Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

America executes its 1,000th prisoner

  1. Dec 2, 2005 #1

    Is the death penalty in America still a viable solution? I'm under the impression that, since human reasoning can be flawed, there lies a propensity for error (and innocent people are executed). Now, the man above was clearly guilty, but did his death really console the family of the victim? Moreover, will his death really send a signal to criminals in the United States? Or will they just ignore it?

    According to articles from Amnesty International (http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty-index-eng), the death penalty doesn't deter criminals. The reason being that they do not think rationally in the first place, much less think about the consequences of their actions.

    If this has been true for years, why is the death penalty still carried out in nations over the world? What would differentiate state-approved violence (which the 20th century has seen enough of) and civilian violence?

    I realize that the impetus for having a death penalty is to show an example to the murderer that they are not above the law, in a Hannurabi eye-for-an-eye type situation. To give them the same treatment that they have done to the victims to whom they have slaughtered. But is such violence really necessary? Would a mandatory life in prison sentence be a more suitable punishment?

    Any ideas?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2005 #2
    The biggest problem with the death penalty in the US is that it can take 20 years (as well as a lot of money) to finally exercise it. Criminals don't take it seriously as an impending consequence. They go on a killing rampage and finally give up when they've been cornered, ready to go back to prison where they are praised by their criminal peers. If you intentionaly take someones life, you should forfiet your own.
  4. Dec 2, 2005 #3
    The biggest problem with the death penalty in the US is that it can take 20 years (as well as a lot of money) to finally exercise it. Criminals don't take it seriously as an impending consequence. They go on a killing rampage and finally give up when they've been cornered, ready to go back to prison where they are praised by their criminal peers. If you intentionaly take someones life, you should forfiet your own.
  5. Dec 2, 2005 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I love the death penalty, it's such an effective deterrent. Look at those 999 convicts who were put off becoming murderers by the first dude to be executed. Oh no, wait...
  6. Dec 2, 2005 #5
    Proud moment.. National holiday maybe :uhh:
  7. Dec 2, 2005 #6
    If a convicted murderer where simply put to death with a few weeks of his conviction, that would be an excellent deterent. The punishment fits the crime. Where is the justice if there is no punishment? I don't understand why some people have a problem with it.
  8. Dec 2, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Neglect of human rights, revenge based understanding of justice, weak deterrent, failed prison & rehab systems, errors in administering, .... read any Amnesty site for a complete and thorough list, and still the executions continue .... at what point did it become essential for a society to murder its citizens in order to function? I suppose to many this is a "stupid" question, but I fail to see the (or any) logic what comes to the death penalty.
  9. Dec 2, 2005 #8
    Where do they practice quick executions?

    Could you please support this claim with some statistics to show that it to be a deterrent?

    Or is this just your own opinion.
  10. Dec 2, 2005 #9
    Things are not so black and white. I have a problem with it because "convicted murderers" are not necessarily murderers. There is that whole innocent-people-can-be-wrongly-convicted complication. But I guess that those people are acceptable sacrifices.

    Also, I don't believe that the state should be in the business of killing people. Go figure.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2005
  11. Dec 2, 2005 #10

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member


    How many innocent people may we kill in order to satisfy some people's idea of justice? I would like a number. What are acceptable levels of execution of innocent people; 5%, 10%, 20%? Next, how do we guarantee this limit?
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2005
  12. Dec 2, 2005 #11


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I think its a good thing people are set to death. Think about it... you send someone to life in prison... what life does he have left? What "justice" is better served by this? Hell many people do kill themselves by themselves. Plus theres 0 guarantee of an appeal! With the death penalty, you get an automatic appeal.

    I'm surprised we've only killed 1,000 people. Hell there were 2800 or so murders in california this year alone....
  13. Dec 2, 2005 #12


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I think you may have misread - deckard wasn't saying that there is a place like that, just that there should be. And yes - that was an opinon. One based primarily on logic, but not a unique one. That it doesn't provide much of a deterrent due to the length of time it takes to execute it (pun intended) is a pretty common criticism of the death penalty.
  14. Dec 2, 2005 #13


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Not aimed at you, since you stated you are against the death penalty altogether, but would people be opposed to a swift death penalty in a case where the crime was heinous, there were credible witnesses AND the murderer admitted to commiting the crime? State reasons to support your stance, for or against.
  15. Dec 3, 2005 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Do you believe it is up to a 'system' to define what is the value of life someone has left, and how could you come to any meaningful criteria measuring the worth of a life (and why then stop with the death penalty, I'm sure we can come up with a scoring system to maximize some indication of "good" for the society, like let only the productive live?)? [Let alone the implications towards a society acting in such a manner (or this manner actually)]
  16. Dec 3, 2005 #15


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Executions conducted by the state constitute moral hypocrisy. The premise of the illegality of taking a person's life except in self defense is that "killing is wrong." There is no compelling argument that the state is defending itself by carrying out executions. Therefore, by the same premise, execution conducted by the state is wrong.
  17. Dec 3, 2005 #16
    I would have to say the logic is flawed.

    If someone is willing to commit murder, they are either in a state where they do not care about the consequences, or they believe they will not be caught. To presume that a person would commit murder because the punishment is not harsh enough is just ludicrous.

    The death penalty is not punishment. When you are dead you you don't care anymore. It is not justice, because the victims are not compensated. It is nothing more than vengeance being disguised as "justice". I don't believe the state should mete out vengeance.

    I have never seen any statistical evidence to support the theory that the death penalty is a deterrent.

    If you or anyone else has any I would like to see it.

    Killing someone because it is your opinion that they should die is murder, whether done by an individual or carried out by the state.
  18. Dec 3, 2005 #17


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You quoted Russ on this, but it seems like you're responding to deckard's post. Am I correct in that interpretation?

