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Subject: Practical and religious views on the death penalty rss

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Moshe Callen
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Drew's thread on the treat of the death penalty in the US's WA state got me thinking about the contrast of my views on the death penalty in terms of supporting it in principle versus supporting it in practice. Here my views are essentially religious.

So under Jewish law, to execute someone, there need to be at least two witnesses to the actual deed. Those witnesses can have no ulterior motives or connection with any party in the deed and need to have warned the perpetrator of the consequences of his or her action. The perpetrator needs to have also been previously warned about the same kind of action, which in practice typically means by the same witnesses, and the warning needs to be acknowledged so that the person makes it clear they understand the potential consequences of their actions but are doing the deed anyway. All witnesses are separately submitted to rigorous questioning about all details of the act and things like the time of day, the weather, etc., and those witnesses are required to agree on all particulars. Even then, all possible extenuating circumstances (such as not being accustomed to abiding by the relevant law) should be taken into account. Thus, more than one execution per 70 years is considered extraordinary because the bar is set so high.

For Jewish law to recognize the judgments of other systems of law, as in for example handing over an alleged criminal to that justice system, the bar is set slightly lower but still at least one such witness to the actual deed is needed.

So I could bring in issues like statistics that show a bias against minorities in the case of the US or various systematic biases in other countries. Yet, the root of the issue is that I feel for what are to me religious reasons that if one is going to execute a person, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the person did the deed and that its circumstances warrant a death penalty. So while in principle I am for the death penalty, in practice I am not. That level of proof is simply virtually never met.
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Re: Practical and religious views on the death penaty
whac3 wrote:
Thus, more than one execution per 70 years is considered extraordinary because the bar is set so high.

Does Jewish law have the authority to perform executions in practice anywhere?
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Re: Practical and religious views on the death penaty
Dolphinandrew wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Thus, more than one execution per 70 years is considered extraordinary because the bar is set so high.

Does Jewish law have the authority to perform executions in practice anywhere?
No, because it also requires the existence of a Great Sanhedrin sitting in the Temple on Har Habayit with certain outward manifestations of the Divine Presence. Basically if you're going to kill someone, you need among other things to be in a setting intended to make you take the proceedings as absolutely seriously as possible. You also need to be able to do it with a clear conscience before G-d while being reminded of the standard by which you too will be judged.
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Re: Practical and religious views on the death penaty
When was the last execution under Jewish law?
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Re: Practical and religious views on the death penaty
About 50 CE.
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Dolphinandrew wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Thus, more than one execution per 70 years is considered extraordinary because the bar is set so high.

Does Jewish law have the authority to perform executions in practice anywhere?

Well, no, Jewish "law" as such is a religious construct. The only real authority I'm aware of are political ones. Even in a pure theocracy, it is the political state that accepts the religious laws as laws of the state.

So, for example, Jewish law cannot as such legally marry a couple in Canada or the US. In Quebec anyway, religious marriages are accepted by the state as legal. It's as if to say, only the Quebec government can sanction a marriage, but we'll accept as equivalent marriages conducted in synagogues, Catholic churches, etc. Another example is that a baptismal certificate is accepted in lieu of a government birth certificate.
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I think the state of today's biological and psychological research is not unequivocal enough to determine whether circumstances ever warrant the death penalty. I accept the theory that there are individuals who are so basically shifted from normal humanity that they could never be trusted not to harm others. I would rather isolate them, even though it may be theoretically inhumane to do so, from society for the rest of their lives. Killing them precludes any future advances in any number of areas of human knowledge allowing them to live out a relatively normal and/or productive life.

At an intellectual level, I can't morally or ethically support the killing of perpetrators to "ease" the pain of those who lost a loved one. As much as vengeance is a powerful attractor for me, and were I one of the victim's loved ones I would want the satisfaction of killing the perpetrator with my own hands in a painful, inhumane way, I realize that is no civilized way to run a justice system.
 
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Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.
Maybe but one needs to be damned sure what one is doing when using it.
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Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.

hmm, i would rather take the life imprisonment if i were innocent but found guilty..

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Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.
To Moshe's point, though, you can never really be sure you got the right guy. And since it is an irreversible punishment, it can get pretty awkward when new evidence comes to light.

Maybe just allow the death penalty for convicted felons that request it. I guess that's more just like assisted suicide, though.
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Why not put them in prison for life without the possibility of parole? After all, there is more than one case where at the time the person as thought to be convicted on evidence that left no doubt and later evidence proved otherwise.
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Shushnik wrote:
spoon wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.
To Moshe's point, though, you can never really be sure you got the right guy. And since it is an irreversible punishment, it can get pretty awkward when new evidence comes to light.

