Tag Archives: cruel and unusual punishment

Death Throes Of The Death Penalty: Dumb Expert, Dumb Advocates, Dumb Debate

“Next!”

As I recently concluded, the death penalty is beyond saving, not because it can’t be defended ethically and morally, but because the issues are tangled beyond repair.

The controversy over the legality of the so-called drug cocktails that somehow became our execution method of choice is a perfect example. The battles over capital punishment trapped policy-makers into this kinder, gentler, ridiculously complicated method of execution that has suffered snafus ranging from unavailable drugs to ugly extended deaths. The problem is the floating definition of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the Constitution, but almost entirely subjective. Many judges think killing a killer is itself cruel by definition, and the more reluctant Western Europe becomes to execute the worst of the worst, the easier it is to make the argument that the death penalty is also unusual.

I don’t get it. I never have. India once executed condemned criminals by having the subject place his head on a stump under the raised foot of  trained elephant, which on a command would smash the head like a grape. Quick, painless–messy!—but virtually fool-proof. A pile-driver would be an acceptable equivalent.  Ah, but ick! In this stupid, stupid, intellectually dishonest debate, ick always equals “cruel and unusual,” because to opponents of the death penalty, killing people, even horrible, dangerous people, is inherently icky.

(Oddly, ripping unborn babies out of the womb is not, but I digress.)

I’ve admitted it, and I will again. (This lost Ethics Alarms Luke G., one of its best commenters the last time.*) It is obviously wrong to intentionally prolong an execution or deliberately cause pain, but if the occasional execution is botched and the condemned suffers, that should be cause for great rending of garments, nor should it be used to discredit capital punishment. As I wrote here about Clayton Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma

“There was no question of Lockett’s guilt, and his crime was inhuman. Such wanton cruelty and disregard for innocent life warrants society’s most emphatic rebuke, and the most emphatic rebuke is death. It is essential that any healthy society make it clear to all that some crimes forfeit the continued right to not just liberty, but also life. Anyone who weeps because this sadistic murderer experienced a few extra minutes of agony in the process of being sent to his just rewards has seriously misaligned values. No method of execution will work every time, and to make perfection the standard is a dishonest way to rig the debate. If the death penalty is justified, and it is, then we should expect and accept the rare “botch.” Meanwhile, if the concern really is efficiency, reliability, speed of death and minimal pain, there are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of methods of swift execution that would accomplish this. They just won’t pass the standards of death penalty opponents, because no method will.”

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the question of whether Oklahoma’s use of the common surgical sedative midazolam did not reliably make prisoners unconscious during lethal injections, thus violating the Eighth Amendment’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.” It’s a ridiculous case, which arises out of the botched April 2014 execution of Lockett that sparked the post I just quoted. It is a ridiculous case because the method of execution isn’t worth arguing over. Elephant. Head. Problem solved. Why is Oklahoma fighting about which cocktail to use? This is the anti-capital punishment team’s game, and sooner or later, the result is preordained.  Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “Clayton Lockett Is Dead, Right? Then 1) Good! and 2) His Execution Wasn’t “Botched””

capital-punishmentThere are well-established group of ethics topics that will always cause spirited debates here, because they are issues that have always divided public opinion and always will: morality vs ethics, drug legalization, abortion, war, social justice, socialism, plus various controversies involving race, sexuality and gender. I try to wade into these only when a current even beckons, as to some extent the arguments are futile and familiar, and too many people refuse to think or listen anymore, retreating to slogans and reflex positions articulated by others.

I decided to wade into one of the most polarized, of these, capital punishment, when the Clayton Lockett execution in Oklahoma sparked a national debate that seemed strange to me, and indeed driven by the unwarranted assumption, uncritically accepted by the news media, that the painlessness of executions were a crucial feature of making them ethical as well as societally palatable. It also opened the question of whether one execution that doesn’t follow the script necessarily calls capital punishment itself into question. I confess: both in my post’s title and in the tone of my responses to anti-death penalty commentators, I intentionally sought to roil the waters of debate, and was determined not to allow the nice people who usually express compassion for the pain and suffering of humanity’s worst and deadliest escape with the usual pieties.

Sure enough, this annoyed the heck out of some readers. Responding to the emphatic objections of one, Isaac delivered a personal and powerful rebuttal. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post Clayton Lockett Is Dead, Right? Then 1) Good! and 2) His Execution Wasn’t “Botched:” Continue reading

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Clayton Lockett Is Dead, Right? Then 1) Good! and 2) His Execution Wasn’t “Botched”

This, for example, works just fine: quick, cheap, virtually painless.

This, for example, works just fine: quick, cheap, virtually painless.

Capital punishment foes have no shame, and (I know I am a broken record on this, and it cheers me no more than it pleases you), the knee-jerk journalists who have been squarely in their camp for decades refuse to illuminate their constant hypocrisy. In Connecticut, for example, holding that putting to death the monstrous perpetrators of the Petit home invasion was “immoral,” anti-death penalty advocates argued that the extended time it took to handle appeals made the death penalty more expensive than life imprisonment—an added expense for which the advocates themselves are accountable.

A similar dynamic is at work in the aftermath of the execution of convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma.Witnesses to his execution by lethal injection said Lockett convulsed and writhed on the gurney, sat up and started to speak before officials blocked the witnesses’ view by pulling a curtain. Apparently his vein “blew,” and instead of killing him efficiently,  the new, three-drug “cocktail” arrived at as the means of execution in Oklahoma after extensive study and litigation failed to work as advertised.  Why was there an excessively complex system involving multiple drugs used in this execution? It was the result of cumulative efforts by anti-death penalty zealots to make sure the process was above all, “humane.” Of course, the more complicated a process is, the more moving parts it has, the more likely it is to fail. Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunce: Fox News”

Bradley then, Chelsea now.

