Japan’s death penalty

June 15, 2021 • 9:15 am

Below are two videos (the first, at 12.5 minutes, is a bit long) showing the difference between the only two First World countries that still have the death penalty: Japan and the U.S.  Here, from Amnesty International via the BBC, is a map of countries that still execute criminals:

Wikipedia is a decent source of information about how capital punishment works in Japan but an even better site is here. First, unlike the U.S., Japan imposes the death penalty almost always for multiple murders, while in the U.S. it’s often imposed for murders of individuals—usually either children or those killed in a gruesome manner. (I have some confidence that Biden will stay all pending federal executions, but he has no power to stay executions of people convicted in state court.)

Japan and the U.S. have about equal per capita rates of execution. In Japan 18 people were executed in 2018-2019 alone, while in the US. 47 people were executed during the same two years. The population of the U.S. is 2.6 times that of Japan, so the rates are almost exactly the same.

There’s only one method of execution in Japan: “long drop” hanging, which breaks the neck. In the U.S., you can still die by firing squad, the electric chair, or lethal injection, though the federal government uses only the last method. All executions in Japan are carried out in Tokyo or Osaka, while in the U.S. federal executions are carried out only in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana (state executions are carried out in the relevant states).

One difference, shown in the video below, is a big one: in the U.S. you are given an execution date, though it may be put off through legal appeals. But if those appeals fail, you know exactly the day on which you’ll die. In contrast, in Japan you never know when you’ll be executed until the morning of the execution.  You’re simply informed, given a last meal, and summarily hanged (see below). Unlike the U.S., there are no witnesses save government and prison officials, and the prisoner’s lawyers and family are not informed about the execution until it’s over.

To me, the Japanese method seems more cruel than that of the US. Imagine living day to day (and some prisoners have waited about 40 years, while the average is about six years) not knowing whether each day will be your last! To me, that would seem to impose a constant, torturous anxiety on a prisoner.  (As I’ve said, I oppose the death penalty altogether.) If you feel otherwise, and this is an important question to me, weigh in below.

Below is a video with a series of photos of what the condemned Japanese prisoner sees on his way to the noose. First we see the prison, and then the room where the condemned man is allowed to sit and speak with the prison chaplain. On the way to the hanging chamber, he passes a Buddhist icon. Then on to the noose. As an informative page on Japan’s death penalty (worth reading if you can stomach it) describes the process:

After a death row inmate is notified of his fate he is first taken to a prayer room with a Buddhist altar where the condemned is read his last rites, a senior prison official listens to his last words and the inmate is allowed to speak with a prison chaplain, usually a a Buddhist priest or Christian pastor. After leaving the prayer room the inmate walks down the corridor to an anterior chamber where the prison warden officially declare that the execution will be carried out. At the Tokyo facility a gold Buddhist statues stand opposite the room’s door. The anterior chamber is separated from the execution chamber by a bright blue curtains. On the side of the execution chamber is a viewing area, where the prison warden, prosecutors and other officials watch the execution.

There are, as the video below shows, three buttons, one of which controls the trapdoor. At a signal, three men press the buttons, so nobody knows who exactly caused the drop. This is similar to U.S. firing squads, in which one rifleman is given a gun with a blank in it, so each man can think that he didn’t shoot the prisoner.

It’s all a horrible business, and it’s more expensive, at least in the U.S., than a sentence of life without parole. Nor is capital punishment a deterrent.  As far as I’m concerned, the death penalty is simply the state itself committing the killing, and it accomplishes nothing that life without parole could accomplish. Killing someone is retributive punishment, pure and simple. And there’s one huge advantage of the no-execution policy: if a prisoner is later found to be innocent, they can be set free. (This happens surprisingly often.) That can’t occur if you’re dead.

Let’s take a poll, but I do want to hear people’s views in the comments.

If we must have capital punishment, which system do you favor?

View Results

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69 thoughts on “Japan’s death penalty

  1. I don’t support capital punishment in any way shape or form but I voted for the Japanese system. Most of us don’t know the day we’re going to die and we have learned to live with that uncertainty. I think having a fixed date would be far more anxiety-inducing.

    1. If this was a poll from anyone I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have answered the question at all, just because of the word “favor.” I don’t favor either of them, neither does our host.

  2. In contrast, in Japan you never know when you’ll be executed until the morning of the execution. You’re simply informed, given a last meal, and summarily hanged (see below). Unlike the U.S., there are no witnesses save government and prison officials, and the prisoner’s lawyers and family are not informed about the execution until it’s over.