Maybe just allow the death penalty for convicted felons that request it. I guess that's more just like assisted suicide, though.

I disagree. With modern scientific techniques and high population there is a subset of convicted felons who we can be absolutely sure are guilty and have committed atrocities that we can never allow them to be reintroduced to society no matter what rehabilitation has been attempted. Perhaps this number is only dozens in a nation of hundreds of millions, but for those people execution is the proper and humane course.

this is frankly not true. there has never, and can never be 100% proof of anything (outside the realm of mathematics). whilst i agree that we can get pretty close with modern forensic methods these are not 100%.
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I have principal objection to the death penalty. As in, if it is wrong to kill people the state sure as hell should not be doing it. And I do not accept the sophist distinction between 'murder' and 'killing'.

This stance is of course made easier by the existence of a perfectly viable, tried and tested alternative: imprisonment.
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We need to at least find more equality in the death penalty.
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Shushnik wrote:
femgoth wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
spoon wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.
To Moshe's point, though, you can never really be sure you got the right guy. And since it is an irreversible punishment, it can get pretty awkward when new evidence comes to light.

Maybe just allow the death penalty for convicted felons that request it. I guess that's more just like assisted suicide, though.

I disagree. With modern scientific techniques and high population there is a subset of convicted felons who we can be absolutely sure are guilty and have committed atrocities that we can never allow them to be reintroduced to society no matter what rehabilitation has been attempted. Perhaps this number is only dozens in a nation of hundreds of millions, but for those people execution is the proper and humane course.

this is frankly not true. there has never, and can never be 100% proof of anything (outside the realm of mathematics). whilst i agree that we can get pretty close with modern forensic methods these are not 100%.

There are cases where we can be 100% certain. Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Dennis Rader are some famous examples. There is sufficient evidence to be absolutely certain of their guilt.

no there isnt; for every bit of proof against them there is a chance that that evidence is incorrect.
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I don't know why we need to have a death penalty.

The state having authority to kill people? I don't like this.

The only argument for it, is to save money by supporting people in jail.

But this is way overbalanced in my mind by the horror of government being allowed to kill people, the possibility that some are wrongly convicted, and my view that people should have time to change/repent (but keep them in jail).
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Shushnik wrote:
There are cases where we can be 100% certain. Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Dennis Rader are some famous examples. There is sufficient evidence to be absolutely certain of their guilt.
Unless they were framed, of course.
 
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tesuji wrote:
I don't know why we need to have a death penalty.

The state having authority to kill people? I don't like this.

The only argument for it, is to save money by supporting people in jail.

But this is way overbalanced in my mind by the horror of government being allowed to kill people, the possibility that some are wrongly convicted, and my view that people should have time to change/repent (but keep them in jail).

some ARE wrongly executed.

some ARE wrongly executed even though there was evidence that shows a good chance of them not being guilty.
 
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tesuji wrote:
The only argument for it, is to save money by supporting people in jail.

Not at all. One of the jobs of the state is to provide punishment fitting for torts. If there exist certain torts for which the only fitting punishment is death- and I believe that there are- then the state has an obligation to carry out that punishment. Biblically, the death penalty seems to have been the first thing to fall under the government's purview, back at the Noahide covenant.

Practically speaking, I largely agree with Moshe. I'd argue that, not just for the death penalty but as a matter of course, we ought to have a system of justice more inclined to finding the guilty innocent than finding the innocent guilty. A person should be executed only with strong evidence that they are guilty, and I question if this bar is commonly met in the US.

I'm not completely sold on the necessity of eyewitnesses, however. It's been demonstrated that eyewitnesses make mistakes and false identifications all the time. Thus, I have no problem in theory with someone being executed on the strength of forensic evidence, especially since the advent of DNA testing. As to how this applies to a specific death penalty case, that has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. In general, however, I would suggest that the vast majority of people brought up on criminal charges ought to be found not guilty. Contrast that to how things work in the US at present, where prosecutors and police are incredibly eager to get a conviction and definitely skirt the line of what they're allowed to do.

Getting a the death penalty, in short, should be difficult but possible.
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Shushnik wrote:
femgoth wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
femgoth wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
spoon wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.
To Moshe's point, though, you can never really be sure you got the right guy. And since it is an irreversible punishment, it can get pretty awkward when new evidence comes to light.

