting Leave ran a more effective campaign, including making use of data gathered online, targeted advertising via Facebook, and mostly emotional arguments. So I would be very concerned if a referendum were to be held on capital punishment.

MPs of all parties are overwhelmingly against reintroduction and there is no chance of it passing in a free vote in the House of Commons.

If that referendum were to be held in simple yes/no terms it would be a mess for exactly the same reason as Brexit - all the 'yes' voters would be voting based on a different understanding of the outcome. (Note this is far from the only reason why Brexit is a mess).

I remember that at the time, people were saying that leave and remain were running equally distasteful and underhanded campaigns. Now they're saying that Remain was worse. I think the memory might be getting socially Orwell'd.

The "remain" campaign operated the same playbook as during the Scottish Indyref: talking up the economic disadvantages, threatening a hard border between England and Scotland, and so on. This was successful in that campaign - but at the same time it got labelled "Project Fear". So in the Brexit referendum any suggestion that car plants would close etc got dismissed as "Project Fear".

Remain was nowhere near as dishonest as Leave, especially if you look at what the Electoral Commission said. Not to mention the two contradictory Leave campaigns.

> people were saying that leave and remain were running equally distasteful and underhanded campaigns

I don't know who was saying it? I think everyone can agree (even the courts) that Leave campaigning was far more underhanded both in terms of veracity and in terms of legality.

> they're saying that Remain was worse

Worse in terms of less effective and less emotionally appealing, yes. Again that is fairly universally acknowledged.

One thing that I learned recently that I wish I hadn't is that it's not entirely clear when someone actually dies from hanging - even the long drop execution style used in the UK - apparently it can take up to 15 minutes before hearts actually stop beating - which is why bodies were left hanging for an hour before being taken down.

Hanging can be pretty gruesome. In an "ideal" hanging the condemned is dropped from a height that snaps their neck and kills them fairly quickly. Drop too far and they can be decapitated, drop too short and they strangle to death. It is certainly not a humane way to die.

Decapitation is certainly gruesome, but I don't know if it's humane or not. Is death instant?

Not instant, but there is not enough research to say conclusively just how long a decapitated head stays conscious.


Decapitation and gallows with a proper drop height were both designed to be fair, in the sense that everybody killed would get the standard execution experience. It was meant to be an improvement to the status quo of plebian criminals getting tortured to death while aristocrats were given swift deaths.

Both systems are humane compared to the earlier status quo, but an even more humane system could certainly be devised. To answer your question, in the case of decapitation there is reason to believe death is not instant but rather that the severed head may remain aware for a few seconds. This is faster than hanging, but still not instantaneous.

A shotgun slug straight to the skull would be pretty damn close to instantaneous, but that's got a few problems. In addition to the psychological damage inflicted on any witnesses to the execution, it will have more inconsistent results. What happens if the shot is poorly aimed and 'merely' removes somebody's jaw bone? Done correctly, a shotgun slug would provide a more instantaneous death. However it's a less foolproof system. That's just an example though, it's easy to conceive of systems that are simultaneously more instantaneous than a guillotine but are simultaneously are more reliable.

Edit: re inert gas: Yes, though again there is the matter of reliability. An inert atmosphere will kill a human reliably, but the apparatus used may fail to provide an adequately inert atmosphere. This probably wouldn't happen with a mechanism designed specifically for execution, but it does happen a lot in cases of attempted suicide. Inert gas suicides will sometimes be botched, with the victim receiving just enough fresh air to survive the experience (typically with severe brain damage caused by the oxygen deprivation.)

Ultimately I think the whole matter is about risk tolerance. How much risk of executing an innocent man do you tolerate? How much risk of a botched execution do you tolerate? How much risk of releasing a guilty man do you tolerate? These are questions with subjective answers, and for many people their answer will be to tolerate no risk, e.g. abolish the death penalty. Other people are willing to tolerate more risk, so for them the answer might be "bring back execution but modernize the methods". Generally people on one side view the thought processes of people on the other side as alien or obviously defective, but I think that's generally not the case.

I don't understand why they don't anesthetize them before their execution. Put them under as if they are going in for surgery and then issues of inhumane treatment go away, and opens the way for far easier and less gruesome types of execution.

Turns out that proper anesthetization is more difficult than most people realize, especially since the competent medical professionals won't help for ethical and moral reasons. Also, drug companies won't sell the drugs if they are going to be used in an execution.

Since none of us knows the experience of death, it's not knowable what effect anesthesia has. Perhaps being numb to the experience makes it worse and not better.

Killing humanely and painlessly is a solved problem: simply replace the atmosphere with an inert gas and the victim will fall unconscious and die.

The former UK politician Michael Portillo did a documentary on that very subject and came to just that conclusion:


There did seem to be some resistance to the idea that executions would be simply drifting off - suffering seemed to be a desired part of it :-(

Edit: For the record, I'm not in favour executing anyone but if it has to be done I don't see why people have to suffer.

It's a solved problem scientifically. It's nowhere close to being a solved problem politically.

Many proponents of the death penalty want to see pain and suffering. They aren't remotely interested in humane execution.

That’s a strong assertion to make without backing it up with anything

Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi all authorized nitrogen for executions in 2018, though I don't know if any have actually done one this way.

The destruction of brain tissue during the experience of death, while bringing about a swift end to detectable life, may not be a pleasant way to experience death.

I think there are three factors:

1) How much damage a brain can take before it's incapable of experiencing.

2) How fast a brain can have an experience.

3) How long it would take for a supersonic shotgun slug to reach point 1.

I'm extremely skeptical that point 2 is fast enough to meet the deadline imposed by point 3. I suppose I can't say it's impossible, but it seems very unlikely.

For that matter though, let's suppose point 2 is fast enough to meet the deadline. We don't actually know if that is a more unpleasant death experience than being hanged or decapitated. We can speculate about which experience is the worst, but none of the dead can actually report back to us with real data. My personal suspicion is that decapitation is the most unpleasant, since there is a strong possibility you will be conscious long enough to experience your situation, and that experience will be truly unpleasant. But who knows.

I don't think it's reasonable to make the assumptions you make in your three-part calculus, though I do acknowledge that it's a thoughtful way of considering the matter.

But what if an intact brain is an important part of navigating the first 10 minutes or so of the experience of being dead?

I prefer not to have my brain mushed at all, and let it very slowly decompose. Certainly the first hours of being dead, while it's still possible that electrical or chemical activity in the brain is ongoing, I prefer for it to be intact and at peace.

My calculus is predicated on the assumption of a materialistic mind and no afterlife (e.g. there is no experience of being dead, only experiences of dying.) If those assumptions are wrong, then I think there is no firm ground on which to speculate at all (maybe Valhalla is the true afterlife and a gory death in battle is the most form of death the dead find most satisfactory. I don't believe that, but I disbelieve it only as hard as I disbelieve the Christian afterlife.)

In my model of the world, perhaps a brain slowly ramping down is a pleasant experience. That's totally conceivable to me. However the brain being instantly disassembled faster than it can have experiences would be the absence of experience, be it a pleasant or unpleasant.

> My calculus is predicated on the assumption of a materialistic mind and no afterlife

But even then, we can't know the difference in experience for brain matter sprayed all over the room vs contained in one place.

A materialistic model asks us to question what happens when the material in question is rapidly separated and damaged, no?

Are individual pieces of cortex capable of experiencing distress for the minutes or hours in question? We have no idea.

Given that a decapitation includes a broken neck, it'd be surprising if it was any slower than a broken neck.

Gallows are higher impact than a guillotine (the body is accelerated by gravity, then rapidly decelerated by the rope.) So I don't think it's totally inconceivable that gallows might render somebody unconscious faster than a guillotine. However in practice I don't believe it actually plays out that way.

The US constitution (amendment 6) ostensibly provides the right to a speedy trial. Amendment 8 forbids "cruel and unusual" punishment.

What I don't understand is how people can be against the death penalty but yet be totally OK with locking people up for the rest of their lives. I personally know someone who, if they live to be 75, will ultimately end up being in prison for over 5 decades. How is that not "cruel and unusual"?

