Wednesday, August 31, 2016

When murder is punished with death, fewer criminals will murder

When the death penalty is on the books and consistently enforced, a significant number of homicides will be prevented

By Jeff Jacoby

Writing in support of Proposition 62, a California ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty, former El Dorado county supervisor Ron Briggs makes the tiresomely familiar claim that “the death penalty does not make our communities any safer” and “is not a deterrent to crime.”

For death penalty opponents, it is a venerable article of faith that executing murderers doesn’t deter other murders and that abolishing the death penalty doesn’t make killings more likely. Never mind that a thick sheaf of peer-reviewed academic studies refutes the abolitionists’ belief, as, of course, does common sense: All penalties have some deterrent effect, and the more severe the penalty, the more it deters. Let a parking meter expire, and you risk a $20 ticket; park in a handicapped spot, and risk a $200 ticket. Which violation are you less likely to commit?

It doesn’t take a social-science degree to grasp the real-world difference between facing vs. not facing a potential death sentence. Criminals grasp it too.

Dmitry Smirnov did. A resident of British Columbia, Smirnov was smitten with Jitka Vesel, a pretty Chicago woman he’d met online playing “World of Warcraft” in 2008 and then dated for several weeks. When Vesel ended the brief relationship, Smirnov took it badly. He returned to Canada, but kept pursuing Vesel by phone and online. When she broke off communication with him, he began plotting to kill her.

Smirnov returned to the United States in 2011, bought a gun and ammunition, and drove back to Chicago. He attached a GPS device to Vesel’s car so he could track her movements. On the evening of April 13, he tailed her to the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum in Oak Park, Ill., where she was a curator and board member. When she came out after a meeting, Smirnov ambushed her. He shot her repeatedly, firing multiple rounds into the back of her head even after she had crumpled to the ground.

A deranged suitor? Maybe — but Smirnov wasn’t too deranged to first check out whether Illinois was a death penalty state. He headed back to Chicago to murder Vesel only after learning that Illinois had recently abolished capital punishment. When he was questioned afterward by police, according to prosecutors, he told them he had confirmed Illinois’ no-death penalty status “as recently as the morning of the murder.” In an e-mail sent to a friend after the fact, Smirnov — who voluntarily surrendered to the police — made clear that he knew what to expect. “Illinois doesn’t have the death penalty, so I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison,” he wrote.

At trial Smirnov pleaded guilty, and was given a life sentence.

Would Jitka Vesel be alive today if Smirnov had faced the death penalty? Obviously there is no way to know for sure. But we do know for sure that when the cost of a crime goes up, the frequency of that crime goes down. Raise the price of any behavior, and fewer people will do it. The deterrent power of punishment is axiomatic; criminal law would be meaningless without it.

Still, a penalty cannot deter if it is never imposed. California hasn’t executed a murderer in 10 years. Only 13 killers have been put to death since 1972, when the state legalized capital punishment. Hundreds of savage murderers have been sentenced to death — there are currently 746 inmates on California’s death row — but endless legal appeals and procedures have made executions, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

Most Californians understand that their state’s death penalty needs to be fixed, not abolished. Voters defeated a repeal initiative, Proposition 34, in 2012 and appear likely to do the same to Proposition 62, the new repeal measure, this November. According to a statewide poll released last week by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, voters oppose the new death penalty repeal measure by a 10-point margin, 55 percent to 45 percent.

On the other hand, California voters strongly support a second death penalty measure that will also be on the November ballot. Proposition 66, as summarized by the San Francisco Chronicle, would “speed up executions by setting tight deadlines for court rulings, placing some limits on appeals, and requiring many more defense lawyers to take capital cases.” The UC Berkeley poll shows voters backing Proposition 66, with its mend-it-don’t-end-it approach, by an overwhelming 76-to-24 ratio.

The politics of capital punishment are complicated and emotional, but human nature doesn’t change. Granted, incentives and disincentives are never foolproof. Granted, there will always be cases in which deterrents don’t deter. On the whole, however, when the death penalty is on the books and consistently enforced, a significant number of homicides will be prevented.

Pretty much by definition, murders that don’t happen because criminals are deterred by the prospect of being executed can’t be systematically tallied. But felons often disclose their motives when asked. In a striking 1961 opinion, California Supreme Court Justice Marshall McComb plumbed the files of the Los Angeles Police Department to demonstrate the deterrent effect of the death penalty on the thinking of violent criminals.

McComb listed numerous examples of homicides not committed because a would-be killer didn’t want to risk capital punishment. Among them:

 *  Margaret Elizabeth Daly, arrested for attacking Pete Gibbons with a knife, who told the investigating officers: “Yeah, I cut him and I should have done a better job. I would have killed him but I didn’t want to go to the gas chamber.”

