Debating the death penalty?

Gary Linnell in today’s Daily Telegraph asserts that debate about capital punishment is taboo in Australia, a claim which is rather negated by the fact that his own death penalty advocacy is carried not only in the Tele but on Australia’s mostly widely read online news site and will no doubt in due course be republished across the Murdoch print empire.

Nevertheless, he has a point at least to the extent that there has been a longstanding tacit bipartisan major political party consensus that capital punishment should not be adopted as policy in Australia.

Linnell also makes the legitimate point that there is a significant body of recent US research which appears to show, contrary to previous accepted wisdom, that the death penalty may in fact have a significant deterrent effect on homicide rates.  However, true to his tabloid roots, Linnell fails to acknowledge even in passing that there is an almost equally extensive body of research disputing the findings of the pro-death penalty studies. 

Personally, I would be inclined to support reintroduction of capital punishment for murder if it could be indisputably shown that it has a significant deterrent effect, but only with a number of caveats.

First, it should only apply to a carefully defined subset of “worst case” murders, for example murders involving infliction of torture or prolonged terror before death, or subsequent mutilation of the corpse; and gangland killings, which almost by definition involve a high level of calculation so that the rate may be expected to be particularly responsive to deterrent effects of the mode of punishment. 

Secondly, there would need to be some carefully defined higher burden of proof than just the standard “beyond reasonable doubt”.   Apart from the argument that capital punishment doesn’t deter homicide, the most persuasive argument against the death penalty IMO is that killing a convicted person forecloses any possibility of pardon and release if evidence of wrongful conviction subsequently emerges.  The Lindy Chamberlain case is the most high profile local instance of wrongful murder conviction, but there are many other examples. 

The traditional common law approach essentially forbids telling juries exactly what “beyond reasonable doubt” means, and research shows that outcomes in terms of what percentage level of certainty of guilt may satisfy it (to the extent that such a subjective concept is quantifiable at all) are quite variable and susceptible to a range of influences.  It obviously means significantly more than just a 51% probability of guilt, but how much more?  I don’t have any clear idea of what sort of formulation of higher burden of proof in death penalty cases might be workable, but it should not be beyond human ingenuity to devise a workable one if indeed research ends up showing unequivocally that the death penalty does have a significant deterrent effect.

Thirdly, I would want to know that the deterrent effect of the death penalty was not solely an artefact of the employment of manifestly nasty and painful methods of execution.  At least one of the US studies finds:

The empirical estimates suggest that the deterrent effect of capital punishment is driven primarily by executions conducted by electrocution. None of the other four methods of execution are found to have a statistically significant impact on the per-capita incidence of murder.

Although a particularly ruthless form of utilitarianism would hold that it doesn’t matter, I would take a lot of convincing that it would be worth the social and psychological price if a significant reduction in the homicide rate could only be achieved not merely by infliction of the death penalty but by calculated state mandating of a particularly painful and/or gruesome death on the perpetrator.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

The fact that it has a significant deterrent effect certainly isn’t enough for me – it would have to be shown that it was the *only* effective way of significantly lowering homicide rates. After all, if, for instance, someone came up with a genetic test that accurately predicted the likelyhood of an unborn foetus growing up to become a murderer, then almost certainly aborting all such foetuses would significantly reduce the homicide rate, but it would harldy be an acceptable solution.

I also believe that even if the stats showed unambiguously that the death penalty was capable of lowering homicide rates in the U.S., it would mean relatively little for Australia, where homicide rates are always far far below those of the U.S.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

(Read “already” for that last “always”)

pedro
pedro
13 years ago

The funny thing about it as you identify Ken, is the bipartisan rejection. Perhaps I remember incorrectly, but I’m under the impression that there is majority public support for the death penalty.

My main objection is the risk of mistakes in conviction and my second objection is where the line should be drawn. The debate always revolves around horror murders (Sian kingi say) and hardened criminal murderers, but how does one distinguish are the margin between the pretty bad murderer and the fit of jealous rage, say.

As a generaly observation I can’t see why a society that allows abortion and periodically imposes conscription should quibble at executing dangerous murderers.

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

I have no problem of supporting capital punishment when there is clear evidence for the murder. eg. Martin Bryant but not when the evidence is quite murky eg. Lindy Chamberlain.

Supporting capital punishment for deterrence is an evil concept.
It is so because once another murder is committed then the punishment loses all relevance.