>>What I don't understand is how people can be against the death penalty but yet be totally OK with locking people up for the rest of their lives.

So I'm one of those people. It's simple really - death penalty is permanent, while life imprisonment isn't. Yes it sucks that sometimes we might have to release someone who spent 30 years falsely imprisoned - but it's sure a hell lot better than finding out that there is no one to release because the person was executed a decade ago. And secondly, I just don't see any need to execute people, the risk vs reward is not worth it.

What if the prisoner states they'd prefer the death penalty? ie execution becomes assisted suicide for life sentenced prisoners

That's a choice that the prisoner has, rather than one that the legal system makes.

> death penalty is permanent, while life imprisonment isn't

I think the word you're looking for here is "irreversible", not "permanent." Life imprisonment is, by definition, permanent.

And yes, you can "reverse" life in prison by setting the prisoner free. But what you can't so easily reverse is the psychological damage done by the false imprisonment.

You can certainly mitigate and compensate in cases of false prosecution. This doesn't usually happen, but it could.

And it's still less irreversible - to them, and to family and friends - than killing them.

You can give monetary compensation (like that's gonna fix it all, but that's another debate) to a living person.

Yes, of course. You can also give monetary compensation to a dead person's family. Whether either option actually makes things right is debatable.

It doesn't make things right. Nothing ever will, but it's better than the alternative.

Depends on which alternative you're talking about. One alternative is not to execute people or lock them up in inhumane conditions at all (the Norwegians do this). It's not at all clear to me that writing checks when you get it wrong is better.

Someone consciously chose to permanently end another’s life. There has to be decisions made.

In theory, if applied flawlessly, maybe nothing is wrong with the permanence of the death penalty.

In practice, mistakes are made, regularly, and these mistakes are distributed unevenly, such that the poor and minorities suffer the most.

The many wrongful deaths at the hands of the government is a good reason to be skeptical of arguments which assume the death penalty can be applied perfectly. It can’t.

There's no such thing as a black and white case.

For a simple counter example, you can look up the Outreau case : 12 people were accused of raping and videotaping children, with multiple testimonies. And 5 years later, the majority of them were found to be actually innocent.

If death penalty was a thing in France, they would have got it for sure, as it was a very emotionnal case at the time.

You can also check the movie 12 Angry Men, which is a work of fiction obviously, but still very relevant on why counting on 'black and white cases with extreme evidence' is simply wishful thinking, and will lead to innocent people being killed

The case of Timothy Evans, who was wrongfully convicted and hanged in the 1950s in the UK (classic case of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time) is even more appropriate. After his execution the actual killer (a serial killer) went on to kill several other women.

It was highly influential in the eventual abolition of the death penalty in the UK in the 1960s.

> In cases where it’s black and white with extreme evidence why even allow them to continue living on everyone’s dime.

Because the cost of putting them to death using a system that has sufficient checks to (mostly) prevent innocent people from being executed (i.e. the current system, if you believe it works) is greater than the cost of imprisoning people for life.

Well that just means the current system needs some changes. Just because that's the way it currently is doesn't mean that's the way it always has to be or always was. Some laws and policies may need to change, but treating this like an immutable fact is like being content with a super inefficient piece of code that's bottlenecking your application.

The actual murderers chose. The people accidentally mistaken for murderers didn’t choose anything at all.

Well, if the legal system was completely infallible in deciding who is guilty then that might be an argument. But I'm not aware of any legal system in any country that can make that particular claim.

And you want to hold that up as something immoral by...repeating it?

> Yes it sucks that sometimes we might have to release someone who spent 30 years falsely imprisoned - but it's sure a hell lot better than finding out that there is no one to release because the person was executed a decade ago.

For society's conscience, certainly. For the prisoner, I'd say it depends. I suppose most will agree that a swift death would be preferable to 65 years of extreme torture with a "sorry, you're free to go" in the end. It comes down to whether long term imprisonment, especially solitary confinement, is close enough to torture. Some prisoners apparently prefer death, the suicide rate is much higher than that of the general population, and iirc, quite a few prisoners dropped their appeals and asked to be executed, likely because they prefer a horrible end to never ending horror.

At least the prisoner still has a choice he can make.

"Extreme torture"?

In a hypothetical scenario, imagine whatever torture you consider the absolute most cruel. Would you prefer somebody suffer that torture for 50 years or be killed tomorrow? If you choose the latter, we've established that death can be a preferable alternative to otherwise horrible circumstances. I'm not saying that imprisonment is the most extreme torture imaginable, but it's probably not the best thing ever either. It's somewhere in between, likely closer to the torture end of the scale.

If and where you draw the line between "this is fine" and "no person shall suffer like that for decades, no matter what they may have done, ending their life is the humane thing to do" is up to you.

Many death row prisoners spend years in solitary confinement, and are driven insane in the process.

You don't think that death row conditions are tantamount to extreme torture?

> It's simple really - death penalty is permanent, while life imprisonment isn't.

Death being permanent is a feature, not a bug. Is it possible that evil people can continue to negatively influence society from prison? Or even continue to commit heinous crimes in prison? I'd say this scenario happens much more often than killing an innocent.

For example, organized crime. If you don't kill organized crime leaders, they continue to spread their secret oaths among other prisoners and continue to manage affairs even outside of prison via comm links.

I agree that it's bad to kill innocents, but I think with the right policy and rigor, we could make the death penalty an efficient and painless process that has an extremely low false positive rate.

In my mind it's like "yeah, we save the extremely rare false positive at the expense of allowing all the non-false positives to continue to spread and propagate evil for decades"

What "false positive rate" is acceptable to you? And shouldn't we refer to it for what it is: a "innocent people murdered by the state rate"?

For me personally, 0 is the only acceptable number. The only way to get that is to end the death penalty.

> For me personally, 0 is the only acceptable number.

But why? Surely you must acknowledge that the "innocent people murdered by the state rate" is inversely proportional to the "innocent people murdered by criminals who should have been put to death but weren't rate"? This latter rate includes prison murders, calling/paying for hits from prison, influencing copycat killers, being released and then killing again, etc.

So basically you are trading one form of innocent death for another (not to mention introducing a host of other negative effects to society by allowing truly evil people to interact with people in said society). For me, death penalty is acceptable as long as the "innocent people murdered by the state rate" is less than the "innocent people murdered by criminals who should have been put to death but weren't rate".

It's crude to try to compare how awful one murder is to another, but it does feel in some ways worse if the murder of an innocent person is funded by taxpayer money and performed by people claiming to have the legitimate authority to govern me.

I personally prefer to have as few murders on my own conscience as possible.

It turns out a lot of those issues you call out are only a real problem in America. Our prison system is barbaric and the solution isn't to just kill all criminals, it's to reform and rebuild our prison system to match our EU counterparts.

I generally agree with you, but

> Our prison system is barbaric and the solution isn't to just kill all criminals

I never said it was. I think DP should be reserved for organized crime leaders, serial killers, and other people who have repeatedly shown that they are fundamentally incompatible with a good society.

A crime of passion such as a husband killing the man cheating with his wife does not necessarily deserve DP and would be a candidate for reform.

Yes, but there were people here in this very thread wanting to use the death penalty for varying level of offenses. And your definition of people that are 'fundamentally incompatible with society' leaves a lot of room for interpretation considering there are those that believe color or identification is enough to make you incompatible with society.

To be in favor of the death penalty is to accept the possibility of abuse, something we've seen occur where people are rushed to death row before their criminality can be fully presumed.

The death penalty should never be on the table because the possibility of abuse is too high and the history of it being abused proves that it can't be handled in any rational way.

What’s your acceptable number of innocent people imprisoned by the state, and if it’s greater than zero, then why?

I'm not the person you replied to, but is this supposed to be a gotcha? I assume the answer would be zero. But if you accept that the criminal justice system makes mistakes (between 100k-200k in current prison population per https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10940-018-9381-1) then it's obvious it's better to be able to have reversible punishments. Unless you are suggestion the complete abolition of incarceration for all crimes?