    So much for receiving a last-minute reprieve from the governor or a last-minute stay from SCOTUS. I believe that all death chambers in the US are equipped with a telephone just in case.

    1. Does the same sparky wire them up as wires up the buttons for the “long drop”, so only one in three works? Or do some governors insist on a cosmetic telephone being present, but the actual communication of stays to be by an arthritic passenger pigeon carrying a missive scribed into granite slabs?

  3. It is a bad idea in my view for some of the same reasons. It does not deter crime but more importantly, our justice system is so poor that innocent people are convicted all the time. Death does not allow for a reversal of a guilty conviction. How anyone can be for killing people with such a poor system, I do not know. We have enough guns in the U.S. to make sure that the death penalty is practiced something like 50 or 60 times a day. In a country like this, the death penalty is just an everyday thing, almost meaningless. We are much more concerned with making sure every individual has all the guns they want and less concern about how many people they may kill.

  4. I have been completely opposed to any form of capital punishment (that of course does not include an emergency situation where an officer of the government needs to make an emergency decision, e.g. to save other lives), have been so opposed for about 60 years, and for exactly the reasons that Jerry gives, except maybe not too concerned if it happened to cost more to imprison.

    1. (No edit available this time, so to add:)

      On that last point re ‘cost’, I realize it is usually not given as a reason to oppose capital punishment but rather as a possible rhetoric to convince some one else to support abolishing capital punishment.

      1. I’ve heard it — and used it — to rebut the mistaken claims of capital-punishment proponents that executions are more economically efficient because they spare governments the cost of prisoners’ lifetime incarcerations.

        Like you, I don’t think it’s needed as an independent argument for abolishing the death penalty.

        1. In Norway, that asshole Breivik may be an example–after killing all those young people he was imprisoned of course, possibly though not certainly for life. But their prisons are humane enough that maybe it would have been cheaper to kill him (which I oppose of course).

          1. Anders Breivik has made extensive complaints about his accomodation in Skien Prison. Among other things, he charged that “guards interfered with his strictly-planned daily schedule, his cell was poorly decorated and had no view, his reading lamp was inadequate, guards supervised him while he would brush his teeth and shaved, and put indirect mental pressure on him to finish quickly by tapping their feet while waiting, he was “not having candy” and was served cold coffee”. It occurs to me that Mr. Breivik’s case suggests that, in certain cases, the death penalty is not without some virtue.

          2. I never use the name of a perp who kills for notoriety. Why encourage potential perps looking for the same thing. I would say “asshole perp” or “asshole shooter”

            1. I appreciate the point you are making, though Norway is not quite so much the celebrity- and utter moron-imbued society that US is.

              As for notoriety being ‘the’ motive, one never knows for sure. I’m pretty sure he fundamentally believed the neo-nazi horseshit he spouted and became a hero locally to a few others there of that ilk. And he was killing a bunch of young people who were at a conference connected to a political party very democratic and diametrically opposed to that ideology of his. So notoriety was very unlikely to be his sole motive.

      2. Guaranteeing that the convicted will receive some final measure of suffering seems to be the big feature in both systems, the rest is just incidental.

        Japan’s system could be changed to nottelling the accused at all, and just slipping something into their food, so they go to sleep and don’t wake up. Very cost effective, if that’s the big concern.

        But if American’s were given a method-of-execution survey, I think “by the method that causes the most suffering” would do very well in the polls.

  5. The differences between the methods employed by the US and Japan are beside the point. Capital punishment is morally indefensible. You don’t need to agree that Free Will is illusory (which means retributive justice makes no sense) to disagree with it. You cannot re-educate someone or restore them to society if they are dead and if you cannot protect society from an individual or that individual from themselves without killing them, then you have just given up both on the individual AND on the ability of your society to cope with transgressors. And then, of course, there is not insignificant problem of executing someone who turns out to be innocent.

    1. I can morally defend capital punishment, so it is not indefensible, only arguable.

      My defence contends that for *a very few cases* no rehabilitation is likely, further violent actions by the condemned (against other prisoners or prison staff) are probable, and that some crimes (usually involving intentional deaths of more than one person) require that person to be removed from society for the mental well being of that society.

