Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

A dying practice

Posted by Ron Coleman on November 13, 2007

Dahlia Lithwick exposes the dirty little secret of capital punishment in this country:  It’s dying a death by a thousand injections.

As Richard Dieter at the Death Penalty Information Center points out, once the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Baze, the states were forced to defend their protocols en masse, even if they knew them to be flawed. If even one state were to change its procedure now, prisoners in the other states would have a constitutional claim. It’s a form of—pardon the pun—prisoner’s dilemma; the states backed their way into a rotten system, and now they must insist that it’s the greatest, most constitutional system around.

But Dieter points to another, more important reason states aren’t racing to embrace new execution methods: “The pitched battle over the death penalty is not a rational one,” he says. States that allow capital punishment don’t really want to kill a lot more people a lot more efficiently. They want to execute some people, sometimes, and the lethal-injection system—while flawed in substantive ways—was a political solution to a political problem.

In short, the strategy of anti-death-penalty advocates has worked.  And sloppy policymakers have no one but themselves to blame.



One Response to “A dying practice”

  1. jaymaster said

    This is a trend worth watching, but it doesn’t worry me too much. Yet. And I am a solid proponent of the death penalty.

    I mostly support it as a deterrent. And IMO, most folks who might be swayed by the deterrent effect aren’t going to grasp the nuance of these arguments, nor notice their effect on the number of executions carried out.

    Sure, their lawyers might exploit it after the fact. But then again, that’s after the fact, so what does it really matter?

    Now, if you support the death penalty from a perspective of justice, then I realize my reasoning doesn’t apply. But “justice” is a messy, abstract, and sometimes dangerous concept in its own right. It defies absolute description.

    Another BIG question…

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