Thursday, March 17, 2005

On crime and punishment

I have to admit I pretty much cheered when I first heard that Scott Peterson was sentenced to death for killing his eight-month-pregnant wife.

Call me a cruel and inhuman human, but a part of me likes knowing that some jurisdictions in the world still aren't afraid to give back to murderers what they gave to their victims. It's my ultimate revenge fantasy, lived out by proxy.

It bothers me immensely that we live in a world where victims can be repeatedly victimized by criminals, but those same criminals can go to prison and get a degree. I know I'm oversimplifying, but the unfairness of crime and punishment in today's society is enough to make most of us law-abiding folks nauseous.

So where do you stand? What do you think we should do with the likes of Mr. Peterson? How can victims be treated more fairly in the eyes of the law?


John D Schultz said...

Carmi, I, for the most part, agree with you concerning the death penalty. The part that I have a hard time with is the number of times that the jury has been wrong in cases. I believe in Illinois there was a recent case of a large number of death row prisoners that were found to be innocent.

At any rate, I do agree that the "unfairness of crime and punishment" is enough to make a person sick. I work at a law office and am witness to the inner workings of the American legal system. I will tell you that a lot of the system has to do with how well you or your lawyer understands the full extent of the law -- in some cases this is good and in others it is not so good!

Wheelson said...

Recently as I debated the subject of executing criminals under the age of 18, I was faced with having to shore up my arguments regarding the death penalty. One topic came up was, what about executing someone who is really, really sorry for their actions vs. someone who shows no remorse? To this I responded that, if one is an advocate of capital punishment, yet squirms at the prospect of executing someone who has reformed and changed their life around, then rather than rethink the punishment given to that person, they should instead rethink the whole idea of capital punishment. The reasoning behind this is that the only compassionate thing to do is to define a punishment before the crime has happened. Setting up a punishment for one person, but a different punishment for another person is devoid of compassion. This is exactly what happens however, as those who have a certain skin color, or a certain sized bank account are judged differently.

The question of capital punishment is a fascinating topic. Rather morbid, but fascinating due to all it's complexities. I look forward to seeing how the comments unfold on this one.

Joan said...

I was sitting in my car listening to the radio when they broke in and announced that Scott Peterson was sentenced to death. I instantly said "YES!"

After a moment I was kind of appalled with myself for getting excited about someone being sentenced to death.

I think it does have a lot to do with the remorse factor. Every single account that I have heard about Scott Peterson has him coming across as a cold hearted, unremorseful, unemotional S.O.B. I wonder if I would feel the same if he showed remorse and/or emotion? I don't think I would.

Dean said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dean said...

I take some issue with defining criminal justice in terms of victims. I don't believe that the criminal justice system should consult, or in fact care about the victim. It isn't the criminal system's job to redress victim imbalances, to provide 'closure' to victims, or anything else.

The function of the criminal justice systems is to punish people for transgressions. Under our system (I lump Canada and the US together in
this), the criminal is supposedly punished for the intent: the difference between first and second degree murder is intent.

I realize that what I'm saying is a touch heretical, but think about it. It follows from what Wheelson said. If you punish people based on the impact of the crime, you'll be hanging people for careless driving if they should happen to hit a schoolbus, and letting people off if
they happen to murder someone that nobody cares about.

I'm pro-death penalty, but purely as a practical matter. There is a certain type of person who will kill again if they are ever released. This, in turn, means that we will be faced with incarcerating them until they day they die, and it seems to me that a rope is a whole lot cheaper.

Scott Peterson is probably one of those people, and my personal opinion is that he should die. Not because of the impact on his victims, but because he deliberately and coldly planned and carried
out a murder.

The criminal justice system can never eliminate crime. It is impossible. The best that it can hope to do is to keep it down to a
manageable level, and in the Canada, at least, the criminal justice system is doing a reasonable job given that our rate of violent crime
is on the low side as developed countries go.

Anonymous said...

Capital punishment. As we know that is not legal in Canada any longer. but in the U.S. it is used as punishment and deterrence. We'll show you we can kill people so YOU won't kill people.

double standard there.

