The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hang `em, hang `em high!

For much of my life, we (as a nation) have debated the efficacy, morality, and now the economics of the death penalty (hereafter referred to as DP). It's not a new tactic, the cost of death penalty sentence has been shown to be more expensive than a life without parole (LWOP) sentence. But, instead of that old argument, the new one argues how much more expensive it is to just prosecute a capital case than a case where the DP has been taken off the table.

I first ran into a DP opponent in junior high. One of the smartest kids I knew and his argument was solid. This was in 1960 and he used the Caryl Chessman case as his foundation. He forced me to read up on Chessman so that I could understand his position. He eventually convinced me to also oppose the DP. And I stayed opposed to it for many years.

At some point I changed my mind and began supporting it again. It was Robert Alton Harris who was my reason for a change of mind. Robert Alton Harris. Here's how Wiki describes his crime:

On July 5 [,1978], the Harris brothers happened upon John Mayeski and Michael Baker, both 16, sitting in a green Ford LTD eating hamburgers in a supermarket parking lot in Mira Mesa. Mayeski and Baker were best friends who had planned to spend the day fishing to celebrate Mayeski's newly acquired driver's license. Robert Harris commandeered Mayeski's car and ordered him to drive to Miramar Lake, with Daniel Harris following in another vehicle. Robert Harris told the boys that they would be using the vehicle to rob a bank, but that no one would be hurt. At Miramar Lake, the Harris brothers ordered the boys to walk away from the vehicle. While they were walking, Robert shot both boys multiple times. The Harris brothers then returned to Robert's Mira Mesa home and finished the victims' half-eaten hamburgers while Robert boasted about the killings.

I was living in San Diego at the time and it was big news. The murders were unknown at the time of the Harris brothers' arrest but soon came to light. The case was on everyone's lips, it seemed, for quite some time. The outrage was incredible. And I was caught up in it. I think the calmness of the Harris brothers immediately after the murders is what fed the outrage. It was a planned execution of two kids just so they could steal the car they were in.

Daniel Harris, I believe, testified against his brother and claimed he had no knowledge of his brother's intention to kill the two boys. He was sentenced to 6 years for kidnapping and was released in 1983.

Over the years since then, I have developed reasons for supporting the DP. The economic reasons for opposing it do not impress me.

The basic economic argument is that it costs, on average, $1.3 million more to prosecute a murder case where the DP is a possible sentence. What is behind the additional cost? The enhanced investigation and the increased oversight required, and the higher security measures for the trial as well as having two phases; main trial and sentencing trial.

But how many DP cases are tried each year? Good luck finding that number. When you research the DP online, you get a lot of data about executions and about the cost of carrying out that sentence vs life sentences but you will have an extremely difficult time getting a count of capital punishment cases each year in the U.S. I would like to see that, along with the number of convictions and DP sentences vs the number of acquittals and lesser sentences handed down. I would then like to learn how many potential DP cases were pleaded down to LWOP or less.

You see, I think the specter of the DP has an effect on murderers facing trial. An effect that gets them to plea bargain rather than take their chances with a trial. Unlike TV, the vast majority of murder cases are pretty clear cut. There's little mystery involved. The culprit (or culprits) are pretty much known early in the investigation. Only a handful or two are not clear cut.  In 2010, there were a total of 104 death sentences handed out nationwide. According to Wiki there were 12,996 intentional homicides in the U.S. in the most recent year for which data were available (incidentally Mexico, which does not have the DP, had over 25,000 murders).

I do not see studies covering this aspect. I understand why, though. It would undermine the economic arguments against the DP if it turned out the penalty induced a great number of plea bargains, thereby saving the state huge amounts of money for trials and appeals.

One other point I'd like you to consider: Do we do sloppier investigations and run sloppier trials for cases where we are not seeking the DP?


Steven Scott said...

i don't trust the government to execute people. not one bit. pretty much my only argument against it.

also, about plea bargains:

Douglas4517 said...

I looked into the particular case mentioned (Terrell McCullum) and found a little problem. He was sentenced to a year and a day (wrongfully, as you say) for possession of a firearm by a felon. That was in 2009. He was releaqsed in 2010... "He got out in 2010 but quickly violated his supervised release by
robbing a man. ("I saw him with a whole bunch of money and I just got
him like that," McCullum said during one phone call.) The judge sent him
back to prison. Now he's finishing his sentence at the local jail in
Farmville, counting the days until he can go home."

The story, it turns out, is not so simple. Besides, the plea bargaining I wrote of involves only death penalty cases. Not run of the mill lesser crimes nor oddities of legal issues.

Steven Scott said...

i was running into a meeting and had remembered reading that article a few weeks ago, if it didn't apply then sorry - was rushing into a meeting

Douglas4517 said...

Rushing to a meeting? People do that?

Douglas4517 said...

BTW, it applied and didn't apply. My point was that harsher punishment possibilities encourage plea bargains. Yes, I agree that it involves trusting the system and that can be difficult at times.