Punishment fitting the crime is the only system of justice that is both useful and equitable.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

And my argument there is that life in prison is surely a worse punishment that a quick painless death (despite the fact that the latter may be an intuitively more terrifying concept). That’s at least partly because I’m quite certain there is no afterlife, as I suppose if believed in eternal suffering for wrongdoers, then at least life in prison would give more time to repent and gain forgiveness for whatever deity was to determine your ultimate fate).

At any rate, the general thrust of history has been away from capital punishment. I doubt that’s going to change any time soon.

ken.miles
ken.miles
13 years ago

Linnell also makes the legitimate point that there is a significant body of recent US research which appears to show, contrary to previous accepted wisdom, that the death penalty may in fact have a significant deterrent effect on homicide rates. However, true to his tabloid roots, Linnell fails to acknowledge even in passing that there is an almost equally extensive body of research disputing the findings of the pro-death penalty studies.

I have an extreme case of scepticism as to the ability of these studies to generate meaningful results from the available data. The data is very noisy, and murder is an extremely rare crime with execution is an extremely rare response to murder. Additionally, there are variables such as press coverage which are rarely included (and very difficult to measure) in the regression analysis used in these studies.

Pappinbarra Fox
Pappinbarra Fox
13 years ago

Capital punishment is murder by the state legitimised by a law passed by maybe 50 people (or in the NT case by 16 people). The state is the representative of its population and so the population is responsible for state murder. I do not want to be taking someone’s else’s life unless it is in pure self defense of my own life (and even then I am not sure that I could do it). I certainly do not want to be a murderer by proxy.

pedro
pedro
13 years ago

NPOV, I guess that is what Gary gilmor thought, but I reckon if that is your theory you’d want to make death an option for the convicted murderer.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

I’d also respond to pedro that there is a big difference between abortion and capital punishment: even regardless of your opinion as to whether a sub-20-week-old foetus is morally equivalent to a born individual, the former is a decision by the woman carrying the foetus, the latter is a decision of the state.
I can be in no way morally responsible for the decision of woman to undergo an abortion, but I am indirectly morally responsible for the decisions of any government I help elect. On that basis I would certainly refuse to vote for any party that promised to introduce the death penalty.

And whether or not it is legitimate for states to impose conscription has always been a heated debate. Certainly I don’t feel Australia has ever had a legitimate case for it: there is no reason to suppose that if the Australian government had not forcibly sent its citizens off to any of the past century’s wars that there would be have been even greater death and suffering that eventually occurred.

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

No PF,
murder is the death of an innocent person.

Capital punishment is merely punishment fitting the crime of murder.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Ken, again, same thing – I’m not morally responsible for the actions of murderers.
And further you are supposing that the death penalty is the only way in which murders can be prevented. If, of course, I vote for a government that intends to do nothing at all to keep murder rates low, then I would be partly morally culpable for murders that occur under its watch, but that’s clearly not the case.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

BTW, FWIW, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/international-polls-and-studies claims that 67% of Australians believe that convicted murders should not face the death penalty.

I’m willing to be of the 33% that believe otherwise, none of them have ever been falsely accused of murder.

Pappinbarra Fox
Pappinbarra Fox
13 years ago

Ken I am not reponsible for the garden variety murderer – she or he does not murder in my name but the state does. I cannot condone that.
MK – define innocent. Is the murder by one gangland murderer of another gangland murder OK then because the victim is not “innocent”?
Generally remember that most murders are committed by those cherubic faced nearest and dearest that one sits down to dinner with each evening. I am not sure we can adequately define a sliding scale of heinousness such that only those at the most heinous end can be murdered themsleves.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Ken, I was once briefly attracted to utilitarian moral frameworks until I saw they broke down completely under extreme scenarios, and rarely proved to be terribly useful under the sort of complex moral situations that happen every day.

The only hypothetical scenario in which I could imagine supporting the death penalty is:

a) your country has an exceptionally high murder rate
b) there is unambiguous evidence that use of the death penalty can dramatically lowering the murder rate
c) no other similarly effective method of lowering the murder rate can be determined

Australia fails on all three counts. Even if a) and b) were true for the U.S., I don’t believe anyone has satisfactorily demonstrated c).

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

murder by definition is killing an innocent person.
It shows a total disregard for human life.