I suppose what I'm rejecting is the dichotomy between imprisonment being "reversible" and execution being "irreversible." Neither are reversible, of course. You can't give someone back the time they were unjustly imprisoned.

I think the reversibility argument is a sloppy way of trying to say that there is some massive difference in kind between a lifetime of imprisonment and an execution. The argument seems to be implying that outright ending a human life is taking infinite value, but imprisoning someone for an entire lifespan is taking only finite value. That's the only way it would make sense to allow for the possibility of some erroneous lifetime imprisonments, but not allow for the possibility of some erroneous executions.

First, you relying too much on semantics. "Reversible" is understood to be "I can reverse taking away someone's freedom". They were in prison, but now they are not. You can't give back the lost time, and everyone understands that. Also, it comes from "reversing a conviction" which is a legal term.

Secondly, and I'm sorry, but your characterization is incredibly sloppy. The overall outcome is better if even one exoneration happens and you assume equal preference for life imprisonment vs execution. However:

* Many wrongful convictions will be exonerated. There are multiple per year. There has been at least one this year: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-cases#CliffordWilliam...

* Further, while the preference might not be "infinite" you can just look at the overwhelming majority - innocent or not - of death row prisoners that exhaust all avenues of appeal to see that there is a strong preference there.

First, I don’t think I’m playing semantic tricks. The finality of imprisonment and execution are the same. You don’t get time back if you’re released from prison. The difference is that you’re still alive, but of course that’s already the difference between imprisonment and execution. The fact that the death penalty involves killing someone is just definitional, it’s not a justification for why the death penalty is bad.

Secondly, of course I don’t dispute that there’s generally a preference for life imprisonment over execution.

The finality of eating an apple is the same if you are an external observer and just judging it by the direction of the time arrow.

From the perspective of the - potentially falsely - accused, "The difference is that you’re still alive" is a pretty fundamental distinction and "The finality of imprisonment and execution are the same" is false.

> I agree that it's bad to kill innocents, but I think with the right policy and rigor, we could make the death penalty an efficient and painless process that has an extremely low false positive rate.

How low of a rate are you willing to accept, and how do you plan on getting there?

> How low of a rate are you willing to accept,

See my other comment

> and how do you plan on getting there?

By restricting death penalty not just to the type of crime, but the type of crime and the type of evidence. I think death penalty should be reserved for repeat offenders of egregious crimes where there is overwhelming strong evidence.

The standard is already beyond a shadow of a doubt and requires the prosecution, original judge, jury, several rounds of appeals overseen by more judges. After which the governor or president can weigh in.

Humans are fallible and therefore incapable of creating an infallible justice system.

Allowing any death penalty means murdering some number of innocent people to "get" a greater number of bad people who you already have locked up.

So answer the question. How many innocent people are sufficiently low collateral damage and stop pretending we can only execute bad people.

The rate is sufficiently low enough if it is lower than the collateral damage caused by not executing exceptionally bad people.

The number of people for whom this is true is probably so low its not worth bending our laws, ethics, and souls into knots to try to get these people.

"> How low of a rate are you willing to accept,

"See my other comment"

Where you never answered.

1/10? 1/100? 1/1000?

Keep in mind that those statistics are very indirect, particularly since once an execution is carried out, no one has any incentive or interest in reexamining the case.

I can't name a hard figure, because it's a relative figure. The rate is sufficiently low enough if it is lower than the rate of innocent deaths caused by not executing exceptionally bad people.

So you’re willing to accept a low rate of false positives...

What if the rate of false positives varies by race, is that still acceptable to you?

If you’re making a Pareto Optimization, it’s reasonable to think that if the probability of being murdered by the state is still much lower than the probability of being murdered by an incompletely reformed criminal for each subset of the population, there’s an argument that every subset of the population was made better off.

I’d hate to overlook a 10x improvement for all because one group got a 2/10ths penalty and another got a 1/10th penalty. The alternative (to give one discriminated against group a penalty 50x worse and the lesser discriminated group a penalty 100x worse “because fairness demands it”) is worse, IMO.

I kind of see your answer, so thank you for that.

I am a little worried that you are using these made up numbers actively to justify your thinking to yourself. I understand it’s just a hypothetical to explain your framework for reasoning. But you should have actual numbers before you commit to that framing, no?

The subtext of my comment was that your formulation might be immoral given the racial context (i.e. “racist”), and I think your detailed answer still probably is that, by assigning different wrongful death targets to different races. But I understand your moral position is that you just want the best possible for each race, which is.... well, racist but morally defensible I suppose.

I believe you introduced the “what if the state murder rate was racially biased?”

I used a constant non-state rate in my example. If I had actual data, I’d have been happy to use it. Without that, I had to go theoretical and argue that if every group is made better off, there’s an argument to support. Surely, before such a plan is changed, it will be studied to an extent that’s impractical for news.yc commenting.

If you lock someone up forever they are less likely to murder you.

Life imprisonment is cruel? For the absolute worst possible crimes? I don’t think so.

Life imprisonment is unusual? For the absolute worst possible crimes? Again, no, not really. It certainly must suck, but what is unusual about society wishing to protect itself from it’s worst offenders?

Life imprisonment has the huge benefit of being undoable if new evidence exonerates someone.

I am certainly opposed to “BS life imprisonment”, like US drug three strike laws leading to that outcome. But for murder, rape, etc? No, I personally am entirely on board with life imprisonment, provided the justice system can demonstrate the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The definitions of cruel and unusual are independent of crime severity.

I don’t think that’s true in the USA - the idea that the application of the punishment rather than the punishment itself can make it cruel and unusual is the essence of the famous Furman v Georgia decision of the US Supreme Court in 1971 which led to a de facto moratorium on the death penalty until the late 1970s. What’s more eg in Coker v Georgia in 1977 the US Supreme Court ruled that rape of an adult woman was insufficient to qualify for the death penalty.

Well like I said below I maybe hoping for something that doesn't exist. I assume enough legal action has taken place to figure this out but I wouldn't really know. However, I agree that the application of the punishment rather than the punishment itself can be cruel and usual (depending on how the punishment is defined). I fail to see how the second case example relates if the first is true. What is cruel or unusual seems unrelated to the crime severity because cruel and unusual is a separate concept like the first example seems to show or so I thought. Crime severity and severity of the punishment should be related though. This is why, in my opinion, solitary confinement can be called might be cruel and unusual. It's categorically different from prison. I hope any of that makes sense.

I sure hope not. That would allow execution for first-time-offender jaywalking.

Severity is part of what is meant by unusual. Life imprisonment for a minor crime would be considered unusual punishment.

Maybe I'm hoping for a more thoughtful legal system than is actually in place. While your example would be unusual it's only unusual now. Meaning you're basing what what is usual on the length of the prison sentence can gradually increased over time as long as it never appears to be usual compare to the "current mean". Much of this is legislated which implies to me that unusual would fall outside of what has been legislated.

Forcing someone to eat a box of baking soda would be unusual to me because it's in a totally different category of punishment. Like fining, community service, or death instead of prison.

> Life imprisonment has the huge benefit of being undoable

That's a blatant lie. If an innocent man ends up in jail at the age of 20 and it "is undone" when he's 40, his life is destroyed anyway: No career, no savings, no family, no prospects for ever amounting to anything. How do you undo that?

Get off your moral high horse. Life imprisonment is more cruel than death.

A weird example to use. Are you really saying it's better to kill innocent people than lock them up for 20 years?

That's a good question, and worth pondering outside the context of the state's monopoly on violence. Would the average person prefer Ted Bundy kill them immediately or lock them in his basement for 20 years?

This entire comment chain seems to be conflating two common arguments:

1) If it's wrong to kill an innocent man, it's also wrong to imprison that same man; you can call one more unjust than the other, but (as the argument goes) you can't say that one is justified while the other is not.

2) Our society has gotten too used to locking people up in metal cages for several decades; there are many arguments in favor of moving back to flogging[1][2]

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Defense-Flogging-Peter-Moskos/dp/0465...

