Thursday, April 19, 2012

Death Penalty Proponents Lose Another Argument

Those of us representing defendants who have killed understand the utter fallacy of the argument that the death penalty deters killing.  It is nonsensical to think that when one is suffering from whatever disturbed state of mind that leads him or her to intentionally cause another's death they carefully weigh beforehand whether to do so based on what ultimate punishment they may receive (i.e., "Yes, I will kill because the worst that could happen is I get life without parole.")

Indeed, while it has long been argued by death penalty proponents that capital punishment is necessary to deter crime, it has never been conclusively proven to have a deterrent effect.  In fact, it has long been true that the states with capital punishment also have the most crimes of violence.

Albert Camus’ essay against the death penalty, Reflections on the Guillotine (1957), includes a refutation of the deterrence argument that remains salient today.  Camus, citing an earlier study which described pickpockets plying their trade at the public hanging of other pickpockets, goes on to explain that  the complexity of human nature is not so easily controlled by law: “When law ventures, in the hope of dominating, into the dark regions of consciousness, it has little chance of being able to simplify the complexity it wants to codify.”

And now we have more proof - - or lack of proof.  As reported in the Los Angeles Times, a panel of independent experts convened by the National Research Council released a report finding that the studies on the alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty contain fundamental flaws that render them meaningless.  For example, the studies fail to consider whether other forms of punishment, such as life without parole, may also act as a deterrent. The studies don’t “consider how the capital and noncapital components of a regime combine in affecting the behavior of potential murderers.”

More fundamentally, the research underlying deterrence studies is based on the assumption that those who kill can or even try to accurately calculate their risk of being executed if they were convicted.  But, as the chairman of the committee acknowledged, "nothing is known about how potential murderers actually perceive their risk of punishment.”

It  has become increasingly clear that capital punishment is not a productive tool for fighting crime and, indeed, undermines personal and public safety by draining needed resources from more effective methods.

Many people who have devoted their lives and careers to law enforcement, public safety and victims' rights, including former San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford, former Los Angeles D.A. Gil Garcetti, Supervisor Ron Briggs whose family created California's death penalty law, and Don Heller, who wrote it, have come to realize that the death penalty is counterproductive, that the old arguments in favor of its continued use no longer apply, and that the time has come to replace it.

The SAFE California Act is about to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.  If it passes it would replace California's multi‑billion dollar death penalty with life imprisonment without parole and require those convicted of murder to work and pay restitution to victim families through the victim compensation fund.  It would also set aside $100 million in budget saving for local law enforcement for the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases.

Click here for more information on the SAFE California campaign and on how you can join the effort to replace the death penalty and enhance our personal and public safety.


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