  6. I could not vote for either the Japanese or US system. I agree with you on the subject of knowing the date, but other aspects of the US system such as using the electric chair or lethal injections are equally as disagreeable to me. I think the Japanese method of hanging is marginally better, although, like you I would rather the state didn’t execute people.

    I entered “no opinion” in the end just to register a vote. However, I do have an opinion and it is strongly opposed to capital punishment.

    1. I share your opinion, and for that reason I decided not to vote. I felt that even not having an opinion on which system I favoured might imply that I was indifferent to the issue itself. I’m not.

  7. Wasn’t that long ago death sentences in the US were still carried out by hanging. I doubt anyone who’s seen the screen adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood will ever forget the closing scenes in which Dick Hickock and Perry Smith are hung. (Here’s the second execution, of Smith.) I saw it in the theater as a middle teenager, and it’s always stuck with me.

    1. I think mid/late teenagerhood is a very impressionable time of life. I saw The Deer Hunter at age 17. I was among the first post-Vietnam cohort to have to register for the draft (which I did about a year later). That movie made quite an indelible impression on me.

  8. I‘m against the death penalty for various reasons, but I wonder why it is more expensive that life imprisonment without parole. (Also, using that as an argument could backfire, since if capital punishment were cheaper that could, by the same token, be used as an argument in its favour.)

    1. Life imprisonment is cheaper because of the time and expense involved in the post-conviction court proceedings that precede an execution. We could undoubtedly streamline the post-conviction process to make executions cheaper, but at the increased risk of executing an innocent prisoner. At every post-conviction stage that one might propose to eliminate, convicted offenders have been discovered to be innocent, or otherwise been found not to qualify for imposition of the death penalty.

        1. Every convicted defendant is entitled to a direct appeal his or her conviction to an appellate court. If that appeal is unsuccessful, and if the convicted defendant can raise adequate constitutional grounds, the defendant generally also has the right to bring a post-conviction collateral challenge (either through a writ of habeas corpus or through one of the statutory substitutes for the ancient writ that have been adopted in most jurisdictions).

          But capital cases almost always give rise to multiple rounds of post-conviction proceedings — generally right up until the date of execution itself (and prisoners on death row who cannot afford a lawyer are generally entitled to the appointment of counsel to pursue collateral relief, unlike most other prisoners serving a term of years).

          As several SCOTUS justices reviewing capital cases have succinctly remarked, “death is different.”

  9. I’ve never been convinced that it is an overwhelming advantage of imprisonment over the death penalty is that it can reversed if a convict is later found to be innocent. Yes, you can release them, but you can’t give them back the time that they were imprisoned. There is still the loss of the life lived, the youthful years enjoyed, the relationships that could have been made. Of course it’s better than nothing, which is what an executed person can be given, but imprisonment really isn’t reversible.

    1. All very true, but our legal system has devised but one way to compensate individuals for past wrongs — monetary damages. Such damages have been awarded innocent individuals who have served lengthy prison terms, but, because governments enjoy sovereign immunity, it generally requires a state legislature to pass a special bill waiving sovereign immunity before such damages can be awarded or before a lawsuit seeking such damages can proceed.

      Plainly, paying innocent people for the time they’ve wrongfully spent in prison is a grossly inadequate remedy, but it’s all we’ve got.

    2. > Of course it’s better than nothing

      Is this obvious?

      To me it seems that (as the prisoner) being locked in a box for 30, 50 years might be a fate worse than quick death. And (for their family or friends), I’m also not sure that half a lifetime of visiting, and fighting, and raising money to fight, is a better outcome than a gravestone to visit (or to move far away from).

      Others may feel differently, of course. For evidence I’m not crazy, think about how we discuss cancer care. Refusing chemotherapy is something people do, which is also a choice between suffering (for months or years) or a chance of survival.

      That said, the present system of decades locked away followed by death seems (in this view) the worst of both worlds.

      1. Surely the “fate worse than death” is decided abstractly by any person by just imagining what you would decide, should it happen to you yourself. Surely most would opt for prison?

        I assume you would then support a legal framework in which the sentence is:
        1/ life without parole; TOGETHER WITH
        2/ the option to choose, and be given, a painless means to commit suicide at any time later to cut that prison term and your life short. The murderer gets to choose.

        Would you?

        1. Maybe? If the jury thinks that having 50 years in a box to think about your crime while slowly going mad is part of the sentence, then perhaps the criminal should not be permitted to commute that.