THerefore the only punishment fitting the crime is capital punishment

vanaalst.robert
vanaalst.robert(@vanaalst-robert)
13 years ago

I’m with Jacques on this. It’s easy for me to think of people that I wouldn’t have been too sad to see get the the death penalty throughout history, but allowing the government to do it seems to be just asking for trouble down the road. I’m sure, for example, the government would have bent over backwards to change the law for some of the gang rapes that have occurred given public opinion at the time. Similarly, it isn’t hard for me to imagine the government going further down the chain by creating a bit hysteria for other things that they don’t like either (think e.g,. evil drug dealer sells heroin to school kids who then overdose….”). So personally I’d far rather see the Eichmanns of the world sit in jail all their life than put up with the government having the power of death over others.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Speaking of drug dealers, supposedly Singapore’s use of death penalty for drug traffickers has been very effective at keeping down illegal drug traffic, and arguably far more effective than any other possible measure. But are drug traffickers morally culpable for the death and suffering that may occur as a result of individuals using the drugs they transport? Any more so than someone who transports guns or cigarettes or skydiving equipment for a living being morally culpable for the death and suffering that may occur as a result of individuals using such products?

FDB
FDB
13 years ago

“murder by definition is killing an innocent person.”

Innocent of what?

“It shows a total disregard for human life.”

No, it shows an at least partial disregard for the life of at least one human at at least a single moment in time.

“THerefore the only punishment fitting the crime is capital punishment”

Well, apart from the shoddiness of your argument, this conclusion presumes that a punishment ought to “fit” a crime. Do parking inspectors come and park in your driveway? Does a rapist get raped? (okay, maybe they do, but not legally).

I can only imagine you are unaware that in these post-old-Testament times, crime and punishment has moved away from equal and opposite reactions. We generally go for deprivation of liberty as a substitute for the no-doubt-more-satisfying barbarity of direct retribution.

ken.miles
ken.miles
13 years ago

Its easy for me to think of people that I wouldnt have been too sad to see get the the death penalty throughout history

I used to think this, but the execution of Saddam Hussein has convinced me that that capital punishment is a cowardly unnecessary act irrespective of the person.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Just out of curiousity, who else here agrees that life inprisonment is a harsher punishment – i.e. it involves more suffering – than capital punishment?

Pappinbarra Fox
Pappinbarra Fox
13 years ago

NPOV – how could one possibly judge what was the harsher punishment? I mean being deprived of one’s life, no matter how abject it may have been is absolute. And frankly I’d prefer to experience pain because at least it is a life experience rather than the void of not existing at all.

ken.miles
ken.miles
13 years ago

NPOV, I think that if I had a choice, I’d choose life imprisonment over the death penalty. If life imprisonment proved to be worse than what I expect, I should be able to work out a way of killing myself.

FDB
FDB
13 years ago

Elegant solution Ken!

It’s more than a bit icky to think about, but I’ve always thought non-parolable lifers should be given the option of a painless, self-administered death.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Fair enough. Certainly I was given a choice between spending the rest of my life in pain and suffering and simply ending it now and then, I’d choose the latter, and indeed, were I to commit a murder and be thrown in gaol for it, I would quite possibly attempt to take my own life – it would only be for the sake of my family that I wouldn’t (and indeed, I’m prepared to make the argument that the death penalty punishes the loved ones of a convicted criminal more than it does the criminal). Certainly if I had murdered my own family, it’s hard to imagine I could have any reason for wanting to remain alive – but I would truly deserve the suffering that the consequent life in gaol would bring. On that basis I would object to voluntary choice of the death penalty, as it would effectively be a means of avoiding punishment.

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

FDB,

What are you on about.
raping rapists? How does that fir the crime? we are talking about punishment fitting the crime not doing the same thing to a perpetrator.
by the way a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye does not mean pulling out a tooth of someone who has taken a tooth out of you!!

We are talking about a person who wilfully and wantonly murders another human being.
The punishment fitting the crime is the life of the murderer.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

ken – good response, although as I understand it, gaols go out of their way to make it difficult for inmates to commit suicide. I wonder what stats there are on suicide rates among servers of life sentences.

FDB
FDB
13 years ago

“The punishment fitting the crime is the life of the murderer.”

Repeatedly saying so doesn’t make it so. How does it fit any better than life in prison?

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

because the person has errr taken the life of an innocent person disregarding any understanding of what the life of human beings mean.

Murder is always the worst of all crimes.

