Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kudos Supreme Court; Shame, shame Jindal - Death Penalty for Rapists

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said that imposing the death penalty in child rape cases violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Around the same time, Louisiana's "Catholic" governor, Bobby Jindal, signed Louisiana bill, SB 144 into law. "It gives the court the option of castration on a first conviction of aggravated rape, forcible rape, second degree sexual battery, aggravated incest, molestation of a juvenile when the victim is under the age of 13, or an aggravated crime against nature. Castration is required on a second conviction of the listed crimes."

Recently, Jindal and Louisiana (and the Bush administration) challenged the Supreme Court decision and ask the SC to revisit their ruling. The Supreme Court declined to change their opinion, amending it only slightly to account for a military law. In response, Jindal fired back:

“The Supreme Court was dead wrong in their ruling," Governor Bobby Jindal said. "It is disappointing that they did not take this opportunity to move quickly to rehear this case and examine their legally improper and absurd decision to remove death as a penalty for the horrific crime of raping a child. The fact that they based their ruling on their own perception of a ‘national trend’ against the death penalty is outrageous and harms the credibility of the entire Court. We will continue to work to evaluate ways to amend our statute to maintain death as a penalty for the incredibly brutal crime of raping a child.”

Our bishops have been calling for an end to the death penalty for 20 years. Jindal response and actions are not acceptable for a Catholic. (For more on these read USCCB link or this from Archbishop Chaput.)

I voted for Jindal, and depending on his opponent would consider voting for him again, but this is very disheartening. I understand why abortion is considered a "bigger" issue. I understand why it gets more attention. I don't have a problem with that. Nevertheless, Jindal's blatant slamming of Church teaching on Catholic punishment is very problematic, in ways similar to Biden's and Pelosi's stance on abortion.

Will Archbishop Hughes or Bishop Muench make a statement? I'm not even sure one should be made (publicly), but it is frustrating to see Catholics (of both political parties) consistently showing they are more American or Republican or Democrat than they are Catholic.

Shame on you Bobby Jindal


Henry Karlson said...

I always find it interesting how Republican Catholics defend the death penalty by saying, "It's legal and part of the Constitution, and we can't enforce our Catholic morality on the state." They don't realize it's exactly the same argument used by Catholic pro-choice politicians. If one accepts that argument, than it works for all things. Alas, consistency isn't needed in politics.

JB said...

I have been pleased to hear/see some Republican Catholics that I know at least shake their heads in disappointment at this, but there is no outcry. There is no one calling him out on ignoring Catholic teaching. Sigh

Kyle R. Cupp said...

I'm all for the abolition of the death penalty, and I hope Catholics can play a role in seeing that come to be, but I do think that Catholics have to make the case against the death penalty on principles of reason.

JB said...


Thanks for reading, visiting, and commenting. I agree that we need to make the case against the death penalty on principles of reason, just as we must make the case against abortion on reason.

Furthermore, we certainly need to be able to listen to and converse with those who believe otherwise, but I am genuinely unnerved by intelligent and educated Catholics who are excitedly throwing themselves behind politicians whose policies are questionable to say the least.

I don't have a problem with Catholics in good conscience supporting Jindal (or McCain or Obama for that matter), but what I hear is not "i think this person is best for the job despite this or that flawed policy," but "you have to vote for this or that person because of this issue, let's ignore the other issues, downplay them, or relativize them."
They end up with some sort of double-standard and/or hypocrisy.

I am consistently disappointed by the type of persons I hear spouting this type of political rhetoric. I expect more out of them.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Yeah, I too get irked at the proposition "A Catholic must vote for candidate X" being raised to the level of a moral imperative and the free pass being given to that prefered candidate. The Church is more than clear that voting is an act of prudential, informed judgment.

The Archives said...

no problem! i'm enjoying the content here and think it's worth plugging.

don't folks usually get excommunicated when they say things like this? :)

JB said...

Do folks usually get excommunicated when they say things like Jindal said?

Excellent question.

I'm not really an expert on excommunication, but generally "no." I believe the proper response would be for his bishop, Bishop Muench, to privately sit down with him, discuss the issue at hand, explain why it is inconsistent with the Catholic faith.

