Defending The Indefensible

The Independent, among other publications, reports that the United States has voted against a U.N. resolution condemning laws that punish same-sex couplings with death. The lede suggested that America’s vote was yet another example of the Trump Administration’s homophobia.

The US is one of just 13 countries to have voted against a United Nations resolution condemning the death penalty for having gay sex.

Although the vote passed, America joined countries such as China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia in opposing the move.

The Human Rights Council resolution condemned the “imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations”.

 It attacked the use of execution against persons with “mental or intellectual disabilities, persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, and pregnant women.”

Although racism, homophobia, and misogyny are central to this administration, and are core elements of Trump’s appeal to his base, attributing this vote to those bigotries is misplaced.

Not that the absence of those motives is exculpatory. The real reason for the “no” vote was something equally indefensible: support for America’s continued use of the death penalty.

Heather Nauert, State Department spokesperson, told The Independent: “The headlines, reporting and press releases on this issue are misleading. As our representative to the Human Rights Council in Geneva said on Friday, the United States is disappointed to have to vote against this resolution. We had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the positions of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully, as the United States does.

“The United States voted against this resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances and calling for its abolition.

I believe her–but to use language appropriate to criminal justice, that explanation doesn’t exonerate us. It just confirms our position as an outlier among civilized countries.

Forget the moral arguments, compelling as many of us find them.

Decades of scholarship have confirmed that capital punishment is not a deterrent to violent crime.  When I last researched the issue, in 2010, I found that states with the death penalty reported murder rates higher than the rates in states without it. Police agree. In multiple polls, police chiefs rank the death penalty last among ways to reduce violent crime; they also consider it the least efficient use of taxpayer money, and complain that it diverts money from more effective crime control measures.

Then there are the fiscal issues.

In 2010, Indiana’s Legislative Services analyzed capital punishment costs in Indiana, and determined that the average cost of a capital trial and direct appeal was over ten times the cost of a life-without-parole case.  In California, taxpayers pay 114,000,000 more each year than it would cost to keep those same offenders imprisoned for life. In Kansas, capital cases are 70% more expensive than non-capital cases, even including the costs of lifelong incarceration. In Texas, a death penalty case costs three times what it would cost to imprison someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.

Advocates of the death penalty often complain that the higher costs are a result of “interminable appeals,” but that isn’t actually true. Appeals do add costs, but a capital trial is very expensive. Cells on death row and extra staff also cost more.

Of course, we could eliminate appeals and execute people immediately upon conviction. That would save money. Unfortunately, that “remedy” raises another pesky problem with capital punishment—the fact that America’s courts convict innocent people, and do so a lot more frequently than we like to admit.  Between 1973 and my 2010 research, over 130 people had been released from death row because they were found to be innocent. These were not folks freed on a “technicality,” they were people who had been wrongfully convicted.

It isn’t just death penalty cases that result in wrongful verdicts, of course; since the establishment of the Innocence Project, the substantial number of exonerations in all categories has testified to the persistent flaws in America’s criminal justice system.

Making “crimes” like blasphemy, adultery or gay sex punishable by death is worse than medieval. But so is continued imposition of the death penalty.


  1. The death penalty is always a divisive subject for debate between legal and judicial representatives as well as the public. The death penalty is often the sentence in questionable cases; there are always those pro and con arguments in these cases regarding the severity of the crime and criminal history of the convicted if allowed in the pre-sentence investigation report. The case I remember from childhood in the 1940s regarding the black man named Watts who was convicted of raping a white woman and was soon executed was questionable even to me. Not understanding the “rape” issue at that young age, I did understand the hatred seemed aimed at the man’s race rather than his crime. While we may have come some distance from the death penalty for rape; we have made little progress regarding the race of the convicted. What are the statistics from the Innocence Project regarding that aspect? Gay sex has moved even the United Nations into the religious arena.

    For a look at a young white man’s death sentence for raping and murdering a young woman and throwing her three small children into a creek to drown; his past history and lenient sentences question the judicial system’s blame in a horrendous crime which could have been avoided. The death sentence was carried out due to the plea and threats from the convicted; Google and Steven Timothy Judy “You’d better put me to death”.

    “Then there are the fiscal issues.”

    What are the fiscal statistics between death sentence and life imprisonment; which rarely means LIFE IMPRISONMENT for there is always that parole date somewhere in their future with the possibility they will be put back on the streets. CNN reported this morning that one of the 4,600 Trump signed the early release for has apparently committed a murder after only months on the streets. This is not only the case in those sentences; the career criminal who attacked, injured and robbed me was sentenced to 46 years, 25 years to actually be served in prison but I receive monthly statements from DOC regarding his release date after 9 years. Does the real problem lie within the judicial system…what ever the crime?