[2] https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/justice

Yes, definitely it would be far less cruel than subjecting them to the penal system for the best years of their life. Especially if it is a quick, painless method of execution.

It's sort of too bad that there aren't many mostly empty wastes that we can exile people to any longer. Remove them from society, but give them the chance to make what life they can under the sky.

Were the years Nelson Mandela spent imprisoned ones that would have been the "best years of his life" had he not been imprisoned, considering what occurred in the years after he was released? How do we determine value of time spent alive? Was it worth it and valuable to him to suffer through years of imprisonment in order to reach the later years? Was is worth it and valuable to society? Would he and/or society have answered differently during the years of his imprisonment than now? Whose answer (now-Mandela's or younger-Mandela's, now-society's or younger-society's) matters most?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. The difference is small, though.

But context matters. I'm really objecting to the weird notion that miscarriages of justice are sort-of okay, as long as they don't result in capital punishment. It makes little difference whether a man's life is unjustly destroyed or unjustly extinguished!

You are honestly arguing that killing innocent people is better than wrongful imprisonment?

Besides the fact that execution (last I checked) is permanent, there are no methods used in the US (or most places in the world) that guarantee a quick, painless death.

Practically, the most likely methods (lethal injection) end up torturing people to death.

That’s really the kind of world you want to live in?

Yes I am. Seriously, how is this even hard to understand?

Imagine yourself in the situation: you are 20, you go to jail. You are 40, now exonerated. You have no friends, no skills, no job, no money. You are a failure. It's unfixable. You are likely to commit suicide.

The point isn't so much whether a messed up life is still better than no life, the point is that someone upthread glibly asserted that wrongful imprisonment can be reversed. That is a convenient lie. Those years are lost. Forever. Irreversibly.

Still not getting through? Fine, imagine a women spending her third and fourth decade in jail. That means no children. Ever. Is that enough to get the point across that imprisonment causes permanent, irrevocable damage and that it isn't markedly different from capital punishment in this regard?

Well, I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree here. I think your reasoning is... flawed, to say the least. We're not going to see eye to eye on this, so let's call it a day.

> how is this even hard to understand?

I think you need more practical life experience to understand why you are wrong.

> You are 40, now exonerated. You have no friends, no skills, no job, no money. You are a failure. It's unfixable. You are likely to commit suicide.

That was me at 40. I didn't go to prison. I got sick. Lost everything and had to start over. And 15 years later life is okay.

Friend mentioned his college professor. He fled the Nazi's and went to Argentina. And then had to flee again to the US. Each time he started over with _nothing_.

It makes a rather massive difference.

In one case, you can potentially reunite a person with their family. In the other, the state has killed an innocent man and permanently destroyed a family.

I'm really having a hard time understanding how locking someone up and potentially freeing them later after a miscarriage of justice is discovered is the same as murdering that person.

I'm not saying it makes it okay, but wrongful imprisonment, at least in the USA, results in fairly hefty lawsuits and financial settlements, usually in the millions of dollars depending on the length of incarceration.

I don't see the problem. You can easily undo all of those things. No savings? Just give him homey. No career? Hire him for a government job. No prospectors for ever amounting to anything? Get off your high horse, he'd still have 40 years left to do that. Especially for men 40 years is a perfectly fine age to start a family nowadays.

Really the worst case would be to convict someone who is 60 years or older who then dies in prison because of a lack of medical attention.

> No career? Hire him for a government job.

Are you being satirical here? The rest of your comment, other than this line, seems like you are trying to be serious, but this is so clearly over the line into absurdity I can't tell.

> No prospectors for ever amounting to anything? Get off your high horse, he'd still have 40 years left to do that. Especially for men 40 years is a perfectly fine age to start a family nowadays.

Assuming you are being serious for the moment (and if you arne't, good on you, I honestly wasn't sure): it seems like you are not accounting for any of the realities of the scenario you are describing. What about the trauma and PTSD from living through decades of psychological torture? What about the destroyed social networks? What about the consequences of decades of poor diet and exercise?

No friends.

In terms of human history, life imprisonment is very unusual. It's new enough to still be regarded as in an experimental phase, and everything we know about this experiment suggests that prison (especially life) is failing to have any of the positive effects that it is supposed to have.

> How is that not "cruel and unusual"

Cruel refers to punishment which is torturous. Prison, in theory, should not be torture, despite often being so. Many aspects of incarceration in the US which are effectively torturous are commonly excused as being necessary for security and safety (e.g. solitary confinement) or medical reasons (e.g. force feeding), or being acts of other prisoners not under the control of the state (e.g. bullying). By contrast, many other countries' prison systems treat these factors as being within their responsibility.

Unusual refers to the punishment being arbitrary or not appropriate for the crime. This doesn't set a standard for what punishment is reasonable, but only requires punishments be consistent (for similar crimes). Additionally, if the punishment could not have been expected, then it can't be considered useful for the purpose of deterrence.

Crucially, the requirement that punishment not be cruel and unusual does not require the punishment to be reciprocal to the crime.

> yet be totally OK with locking people up for the rest of their lives

There are countries where prisons are not exploitative hellholes, and locking people up for life is not a form of punishment but an acknowledgement that society has failed them, so there is no point in making the prisoner's incarceration as unpleasant as possible.

If it's "cruel and unusual", it's your society that makes it cruel and unusual. It doesn't have to be that way.

Society has not failed some people. A person for whom all mental and physical faculties are intact, yet is simply evil (these people do exist), who goes on to rape, murder, engage in paedophila... these people have failed society and should be removed by dint of a rope.

There are cases where people have been overlooked, needed help, etc. But the evil among us should be purged. Locking up serial rapists, serial paedophiles, and serial murderers does nothing but waste taxpayer money. If someone who commits these crimes is found guilty beyond any shadow of a doubt, they should be removed from society.

Norway, for all its goodness, needed to execute that moron who murdered all those kids in cold blood. Yet, he enjoys an expansive room, cooked meals, TV, games, conversation... all like it's no big deal. I think that is an example of society failing to deal with a problem. There is no closure for all of those families who lost innocent children. They exist knowing he exists, and is enjoying life as he's able.

You seem fairly ruthlessly pragmatic on the issue.

Yet, you take issue with a murderer being offered anything that could be considered a comfort.

Assuming he's completely severed from society, what difference is it making? I'm genuinely curious.

If we sent him out into space with a couch and a chess partner, is the "closure" of anyone victimized the responsibility of anyone other than the victims?

It's harsh, but no one can "give them closure", and it's not clear that watching the perpetrator die is the one true form of final closure.

It depends on what "locking up" means. If we are talking about US-style prisons then letting (possibly innocent and for that matter even guilty) people languish there _is_ cruel and unusual punishment.

However, there are better "prisons" (see e.g. what Norway does) and it is possible to let (dangerous) people live lives that are dignified, fulfilling and productive (when they are able to work) under the constraints of captivity.

I've definitely thought about both this and the cost and problems with keeping people on death row alive for decades. I think the answer is easy: Remove the death penalty but enable euthanasia options for those sentenced to life.

1. It removes the cruelty of life imprisonment. If we take away someone's freedom permanently and they will never have the option to regain their freedom, they can "take the easy way out". Those who are innocent and believe they will eventually be freed can stay the course, but those who know their life is over can choose to exit early.

2. It removes the added bureaucracy and delay to execution and death penalty cases. By removing the government's ability to kill someone, we no longer need additional hearings for death penalty cases or need to hold out a very long time for possible appeals many years later. It just becomes someone's choice.

Now, there's other considerations, I think there'd still need to be a minimum time for euthanasia after being sentenced, you'd want maybe a periodic opt in period for people to elect for euthanasia, maybe every five years or so, and you'd want to have someone evaluate that the prisoner wasn't making a rash choice due to recent news from the outside or the like.

But this allows death as an "escape" for a life of misery in jail and also removes bureaucratic overhead to the government electing to kill someone.

That's insane. You're basically putting somebody in a cruel and miserable existence with the expectation that they commit suicide, for the sole purpose of keeping your hands clean. I find it worse than outright killing them.