If he does not change his views and publically continues to claim to be Catholic while spouting pro-capital punishment language, the bishop could, and perhaps should, offer a public reprimand. I would think a third strike could be a valid time for excommunication.

However one could also add that he has caused scandal to the Church and separated himself from it. Sort of excommunicating himself by default. (Much as a vegan would not be a vegan if he/she ate meat). However, I THINK this would only apply if he actually assisted or took part in an inflicting of the death penalty, an abortion, etc.

Does that make sense?

JB said...

I said I was no expert on excommunication, and apparently I was right.

A priest friend recommends the following (and retrospectively I think I agree)

I think I would advise anyone discussing this to avoid ANY mention of excommunication. That is an ultimate penalty and it is being invoked all too easily nowadays. Jindal is an emotional character and there is no evidence of a consistent opposition to church teaching, etc.. Although I am utterly opposed to capital punishment and I know I have the support of the Magisterium in this matter, capital punishment has not been defined as malum in se even if I believe it to be so. I do not believe anyone is in danger of excommunication for advocating capital punishment. So, my advice is to suggest the scandal and deplore it but excommunication? I don't think it is responsible to mention it in this context.

dudleysharp said...

Archbishop Chaput's major death penalty errors
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

Archbishop Chaput relies only on the claims of anti death penalty folks when discussing the secular issues. This is a disservice to both his flock as well as to the truth.

In addition, the fact that innocents are more at risk without the death penalty is just the beginning of the problems in Pope John Paul II's "Evangelium Vitae", which also suffers from biblical, theological and traditional errors, all of which infect the amendment to the Catechism.

One good example is Archbishop Chaput's essay

All of the facts he uses are either false or unproven anti death penalty claims.

He must do better. He can start, here.

The Death Penalty in the US: A Review
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

NOTE: Detailed review of any of the below topics, or others, is available upon request

In this brief format, the reality of the death penalty in the United States, is presented, with the hope that the media, public policy makers and others will make an effort to present a balanced view on this sanction.

Innocence Issues

Death Penalty opponents have proclaimed that 130 inmates have been "released from death row with evidence of their innocence", in the US, since the modern death penalty era began, post Furman v Georgia (1972).

The number is a fraud.

Those opponents have intentionally included both the factually innocent (the "I truly had nothing to do with the murder" cases) and the legally innocent (the "I got off because of legal errors" cases), thereby fraudulently raising the "innocent" numbers. This is easily confirmed by fact checking.

Death penalty opponents claim that 24 such innocence cases are in Florida. The Florida Commission on Capital Cases found that 4 of those 24 MIGHT be innocent -- an 83% error rate in for the claims of death penalty opponents. Other studies show their error rate to be about 70%. The totality of reviews points to an 80% error/fraud rate in these claims, or about 26 cases - a 0.3% actual guilt error rate for the nearly 8000 sentenced to death since 1973.

The actual innocents were all freed.

It is often claimed that 23 innocents have been executed in the US since 1900. Nonsense. Even the authors of that "23 innocents executed" study proclaimed "We agree with our critics, we never proved those (23) executed to be innocent; we never claimed that we had." While no one would claim that an innocent has never been executed, there is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

No one disputes that innocents are found guilty, within all countries. However, when scrutinizing death penalty opponents claims, we find that when reviewing the accuracy of verdicts and the post conviction thoroughness of discovering those actually innocent incarcerated, that the US death penalty process may be one of the most accurate criminal justice sanctions in the world.

Under real world scenarios, not executing murderers will always put many more innocents at risk, than will ever be put at risk of execution.

Deterrence Issues

16 recent US studies, inclusive of their defenses, find a deterrent effect of the death penalty.

All the studies which have not found a deterrent effect of the death penalty have refused to say that it does not deter some. The studies finding for deterrence state such. Confusion arises when people think that a simple comparison of murder rates and executions, or the lack thereof, can tell the tale of deterrence. It cannot.

Both high and low murder rates are found within death penalty and non death penalty jurisdictions, be it Singapore, South Africa, Sweden or Japan, or the US states of Michigan and Delaware. Many factors are involved in such evaluations. Reason and common sense tell us that it would be remarkable to find that the most severe criminal sanction -- execution -- deterred none. No one is foolish enough to suggest that the potential for negative consequences does not deter the behavior of some. Therefore, regardless of jurisdiction, having the death penalty will always be an added deterrent to murders, over and above any lesser punishments.

