Thursday, June 28, 2007


Speaking of Crazy: Fred Thompson Weighs In

So it turns out Fred Thompson actually is a lawyer (he doesn't just play one on TV), but apparently that doesn't mean that he has any real understanding of the machinations of the nation's capital punishment system. In a recent podcast, Thompson declares that Americans usually get things right, and sites the few recent studies that purport to find that the death penalty deters murder (apparently anywhere from 3 to 18 murders per execution - how many? can a range that wide really mean anything? I guess that doesn't matter).

Thompson rather mockingly refers to the "self-proclaimed smart kids" who have always said that the death penalty doesn't deter murder and then says that "most studies" now find that the death penalty does protect innocent lives. Now the simple facts are that only a few studies have claimed to demonstrate any such thing, and close review and scrutiny in the academic community have debunked those few (check out a terrific summation of this work here). Also, I'd like to point out that while apparently in Thompson's view academics deserve only to be mocked when they are arguing against capital punishment, their findings seem to deserve the greatest weight when they support the state taking life.

Now, I am not an academic. I have a plain old bachelor's degree, and that's probably all I'll ever get. I'll certainly never go to law school or be an assistant U.S. Attorney, but I've got eyes and common sense, so instead of throwing bunches of independent variables into complex equations that no one who isn't an academic can understand (which is what the Emory econometric studies that Thompson so reverently refers to do) let's look at basic common sense.

If the death penalty deterred crime, there would be no murders in Texas! Texas has executed nearly 400 people in the past 25 years, and it does it quickly. Yet Texas's murder rate remains high, while that of New York (which has not carried out an execution in the modern era) remains low. In fact, 11 of the 13 states that do not have the death penalty on the books have murder rates below the national average. When the death penalty was reinstated in 1972, murder rates were falling, but even as we ramped back up the machinery of death, in the 1980s and 1990s, the murder rate continued to increase. State by state studies similarly show that there is no drop in the murder rate after a state returns to executions, nor is there an increase after a state ends its use of the death penalty.

In other words, the common sense facts don't support Thompson's assertions. In this case, the "self-proclaimed smart kids" are free market economists who design theoretical models to show that the death penalty deters crime, when any sensible person, looking at the facts in front of their eyes knows that this is not true. In fact, when certain variables are adjusted and accounted for in one of these studies, the new equation shows that an execution causes 3 more murders!

We need to have a serious debate about the death penalty in America, but even the majority of Americans don't believe that the death penalty deters other murderers. As a potential presidential candidate, Fred Thompson owes us a deeper and more honest analysis.

Comments :
You know it's a page from the recent administration's playbook. If you just say it, that makes it so.
Fred Thompson is a good actor. I'd like to try to find the AP news release he cites.
I think it hilarious when some ill-informed do-gooder infused with a puffed sense of his own morality tries to deal in the cold hard world of logic.

Travelingjesuit writes that if the death penalty deterred murder, there would be no murder in Texas. TJ, are you really that stupid, or has self-righteousness clouded your thinking ability. The issue is not whether the death penalty deters all murders (no one thinks it does) or some murders. If a swift and sure capital punishment deters some murders, then it is difficult to argue against it. (That's why abolitionists feel this huge need to discredit these studies.) The other fallacy in TJ's argument is to point to point to a murder rate in a death jurisdiction and compare it to a murder rate in a non-death jurisdiction. While that could have validity if other variables were similar, such a comparison has little validity if the variable vary widely.

Remember, "a little learning is a dangerous thing".
What did this fellow just say? Now that made no sense. "Variable vary widely"?
TJ's arguement is very valid and backed up with facts whereas anon has nothing to back up his claims.
Hopefully your trolling will be more valuable, now it's just tiring.
oh, gee, I should have said "variables differ" instead.

The issue, Augie, is whether capital punishment deters some murders. Certainly, it is possible that Texas would have a higher murder rate but for capital punishment. Therefore, it is simply no answer to say that Texas' death penalty doesn't work because there are murders in Texas.

I believe that a swift and certain death penalty deters some murders. That would mean that innocent lives have been saved, and that allows one to justify capital punishment on a utilitarian basis. And conversely, it would put you guys on the wrong side.

Enjoy your ignorance folks, and keep chanting "Mumia is innocent. Mumia is innocent."
As usual, TCASK welcomes all comments as long as they are delivered without recourse to offensive language and in a respectful tone (well, OK, our anonymous friend above kind of pushes the envelope here, but we'll try to keep it clean on our side).

Everyone is also entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. These studies that Thompson points to are seriously flawed and are asking us to go against common sense and the vast majority of social science research. Also, we should point out that we don't have a "swift and certain" death penalty. With the serious problems in the death penalty system (consider 1 exoneration for every 9 executions) the U.S. Supreme Court has mandated a series of appeals. Of course this hasn't stopped the execution of some defendants who were very likely innocent (Check out:, but it does guarantee that executions are not going to be carried out "swiftly and certainly." Which is exactly why the death penalty doesn't act as a deterrent. Of course, some people out there are now shouting, cut the appeals process short. But doing that means that a lot of innocent people would have been executed. Like Juan Melendez, who spent almost 18 years on Florida's death row for a crime that he did not commit! And wasn't this all supposed to be about protecting innocent lives?

"Anonymous's" response, typically, avoids answering any of the questions posed in my original post, but instead simply state's his/her own belief. Belief is fine, but Fred Thompson and others are talking about scientific fact, and there is a tremendous difference. And would someone please tell me how Mumia's guilt or innocence (and I don't think any post on this blog has ever mentioned Mumia, by the way) has anything to do with the death penalty's utility as a deterrent?
Wow! That's one of the most ignorant websites I have ever seen. The article referenced is in there along with one about how "eas" life on death row is. Can't we find some real sources instead of conservative foundations with axes to grind?
TJ, you show your ignorance. The folks who run C & C are very well-regarded. They have numerous posts about the deterrence issue. Perhaps, you might take a look at what they have to say.
I think that the only ignorance shown was in that article post to which you refer. Anyone who thinks that time in a maximum security or super max prison is easy is invited to try it.
Uh, TJ, what, C & C cannot link an AP article wherein a death row inmate talks about his life? Come on. Pathetic argument.

Seems to me that you guys are deathly afraid of the possibility that the death penalty may deter murder, so you'll close your eyes to peer-reviewed studies that say that it does. Like I said, peopple who run C & C are very highly regarded, even by people on your side (e.g., Karl Keys who knows that Scheidegger knows his stuff).

I know it's hard guys, but try to open your minds.
I'm going to attempt to respectfully reply (despite the clear lack of any real interest in respectful dialogue by our anonymous friend) and then finally move on from this post. There are an overwhelming number of peer reviewed studies that demonstrate that the death penalty is not a deterrent in any way. You can read about the flaws in these recent studies in the article that is linked in the original post. So, we are clearly not "closing our eyes" to peer-reviewed studies. And no matter how well thought of you may think that your link is, the argument put forward was nothing less than pathetic. Maximum security and super max prisons are by no means easy or gentle. But thank you for reading and informing me what people on "my side" think.
TJ, the link I provided goes straight to a post on death and deterrence; it says nothing about supermax

And your dismissal of C & C simply because they linked to an AP article is beyond silly.
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post :

Create a Link

<< Home