Californians Have a Chance to Repeal the Death Penalty

Monday, October 29, 2012 – 142 views

— by dbasch

If you live in California and oppose the death penalty, you have a reason to go out and vote. I do, and I will.

I won't reiterate all the arguments against the death penalty. I've looked for a rational argument that supports it, but I haven't found one. The strongest argument in terms of societal benefit is the one about deterrence. According to this, a violent criminal would behave like a Homo Economicus. That is, he would think along these lines:

"I'm about to rob a convenience store, and there's a chance I may end up killing someone. What's the worst that can happen to me? Maybe the owner will shoot me, or maybe the cops will. However, I'm ok with those risks. So, what if I kill someone and I get caught? I can't afford a good lawyer, so I'll probably get the stiffest sentence. I'm in a state with the death penalty; that would suck. If only the worst possibility was life without parole, then I would go ahead with the plan. The death penalty is too much, so I'll forget the whole thing."

As if this didn't sound ridiculous enough, science says these internal monologues almost never happen. Over the past few years, behavioral psychologists and economists have shown that people are much more irrational than previously thought. In addition, violent criminals are even more irrational than most people. It should be completely obvious at this point why the death penalty never worked as a deterrent.

What's also become evident since the advent of DNA testing is that the number of wrong convictions is also higher than thought. To me, this is the most unjust aspect about the death penalty: innocents on death row right now.

I think that the reason so many people support the death penalty is because they feel good about the concept of revenge killing. I certainly understand that. However, public policy should not be emotional. The price to pay for that reassuring feeling that "violent criminals will get what they deserve" is just unacceptable.

If you agree with the above, and are a registered California voter, I ask you to go out and vote yes to California Proposition 34, the End the Death Penalty Initiative.

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