Racial issues

White murderers are twice as likely to be executed in the US as are black murderers and are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates.

It is often stated that it is the race of the victim which decides who is prosecuted in death penalty cases. Although blacks and whites make up about an equal number of murder victims, capital cases are 6 times more likely to involve white victim murders than black victim murders. This, so the logic goes, is proof that the US only cares about white victims.

Hardly. Only capital murders, not all murders, are subject to a capital indictment. Generally, a capital murder is limited to murders plus secondary aggravating factors, such as murders involving burglary, carjacking, rape, and additional murders, such as police murders, serial and multiple murders. White victims are, overwhelmingly, the victims under those circumstances, in ratios nearly identical to the cases found on death row.

Any other racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system, as confirmed by studies from the Rand Corporation (1991), Smith College (1994), U of Maryland (2002), New Jersey Supreme Court (2003) and by a view of criminal justice statistics, within a framework of the secondary aggravating factors necessary for capital indictments.

Class issues

No one disputes that wealthier defendants can hire better lawyers and, therefore, should have a legal advantage over their poorer counterparts. The US has executed about 0.15% of all murderers since new death penalty statutes were enacted in 1973. Is there evidence that wealthier capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk, based upon the proportion of capital murders committed by different those different economic groups? Not to my knowledge.

Arbitrary and capricious

About 10% of all murders within the US might qualify for a death penalty eligible trial. That would be about 64,000 murders since 1973. We have sentenced 8000 murderers to death since then, or 13% of those eligible. I doubt that there is any other crime which receives a higher percentage of maximum sentences, when mandatory sentences are not available. Based upon that, as well as pre trial, trial, appellate and clemency/commutation realities, the US death penalty is likely the least arbitrary and capricious criminal sanctions in the US.

Christianity and the death penalty

The two most authoritative New Testament scholars, Saints Augustine and Aquinas, provide substantial biblical and theological support for the death penalty. Even the most well known anti death penalty personality in the US, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, states that "It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical 'proof text' in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus' admonition 'Let him without sin cast the first stone,' when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) -- the Mosaic Law prescribed death -- should be read in its proper context. This passage is an 'entrapment' story, which sought to show Jesus' wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment." A thorough review of Pope John Paul II's position, reflects a reasoning that should be recommending more executions.

Cost Issues

All studies finding the death penalty to be more expensive than life without parole exclude important factors, such as (1) geriatric care costs, recently found to be $69,0000/yr/inmate, (2) the death penalty cost benefit of providing for plea bargains to a maximum life sentence, a huge cost savings to the state, (3) the death penalty cost benefit of both enhanced deterrence and enhanced incapacitation, at $5 million per innocent life spared, and, furthermore, (4) many of the alleged cost comparison studies are highly deceptive.

Polling data

76% of Americans find that we should impose the death penalty more or that we impose it about right (Gallup, May 2006 - 51% that we should impose it more, 25% that we impose it about right)

71% find capital punishment morally acceptable - that was the highest percentage answer for all questions (Gallup, April 2006, moral values poll). In May, 2007, the percentage dropped to 66%, still the highest percentage answer, with 27% opposed. (Gallup, 5/29/07)

81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. "(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives." (Gallup 5/2/01).

81% of Connecticut citizens supported the execution of serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross (Jan 2005).

While 81% gave specific case support for Timothy McVeigh's execution, Gallup also showed a 65% support AT THE SAME TIME when asked a general "do you support capital punishment for murderers?" question. (Gallup, 6/10/01).

22% of those supporting McVeigh's execution are, generally, against the death penalty (Gallup 5/02/01). That means that about half of those who say they oppose the death penalty, with the general question, actually support the death penalty under specific circumstances, just as it is imposed, judicially.

Further supporting the higher rates for specific cases, is this, from the French daily Le Monde December 2006 (1): Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:USA: 82%; Great Britain: 69%; France: 58%; Germany: 53%; Spain: 51%; Italy: 46%

Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with 50% of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty actually supporting it under specific circumstances, resulting in 80% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006.


Whatever your feelings are toward the death penalty, a fair accounting of how it is applied should be demanded.

copyright 1998-2009 Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites see Death Penalty (Sweden)