          Certainly most prisons today go to some length to prevent suicide, which indicates that some may choose this. (The warden’s logic is. I think, mostly to prevent being accused of killing prisoners. But that’s not the question here.)

          Perhaps another data point: Quite a few mass-shooters choose not to be captured alive. That’s a clear vote for what they think the worse sentence is. You could argue that they are not thinking clearly, but then again, anyone committing a crime deserving a life sentence (in a civilised country) is also not.

          ps. Relevant movie: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_in_Their_Eyes

    1. I agree completely. And it creates a ridiculous moral contradiction that goes to the whole heart of the debate.

      The state says “We value human life very highly. The worst thing you can do is to take a human life. So if you take a human life we disapprove so strongly that we will take your life.”

  10. I am totally against the death penalty, but I voted for the US only because it gives the family/loved ones a chance to say goodbye. The only difference I can see between murder on the street and murder in a murder room, is who ordered and carried it out. One is criminal, one is supposedly Justice. But murder is murder is murder.

    1. As Justice Louis Brandeis said in another context, “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.” If our government wants to teach people to stop killing, it should stop killing people itself.

      1. If our government wants to teach people to stop killing, it should stop killing people itself.

        Was he shot by a recently de-mobbed General? Yet? The Army (and others) must be after his hide. with side-serving of totally-implausible deniability.

  11. Japan has nine execution chambers, not two – there is one in each of the cities that house a High Court (the Japanese equivalent of a Federal Court of Appeals), except in Takamatsu.
    Also, the execution statistics are very skewed: in 2018 Japan executed the Aum Shinrikyo members who had been sentenced to death for the Tokyo attacks, and that was 13 people. The normal rate of execution is just 2-3 people per year.
    None of this is a defense of the Japanese system of capital punishment – or the judicial system that relies so much on confessions for findings of guilt; but Japan is *much* more sparing in its use than the US.

  12. The only argument for the death penalty that I haven’t yet heard a good response to is that it prevents repeat of crime.

    We regularly hear cases of murderers being released or escaping, who then reoffend. The death penalty, for cases where there is no doubt (eg. Jeffrey Dahmer), would prevent that, instead of (as one acquaintance put it) giving them room and board for the rest of their lives.

    So I’m curious to hear that others have to say in response.

    1. Life imprisonment is just as effective, or near enough to consider it so I think, at preventing repeat crimes as the death penalty, so preventing repeat crimes is not a factor. I think it reduces down to ethical considerations about whether or not we should kill prisoners and considerations about the effects killing prisoners has on the individuals involved and on society as a whole.

      I can’t remember where I came across it but not too long ago I read an article about the effects executions had on the law enforcement personnel tasked with carrying them out. If I recall correctly the country was in SE Asia, but I can’t remember the country. It was a very interesting article that fully supported my view that these people are pretty seriously damaged. This alone is enough for me to choose life imprisonment over execution, though several other factors are also by themselves enough for me. When I add them all together I don’t think any argument I’ve ever heard supporting execution is convincing.

      1. If life imprisonment was life-long, then that might work, barring escapes, or paroles. However it would also be a waste of resources (eg. staff, buildings, food, heating, etc.) to keep someone alive, in prison, for the rest of their lives. If they were making a positive contribution to society, then you might have an argument, but otherwise the people like Jeffrey Dahmer, Clifford Olson, Peter Sutcliffe, etc. just remain parasites on society.

        When Scott Glen was filming Silence of the Lambs, he met John Douglas, the FBI Profiler who his character was based on. John played Scott a recording the Toolbox Killers made while torturing and killing a teenage girl. Apparently it left Scott in tears, and changed his mind on the death penalty, as he couldn’t believe that such people existed.

    2. I concur that, in incontrovertible circumstantial cases of multiple murder, as for Dahmer, death is warranted. With body parts found in his home, there is no question. In cases of purely circumstantial multiple murder, as in the case of Williams, of Atlanta, I believe life imprisonment is appropriate, and I would require the court to fund private investigators to the same level as the police had, in seeking other answers. As it is, hasty, politicized case closures (as opposed to case solvings) have created most of the wrongful convictions. The Hunt conviction in NC was another such death row travesty. Fortunately, executions take years, and a conscientious lawyer spent his own time and money to free him. I met one of the original detectives, who was actually following new leads. He got replaced, for taking too long. Long story short, years later, the person he was thinking of was the actual killer. So, for politicized circumstantial cases, death needs to be out.

