Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Patterico is running some posts on his suggestions for avoiding executing the innocent... which, crazy as I am, got me thinking about whether it might be better to not worry so much about that happening...

Our military acknowledges that 'collateral damage', a/k/a killing those not directly engaged in the fight, a/k/a killing innocents, is not only inevitable in war but at times it might be preferable to what might happen were it not to happen. It could be because killing innocents is the only way to keep the bad guys from getting away and killing again. It could be because killing innocents sends a great message to the bad guys that we will not be easily deterred from our mission. And it could be because killing innocents is a way of minimizing our own casualties, thus allowing our resources to remain available to kill even more bad guys.

If we're willing to kill innocents in times of war for the 'greater good', should we not be willing to kill innocents at home, again for the 'greater good'? Would executing someone for a crime they did not commit - as bad as it sounds - perhaps be something that we ought to want to have happen every now and then?

Now, I'm not offering up the old argument of "better to kill one guy by mistake than let 10 murderers walk free". As Patterico points out, the choice is between killing or not killing, not between execution and letting the guilty walk. I'm looking at whether society would be better served by executing someone rather than keeping them confined for the rest of their lives.

We'd certainly save money by doing so. Society spends millions of dollars trying to ensure that no one gets wrongly executed.... all that money could be devoted to other programs that could have a beneficial effect on society as a whole.

We'd also likely save money as some number of those serving life terms could have been given the death penalty but weren't because the jury was afraid of making a mistake. Had the jury not worried about that and sent them off to be executed, society wouldn't have to be paying the tens of thousands of dollars a year it takes to keep someone in prison.

Prisons would become a safer environment for those who are there. I'm guessing that a fair amount of prisoner-on-prisoner crime is committed by those serving life sentences with no chance of parole. Remove those prisoners from prison (yes, be executing them) and you're left with prisoners with a real chance of seeing freedom again.... in other words, those less likely to commit crimes against other prisoners.

We'd likely reduce overall crime as well. Those involved in the process - from the cops to the prosecutors to the judges - spend thousands of hours on every death penalty case.... time that, if spent elsewhere, could have a beneficial effect on society as a whole. Cops would have more time to patrol and arrest criminals. Prosecutors, needing less time to justify their prior trials, would have more time to spend getting more criminals off the streets. The anti-death penalty movement would be able to bring their admirable talents and dedication to other causes.

And it's possible that capital crimes would go down. As Gary Becker has shown, criminals weigh the costs and benefits of committing crime; an increase in the penalty side of the equation - by increasing the likelihood that death sentences would be more likely to be carried out - might cause some criminals to refrain from committing capital crimes.

But there would also be another possiblebenefit: your typical run-of-the-mill criminals would likely refrain from committing other crimes, for fear of becoming known to the police and thus more likely to find themselves in the situation where the corrupt/incompetent criminal justice system 'picked' them as the party responsible for a crime the police were otherwise unable to solve. It's not that far-fetched a theory (at least in my mind): the police don't 'frame' Joe Citizen, the guy in the suburbs with the wife, 2 kids, a dog and no criminal record... they pick individuals who a jury would feel comfortable convicting: guys who have committed - and been convicted of - other crimes.

Granted, I'm not looking to become collateral justice... but then again, I don't live the life that is likely to lead to me being asked to "turn to the left please" either... at least not unless writing this blog is a capital offense...