The Punishment fits the crime. He killed an unborn child and his wife while he cheated with another who already had a child? what goes there ?? he's a sicko. I saw his mistress on Oprah the other day.

The U.S. justice system needs an overhaul. Death row is packed with men and women waiting to die in the appeals process ( i am from the US originally) in Florida the death process is Prime time news casts. They love to show frying people. it is a NEWS event in Florida where I am from.

He should die !! and sooner than later. that's my take on the sicko.


Suzanne said...

As in everything else, I feel like the criminal justice system is filled with politics and beaurocracy. Money, race, celebrity, can all place an impact on the actual punishment one gets.
I also agree with Dean regarding "intent". The difference between the cruelty of an offender is often times whether or not he had intent. Intent is a difficult thing to prove but not impossible with today's technology.

I'm Glad Peterson was found guilty and sentenced to death. He clearly intended to kill his wife, had no remorse for doing so, and continued to lie even to a woman he supposedly wanted to be with. For that trial to continue any further would simply be beating a dead horse. enough said, no appeals. done.

brian said...

It sounds to me that the US Criminal Justice system worked as advertised. However, life without parole would have been worse. As a death-row inmate, he'll spend the next twenty years isolated from the general prison population.

Of course the best way to ensure that a bad guy gets what's coming to him is to kill him with your trusty handgun. Oh, that's right, you're Canadian. You're not allowed to do that, because your inalienable right to keep and bear arms has been alienated by your government. Good luck using that hockey stick.

veach glines said...

I disagree (and apparently I'm alone on this). Maybe because I'm viewing this from a unique perspective: I never read news or watch any commercial televison (thanks TeVo) and only learned about the case from these comments.

Apparently everyone is of one mind: and is glad about the execution of some person who killed one other person whom everyone knows well enough because the media they have read or watched would never use something like this to up their numbers.

Sounds like a pile of rocks outside the city gates would quickly find its way into the hands of you and your readers. Linch him, they shouted. Hang him, they shouted. Nail him to the cross, they shouted.

They, the lemmings who opine brazenly about things they've been told to believe by the talking heads they consider clerics.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone agrees, VSG.

Sure, I could ramble on about the uselessness of it as a deterrent, the fact that innocent people have been put to death, etc., etc., etc.

But for me the main issue is this -- capital punishment makes all of us -- as the murder of criminals is carried out in our names -- no better than those who killed in the first place.

Lynda said...

As a Texan, we see no timidity in handing down death sentences. I, however, don't believe it is the better choice. Ever. As I grow older , I find it to be a barbaric method of justice.

Truthfully, I wish we had life imprisonment with no parole in all states. Then, I wish we could get a bit more creative. Wallpaper the cell in the victim's photos, have them write the same sentence 100 times every single day...

But kill 'em? Not as effective, just cheaper.

Photominer said...

Sorry, I'm not a fan of the death penalty. I find politics, emotion and public pressure can influence the result. Much the same as a sanctioned lynch mob. Plus I don't think either justice system in either country has enough of a track record to guarantee that every person on death row is in fact guilty.

Finally, if you believe that suicide is a cop out from facing things (as I do), then the death penalty can be viewed as much the same. Its an easy out instead of years of punishment and reflection on his heinous crime. Remember Carmi, if we had it here, Milgaard would already be dead.

Jill said...

To murder someone is simply the most unjust act on Earth. No one has the right to take another individual's life. However, if they do the act and get caught, they know ahead of time what's at risk: The loss of their own life. How is that barbaric? In truth, I am troubled by georacial and financial inconsistencies across the country that result in varying standards and rulings. But I still feel that one is making an informed choice if one intentionally murders another person. If you don't want to be executed, don't kill. It works for me.

Thumper said...

I don't support the death penalty, but not for moral reasons or even anything remotely like "well, murder is wrong, so..."

I have 2 main reasons: it costs far more to take a person from conviction to execution that it does to simply lock them away for life, and once a person is executed, they can't be brought back if somehow it turns out that they were, in fact, innocent.