      For publicly witnessed murders, particularly multiple murders, death is appropriate. I normally believe in th3 mandatory 6-month appeal period, but for public and heinous murders, execution within 15 to 30 days is best, for letting his celebrity be minimized and for letting sentence be close to the time of the crime, for maximum impact on copycats excited by the infamy. For murders resultant from mob action, as in the capitol storming in DC, USA, in 2021, death is appropriate.

      As to execution method, humaneness of method is usually based on the comfort of the viewer. I believe, scientifically, that long-drop is better than lethal injection, where a person is paralyzed, then heart accelerated, then poison injected. Physiology is interesting. In a crisis, heart rate goes up, sensitivity goes up, perceived time slows down. I was in a gunfight once and saw my bullet move. I was in a grapple fight once, seemed like 5 minutes, but it was 45 seconds. Have you had a nightmare involving hours or days, only to awaken and see only minutes have passed? I believe lethal injection feels like hours of agonized sensation of cells burning one by one. Long drop hanging breaks the neck and severs the spine, so as the brain dies, the prisoner feels no pain.

      I am almost moved to think a mandatory defense investigation group should exist with the public defender’s office, paid for by tax funds. Otherwise, strictly speaking, every capitol case involving detectives and evidence processing is unconstitutional, if the defendant paid any tax, even sales tax. Read the 5th Amendment. He was compelled, by taxation, to pay for the system collecting and processing evidence. Unless we provide exactly equal facilities to exonerate him, we violated his rights. If not for all the wrongful convictions I have seen, I would not say that. That is part of the reason why I do not consistently approve of the death penalty.

  13. Given that the vast majority of people do not kill; not killing others must be considered as the normal state in a regulated society. Therefore those that do kill have something wrong with them. They have a mental condition.
    Metaphorically, they lack the mental control and brake that stops a person putting their hand into a naked flame.
    Capital punishment means we are executing people who are ill – mentally ill. This argument pursued to its conclusion would suggest that these people need treating rather than punishing.

    1. There are US States which, within the recent past, have indeed murdered the mentally ill. They also kill juveniles, and kill adults for crimes committed as juveniles. I’m not sure which particular States are sloppiest about these aspects of execution, but I’m not sure that it matters that much.
      I wonder if, post-Brexit, some British drug manufacturer will (can) resume export to America of the drugs used in lethal injections, and whose supply ban from the EU (because: not assisting murder, judicial or otherwise) has caused considerable problems for the US murder industry.

  14. I’ve heard that one benefit of the death penalty is that prosecutors can use it as a bargaining chip with the prisoner. This apparently has forced convicted mass murderers to reveal where they left the bodies (etc.) so families of the dead can get some closure.

  15. I’m opposed to capital punishment only because our justice system is too flawed to achieve the level of certainty required. The risk of killing an innocent is too great. I do think the state is empowered to kill in order to protect its citizens, and I feel no pity for murderous dirtbags who get what they deserve. If certainty can be established then I would be pro-capital punishment.

  16. The British system was interesting: after sentencing there was a statuary delay of 3 Sundays before execution (so that the doomed prisoner might make their peace with “God”. This was enough time for an appeal to be made (the court could only grant an appeal if new evidence had turned up) or for the Home Secretary to grant clemency. The typical time between sentencing and execution was about 5 weeks. The actual process was also extremely quick. The executioner and his assistant would enter the condemned cell, strap the prisoner and lead him to the gallows which was in the next room when he was killed. The whole process could take less than 10 seconds.

    1. The whole process could take less than 10 seconds.

      And ripping the head off a victim was considered bad form. Naughty executioner, slapped wrist and unemployment if you do it again!

      1. That’s quite unfair. Hangmen like Pierrepoint took great care to be as quick and humane as possible. (It is well worth reading his autobiography, or failing that watching the 2006 film version – like most of us he eventually felt capital punishment served no purpose). It may make you laugh, but at one time to pass the exam for a Diploma in Medical Jurisprudence (the DMJ was needed to be a police surgeon) one had to have a rough knowledge of the Long Drop Table which specified the length of pre-stretched rope to be used for individuals of a certain height, weight and muscularity.

