Monday, September 7, 2009

Death Penalty Truly Does = Homicide

Capital punishment. Just the words make my blood run cold. I am not a great believer in the Bible but I have often thought that was one of the best lessons of the New Testament, that capital or even corporal punishment are not the way to handle justice on any level.

On a logical level, it is nearly impossible to know a person's actions with 100% accuracy. Even video can lie, heck, you could be standing there watching something happen and not know the truth. It happens all the time, even to highly observant types.

The only good argument I've ever heard for the death penalty can be summed up in Ted Bundy's escape from prison via a law library and the subsequent murders he committed before Florida put him to death. However, that level of cunning is rare and Ted Bundy is an exception to many "rules" of criminal behavior. We like to pin the label sociopath onto all kinds of criminals but the truth is they are incredibly rare yet share the trait of most criminals that the death penalty is not even slightly a deterrent to them. If anything, it just ups the stakes of the game and makes it more interesting.

Well, I'm off on a tangent again. The point is, I've always been against capital punishment, but today I read an article that made my veins particularly icy and included a sentence that, to me, is the truly unrefutable argument to be made against it: "On his death certificate, the cause was listed as 'Homicide.'"

I don't know if that's standard, but it certainly makes sense, as it is quite intentional and thus homicide. Still, to see that we completely admit that we, as a society, are committing homicide on a regular basis just makes a horrifying concept seem that much more contentious. I'd honestly never thought about what they put on the death certificate in such cases before.

Even scarier, what the article was largely about was the appalling state of arson investigation in this country. If you watch much prime time television you must have seen some amazing arson investigations using all sorts of gizmos and scientific methodology. Well, it turns out that is more fictional than I thought. "In 1997, the International Association of Arson Investigators filed a legal brief arguing that arson sleuths should not be bound by a 1993 Supreme Court decision requiring experts who testified at trials to adhere to the scientific method." Seriously? I don't even have words (and that is extremely rare, as you may know if you've been reading this blog). Arson investigators often claim their profession is more of an art than a science. I'm sorry, but if you are going to kill me over something, I'd like some solid factual science to be behind it. Luckily, in this case the Supreme Court agrees, but arson investigators are still grappling with the concept.

Why is this country so much more accepting of art than science? Alas, that will have to be a discussion for another day.

The excellent article from the New Yorker that inspired these thoughts is a long one but well worth the time:

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