  2. Perhaps if those responsible for prosecuting someone for a crime that requires the death penalty were subject to some serious jail time (say life without parole) if the person is later found to be innocent, they would be more judicious in demanding execution.

  3. In sum, these votes and the adherence to the death penalty are reflections of the backwardness promoted by Christian churches and “conservative” politics. Both of these “institutions” are primarily funded, either directly or indirectly, by the capitalists. Sorry for the blanket statement as there are MANY sects of Christianity (So much for a common philosophy) that actively oppose the death penalty altogether.

    Our votes on the international stage show the world how really backward we are in so many areas of societal development. If it weren’t for the enormous industrial and economic base, we’d probably be another goat herder nation like Saudi Arabia.

  4. Vernon pretty much nailed the death penalty argument – I’ll add that Pence is the impetus behind any “gay” legislation.

    May I note that one of Pence’s buddies who advocates for the “gay conversion therapy” recently came out and said that he was gay himself. Imagine that! When will Mikey get honest with us??

    As much as liberals cry over the death penalty and the death of 200 Americans each year, our economic policies kill millions more. It’s hypocrisy.

    The bottom line is we are not an advanced nation — far from it. Poll after poll confirms it.

    Our judicial system is a joke from Washington to the local arena. Our State Dept. isn’t worthy of quoting on any subject since their main objective is propaganda, or as Noam Chomsky would say, “manufacturing consent.”

    As for deterring crime, let’s focus on criminals and consequences. Many criminals commit crimes so they can get 3 square meals and a cot. Much easier than working for minimum wage, renting an apartment, and paying for their obligations. When we penalize felons, what do we expect? I’m sure Professor Kennedy and her classes could expand on this subject. 😉

    Certainly, an intelligent country such as ours can restructure our judicial system from top to bottom and exclude same-sex interests and marijuana.

    Oh yea, I forgot, we’ve also concluded that our country isn’t very intelligent and most frequently, vote against our self-interests. Besides, we must appeal to the voting interests of our bases.


  5. I have been opposed to the death penalty most of my life on grounds that it is hypocritical for the state to engage in the same conduct it condemns when it kills people who have killed other people. I also think an argument can be made that a sentence of life without parole is worse than execution, but whatever, I think the state should be held to a higher ethical grounds than those of its murdering citizens since in any event and as noted by the police chiefs, more murders are committed in states that execute and those that do not.

    While I carry no water for the private prison industry, I think the blanket release of thousands of felons, some dangerous, has nothing to do with philosophy and a lot to do with saving money, and considering a wave of recidivism likely to occur since the release bar has been lowered, I wonder if we are going to even save any money, not to mention the pain and distress new victims will suffer, victims who would otherwise not have been victimized but for this “change in policy.”

    I could (but won’t) go into overworked public defenders anxious to plead out and judges who perennially complain of crowded dockets, but will leave that to non-lawyers’ imagination. Suffice it to say here that it does contribute to increased time laid on hapless defendants at the upper level of sentencing guidelines.

  6. I agree with the sentiments expressed in this blog post–I’ve been opposed to the death penalty for decades, and definitely since reading Dead Man Walking. However, it would help to note that the vote referred to was in 2017. That doesn’t excuse it, but I always wonder why people on social media pull up old news stories as though they just happened. Anyway, let’s hope the US abolishes the death penalty next time we have a reasonable, functioning Congress.

  7. There is the other piece to the death penalty and crime in general in the USA. As it is with almost everything in America, from Health Care to education and higher education, it the class system of affordability that determines how hard the “justice” system will come down on you.

    The OJ Simpson trial was a classic example. His defense team was known as the “Dream Team”, the best that money could buy. You can contrast this to the numerous cases where an over worked or incompetent Public Defender failed his or her client.

    We see the dual system of “Justice” all the time in America – Big Corporations commit fraud or other crimes, but the humans that actually perpetrated the crimes are shielded by corporate person-hood. Pay a fine and the guilty humans walk away.

  8. ML, et. al.,

    Not mentioned, but implied, is the FACT that the United States leads EVERY other nation in the world in per capita incarceration. We used to be the “land of the free”, but we’ve become the land of the imprisoned. The vast majority of our prisoners are in for drug charges of various types. We are SO dysfunctional as a nation that our citizens have to escape their pain, boredom and poverty by using “illegal” drugs. And most of those incarcerated on drug charges are non-white. Hmmm. What do we suppose is the reason for that?