 *  Orelius Mathew Steward, imprisoned for bank robbery, who acknowledged that he had considered shooting the unaccompanied cop who arrested him: “I could have blasted him. I thought about it at the time, but I changed my mind when I thought of the gas chamber.”

 *  Paul Brusseau, convicted for a string of candy store holdups, which he committed while pretending to carry a gun. “Asked what his reason was for simulating a gun rather than using a real one, he replied that he did not want to get the gas chamber.”

Criminals may be evil and pitiless, but criminality isn’t a synonym for stupidity. When murder is punished with death, fewer criminals will murder. When murder is punished with nothing worse than prison, more criminals will be emboldened to kill. In the never-ending debate over capital punishment, that is always what the choice comes down to.



If Dems Don't Win Senate, Thank ObamaCare

If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency on Nov. 8, her running mate Tim Kaine will provide the tie-breaking vote in the Senate if Democrats win just four seats. Democrats will hold the White House and the Upper Chamber of Congress. But there's a glimmer of hope for the Senate, and, ironically, we can thank Democrats for it.

While Donald Trump beat the entire field of polished résumés, Republicans have a strong field of incumbents and a deep bench of candidates and potential candidates due to the shift of political majorities in the states. The New York Times agrees as it frets, "Democrats find themselves hobbled by less-than-stellar candidates in races that could make the difference in winning a majority."

It's a simple fact that since 2010, from the courthouse to the state houses and to the governors' mansions, voters have placed their trust in Republicans. According to Ballotpedia in 2016, there are 23 states with a "Republican trifecta" comprised of state representatives, state senators and governors. Only seven states have a "Democrat trifecta."

The statement's been made before: Barack Obama has been the greatest thing for the GOP in a long time. Why? Obama's failed policies and lawless approach have originated from a hard-Left view of the role of government — it's the answer to everything! But when the solution doesn't look much better than the problem, that hurts Democrats.

According to The New York Times, "Democrats are mired in their own struggle, as they try to identify future stars who can appeal to a base increasingly insistent on a progressive agenda." Going further, The Cook Political Report's senior editor Jennifer Duffy predicted, "Democrats are going to have their own Tea Party movement in 2018." Why? The rigged primary for Hillary, shutting down Bernie Sanders' passionate crowd.

In the U.S. Senate races, the Democrat field is weak when assessing its recruits and institutional structure to support them.

But the personnel isn't the Democrats' only weakness. Their record of failure during the Obama administration is hard to dismiss.

Obama will soon become the only president to never have a single year of GDP growth of at least 3%. Data will show that the rich got richer and the poor had to get more government hand-outs during the "fundamental transformation" of America. On the foreign policy front, the Middle East is a roiling cauldron of stew featuring beheadings, the rape of children and married women and, oh yeah, the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons.

But one issue alone should serve to solidify voters' movement away from Democrats in these Senate and House races. The predicted and absolute failure of the laughably misnamed "Affordable Care Act," Obama's "signature legislation," has proven, again, that there's never enough money for a government program and there's always a negative consequence to a competing private sector entity.

On March 23, 2010, the flock of Democrats surrounding Obama at his bill-signing ceremony that enacted ObamaCare into law stood with plumage in full show. Today, the birds of that feather are being stuffed into the nests of insurance companies and hospitals that spent millions to lobby for the government takeover of America's health care. Insurers are now reporting hundreds of millions in losses and crying for a taxpayer-funded bailout as they flee the exchanges. Hospitals are wailing for states to expand their Medicaid rolls to prop up their financial losses. Oh, and those oft-forgotten folks called the taxpaying public are seeing their insurance premiums rise annually up to 60%.

Not only have enrollees in the IRS-enforced ObamaCare seen their doctors and their plans change, but their out-of-pocket expenses are skyrocketing. On Saturday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, gave the GOP Weekly Address citing the "very near collapse" of the ObamaCare Insurance Exchanges with an "intolerable increase" in premium costs to be administered in 2017.

Will Senate Republicans effectively remind middle class voters that their budgets are busted by health care expenses thanks to the Democrats? Will they win hearts and minds by engaging in policy discussions of portable health savings accounts and price transparency that would drive consumerism in health care? Will the GOP articulate that the working class will be restored through work and personal savings, not government taxes and redistribution?

The quadrennial voting pool has every reason to support Republicans due to their own financial losses during the Obama "recovery," and the prospect of better days ahead with effective policy



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on A WESTERN HEART.

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