FDB
FDB
13 years ago

Thus it’s befitting to use the worst of all punishments? Okay, there’s a species of logic there, but in this case the branch of philosophy I’d be looking to is ethics.

vanaalst.robert
vanaalst.robert(@vanaalst-robert)
13 years ago

“but the execution of Saddam Hussein”

I don’t think Saddam should have got it either (and, for that matter, nor do I think Martin Bryant should). Keeping Saddam alive may well have served some beneficial purpose and killing him served essentially no purpose (are we trying scare people away from become nasty dictators in countries far away from ours?).

Alternatively, given the time and circumstance, I’m still not going to shed any tears for Adolph Eichmann.

“Are drug traffickers morally culpable for the death and suffering that may occur as a result of individuals using the drugs they transport?”

At least one reason that can be used in poorer Asian regions for this is that you have large amounts of people with essentially no education who really can’t evaluate what they take personally well (think of what you’d believe if you had grade 2 education and lived in a country village with others like yourself). Lots of people in poor parts of China, for example, think that expensive cigarettes don’t kill you. Similarly, you can find Indonesia cigarette packets (or at least you used to be able to) that tell you smoking is good for you (apparently it helps Asthma, according to the packet). As for why rich places like Singapore do — I think they really do believe you can kill the chicken to scare the monkey (as the Chinese idiom goes), and they obviously have longer memories about what having vast amounts of addicts does to you. I’d love to see a study looking at the extent that they believe the drug transporters are responsible in some of the richer more liberal countries.

Marks
Marks
13 years ago

While, in the face of deaths on the roads, I cannot mourn the likes of Saddam and Eichmann et al, I have a certain doubt that the death penalty is the ultimate deterrent.

Just off the top of my head, I really think that a far better deterrent for the likes of S&E above would be to have them jailed for the term of their natural life, but put on display and availability as targets for rotten eggs, tomatoes and other abuse for the entertainment of the masses on the weekends.

Far more a deterrent to the likes of Mugabe in Zim and the SLORC junta in Burma I would have thought.

BTW, what do the victims of these think?

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

I think it’s useful to have the whole life-for-life, tooth-for-tooth stuff put in context.

Exodus 21

1 “These are the laws you are to set before them:

Hebrew Servants

2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges. [a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, [b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Personal Injuries

12 “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. 13 However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.

15 “Anyone who attacks [c] his father or his mother must be put to death.

16 “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.

17 “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

18 “If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist [d] and he does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.

20 “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

22 “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

26 “If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.

28 “If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. 29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. 30 However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded. 31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. 32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels [f] of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.

33 “If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his.

35 “If a man’s bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. 36 However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and the dead animal will be his.

Most of this stuff we’ve rejected long ago. It appears to condone slavery, and requires the death penalty for, e.g. for attacking or cursing one’s parents.

I’m no biblical scholar, but I used to know someone who was, and his interpretation of this was that it was an attempt to limit or eliminate previous practices that were worse. For example, it says that you can buy a slave, but you can only keep him for seven years, and after that he’s free. And you can’t capture any new slaves. The eye-for-eye thing he interpreted as a limitation rather than a requirement, that you could no longer take a life for an eye.

In any case, for anyone who calls themself a Christian, the eye-for-eye clauses were explicitly revoked:

Matthew 5

An Eye for an Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[g] 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Having said all this, I find it peculiar that Michael Kalecki pretends not to understand what FDB is talking about.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

Enough of this religion stuff, and back to main argument.

Ken, it’s reasonable to look at it from a utilitarian perspective. Let’s look at what a rational actor might do.

Let’s say that there’s a range of payoffs for committing a murder. The highest payoff is +1, where you get the maximum benefit and don’t get caught. The lowest payoff is -1, where you get caught and get some maximum penalty.

The death penalty/life imprisonment argument is about what penalty gives the most negative payoff. Let’s say that the death penalty is -1, and life in prison is -0.9, even though NPOV provides a reasonable argument that it’s really the other way around.

How much incentive not to commit murder does that extra bit of penalty provide? Maybe a bit.

But if you’re going to approach the problem from this angle, you have to bring in some more utilitarianism.

The biggest factor in determining the utility of the murder is not actually whether the worst outcome results in a payoff off of -0.9 or -1.0, it’s the chances of getting caught. Increase the chances of getting caught, and the payoff for murder decreases, and by much more than the difference between -1 and -0.9. NPOV has been alluding to this all along.