Bradley then, Chelsea now.

Responding sharply to a commenter’s expressed criticism of the argument that convicted classified data leaker Bradley, now Chelsea, Manning, sentenced to Federal prison and seeking treatment as a trans-gendered female, ought to have his treatment needs served by prison authorities at public cost, Ethics Alarms’ own expert on such matters (from Australia), provided this fascinating overview of U.S. law and medical ethics on the topic. Here is zoebrain’s Comment of the Day on the recent post flagging Fox News’ juvenile mockery of Manning’s gender issues, Ethics Dunce: Fox News:

“There are two disputes here. The first is whether prisoners have a right to medical treatment, and if so, to what degree.I’ll deal with that first.

“Brown v. Plata 131 S.Ct. 1910 (2011):  “To incarcerate, society takes from prisoners the means to provide for their own needs. Prisoners are dependent on the State for food, clothing, and necessary medical care. A prison’s failure to provide sustenance for inmates “may actually produce physical ‘torture or a lingering death.’ ” ….Just as a prisoner may starve if not fed, he or she may suffer or die if not provided adequate medical care. A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.” Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Quiz: The Harley Tragedy

I’m sure PETA thinks this is fair; I’m not sure that I do.

No goldfish for you!

No goldfish for you!

Tammy Brown,47, a disabled Moon Lake, Florida woman trying to make ends meet on her $508-a-month government check, argued that she was not able to afford veterinary care for Harley, her 14-year-old dog who had a painful ear infection as well as skin problems, periodic tumors, heartworms and ear mites. Because she did not get treatment for Harley, however—the fact that she tried to treat the dog’s problems with over the counter ointments wasn’t enough to mollify the judge— Brown was convicted of felony animal cruelty. She spent more than a month in jail awaiting sentencing, and then received six months of house arrest, 300 hours of community service, three years of probation, and $1,000 in court costs. Circuit Judge William Webb also commanded, “I don’t want you to own any animals. Not even a goldfish!” (Hartley had been euthanized.)

Apparently Harley’s physical condition was shockingly poor, so much so that jurors found photos hard to look at. An Animal Services officer testified that Harley couldn’t stand up without support. The prosecutor wanted Brown imprisoned.

Has society become so animal-sensitive that it has lost its priorities? Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is this: Assuming that Harley’s lack of treatment was due to lack of resources and neglect rather than malice…

Was Tammy Brown’s sentence fair, or was it excessive and cruel? Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Quizzes

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: New York State Senator Greg Ball (R)

Trust me, guys, you really don't want to vote for Greg Ball again...he's embarrassing your district.

Trust me, guys, you really don’t want to vote for Greg Ball again…he’s embarrassing your district.

Every now and then, a public official says something so brain-meltingly ridiculous that I wish I had a traditional blog and could write, “What an idiot!” and leave it at that.  This is one of those times.

Republican New York State Senator Greg Ball must represent the troglodyte section of New York—you know, that famous district heavily populated with prehistoric cave-dwellers who were discovered frozen in 1989, thawed out alive, and became politically active?—based on his unapologetic,nail-spitting, un-American tweet regarding the younger, surviving terrorist brother who engineered the Boston Marathon bombing:

Ball

What an idiot.

No, no, I can’t say that.

This is an unethical tweet. It’s an irresponsible tweet. Supporting torture “to save more lives” explicitly rejects the principles of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitutional requirements of Due Process and the Bill of Rights prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and compelled testimony against self-interest. The “anything to save more lives” illogic, though recently adopted, to his shame and disgrace, by the presumably less idiotic President Obama in his quest for more gun regulations, is, of course, the open door to martial law and the permanent trade of liberty for security. I wrote about this at some length in the wake of the Abu Ghraib fiasco; reading “The Ethics of American Torture” again now, I would hold the same today, as would, I hope, most of you. (Don’t bother to read this, Senator Ball; it’s more than 140 characters, and you wouldn’t understand it anyway.) I wrote in part, Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Rights, U.S. Society

New Year’s Ethics Quiz: Is It Ethical To Order A Woman Not To Have Children?

(This is my favorite judge picture, and I like to use it every year)

(This is my favorite judge picture, and I like to use it every year)

Kimberly Lightsey, 30, was being sentenced on four counts of child abuse for leaving her four children, ages 2 to 11 at the time, at a hotel while she went out to play. She had an arrangement with another mother in the hotel to watch the children, but that woman also was partying hard, it seems—so hard that she forgot what room Lightsey’s children were in. Meantime, one of Lightsey’s children, who was confined to a wheelchair, rolled out into the hallway and fell over.

Prosecutors asked for a 32-month jail sentence, but Judge Ernest Jones Jr. offered Kimberly a chance to avoid jail time. He would give her two years of house arrest and 13 years of probation, provided this aspiring Mother of the Year agreed not to have any more kids during that period.

She took the deal, but now The American Civil Liberties Union and her lawyer are wondering if the sentence is legal. My guess: it’s not, but that isn’t the issue. Let’s say this is within a judge’s power, and the sentence is legal. Your Ethics Alarms Quiz Question, the first of the new year, is this:

Is it ethical? Continue reading

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Filed under Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement