Troy Davis and the Death Penalty


Not many nations have a state-sanctioned death penalty: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, China and the United States. Now that's what I call hallowed company.

36 states in the United States allow the death penalty. That's 36 too many.

I can repeat facts until I'm blue in the face, but that's not the problem here. The problem is fundamentally with how we view "justice".

Troy Davis was sentenced to death for a crime in which there are now serious doubts. His conviction was based on the testimony of 9 witnesses, 7 of whom recanted. One of the remaining witnessses is the man that the other witnesses said actually committed the crime. There was no physical evidence tying Davis to the crime.

Troy Davis was left lying on a gurney for 5 hours yesterday as the US Supreme Court considered his last minute appeal. Here's the problem. He was convicted because, at the time, there was no reasonable doubt about his guilt. To get a conviction overturned, there must be no reasonable doubt about his innocence.

Now that's pretty twisted.

In this case, justice has been treated as the correct and proper adherence to procedural norms. Creating procedural norms is a well-established technique used by countries who wish to institutionalize atrocity.

Once you have a legal framework that allows execution, you can slowly expand the reasons that justify execution. That is actually what has happened in the United States. There are now 41 crimes for which the death penalty is acceptable.

One of them is trafficking in large quantities of drugs (18 U.S.C. 3591 (b)). While drug trafficking hardly counts as a victimless crime, I don't think anyone could equivocate trafficking with murder.

Killing someone for killing someone else is not justice. It's revenge. The taking of one innocent life is too many. But by giving the state the right to execute any citizens at all, we have surrendered too many of our freedoms.

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6 Responses to “ Troy Davis and the Death Penalty ”

  1. So, are you up in arms about the White Supremacist that was put to death in Texas yesterday?

  2. Indeed I am. Even the family of the man he murdered asked that they not pursue the death penalty. It's not justice, merely bloodymindedness. He should live with the knowledge of his crime.

  3. So why no blog post about it?

  4. because I specifically wanted to write about Troy Davis. And as a born and bred Texan, I don't think it's fair for Texas to be getting all the stick on this issue.

  5. Over the years whenever I've heard someone express either support for or opposition to the death penalty I've asked them a simple question - "Do you see the primary purpose of a prison sentence as punishment for the criminal or as protection of society from the criminal?"  The people who answer "punishment" are almost always those who favor the death penalty and the people who answer "protection" are almost always those who oppose the death penalty.  In my opinion it's this fundamental difference in the concept of the reason for prisons that drives the debate today.

    On a related note - back about 10-15 years ago the U.S. was one of only four nations on the planet that would put people to death for crimes committed as a minor.  The other three were Yemen, Iran, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

  6. I think that's a really fair point. I have always thought of criminal justice in terms of prevention rather than punishment.
    Really, how do you balance out the death of the living?


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