The bottom line is this: There are costs to society (in utility terms, not just direct dollar cost) of imposing a death penalty, and there are costs to society of increasing the chances of murderers getting caught. That’s the utility question you really need to address, Ken.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

There are costs to society (in utility terms, not just direct dollar cost) of imposing a death penalty, and there are costs to society of increasing the chances of murderers getting caught. Thats the utility question you really need to address, Ken.

Sorry, I left something implied there that I should have stated explicitly:

Assuming that your goal is to reduce the murder rate, which approach has the least (utility) cost?

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

SJ, a policy that “increase the chanches of murderers getting caught” is certainly one the possible alternatives to the death penalty as a deterrent, and I would tend to agree that such a policy is a) morally preferable and b) more likely to succeed, however surely the ideal policies are those that lead to the decrease in the likelihood of people being in a position where they would genuinely intend to go through with a murder. Certainly there’s no obvious reason why the U.S. could not lower its murder rate to that of most other Western nations, with simply a combination of efforts to a) reduce excessive handgun proliferation* and b) improve the lots of the socio-economic groups among which murder rates are highest (i.e. poor, predominantly African-American neighbourhoods). I would doubt it could achieve all that much by simply increasing the level of police, unless there really are substantial parts of the U.S. that are badly under-policed.

* Just the very fact that a handgun can easily be obtained must be surely make a significant difference here, as almost all other weapons presumably put the would-be murderer at higher risk of being caught and/or turned upon by the intended victim.

melaleuca
melaleuca
13 years ago

What would be a suitable punishment for a judge and jury in the event they wrongly send someone to the execution chamber? Surely some type of punishment is warranted as an incentive to get it right.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Yup, mela, to me that’s a given – any judge who sentences a man to death, who after his death is found innocent, should be charged with manslaughter and disbarred.

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

SJ,

Jesus is not revoking the eye for eye he is telling Jews that their tradition has misinterpreted it i.e. He is telling them what it is NOT

Melaleuca,

A very simple way to ensure no-one gets sent to the chamber is to ensure only people where the evidence is incontrovertible gets thus sentenced.

Where there is any doubt they go to prison, mind you that was said at 5

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Except no evidence is “incontrovertible”. Even crystal clear film footage of someone committing a murder is not immune to the possibility of being forged.
Juries are responsible simply for determining guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”. If there is reasonable doubt, the defendent goes free. If not, a suitable punishment is determined. Adding some third layer – “beyond even barely reasonable doubt” – seems pointless, potentially dangerous, and unnecessarily complicated.

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

No evidence is incontrovertible.

Ever heard of eyewitnesses to a murder.

Don’t you believe Martin Bryant killed those people or was that not beyond reasonable doubt?

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Eyewitnesses are frequently highly unreliable. I’m not even sure if courts are allowed to hand down a guilty plea if the only evidence evailable is eyewitness testimony.

And sure, I’d accept that Martin Bryant’s guilt is beyond reasonable doubt.
But it’s still conceivable that at some point in the future it’s determined that he was, for instance, brainwashed into carrying out the homocides, and had no level of conscious control over his actions.

At any rate, it seems like you’re now suggesting that cases like Martin Bryants that are beyond reasonable doubt should be suitable for death penalty sentences, but other cases that are not entirely beyond reasonable doubt should be suitable for jail sentences. In otherwords, you’re significantly lowering the standard of evidence required to convict someone.

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

NPOV I am saying exactly what I said in 5.

I have never advocated the death sentence unless the evidence is incontrovertible which is usually the case when eyewitnesses are around for example

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Well ok, name me one case where the evidence is incontrovertible. I’ve already given you an example whereby the evidence of Martin Bryant’s guilt is not incontrovertible. Beyond reasonable doubt sure, but not incontrovertible.

Michael Kalecki
Michael Kalecki
13 years ago

sorry if you think Martin Bryant is not incontrovertible then the word loses its meaning

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Not at all – mathematics and logic are full of incontrovertible proofs.

And at any rate, unless you think you can prove that my hypothesis is physically impossible, it remains as an example whereby the verdict of 1st degree murder is controvertible. It’s just that given the complete lack of evidence to support it, it’s far too unlikely to qualify as a case of “reasonable doubt”.

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

BTW, do any law historians here know of any classic examples of cases where the evidence was clearly “beyond reasonable doubt” at the time of the trial, but where later evidence surfaced to demonstrate the (possible) innocence of the convicted?