    Abject racism and institutionalized poverty are the main drivers of our drug/prison issues. When so many white Americans support, unflinchingly, a criminal enterprise like the Trump administration, any doubts about the racist roots of our problems are removed. This racism goes back to the very existence of the British Colony that embraced slavery for…wait for it….profits.

    Not only were the products resulting from slavery big business and generated big profits, but the slave market itself was big business. Karl Marx was one of the few economists who recognized the vagaries of capitalism left unchecked. He warned the world about unregulated capitalism. But the inherent greed and hoarding instincts of the undisciplined human psyche allowed it to creep in bit by bit.

    We tried hard to regulate capitalism in the 1930s and beyond to the 1970s, but the Republicans and their traditional donor base kept fighting until they got Ronald Reagan/Donald Regan into positions of power that eventually – as we’re seeing today – undid all the regulations and guardrails for rampant profit taking.

    In a side note: Read the articles in today’s paper about how billionaires are whining and squirming about the prospects of losing a whopping 3% of their income to new taxes. You’d think their tax rates went to 90+% or something…in order to pay for a world war. With these 400, it’s not so much about the money itself as the power it brings to control our governments and make even more money through the great grift. Republicans live for this.

  9. “You can contrast this to the numerous cases where an over worked or incompetent Public Defender failed his or her client.”

    Monotonous; thank you for bringing up the subject of Public Defenders. Regarding the reference to my own victimization, forgot to mention I was 1 of 4 elderly women victims of the career criminal, it took 2 years and 1 month after his arrest to get to court. The Deputy Prosecutor got continuances three times, forgot to notify my witness and myself of that last date change, I E-mailed her to ask about the transportation they were to provide for me and got an “ooops, forgot to tell you”. Near the actual court date I learned the delays were because his Public Defender was indeed busy defending the primary defendant in the Richmond Hills explosion which killed two people when she was assigned my case. After the conviction of the Richmond Hills defendant my attacker was suddenly assigned a new Public Defender further delaying the case. The Deputy Prosecutor informed me shortly before the court date that the defendant had been writing letters to her for over a year offering to plead guilty and to serve longer sentence in each letter; she wasn’t satisfied with the sentence time he agreed to so ignored him. He was victimized within the judicial system because his right to a speedy trial was denied for baseless reasoning in the Prosecutor’s Office. Multiple continuances keep court schedules overflowing; there needs to be a limit on the number of continuances; it also made no sense to assign any additional case to a Public Defender involved the Richmond Hills explosion; killing two innocent victims and destroying multi-millions of dollars of property. The use of the death sentence is but one problem nationally in our judicial system. The local system here sucks!

  10. >Pete …and John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, 13th Marquess of Groppoli:

    For someone who so often contributes thoughtful comments in this space, it disappoints me to see that you favor the use of weak and false aphorisms such as the Power corrupts quote.

    “Power corrupts” is an absolute statement and makes no verbal or logical provision for exceptions or for varying degrees of power. In the absence of qualifiers in these types of statements, the default meaning is “All power corrupts all the time; no exceptions.

    Power does not always corrupt; in fact no good thing gets done without the power to do it.

    The tire on the car does not get fixed unless there is the power to do the fixing, and civil rights laws do not get passed unless there is power to enact them. The Trump virus will not be eradicated until we develop the power to kill it.

    Power is necessary to get good things done.

    Using such a broad phrase as “power corrupts” is no more honest, fair, thoughtful, dignified, or reasonable than saying “men are misogynists, or blacks are criminals, or Hispanics are rapists.

    It would be smarter and more truthful to say: “Power is a dangerous but useful tool; use it wisely and judiciously, and when all else fails, read the manual.” All: you have my permission to quote me –as offered in my previous statement–instead of quoting Lord Acton, and I don’t even require attribution.

  11. Vernon: “We are SO dysfunctional as a nation that our citizens have to escape their pain, boredom and poverty by using “illegal” drugs.”

    Have to?

    Illegal drugs? as if a few million of our citizens escaping their blah blah blah by using LEGAL drugs does not count as a demerit for the system.

  12. In early Puritan America, criminals were rarely sentenced to prison. When held in a jail of some kind, accused criminals were simply held in confinement until their trial, but not after. When convicted, criminals were sentenced to immediate punishment, usually public, rather than to jail time.