        1. The tables in question were published in about 1910 (when Pierrepont, if he was learning anything, it was bowel control) ; I’d have to check the name of the author (my braincell is saying “James Black”, but it doesn’t much matter) and the furore over the publication resulted in “hangman” being added to the list of occupations whose memoirs were covered by the Official Secrets Act when it was enacted in 1913.
          “Black” (if that was his name – it is a very long time since I came across the book in a hospital library I was working at and borrowed it) described several “bad cases” from around the 1880 when he was serving his apprenticeship as his justification for publishing his tables.
          I guess your DMJ coursework was based on “Black”‘s work and continuing experience since we stopped executions.
          I didn’t even know there was a film of … oh, Pierrepont. Maybe the most famous technician of execution, but not one I was ever particularly interested by.
          Film bombed, did it? Hang on – 2006. So 60th anniversary of the Nüremburg trials.
          Well I’m sure that was a convincing point at Hollywood Inc’s “pitch meeting”.

  17. I favour capital punishment. Even though it may not prove deterrent, it may be an efficient way to deal with terrorists rather than state spending tax payers money for upkeep of the terrorists.

    As a Canadian, I look up to US-style judicial system. Our system is too lenient, with punishment disproportionate to the heinousness of the crime committed.

    1. Hasn’t the case been made above that execution is actually more costly to the tax-payer? People who are accused of terrorism have the same rights to a fair legal process (which includes the rights of appeal) as anyone else so I don’t see why the economic argument would apply differently to them.

      Regarding your yearning for US style justice in Canada what do you think this will achieve? I believe the US has a substantially higher homicide rate per capita than Canada.

  18. I didn’t view the videos or extra reading. Uncertainty about anything is anathema to most humans – becoming comfortable with uncertainty of one’s execution date would be a real challenge. Both systems are barbaric, as well as life imprisonment unless keeping a very dangerous person away from others.

    Declaring someone an incorrigible criminal and imprisoning them for life at a greater cost than a top notch education, or executing them, seems like an excuse to not use cutting edge brain and neuroscience, and all other tools at hand, to rehabilitate someone. Not everyone wants to be rehabilitated, but we’ve got to move past this barbaric killing.

    Thumbs down, equally, to both systems.

    1. I’ve been watching Forensic Files lately – partially for the forensics, partially out of grim fascination with how depraved people can be. Last night I saw a neighbor have an argument with the people next door and set out to poison the entire family, including the in-laws who were just there for lunch. Next a woman murders her new husband for the insurance money. There really are people out there with no consciences. It’s also fascinating to see how capricious the punishments seem when they do get convicted. Sometimes death; sometimes they’re out of prison in a few years. I see no rhyme or reason.

      I oppose the death penalty because innocent people get convicted and because of the arbitrary way crimes are charged and sentences meted out, but not because I find it morally repellent. I don’t believe a person who gets married with the intention of killing her new spouse for money is ever going to develop a conscience. Rehabilitate? What makes you think there is a way to rehabilitate such people?

  19. I have no moral objection to the death penalty. The State does kill people. We allow the State to kill people in war. The justification is that this is self-defense. Targeted kill drone strikes are allowed against people the government deems a threat even if they are American citizens (there have been some legal challenges, but none successful). As a society, I think it is acceptable for society to determine that someone has forfeited their right to live among us having committed certain crimes. Of course, that process must be done as carefully as possible. The main argument against the death penalty, to me, is that some people have been condemned who turned out not to have committed the crime for which they were condemned. Also, blacks are much more likely to receive a death sentence compared to whites. The racial disparity is also a serious problem and that alone would justify disposing of the death penalty. But for people like John Wayne Gacy (my family members knew four of the victims), I’m not at all bothered by his execution.

  20. I do not support the death penalty. In addition, there have been enough cases of bad or sloppy forensic science and prosecutorial misconduct that have cost innocent lives to question the integrity of the capital punishment system overall.
    The death penalty should be eliminated in the US.

  21. Not only am I opposed to capital punishment, I’m opposed to the usually cited alternative of life without parole. Both are barbaric. The truly irredeemable will fail on their parole attempts, so why remove that possibility altogether?

    Most criminals age out of their criminality, especially in the US where the bar for the death penalty can be low. As an example, someone can be executed for felony murder. A young man breaks into a house with an accomplice, and the accomplice shoots and kills the homeowner when confronted. The kid can be sentenced to death for that. Is this really justice?

