"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Monday, March 09, 2015

Part IV: America's Death Penalty Does Not Contradict Any Catholic Teaching

Even if one takes for granted that the "modified" or "updated" or "developed" position of Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism (#2267) with regard to the death penalty is absolute, true, correct, and binding always and everywhere as the only moral justification for the death penalty, the death penalty in this country is-- surprise!-- still in conformity with that position.

The two "new" conditions under which the DP would seem to approved by the current teaching are:  1) the DP can only be resorted to when the "improvements" (the nature of which we're left guessing about) to the penal system are not sufficient to render offenders harmless;  and 2) given these "improvements" we expect to see that the DP is used only "rarely."

With this in mind, let's review the actual situation in the United States, and not the cartoon characterizations by some fevered bloggers.

As to the first point, it is difficult to know just what "improvements" the churchmen who penned these documents are referring to.  We can assume they mean life without parole;  or perhaps they mean that we have high-security prisons.  Since we are left without clear direction on this point, it's hard to fathom how the authors of the current teaching expect the laity charged with implementing a criminal justice system to respond to their new teaching.

But assuming for the sake of argument that the "improvements" referred to are life imprisonment and secure prisons, in the United States at any rate these "improvements" have certainly not been effective in rendering offenders harmless.  I've pointed out at some length and without contradiction that despite life sentences and high security prisons, some offenders continue to be very real threats to the safety and lives of prison personnel and fellow inmates, and to the public when they escape or have their sentences reduced or commuted for some reason.  I won't repeat here the myriad concrete cases where mere imprisonment has utterly failed to restrain offenders.  Suffice to say, there are enough of these examples to reach a sound conclusion that "life imprisonment" or lengthy incarceration, cannot guarantee to a moral certainty that an offender will be rendered harmless.

All of which is to say, whatever "improvements" these authors imagined that would render offenders harmless have yet to exist in the U.S.  That some offenders might not kill or assault in prison is certainly true;  but to speak of a causal relation between some general "improvement" and the propensity of an offender to commit violence, is to evince a woeful lack of understanding of actual conditions in the criminal justice system.

Whether or not the "improvements" have been made and are successful, however, the good news (if one views it as such)  is that as to the second desire of the authors, that the DP should only be "rarely" resorted to, imposition of the death penalty continues to decline.

In 2013, the last year available for murder statistics, there were about 80 death sentences handed down nationally (source: Death Penalty Information Center, an abolition group which boasts that death sentences are near a historic low) for the 14,196 murders committed (source: Bureau of Justice Statisticsa rate of 0.56%, which is a rate consistent with recent years.

So whatever view one takes of the current Catholic teaching, the simple fact is, the death penalty is imposed very rarely in the US, in less than one percent of murder cases.  This is easily explained as the result of death--eligible cases (usually aggravated forms of murder) being relatively rare; prosecutor caution in seeking the most serious of sentences, considering the cost and trauma to the state and the victims' families during long and contentious appellate procedures that go far beyond those experienced in non-death cases; and of course, jury caution in imposing this type of punishment.

Thus, for all the sturm und drang of the Catholic Left, and overblown rhetoric about blood lust, the death penalty is a very rare occurrence in relation to the number of murders in this country.

Would that these tender souls reserve some of their tears for all the forgotten victims of murder (the 14,000-plus), instead of for the very small number (80, and only 72 in 2014) of the worst offenders who receive a death sentence.

Alas, dead victims do not make good fodder for ostentatious moral preening by the living Left.

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