    I’m thinking that system changed shortly after someone discovered that the right people could make a lot of money with a sentence-the-asshole-to-prison system.

    A large part of Puritan justice was founded on the belief that every person could be shamed, which accounted for their preference for public punishment for criminals. I’m thinking their system may have been shocked out of existence when they realized that a small part of the human population cannot be shamed.

  13. Last Thursday evening, at a Spirit & Place discussion about Criminal Justice System reform, information was presented that would have been shocking to most of the people who live in the state, especially the cities, if they knew about how broken the system is.

    No matter the party in control of the mayor’s office or governing bodies, people who are incarcerated have almost no chance of returning to productive citizenship. The system is functioning as designed, to insure that any offender is punished, not to be rehabilitated and returned to society in any positive way. POC are most seriously and negatively impacted.

    When we talk about housing, food deserts, homelessness, addiction. mental health issues, we are talking about a lot of people who have been in prisons and county jails with no treatment for the very high percentage of those with addiction and/or mental health disease. When released, they are hungry, homeless and unemployed with almost no chance to succeed in reintegrating into the neighborhoods they once occupied. Fear and ignorance fuel the responses they face when trying to find housing or a job. Guess who pays for that response? We all do. But here is the kicker. Parolees must pay fees, not fines as part of their sentence, while in the system. Those fees average $400 a month and higher. If they default, they are re-incarcerated, have their credit report dinged, even have additional time added to their sentence. With no job, no permanent address and fuel for the fire of anger, they often go right back to prison. The community suffers, the families suffer and the offenders suffer. They are hopeless and angry.

    The mayor and councilors could do a lot to address this social nightmare for all too many of our poor neighborhoods. Mentoring, assistance in re-integration by getting a driver’s license, registering to vote, finding a safe place to live and a job that would be flexible enough to allow for the random drug tests and failed ankle monitors. Screen arrestees for mental illness and addiction. Provide something other than cages to keep them off the street. 39% of those in prison in Indiana are returning, not because they re-offend, but because they can’t manage the “rules” place on them when they get out into community corrections and parole. Enlist the universities, their law schools and health education students who need real world experience.

    When so many families, so many children, are carrying scars that will only get worse with time, while the criminal justice system grinds the family members down to hopelessness and anger, costing the community untold dollars to control rather than return them to us with a chance to be welcomed back to productive engagement. With more workers buying goods and services, paying taxes, with less money needed for policing and incarceration, maybe, just maybe, the community can focus on making things better for all of us.

    Statistically, 1 in 10 on death row are innocent. They often have families who suffer along with them to say nothing of the communities where they lived. Then there is the fact that if they are innocent, the real offender may still be out in the community committing crimes. It is only one of many areas where improvements could be made that would affect the very poor, POC and white alike, in very positive ways.

  14. I distinguish between power and leadership which are pretty much opposing concepts.

    “Power is never given but always taken.”

  15. Included in the “International Bill of Rights”, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the two major Human Rights Treaties providing protections for the Rights declared as Universal in the UDHR (and described also as inalienable, interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), are the two optional protocols to the ICCPR. The first optional protocol to the ICCPR deals primarily with the violation complaint process (to the Human Rights Committee overseeing the application of the ICCPR) , but:

    “The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, was adopted by the General Assembly by its resolution 44/128 of 15December 1989. Under its article 1, no one within the jurisdiction of a State party to the Protocol may be executed.” (from , pg. 6).

    The text of the protocol is at , but perhaps of more interest, is the company the U.S. is keeping, available by an examination of the ratifications of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR at – click on the menu down arrow below “Select a treaty” to bring up the interactive map of “Second Optional Protocol the the ICCPR” ratifying countries, to note that the U.S. is indeed “exceptional” compared to ALL modern industrial Democracies, most South and Central American countries (except Peru and Guyana, but who knows what Mini-Trump, aka Bolsinaro will bring to Brazil), and keeping company with other Death Penalty purveyors like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, China, Russia, and many of the African Nations saluted by our Fundamentalist Christian community for their willingness to put gay citizens to death.

    As bad or worse than our “exceptionalism” in refusing to recognize workers’ rights that every other every other modern industrial Democracy (and the U.N. OHCHR) protect as Universal Human Rights (I’ll look for opportunities to address that later). For a complete listing of Universal Human Rights Law Instruments, see .

    Speaking of exceptionalism, note that EVERY NATION IN THE WORLD has ratified the more recent International Convention on the Rights of the Child except – Guess Who? (Or look it up on the interactive map linked above)

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