  22. I articulated my position on the death in an article that was published in the Portland OR Tribune in 2016. I voted “No Opinion” because I oppose the death penalty, no matter how administered:

    Much has been said in recent weeks about the high financial cost of prosecuting death penalty cases in Oregon, and the cost of the imposition of such sentences. While these are valid considerations, the cost of death penalty cases has minor import compared to what the institution of death penalty cases says about Oregon and the rest of the states that allow for it.
    The fact is the taking of a life by any government is cruel, and with the growing number of nations that have abolished the death penalty, the practice is becoming unusual. Many nations (such as Iran and North Korea) and a caliphate (ISIS) still impose the death penalty. We should not look to them for justification for the practice. Rather, we should look to our own criminal system, and what we aspire to be as a state and nation.
    As a former prosecutor and public defender, I recognize that mistakes are made in the criminal courts, and national studies confirm the point. Since 1976, 1,440 individuals nationwide have been executed since the US Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Since 1973, 156 individuals on death row have been exonerated and released, according to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. How many of the more than 1400 inmates that have been executed since 1976 were innocent will probably never be known. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 suggests that 4.1 percent (or about 57 people) of the 1440 that have been executed (up to 2014) were innocent. Their families will likely never know justice should it be deserved, even posthumously. The courts do not usually spend time with post-conviction relief for the dead. The undeniable fact is the criminal system is not perfect; no human system can ever hope to be.
    It has been advocated by Oregon prosecutors that Oregon’s death row only contains guilty individuals; that Oregon does a better job. Oregon has been lucky, not better. According to The National Registry of Exonerations, 7 people convicted of murder and serving life terms in Oregon have been exonerated. How lucky those 7 are that they were not sentenced to death and executed before their innocence was determined. The fact is that Oregon’s criminal court system, as well as the system in every other state, is fallible. Sooner or later an Oregon prosecutor, and jury, is going to make a big mistake that cannot be corrected. Not even one mistaken death is worth it the policy of imposing the death penalty. Given the system’s fallibility, the last thing we should allow the State of Oregon to do is take the life of anyone.
    Justice Anthony Kennedy once wrote: “When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint.” It is time for Oregon to split ranks with ISIS, Iran, and North Korea on this issue, adopt the decent and restrained approach, and abolish the death penalty.

  23. agree- am against the death penalty. Principally because it is so horrible to think of killing an innocent. That happens. Thus better that a guilty live than an innocent be killed .

  24. It’s easy to be against the death penalty in countries where murderers actually stay in prison and away from society. The same can’t be said of countries like Mexico, where I’m from, and in which dangerous convicts with the right connections can almost be guaranteed to “escape”. Citizens who live in countries with unreliable prison systems are too afraid to even call the police, let alone testify in court against their aggressors because they know that even if imprisoned, convicts often find ways to get out and get revenge.

  25. I have no objections to the death penalty per se, if it were applied infallibly with no chance of innocent people getting killed, and if it were applied fairly without respect to race, wealth, or social standing. But we all know that’s not going to happen. Given the reality that it will be used in error occasionally, and that some people will have better lawyers than others we should abolish the death penalty.

  26. I speak/read/write Japanese and used to live there. I even studied for part of my law degree there in Tokyo so I’m a bit familiar (no expert) with Japanese law.

    The video is pretty fair and accurate in its analysis and along the lines of how I understand the issue.

    It is worth noting, though, that in the big picture it is difficult to be sent to jail in Japan in the first place – you have to be pretty damn bad to serve time. Their prisons are STERN, strict and overly harsh psychologically …but they’re not the violent jungles of death we have here.
    Further, sentence lengths are waaay shorter there for pretty much everything.
    My personal opinion is the death penalty (in both) has to (and will) go eventually, ditto mandatory minimums and solitary. They’re much worse injustices in the big picture.
    And the war on drugs is insane, cruel and counter productive.

    D.A., J.D.
    NYC (formerly Tokyo)

  27. Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong?

    — Foolish Notion, song by Holly Near

  28. This is not a moral judgement on the death penalty. If you watch any of those prison reality shows, you will find out pretty quickly that life in prison might be worse than death for some people. In fact, there have been cases of criminals who actually ask for the death penalty. It is a complicated issue. It’s not been shown to be a deterrent for murderers who commit crimes of passion. It actually results in HIGHER COSTS in the penal system due to the additional appeals and legal actions taken. On the other hand, consider the psychiatric damage caused by prolonged solitary isolation for those considered too violent to be housed with others. This dilemma is similar to the dilemma posed by “the right to die” for those with terminal illnesses.

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