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January 24, 2010

Important (pre-)class activities for last week of January

A quick weekend post to say sorry for hogging up all the air-space in last week's class as I provided a (too lengthy) "who sentences" overview of some of the ideas and themes in Chapter 2.  This coming week, I promise that our class on Jan. 27 will be much more dialogue than lecture, especially as we turn more formally to the always controversial and dynamic topic of the death penalty.  In preparation for this week and beyond, I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page administratively by going over a few matters:

FIRST:  It is critically important for me to receive (ASAP via email or under my office door in Room 140) a completed version of at least the first page of the pre-class questionnaire (available here).  I want to tabulate some "results" from student responses, which requires me to have as many responses as possible.

SECOND:  I plan to spend the first part of this week's class discussing the short mid-term "think piece" and the final "white paper" assignments for this course.  Please come to class armed with any and all questions (and ideas) about these assignments.

THIRD:  I am eager to do another lunch with students after class on Wednesday, so keep your after-class schedule open if you want to take advantage of your latest (but not last) chance for a free lunch.

FOURTH:  I have this new post at my main blog that can and should provide another basis for discussing and debating modern death penalty theory and practice in class this week.  (Of course, there is lots in the death penalty parts of Chapter 3 of the textbook that should also serve this end.)  As always, students eager to pad the class participation part of their grade should use the comments to this post as an opportunity to get our class discussion about the death penalty (or any other topic) off to a running start.

January 24, 2010 in Class activities, Pro/Con arguments surrounding the death penalty | Permalink


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1. Justice Stewart said it best in Gregg “Retribution is no longer the dominant objective of the criminal law, but neither is it a forbidden objective nor one inconsistent with respect for the dignity of men . . . certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the death penalty.” If there is a death penalty it should be for crimes that are a grievous affront to humanity and not necessarily just murder – for example I would have no qualms about frying that guy who kidnapped the 11 year old girl, kept her in a shed in his backyard like an animal and raped her every day for 18 years. But some random robbery and murder not so much. Inherent in this is I would have a built-in requirement that there is no doubt as to guilt.
2. As for other theories - Killing a person to deter someone else from committing a crime is basically the state using that person’s death as a means to an end – there is something vaguely (or not so vaguely) totalitarian about it. A person should die because he deserves to die not for what someone else may do in the future or what he may do if/when he escapes or is released, or what message it sends, or how much it will cost to keep him in prison, etc.
3. It seems to me from a practical standpoint (and I paraphrase an estimators rule of thumb) with the death penalty you can have it fair, quick and cheap but you can only pick two. The Constitution, however, mandates fair which gives us ‘fair and cheap’ or ‘fair and quick’. The first probably means no death penalty unless the convicted wants to be put to death (although it would seem from the reading that even that would have issues) because fair would require giving the defendant as good a counsel as a reasonably well off person could pay for, with attendant appeals etc. as well as other safeguards. ‘Fair and quick’ would also be impracticably expensive and probably disruptive of the criminal justice system.
4. Finally I’m not sure that comparing the US with other countries is helpful. Each country’s criminal justice system is a reflection of that country’s view of the role of the state, patterns of criminality, social interactions, etc.

Posted by: Brian Hannan | Jan 26, 2010 12:41:05 PM

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