Well, I mean, ideally our prison system shouldn't aim to be cruel and miserable, but we can't exactly set the convicted serial killers free, now can we?

Shouldn't we aim to give them the most freedom we can, though? The ability to ideally, in a restricted environment, continue to read and learn and grow, or if that won't satisfy them, to remove themselves from the situation?

I think the same people who are against the death penalty are probably largely the same people who want much more humane prisons.

Some of them are also in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day the whole time.

Its effect on people goes beyond those two amendments. In Roper vs. Simmons the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for crimes committed while a minor (under 18 years of age) is cruel and unusual punishment.

One consequence is for the brothers Tilmon and Kevin Golphin. Tilmon was 18 and Kevin was 17 when the crime occurred. At the time, both were convicted of the death penalty for the same event. However, due to the US Supreme Court ruling, Kevin later had his sentence changed to life in prison. Tilmon is still on death row.

Their situation presents a lot of moral questions about the death penalty, morality, fairness, and so on. Justice is never going to be fair, and it is always hard for a society to determine the correct balance.

I am one of those people who is opposed to the death penalty but in favor of life in prison without parole. In my thinking this punishment is/should be reserved for the worst and most heinous crimes against other people, whether that is murder of or violence against another individual or perhaps also white collar crimes of sufficient scale. I see nothing wrong with depriving a criminal of their own life and freedom if they consciously did the same to others. They also don't have a potentially limited period for exculpatory evidence to arise like with the death penalty.

Apparently the Supreme Court is interpreting the prohibition as only applying to punishment that is both cruel and unusual. Cruel alone or unusual alone is A-OK.

To which case are you referring here?

I am against the death penalty AND against needlessly long 'punishment' terms.

I think the Danish model is the best - but that looks out for the person and the future, rather than pure punishment; https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/d3dabz/adopting-denmarks-...

Both cases are handled by a punishment modal that assumes humans have free will. I wish we lived in a society that handled these cases with a rehabilitation modal and understanding free will is an illusion by determinism & how the brain functions.

I guess you’ve never interacted with a large fraction of people that are typically committing violent crimes. A lot of them are these brutish unhinged characters, with low IQ. They are mentally defective, you can either lock them away for the rest or their life (more humane) or kill them (generally frowned upon). There is no way to rehabilitate them.

My perspective is people committing crimes are similar to persons suffering an illness. We as a society should be approaching both situations the same because that's how we obtain cures and not with the mindset of the current justice system. The justice system is slowing progress similar to if we approached illnesses with the mindset of the justice system.

It would rehabilitate us to treat them as malfunctioning humans who are worthy of compassion, even as we keep them away from public society. As a culture we really need to grow out of thinking about criminal justice in terms of punishment.

Whether we have free will or not makes no real difference as long as we can't prove whether we have it or not. Besides, even defining the term "free will" is difficult. One thing we do know is that we do not have rules and do not enforce them, then we'll get more of the behavior that we have found undesirable enough to have rules against it -- whether this is due to our having free will or not is immaterial to whether or not we should have rules.

See my comments to other replies. The simplest description of the justice system upon society is constructing deterrents for actions decided as bad. The argument that people need to believe in free will to be good people hasn't been proven fundamentally true. The deterrents made by the justice system don't work for everyone and it's not fair when people have events or the genetics making the deterrents not work for them like others. I'm not voicing for no rules. I'm suggesting a better system needs to be designed.

> The argument that people need to believe in free will to be good people hasn't been proven fundamentally true.

I did not make that argument. I only argued that having free will or not makes no difference as long as we cannot tell whether we have it. Even supposing we all believed none of us has free will, it doesn't follow that we wouldn't agree to have rules. It also doesn't follow that believing we have or might have free will is what makes us behave well, but having rules does seem to help that.

As to fairness, there's also fairness to the rest of society -- if a person cannot help but commit crimes, then maybe they shouldn't be free to do so. You might think that unfair to the criminal, but it is certainly better for everyone else. Call this whatever you want, but it is pretty much how all societies work, from the most primitive to the most modern -- we have rules, and we seek to enforce them.

Rules are not rules when a person cannot not break them because of no control over the events in their life and their genetics leading them to break these rules.

I'm not saying it's fair that we don't allow people to be free to act upon what is bad. I'm saying the system needs to be designed to be a rehabilitation modal and not a punishment modal because it's dehumanizing, amoral, and unethical to punish a person who is forced into the circumstances. The punishment modal doesn't help fix the problem and keeps a system from evolving to where people can be fixed like illnesses in the healthcare system.

You can say that all you want, but everyone else can still enforce their rules, and you know they will. Rules won't go away -- they'd better not! Your best bet is to talk about what punishments are appropriate to what crimes.

Words are for sharing human expression. Your interpretation of a something being a rule, is rigged when it's not possible for a person to follow it by choice. I think it's best to talk about how people don't have free will and let people understand the injustice to humanity for progress to eventually come.

That will make no difference. Free will or not society will still impose rules you don't like.

Or look at it this way: if the universe is fully deterministic and we have no free will then what's the problem if a criminal goes to jail? It's not as if it means anything, and it was all pre-determined, no?

But the real answer is that we neither know for sure whether the future has been pre-determined, nor could we predict the future if it were, and we do not know if we have anything like free will, but we at least have the illusion of free will, so we have no choice but to act as if we do.

I feel like you’re making a straw man argument to my original point.

Rules can change, get better or worse and effect society in a little way. I have no problem with that! I’m not saying if someone cannot follow a rule it’s not good.

I’m saying the consequences of breaking a rule need to be a rehabilitation modal compared to a punishment modal. The illusion of free will is similar to humans once perceiving the world is flat. I’m a firm believer that it’s better to not live a life under an illusion and when the consequences to humanity are something like the justice system being built incorrectly in a dehumanizing manner. I find it heartless when a person feels like the people fated to suffer should just be damned instead of acknowledging a problem. Predetermination doesn’t make me into that type of person and while living several years with the illusion gone. I find that attempt something a person who hasn’t thought much about life (would say) while not thinking everything is determined.

You assume rehabilitation is always possible or cost-effective. From a utilitarian viewpoint, it might be best to simply rid society of some people forever. I’m not arguing for or against that view, but it’s a possibility. The issue of “free will versus determinism” doesn’t settle the question of capital punishment like you think it does.

Some societies have made a rehabilitation model work.


In the end from a cost perspective it's a lot cheaper to have a productive member of society living on their own than it is to lock someone up for life. You have to weigh the recidivism rate vs. the cost of the program, but there isn't any country in the world with a more expensive criminal justice system than the US. We can definitely do better.

As a philosopher I tend to approach all things as objects and similar to humans with their properties that happen to be unique because of the life events not being equivalent in order or even with outcomes because of mixed order. Dehumanization happens when we treat objects as broken and not fixable or worth fixing. I think we should try to be above nature.

We can’t be above nature because we are part of nature. And some things are not fixable at all or even worth fixing without diverting significant resources away from better uses.

I ask you how you think the case of being fated into a reality where your life events, turn you into a person who is eventually labeled a criminal because of the predetermined actions in a system not designed to prevent it and thus you're placed behind bars or even executed... Is that not worth fixing or not one of the better uses of resources? It seems really perplexing to me. How wouldn't it be one of the highest pursuits for humanity to defeat by resourcing a better system for these tragic outcomes of a current system making it occur.

> Is that not worth fixing or not one of the better uses of resources?

At all costs? No. Otherwise? It depends.

You said it yourself: Some people are dealt terrible cards, and that can include (as yet) unfixable aspects of brain function.

I didn't write anything of the sort by you referring to unfixable.

Even if free will is an illusion (and I'm not sure how to assign meaning to this statement), how does that change anything? If a murderer had no choice but to murder, then the prosecutor had no choice but to prosecute, the jury had to find guilty, and the executioner had to execute.

Why does software update? We want to have it become better and the summation of your comment is imposing a nihilistic view that nothing needs to change if it's all fated to happen. That's contrary to how humans strive for increasing the quality of life and making the system better even if it's fated to happen. I'm trying to express my view as a needed piece in the destiny of humankind like any other person.

While I do hold opinions about criminal justice, you can't possibly know what they are. I was pointing out that introducing "free will" into the debate only introduces a layer of indirection. A perpetrator felt as if he wanted to commit a crime, and a judge felt as if he decided that three years of prison was a commensurate sentence. Now, let's just redefine all verbs of volition to imply "feels as if", and nothing has changed. The judge may feel as if he thinks the perpetrator "deserved" the sentence. You want him to want to not feel that way, or rather, you feel as if you wanted him to feel that he should feel as if he wanted not to feel that way, by pointing out that one can't choose what to want.

> and understanding free will is an illusion

This argument always strikes me as bogus. Is it possible to tell the difference between "real" free will and "illusory" free will? If so, how? If not, than why does it matter?

Free will being an illusion is denoting free will isn't real and in the sense that you don't have any control of your life outcomes or actions you take. Research with how the brain functions shows we're unaware of making a decision few seconds before we think of making one. Similar there are cases where brain tumors have made persons act/desire in ways unwanted by society and the tumor removed the act/desire went away and only reoccurred when the tumor developed again. Understanding determinism with how cause & effect is fundamental in nature. Even being a programmer should help the mind resolve the difficult philosophy for someone who has thought all their life they had free will.

One does not need to refer to the brain research. According to physics everything is predetermined and follows from the initial conditions. So free will is an illusion. Also according to physics time flow is another illusion as time-space is just a wave function on 4d surface.

Yet these illusions are strong and people have been writing about them for at least for 2500 years. Epicurus effectively suggested to believe in gods since the alternative, physical determinism, is just hopeless and useless.

I wouldn't view things as hopeless & useless until people completely abandon reason and rational for progressing the system of society. Determinism doesn't make me feel hopeless or useless because I can see faults in a system that's antiquated by an incorrect belief.

So you are saying, in essence, that there is no such thing as real free will and there never can be due to the laws of physics?

I'm basically saying, there's no evidence for free will and the evidence that exists shows free will cannot exist. It intrigues me how people understand we had no choice in the life we're born into but people like to assume contrary for what comes after. I think a lot of that has to do with socially conditioning and religion. I'm not necessarily sure why people downvote my comments on this topic and when it brings an issue with the justice system that maybe should be considered. Since, I think the system is failing people because of an antiquated belief in making everyone think they're responsible and thus be punished.

Absence of evidence for free will can be another illusion. If one does not believe in free will, the discussion about justice system is pointless. In this case judges and this discussion are just parts of the puppet show and follow the same script.

As with gods the free will is matter of belief and cannot be proved or disproved.

You're imposing a nihilistic view upon me. I'm proposing we don't ignore the evidence and make an antiquated system be designed properly.

You jumped from the morality of execution to casually wanting to overhaul the sense of identity of almost every person and group.

Not that it’s not interesting. Just a little out of scope IMO.

I think if not discussed it will always be out of scope.

Agreed. Even without going down the philosophical rabbit hole, it should be clear in 2019 that retributive justice is unseemly.

I would say barbaric for what's possible without an antiquated incorrect belief.

I agree. I just think that tactically all we really need is for people to realize that what we have now is retributive, and calling them barbaric tends to backfire.

I'm wholly in favor for the death penalty. I've heard all of the arguments. Some people just need to be dealt with with finality.

Having said this, I'm for the death penalty for the following crimes, if they are proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (video evidence, bodily fluid DNA match, plethora of independent witnesses):

- Forcible rape (either sex) - Paedophilia - Aggravated armed robbery (which is terrorism) - Premeditated aggravated assault leading to injury (which is terrorism) - Kidnapping at gun/knifepoint - Intentional illicit drug sales to a minor child - Sex slave trafficking (adults and minors)

* Please note that "terrorism" doesn't have to be political. Many states have laws against "terroristic threats" and "terrorism" (personal); sadly they are not often used.

I know almost everyone here will disagree, but let's be honest here. Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and many other countries have these laws, and while I disagree with them on many points, they deal harshly and swiftly with the dregs of society.

My British uncle has personally witnessed several hangings in England before the death penalty was rescinded. As a senior police officer at the time, he made it a point to witness the hangings of those people whom he brought to justice who received the death penalty. Closure. Let's be honest: If I took months of my life to bring a child rapist/paedophile/killer to justice, I'd want to watch, too. People like that deserve it.

I disagree with lethal injection, firing squad, and gas chamber. They are too expensive and require too much oversight (chemists, European reluctance to sell drugs, doctors, etc.). Hanging is quick and cheap. The Singaporeans do it best.

The state has a right to execute heinous crimes. I think the Saudis have it right when the cut off hands for theft. Note, though, that theft of food, items to help one's family is not given that punishment. Car theft, bank theft, ID theft all warrant something like this in my mind. The West has, in my mind, grown soft. A serious crimes serial thief will continue to steal. A rapist will continue to rape. Paedophiles have the highest repeat rate. Why should I, a law-abiding tax payer have to pay for three hots and a cot for those who deserve the death penalty.

For those crimes warranting the death penalty, and for which there is ZERO doubt, the sentence should be carried out within 24 hours. No family visitation, no last words, nothing. If you are a terrorist, rapist, murderer, sex trafficker, drug dealer, or paedophile, you should receive zero consideration once convicted.

Considering the seriousness of ending someone's life, these cases would need to be 100% airtight. Video evidence, plethora or independent witnesses, DNA evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt. If these things are in place, and they are verified by say three agencies: police, FBI, independent lab, then go ahead.

>- Forcible rape (either sex) - Paedophilia

While I see what you're saying, "pedophilia" isn't a crime.

>they deal harshly and swiftly with the dregs of society.

The goal shouln't be dealing with the "dregs of society", it should be dealing with people who have committed crimes, whether they are dregs or not.

>The West has, in my mind, grown soft.

Perhaps because people prefer a "soft" system. I don't see why softness is bad in itself.

>and for which there is ZERO doubt

This is surprisingly rarely the case; in various countries with huge oversight and process, innocents have been killed.

>Why should I, a law-abiding tax payer have to pay for three hots and a cot for those who deserve the death penalty.

Because justice shouldn't be predicated on how costly or cheap it is to carry out. I have trouble understanding why you think it should be. Is justice subservient to the money it costs to carry out? Do you think it should be? And this argument only makes sense if we agree that they "deserve" the death penalty in the first place, which I don't agree with. Because someone deserving the death penalty hasn't been argued for (at least not by you), it's possible for me to agree with you (i.e those who deserve death should get it) while thinking that nobody deserves death.

>The state has a right to execute heinous crimes.

Oh really? The anarchist movement, for example, would disagree with this assertion.

>A rapist will continue to rape.

Is this backed up by empirical data? If it's true, why is death preferable punishment to lifetime imprisonment or chemical castration?

>Paedophiles have the highest repeat rate.

This is only true among a subclass of offenders; since your usage of the term is ambiguous, I'm assuming it also includes people who possess child pornography, but their rates of reoffence are low, and there is no established likelihood of possessors going on to abuse children. (Though possession should still be a crime, of course).

Crime, especially violent crime, is lower today in all those "soft" western countries than ever before, so we can't be doing everything wrong. Among them, the murder rate is about five times as much in the only country still using the death penalty (the US) than, for example, western Europe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intention...)

> I'd want to watch, too.

So I really don't understand why you seem to be indulging in such fascist revenge fantasies? It's not healthy.

I also don't get why such people are always obsessed with rape and paedophilia? The latter isn't even crime, btw.

> Aggravated armed robbery (which is terrorism)

Now you're just redefining things. Terror has a definition: to cause terror (fear). Robbery has a different intention (getting something valuable).

> ID theft all warrant something like this in my mind.

Sure. Also breaking the speed limit and taking the express checkout lane with more than 10 items.

> let's be honest here. Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and many other countries have these laws, and while I disagree with them on many points, they deal harshly and swiftly with the dregs of society.

How do you know they're dealing with the "dregs of society", and not "here's someone we accidentally caught and killed"?