    I have to agree that I don't see how the time it takes to execute someone makes a difference to whether the death penalty is a deterrent. It would seem to me that anyone who finds an early death repugnant enough to want to avoid it would also not be likely to commit murder regardless of the penalty.

    To begin with, it could only be a deterrent for premeditated murder, as only a premeditated act would involve enough time and thinking about the crime to consider all the consequences as well. Someone committing murder that is not premeditated is driven by emotion, not reasoning, so in that state of uncontrolled rage, nothing is going to act as a deterrent.

    For someone who is going to commit a premeditated murder, I would tend to think the vast majority are psychopaths anyway. They don't have any sense of empathy, and their emotions are rather flat. For some, they believe they will never be caught, that they are smarter than everyone else, so the punishment isn't relevant, because they don't believe they'll ever face that punishment. For some, their thinking is so twisted that they've rationalized that their act is justified, that they are doing something right and good, whether its the voices in their head telling them that, or whatever, again, they have something very wrong with the way they think and view the world, and even if they consider the punishment, they think what they are doing is so right that it's worth the risk. And for the few who generally are rational, but have built up a true hatred for someone, perhaps the wife who is going to hire a hitman to take out her husband, they are already nervous just of the idea of getting caught at all. The difference between life imprisonment and the death penalty isn't really a big deal, either one is bad enough. If anything, someone who still has a shred of conscience and/or remorse may prefer death over the humiliation in front of their friends and loved ones that they have done something so horrible to spend life in prison. These are the people who are likely to be a suicide risk in prison, because they do empathize with the victim and the victim's family and understand the consequences of their action and are remorseful and feel guilty about it; of course these are the people who generally get life in prison rather than the death penalty, because they do show remorse at their trial.

    What the death penalty appears to be, in my opinion, is a way to eliminate society's burden of treating or caring for people who have a mental illness we do not understand or have any idea of how to treat. Afterall, those who get the death penalty instead of a life sentence are the people who show no remorse for their actions, who have committed especially heinous acts, who cannot provide any reason that their victims could have been a real threat to them, only perceived as a possible threat due the distorted workings of their own minds, etc.

    We call them psychopaths or sociopaths because we recognize there is something pathologically wrong with them that leads them to commit such acts. We have no idea what to do with them. We don't understand the nature of the illness, and we can't treat them without understanding what causes the illness. They remain a threat as long as the illness is untreated, and the illness is of a nature that even if they receive treatment, there is too much risk if they cease to remain compliant with their treatment (i.e., go off their meds), so it would be far to dangerous to release them even if their illness were treated. They remain even a risk while in prison, both to other prisoners and to wardens.

    So, I don't buy the argument that the death penalty provides any deterrent that imprisonment doesn't already provide, nor do I believe it is really serving the purpose of punishment, because punishment implies we are trying shape behavior or teach a lesson to not do something again, and we really aren't doing that; these are not prisoners we expect to rehabilitate. Life in prison and the death penalty serve the same purpose, to remove someone from society who we recognize as highly dangerous to others and beyond our abilities to rehabilitate.

    To me, the question or dilemma that follows from this is whether we, as a society, have an obligation to provide for the care of that person once we have identified them and isolated them from the general population, or is it morally acceptable to decide they are of no value to society, only a burden, and can be executed to eliminate that burden on society. Does the need to shunt resources from people who need them and can be productive members of society to paying for feeding and clothing, and hygiene, and shelter, and all of the security needed to keep someone imprisoned make it justifiable to eliminate that burden so those resources can go to more productive members of society? Our laws do make the provision that there are times when killing is justified, such as in self-defense. So, is this a justifiable exception as well, that killing is okay in the case of the death penalty if it's to remove someone from society who causes more harm than good? Or is it just another form of premeditated murder?

    You'll note I haven't answered those questions. I won't. I don't know the answer. But, I raise the questions because my opinion is that those are the real questions, and issues of things like deterrence and punishment are nothing but a smokescreen that obscures the real ethical dilemma of how to handle murderers who cannot be released back into society.
  19. Dec 3, 2005 #18
    Excellent post moonbear.

    Yes I was responding to deckard's post, but russ had responded to my response to deckard, and I was responding to russ's response, if that makes any sense.

    Our prison system IMO is the real problem here. If someone commits a crime, justice should require that they make whole those they have injured. Dying is not going to bring back a life taken, nothing can do that. Therefore the killers life is forfeit. The rest of their life should be devoted to making amends, even though that is impossible the attempt should be made. If a prisoner does not want to participate, isolate them in a dark cell with no outside stimulus or contact and see if they don't decide that they need others and need to give in order to receive.

    Taking away a persons freedom for a period of time does not make whole the victim, or rehabilitate the offender.
  20. Dec 3, 2005 #19
    Sky, I respect your take on this issue.

    Murder in the first degree, unless I'm mistaken, is premeditated. The murderer has made a calculated plan to end anothers life and then carries it out. I don't believe a civilized society should support such a persons existence. If the judicial system were ideal, and consequences to first degree murder were swift and definate, some intelligent murders who are planning a murder may be dissuaded from carrying it out. But, since most murders never get executed, it is not much of a deterent. So when it is actually carried out, everyone is crying foul. It's no different with children. If you aren't consistent with your discipline it does not have much effect.
  21. Dec 3, 2005 #20


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    So why not declare kidnapping legal?
    The state does it by imprisoning you against your will, taking what you own....
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: America executes its 1,000th prisoner
  1. Turkish Prisoners (Replies: 7)

  2. Executive Branch (Replies: 6)

  3. Hunger in America! (Replies: 18)

  4. America's shame (Replies: 9)

  5. Fascist America (Replies: 52)