Maybe just allow the death penalty for convicted felons that request it. I guess that's more just like asusisted suicide, though.



I disagree. With modern scientific techniques and high population there is a subset of convicted felons who we can be absolutely sure are guilty and have committed atrocities that we can never allow them to be reintroduced to society no matter what rehabilitation has been attempted. Perhaps this number is only dozens in a nation of hundreds of millions, but for those people execution is the proper and humane course.

this is frankly not true. there has never, and can never be 100% proof of anything (outside the realm of mathematics). whilst i agree that we can get pretty close with modern forensic methods these are not 100%.

There are cases where we can be 100% certain. Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Dennis Rader are some famous examples. There is sufficient evidence to be absolutely certain of their guilt.

no there isnt; for every bit of proof against them there is a chance that that evidence is incorrect.

Well, since you bring up nothing but nebulous calls for perfection without even addressing the individual cases I've cited, dismissing them without specific argument, I guess our discussion is over.

Eh? Of course there should be perfection, doesn't a death penalty require absolute certainty.

Why should I address individual cases? The argument holds true for every possible case. For every piece of evidence there is the possibility that it is flawed.
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twomillionbucks wrote:
Not at all. One of the jobs of the state is to provide punishment fitting for torts. If there exist certain torts for which the only fitting punishment is death- and I believe that there are- then the state has an obligation to carry out that punishment.

I'm interested in what criteria are used to determine which torts are only fit to be punished with the death penalty?
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TheChin! wrote:
twomillionbucks wrote:
Not at all. One of the jobs of the state is to provide punishment fitting for torts. If there exist certain torts for which the only fitting punishment is death- and I believe that there are- then the state has an obligation to carry out that punishment.

I'm interested in what criteria are used to determine which torts are only fit to be punished with the death penalty?

Generally, torts in which something of value so great has been destroyed that no reparation can be extracted from the perpetrator short of their own life. On that basis I would suggest rape and murder as examples of crimes which warrant the death penalty.

It should be noted here that I think the idea of imprisoning people are punishment for crimes (not to be confused with jailing them to await trial) is a problematic one as well. If you happen to think that imprisonment is the best punishment, then it's easy to see why you would disagree.
 
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femgoth wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
spoon wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.
To Moshe's point, though, you can never really be sure you got the right guy. And since it is an irreversible punishment, it can get pretty awkward when new evidence comes to light.

Maybe just allow the death penalty for convicted felons that request it. I guess that's more just like assisted suicide, though.

I disagree. With modern scientific techniques and high population there is a subset of convicted felons who we can be absolutely sure are guilty and have committed atrocities that we can never allow them to be reintroduced to society no matter what rehabilitation has been attempted. Perhaps this number is only dozens in a nation of hundreds of millions, but for those people execution is the proper and humane course.

this is frankly not true. there has never, and can never be 100% proof of anything (outside the realm of mathematics). whilst i agree that we can get pretty close with modern forensic methods these are not 100%.

Are you saying, that if YOU see person "A" walk up to person "B" and shoots "B" in the head and kills him, that you are not 100% sure that "A" just killed "B"?
 
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I don't really have a problem with the death penalty. It's just cheaper to give then life w/o parole.
 
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bobby_5150 wrote:
femgoth wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
spoon wrote:
Shushnik wrote:
There are people who do things so inhuman that there is no rational option to ever allow them contact with society. I believe in the death penalty because it is more humane and efficient to end their lives than to incarcerate them until their death.

The death penalty is not a deterrent or a punishment. It is mercy.
To Moshe's point, though, you can never really be sure you got the right guy. And since it is an irreversible punishment, it can get pretty awkward when new evidence comes to light.

Maybe just allow the death penalty for convicted felons that request it. I guess that's more just like assisted suicide, though.

I disagree. With modern scientific techniques and high population there is a subset of convicted felons who we can be absolutely sure are guilty and have committed atrocities that we can never allow them to be reintroduced to society no matter what rehabilitation has been attempted. Perhaps this number is only dozens in a nation of hundreds of millions, but for those people execution is the proper and humane course.

this is frankly not true. there has never, and can never be 100% proof of anything (outside the realm of mathematics). whilst i agree that we can get pretty close with modern forensic methods these are not 100%.

Are you saying, that if YOU see person "A" walk up to person "B" and shoots "B" in the head and kills him, that you are not 100% sure that "A" just killed "B"?
No, becasue you cannot be sure that shot killed him. Now you have to have "and saw him blow his head clean apart, and that he was alive to being with, and is not special effects for a film and...".
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