> I think the Saudis have it right when the cut off hands for theft.


> Why should I, a law-abiding tax payer have to pay for three hots and a cot for those who deserve the death penalty.

Because many do not agree with your views on who deserves the death penalty: note there are many criminals who have done things on your list and not become repeat offenders.

That's a very liberal view inconsistent with justice. If you rape, murder, engage in paedophilia, sex trafficking, etc., just once, that's once too many times. You've broken the social compact to the point where you need to pay dearly.

I don't feel sorry for the evil in our society. These people cost us dearly by dint of housing them, feeding them, providing medical care, entertainment. All the while, their dead victims, their raped and permanently-violated victims get no justice other than knowing that the evil person is behind bars. That's not justice. That's sweeping it under the rug and calling it good. It's intellectually dishonest to say the death penalty should not be used for heinous crimes. It breaks the social compact with the victims and society at large.

>You've broken the social compact to the point where you need to pay dearly.

The theory of the social contract is also a very liberal view.

>All the while, their dead victims, their raped and permanently-violated victims get no justice other than knowing that the evil person is behind bars.

That's the thing, though; justice is qualitative, not quantitative - why would you suppose that knowing the criminal is dead offers so much more solace than knowing they're behind bars? Isn't the whole puzzle and mystery of justice knowing how to balance fairness and the desire for retribution? Why are you assuming that retribution is the only relevant factor here?

>It's intellectually dishonest to say the death penalty should not be used for heinous crimes.

No it's not.

It’s not

> If you <do bad things>

It’s actually:

> If you are convicted of <doing bad things>

You have made many very emotionally charged posts in this thread. Take a rest.

One of the limitations of the justice system: we cannot punish all people who do bad things, only those who have been caught and we can obtain the evidence against.

I understand this opinion but here is something to consider.

If you are going to execute people for "premeditated aggravated assault leading to injury" (would a high school fight after a football game qualify?),

What keeps people from ramping the crime up into flat out murder? What is the additional negative incentive?

threat of a double execution.

> > let's be honest here. Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand and many other countries have these laws, and while I disagree with them on many points, they deal harshly and swiftly with the dregs of society.

And what paradises those places are!

What about the issue of the unequal application of the death penalty. Even if there was a zero false positive rate (which it clearly isn't), poor people get executed and the well off don't.

"On the stroke of 8am they would enter the condemned cell, strap the prisoner's arms behind his back and lead him to the gallows. The whole procedure often took less than 10 seconds from the hangmen entering the cell to the prisoner dropping to his death,"

10 seconds? Seems pretty improbable. 10 minutes maybe.

Alas, even in smoking gun cases, it takes decades of wrangling to put the dogs down, imprisoning them in hellhole prisons at enormous expense, fattening the lawyers with endless rounds of appeals based on flimsy technicalities.

I wonder if many cases of officer-involved shootings aren't a side-effect of this, a short-circuiting of the justice system. For instance, I find it nothing short of miraculous that the Tsarnaev brother was taken alive, rather than winding up with a few bullets "resisting arrest."

How smoking does the smoking gun have to be to justify extra-judicial execution? Do they just have to look mostly guilty?

Do you at least get a chance to explain yourself?

Let's be honest here for a moment. Look at the monsters like drug dealers. Everyone knows for a fact they are doing it. I'm talking crime boss types, not some thug on a street corner. Guys like Pablo Escobar. Colombia could have gotten him far sooner. Nothing like a few tier-one operators with knowledge of his comings and goings and they could take care of it. This is not extra-judicial in my mind. The state can sanction the taking of life without a court hearing for absolutely evil people. People like Pablo Escobar, and there are many like him just south of the US. They pay off the police to look the other way. Ditto judges. They terrorise their local authorities. Sanctioning the removal of these thugs is warranted.

> This is not extra-judicial in my mind. The state can sanction the taking of life without a court hearing for absolutely evil people.

It’s literally and definitionally extra-judicial. You can maybe say that thing is ok for some reason but I don’t see how that thing can be “not that thing”.

The problem here is that a state-sanctioned surprise execution squad is an incredibly dangerous thing to have around, and usually ends up being worse than the cartels. Tends to collapse into execution of political enemies and the establishment of a totalitarian state pretty quickly, a la Pinochet.

How many of those which occur after a jury trial have "collapsed into execution of political enemies and the establishment of a totalitarian state"?

Original comment said explicitly "The state can sanction the taking of life without a court hearing for absolutely evil people"

Who decides who is evil enough to kill without a trial?

> I find it nothing short of miraculous that the Tsarnaev brother was taken alive

I mean, there is an obvious reason.

>I mean, there is an obvious reason.

That "obvious reason" is a level of marksmanship and organizational competency that makes cell phone video coming out of Syria look like a documentary about an elite fighting force.

The previous time they tried to shoot him all they did was pepper a house in an upscale neighborhood. Then there was the friendly fire thing. They also peppered the boat pretty good. It's not like they didn't try. They tried to shoot him several times and they failed.

And that's just the tip of the stupidity iceberg when it comes to the Boston bombing. The worst part is they basically proclaimed victory on something that was a textbook failure at every step and the people of MA are so devoid of critical thinking skills that they mostly bought it.

Edit: replaced "brainwashed" with "devoid of critical thinking skills" because the former gives the government too much credit.

Now I'm curious. They did shoot quite a lot of rounds[1] into the boat he was hiding in. I can't think of any reason other than luck.


To me the obvious reason is the null hypothesis: in the US law enforcement officers don't actually have the standard operating procedure of "putting a few bullets" in people for "resisting arrest". The alternative hypothesis is a double conspiracy theory, that they are generally cold blooded killers, but in this case for some whatever reasons, they didn't shoot the Boston bomber, but rather they kept him alive to make an example out of him? I don't know, this doesn't pass any type of smell test to me.

"they didn't shoot the Boston bomber, but rather they kept him alive to make an example out of him"

Yeah, doesn't pass the smell test for me either. 110+ bullets in that boat, and the guy wasn't far from dead when they brought him to the hospital.

No the reason is basically that he didn't move. If SWAT is on your front lawn and you walk out the front door expect a swift death even if you are innocent and completely unarmed. Curl down and hide in a way that makes you completely defenseless? Well first of all they don't have 5 marksmen pointing their gun at you in anticipation because they have to find you first and second they actually have an opportunity to arrest you because you're not running away from them.

I was citing "reason" as in "reason he was taken alive".

I said luck, because not much beyond plain luck allows you to survive 110+ rounds fired into the relatively small fiberglass boat you are hiding in. Not moving might have helped, but there's still quite a but of luck there. He had at least three serious bullet wounds.

Can you elaborate, instead of making other people guess at what you think is obvious?

That reason is simply failure. They peppered a house trying to shoot him then shot up the boat he was in yet failed to actually shoot him.

The reputation police have for poor marksmanship and giving zero fucks for what is behind their target (I can't stress enough how irresponsible this is for a civilian police force operating in urban environments) is well deserved.

Very interesting to see that this was up-voted (+8) during the hours where only the east coast was online but now that the west coast (the other timezone with a bunch of HN users) is online it is down-voted.

I guess the national news only covered the "we got'em boys" official statements.

My guess is that because the Russians actually warned of him and his family, yet the US failed to act upon that intel means that perhaps we wanted a favor in return or to use him for something else politically. Happens all the time.

How many innocent people do you figure it is reasonable to execute, say, per year?

This needs qualifying with "vs subjecting to death row", where the average tenure is 15 years. I think I'd personally rather a speedy execution for a crime that I didn't do rather than 15 years on death row and then exoneration. In addition: 25% of death row prisoners die of natural causes (via Wikipedia).

I think if I supported the death penalty, I think I'd be comfortable finding out that 5% of executions were of innocent people. If I was religious, I'd be willing to accept a much higher number.

That position is appalling to me, but I’m impressed by your intellectual honesty and how you answer the question head on.

I am always mildly surprised to find out how much my opinion on the sanctity of life (eg: a low regard for such) differs from other people's. Making someone suffer unnecessarily seems unconscionable to me, where being dead doesn't seem like a huge big deal.

