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.