I don't know the exact statistics, but I seem to remember reading not too long ago that it's now up to 115 people on death row were proven innocent by DNA evidence over the last 5 years or so...?

Lock 'em up, throw away the key, but be prepared to hire a locksmith some day, because you just never really know...

Christine said...

I am for capital punishment, if it fits the crime. I have a hard time with the idea of someone raping and murdering innocent people - CHILDREN - and then living comfortably the rest of their lives. I'm over-simplifing, too, I know. If prisons were different than they are I might change my mind, but the truth is that while they are locked up, they can watch TV, exercise, read, earn a degree, and even in some cases work and earn money. I know it seems cruel, but using our tax dollars to give them all these luxuries (and I think that if you killed someone, these certainly should be considered luxuries!) is ridiculous.

Kate said...

I don't agree with capital punishment. It doesn't seem to deter anyone. Look at the growing prison population. It means that as a citizen of the state that I'm responsible for murder. It strikes me as the definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

I heard once, and I'd be very interested to see some statistics, that it costs more to keep someone on death row due to legal wrangling and appeals than it does to imprison them for life.

And, I hate it when people talk about the luxuries of prison. "Omigod, they get to watch TV!" Yes, unable to leave, unable to piss unwatched, unable to walk without escort, surrounded by people who care nothing for them, who would kill them or assault them any moment.

People used to talk about prison rehabilitation. I don't know if it works, but the punishment angle certainly doesn't seem to.

Here's a thought. Since we know a life of poverty informs most of these people, how about we work on that? No? (I know, Scott P wasn't poor. The exception, not the rule.) Then by all means build more prisons and kill more people. Sounds like great social policy to me.

Carrie said...

Thumper's comment resonated with me.

What sticks in my mind is that on the same day, two verdicts were given. Robert Blake found not guilty, despite trace evidence - small but there was some. More than in the Peterson case. Scott Peterson is found guilty on less evidence than the Blake trial had.

I don't believe Peterson is innocent. And the victim in Blake's crime was controversial from what I've read and heard. Still, it seems to me that the current justice system (USA and Canada) is seriously flawed.

Verdict day felt to me like the results were flipped, if we're considering justice the way the system is supposed to work. More proof of this is the upcoming release of Karla Homolka. If she isn't a walking statement of the problems with the North American justice systems, I don't know what is.

All that said, I am glad Peterson got death. But feel a life sentence would have been more fair. Only because with life, he would have had to exist and live with fellow criminals. As it stands now, he's got a private cell, no threats, and a free ride. He'll die a natural peaceful death before any execution date comes down.

Valderbar de Cat said...

If someone has no qualms about crossing social norms or interest in not respecting physical body or property or other personal boundaries and admit they will face whatever the government sees fit, it is easier to choose capital punishment. When someone pleads innocent or is convinced to plead guilty for whatever reason and is put on death row without having done the crime, that's the trickier time.

I believe in extending the option to reform longer than practical, teaching kindness and respect by modelling it to the angry, injured or emotionally walled up criminal, even if the person sneers, is spiteful and violent.

The ice did not form in an hour and will not melt in one but given enough warmth, spring may come. Or the one with bloodlust and bloodrush may be past the point of no return. Can any judge, psychic or psychiatrist tell or make the criminal's motivation change him/her inside out into a less trust damaging course?

Anonymous said...

I have thought about the death penalty now for over 20 years (I am 46). Despite this, I am no further towards forming an opinion than I was in my early 20's. I believe in the need for a deterrent to extreme violence however I do know that our justice system is flawed and it would be better to let everyone live than to condemn an innocent person. Maybe the violence has more to do with our society in general. Other countries do not seem to have many of the problems we do. Hollywood, gun ownership, neglect of children for the pursuit of careers, etc. Our modern society has it's drawbacks as well. I really don't know. I am glad there are people, far more educated than I, who are willing and working to resolve this very difficult issue. We are not the compassionate nation we used to be. That is for sure.