So you're saying if you torture someone until they hit the breaking point it is morally the right thing to kill them? Some people's tolerance level is much lower than torture. Would it be acceptable to kill rape victims? After all, being dead doesn't seem like a huge big deal.

I'm not sure I really follow your reasoning in any of those, sorry. What I will say is: I firmly believe the dead do not care that they're dead, are explicitly not suffering, and that we're all going to die.

The suffering associated with death is the suffering associated with the survivors and the suffering in being told you're going to die.

This reads like what you really mean is "it's never ok to execute an innocent person".

How much money do you figure it is reasonable to spend to avoid the risk of killing one innocent person?

How many people is it reasonable to let be killed/raped/etc because guilty people were kept alive?

I don't think "it's never ok to sacrifice an innocent person" is the right answer.

> How many people is it reasonable to let be killed/raped/etc because guilty people were kept alive?

You need to show a strong deterrent effect of the death penalty for this to be a reasonable line of argument. In addition, you'll find that almost all of the rich democratic world, except the US and Japan, have answered this with "nobody is allowed to be put to death by the state" as per the article.

There death penalty isn't about deterrent: bad people rarely consider punishment when making the decision to commit a crime.

The death penalty exists so the decent don't have to suffer the truly evil to live.

This is why arguments weighing pros and cons fall on deaf ears.

> There death penalty isn't about deterrent

This ^. I don't want to end someone's life because they did something bad. I want to end it because it's too much of a cose to keep them alive. Most importantly, the risk they will do something horrible again. If a given person has shown themself (grammar?) to be a severe risk to society, then ending that person may be the right solution.

So being alive is a privilege that can be taken away?

There is no such thing as absolute rights and privileges in nature. Just like any other laws or norms, they are a human invention, used as a tool for facilitating large group social organization.

Thus, it makes no sense to ask what is or is not a "privilege that can be taken away", since this is a question with no logical or scientific meaning.

The only thing you can ask is "given a specific set of criteria we are trying to optimize for, is it better or worse for this to be a privilege that can be taken away". Which, of course, depends on the criteria.

There is a code to living that cannot be violated. If we live in a civil society, we all have a personal mandate to be civil. Laws exist to act as a hedge against evil. They don't always work. There are some brands of evil that need to be purged. Everyone knows there are people who are so evil they need to go. The Mansons, Escobars, McVeighs, John Wayne Gacey (spelling?) and all those types.

A civil society breaks its pact with law abiding people people when it allows these people to go on living when they've not only broken the social compact, they've destroyed it by dint of murdering, raping, selling drugs, ruining the lives of others, some of whom were parents who have left a child parentless, sometimes orphans, who then become a burden on the state (albeit a worthy burden). Actions like these are grounds for state-sanctioned execution of the offender.

A civil society also breaks its pact when it commits the murder of an innocent person in the name of those law-abiding people. Further, the list of things that "ruin the lives of others" is pretty arbitrary---there are certainly people here who would debate the proper legal status of "selling drugs".

That's false, otherwise any activity which has a chance for an innocent person to die would be a violation of the social contract to that dead person regardless of the benefits to the public.

Your comment is being pummeled with downvotes because the human psyche finds it disgusting and offensive to think about human lives in such cold and calculating terms.

However, that's an irrational cognitive bias like any other, and I wish people wouldn't succumb to it on HN.

Whether I agree with it or not, your comment is an interesting and rarely-heard perspective, and rationally argued.

While it's generally true that people tend to allow emotions to contribute too much to opinions on society-scale decisions, which should of course be driven by objectivity, I also think it's a mistake to disregard emotions entirely, as the rules we make are meaningless without them.

Say you have an opportunity to end a person's life instantly, without their foreknowledge, without pain. This person has no friends or family or responsibilities of any kind. This person is virtually guaranteed to do more harm than good to society on par over the rest of his natural life. No other people will ever know of this execution. Without emotions, there's no reason not to legally oblige such an opportunity to be taken.

Thanks. I tend to think of most things in those terms. I think it's a failing of mine when it comes to discussions. If (a mean b) and (a), then (b)... no matter how much you don't want (b) to be true. My wife gets very frustrated with me when I point out logical consequences like the above. I have a hard time understanding the emotional argument.

I'm the same way, and I do think this personality trait is massively overrepresented (though by no means universal) among people interested in computers.

I have always suspected that Asperger's and autism (full disclosure: neither of which I have) are just extreme versions of the same underlying personality trait, but I have no background in psychology so that could also just be totally wrong pop-science BS :)

One big problem with that logic is that it ignores the fact that the incentive not to go prying into a potential miscarriage of justice after an execution has occurred is much much higher than after a prison sentence (even life without parole) has been passed.

That in turn is a problem because an innocent person convicted almost always also means a guilty person left free to reoffend.

The way you are wording it to yourself makes it seem like it's impossible to avoid 100% killing one innocent person, and infinite costs approach 100% never killing one innocent person, but never reaching that perfection. That is not the case. There is a price ceiling on avoiding killing an innocent person. That is the cost of putting them in a jail cell for 90 years (upper limit) as an alternative to the death penalty. What is the cost for jailing someone for 90 years? Let's say it's 10 million dollars. That is 4 cents per person in the USA.

Jailing the offender also prevents them from killing/raping/etc because now they are in jail. Really a false comparison here. I think all the countries of the world overwhelmingly have voted in favour that this cost is worth it. The countries that did not, made it very hard to execute prisoners anyways and very rarely use it.

According to (https://www.marketplace.org/2017/05/19/how-much-does-it-cost...), it's above $31,000 per inmate per year (up to $60,000/year). That's $0.000095 per person per inmate per year. Assuming an average of 33 not-executed-but-would-have-been inmates per year, and that they actually live 45 years in jail (because they're not all going to live 90 years there), that's 1,485 inmates at any one time (my math may be wrong).

That works out to about $0.14 per year per citizen, or $0.37 per household (assuming all my math is more or less correct)

I agree with your analysis that it's not a lot of money. I will ponder this.

You first.

So answer the question. How many innocent people do you find it reasonable to execute per year?

It depends on what we would get for doing so, honestly. I don't have a good answer. My thought offhand would be...

1. How many lives are we willing to end to save one life? 1:10? 1:100? 1:1,000,000? 1.1. Does it depend on the lives (if they are kept in jail and kill other inmates, is that better than if they get loose and kill non-inmates)?

2. What are the odds that one killer that is kept alive will kill more people?

3. Etc.

There's a lot of questions to be answers, and some of them are opinion not math. However, I don't believe the correct answer is that it is never ok to end the life of another person.

I can't help but feel you are dancing around the question, and are not really comfortable with the direct outcome of your stance, which is: You are arguing that killing innocent people is OK sometimes. You don't really seem willing to examine that head-on.

If you are uncomfortable with and unwilling to examine the consequences of your stances, consider that that may mean you know on some level that they do not hold up.

> I can't help but feel you are dancing around the question, and are not really comfortable with the direct outcome of your stance, which is: You are arguing that killing innocent people is OK sometimes. You don't really seem willing to examine that head-on.

I have the totally opposite impression. That commentator is very explicitly making the point that yes, in fact, sometimes policies leading to the killing of innocent people have benefits that outweigh that cost.

Where did you see any equivocation or "dancing around" ?

That's exactly the case. I am arguing that it is ok to kill innocent people sometimes. To give a ridiculous example...

The human race is going to end on Tuesday unless Bob is killed. Bob has done nothing wrong. However, he has a unique genetic condition that means, on Tuesday, he's going to come down with the plague, and it's going to spread and kill everyone. There is no way to stop it except to end his life before that happens.

I would kill Bob in this situation. I might hate myself for it, I might even take my own life knowing I had killed someone (or maybe not, because of my religion; I wouldn't know until I was in the situation). That being said, I would kill Bob to save the rest of the human population.

5 that are innocent of everything and always were

10000 that are guilty of something else (example: they were not the shooter, but they helped)

Compare with deaths by lightening, car crash, bath tub...

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