I thank Mr Darren “Daz” Pearce for his latest contribution to our capital punishment debate. For those of you joining the debate in media res, Mr Pearce opened the debate with his case against the death penalty on the Anna Raccoon website. I responded by arguing my support for the restoration of the death penalty. Mr Pearce’s counter took the form of a duplex that can be read here and then here.
I will try to answer Mr Pearce – where new things may be added to the debate – following his structure. My response, as with Mr Pearce’s, is divided into two (less indigestible) parts.
Mr Pearce kindly accepts my statistic that there was a 125% increase in the death penalty during the five years that it was suspended in Britain. The statistic, which I have encountered in books, is not easily found on the Internet (a Google search on “125% increase capital punishment” mostly returns articles written by me). One venue at which it can be found is Richard Clark’s website about capital punishment. Clark is the author of books about capital punishment, including Capital Punishment In Britain (ISBN 978-0711034136). Clark’s source materials are British Government Statistics. That is, it was the British Government that recorded the statistic of a 125% increase in crimes that would have attracted the death penalty. As such, it is a matter of public record.
Mr Pearce offers two possible alternative contradictions of my statistic. The first is this: Does the absence of capital punishment leave juries with greater confidence to find the defendant guilty?
This is certainly a possible explanation of some of the rise in crime following the suspension and abolition of the death penalty in Britain. A.P. Schrader supports this view: “Studies have shown that the average juror serving on a jury is ill-disposed to condemn another human being to death and, therefore, reluctant to find a defendant guilty if they believe he or she will be executed. It could, perversely, lead to more killers being freed.”
While this is credible, it cannot be used to explain retrospectively that there were fewer murders before the suspension of the death penalty. According to Mr Pearce’s logic there should be more capital crime prior to the suspension of the death penalty (because jurors were unwilling to send men to death, meaning the accused would be found not guilty, made free and would be at large to commit more capital crimes). Conversely, there should fewer capital crimes after the abolition of the death penalty (for the same reason: that jurors were more willing to convict a man of a capital crime). At least, this is the conclusion you must arrive at if you think that a juror’s prejudices about capital punishment could cause a 125% fluctuation in capital offences and also, as Mr Pearce believes, that prison is an adequate deterrent against murder.
Far from weakening my explanation of this statistic he aims to weaken, Mr Pearce actually strengthens it.
Mr Pearce takes a detour from the statistics to discuss the nature of juries. Mr Pearce thinks that juries are too error prone to preside over the death penalty. I don’t deny that jurors get it wrong, but I am confident that jurors get it right much more than they get it wrong. And I believe that requiring jurors to be professionally qualified will reduce juror errors even more. Mr Pearce rejects my idea of a qualification of implied intelligence and competence (via a professional qualification or occupation) because: “intelligence and honesty are two entirely different things – just because a juror is professionally qualified or possessed of an above-average IQ does not mean that they will enter a courtroom free of their own agenda or prejudices.”
There are many people who are both intelligent and corrupt. Mr Pearce and I are in agreement here. However, if they are corrupt to the extent of criminality in the courtroom – and perjury is a crime – then it is possible they have previous criminal convictions that preclude them from sitting on a panel of jurors. That aside, we cannot do much about jurors who are dishonest, malignant or nobbled. It happens. However, by allowing only reasonably intelligent people to sit on juries we at least relieve ourselves of another potential source of error: Stupid people.
I think we can all foresee the dangers of allowing inexperienced and thick people to sit on a jury panel. There needs to be, among jurors, the capacity for objectivity, reason, literacy and understanding of justice and what it is for. Why should illiterate or semi-literate people sit on a jury panel when they struggle to understand the wording of a charge? If they don’t understand the charge and their minds are incapable of the necessary reasoning, how can they be expected to deliver justice? Raise the age of jurors, raise the professional standards of jurors and there will be fewer miscarriages of justice.
On the subject of juries, I am astounded – and I hope I can convey my astonishment – that Mr Pearce would like to see juries “phased out”. His preference for abolishing juries is at odds with his fear of a state with too much control over the justice system. I must urge Mr Pearce, as he is concerned about an overly powerful state, to reconsider his views on juries: Juries exist precisely to keep a check on the state’s control over the justice system.
Peter Hitchens in The Abolition of Liberty says: “Without a jury, the legal process is like any other government action… A series of state employees, few of them specially brave or intelligent or perceptive, are asked to approve the original decision of another state employee. The chances are strong that they will do this at every stage, and will feel this is what they are paid to do.”
There is little chance of converting my opponents to my way of thinking on the matter of capital punishment. However, I hope I can give Mr Pearce – and anyone who loves liberty who is attracted to the idea of abolishing juries – cause to think again.
Back to the main debate. Mr Pearce’s second contradiction – actually, his counterbalancing – of my “One Hundred And Twenty Five Percent” statistic is based on his own statistics drawn from the USA. A full explanation of the statistics can be found in Mr Pearce’s previous instalment; I’ll just say here that the gist of the statistics is that between 1990 and 2007, homicide rates fell faster in states that did not carry out executions compared to those which did.
Mr Pearce and my other opponents are prone to refer to the USA when they wish to show the flaws of the death penalty. This is understandable and I agree that the death penalty has varying rates of success in the USA. However, there are other countries that operate a successful death penalty system, Singapore being the most notable. Without meaning to sound rude, do my opponents choose USA and ignore Singapore because they selectively choose examples to suit their cause or because their knowledge of capital punishment does not extend much beyond some well-rehearsed American examples?
My reason for asking is that I am not sure that America is any more relevant to capital punishment in Britain than is Singapore. America is geographically much larger than Britain, it is a federal republic whose individual states have differing amounts of success with the death penalty because of the ways the justice system is administered differently between states. States even employ differing means of execution. America has a different appeal system to Britain, which means that a convict can spend his lifetime on Death Row appealing his sentence.
For this reason, I find it hard to accept that Mr Pearce’s American statistic can be used as a counterbalance to my British statistic. But the most important point I want to make is this: Singapore operates a successful death penalty because it is consistent in its use of it. Those who commit capital crimes know they will be executed. That certainty is decisively important.
That certainty does not exist throughout all of the “capital punishment” states in the USA. However, the death penalty has its greatest deterrent effect in the USA in states which execute convicts consistently and quickly (see The New York Times for a relevant information). The article in The New York Times cites research which shows that the death penalty in the USA works as a deterrent. I think the following is worth quoting:
““I personally am opposed to the death penalty,” said H. Naci Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University and an author of a study finding that each execution saves five lives. “But my research shows that there is a deterrent effect.””
All the evidence says that when the death penalty is applied consistently it is a successful deterrent. We can infer that a consistently applied death penalty deters capital offenders because they are confident in their knowledge of the consequences of their actions. It is only when a capital punishment system has a history of hesitations and hiccups that it is less effective. This seems to be a problem for America, or some states in America. If you apply the death penalty consistently and swiftly (as we used to in Britain) then lives will be saved. This is incontrovertible. The number of lives you will save will be greater than lives lost through miscarriages of justice. I do not mean to reduce this to a numbers game or make the logic overtly utilitarian, but it is not me who fails to realise that innocent people will die if we do not re-institute the death penalty. I am mindful that there will be, occasionally, an awful miscarriage of justice. But we must, if we are to understand this debate properly, include in our considerations the people who will most certainly be murdered because of the lack of a death penalty.
There can be no doubt that the death penalty saves lives.
In my next instalment I will offer my response to Mr Pearce’s discussion of capital punishment as a form of retribution.