Capital punishment proponents often feel reflexively tentative and apologetic in discussing the issue. After all, abolitionists have sanctimoniously characterized proponents as "mean-spirited" and "hard-hearted" in defending the practice. Blood on Their Hands: Death Penalty Abolitionists Bear Burden of Persuasion, Not Proponents

Capital punishment proponents often feel reflexively tentative and apologetic in discussing the issue.  After all, abolitionists have sanctimoniously characterized proponents as "mean-spirited" and "hard-hearted" in defending the practice. 

This fits liberals' more generalized caricature of conservatives as somehow more angry and hostile than "compassionate" liberals.  (Never mind, of course, the toxic invective toward President Bush, or a 2006 Pew Research Center scientific poll in which conservatives report much higher levels of life happiness than liberals.) 

As a consequence, advocating capital punishment seems like the "mean" thing to do, whereas opposition to the death penalty is reflexively seen as the "nice" position.  Proponents therefore backpedal in an attempt to protect their esteem. 

It is abolitionists, however, not proponents, who must shoulder the heavy burden of persuasion. 

After all, abolitionists by definition advocate the complete eradication of capital punishment, even when there is zero doubt as to the murderer or the heinous nature of the crime.  Abolitionists cleverly couch their arguments in a manner that appear to advocate mechanical improvements or minor changes in the way that capital punishment is imposed. 

But make no mistake.  By definition, abolitionists favor the total prohibition of capital punishment.  Even when we identify the murderer with 100% certainty, and the brutal nature of the murder warrants the most severe societal penalty, abolitionists would still prohibit imposition. 

It is they whose policies would spill innocent blood. 

Let's start with the abolitionists' presumed focus:  protecting innocent life from being taken. 

First, abolitionists cannot establish a single instance – not one – in which an innocent person was wrongly executed.  Rather, as Justice Scalia recently noted in Kansas v. Marsh, "in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, [DNA] technology has confirmed guilt."  (emphasis in original) 

Instead, abolitionists mischaracterize instances of "exonerations" as actual innocence, never citing a substantiated claim of erroneous execution.  Such "exonerations" typically involve defendants who escaped execution due to technicalities, such as much-celebrated Jeremy Sheets, who was convicted in Nebraska.  Prior to trial, Mr. Sheets's testifying accomplice committed suicide in jail, depriving Sheets of the opportunity to cross-examine him.  Such "exonerations" hardly establish "innocence," nor do they demonstrate a failure of our criminal justice system.  Rather, exonerations are part and parcel of our criminal justice system, which assures that only the guilty are ultimately executed.  If anything, they vindicate its very effectiveness. 

Second, consider the number of murders committed by convicted killers who have not been executed.  The sad truth is that unexecuted murderers often continue to kill, whether on Death Row while awaiting execution or amongst the general prison population.  Their victims include prison guards, ministers, staff and other prisoners.  Additionally, unexecuted murderers occasionally escape from prison to commit additional murderers.

Imprisonment, even life imprisonment, is simply insufficient to protect innocent life from these murderers.  Abolitionists cannot justify the innocent blood spilled by convicted murderers who were luckier in escaping execution than their victims.    

Third, many forget that a moratorium on executions actually existed between the years 1967 and 1976.  During that period, approximately twice as many murders occurred as during the preceding ten-year period.  If abolitionists are truly concerned with protecting innocent life, they must also answer to this fact. 

Fourth, since the death penalty was eventually resumed with greater regularity in the early 1990s, the murder rate has plummeted.  That's even more innocent life spared despite abolitionists' best efforts to end capital punishment. 

Another tactic abolitionists employ is to characterize capital punishment as somehow beneath a civilized nation.  In support of this flawed proposition, abolitionists cite the European Union as a model, and disparagingly group the United States with such countries as China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Libya in maintaining the death penalty.  These same abolitionists fail to mention that popular opinion in many European countries supports the death penalty, and that many abolished the practice simply as a precondition to entering the European Union. 

Abolitionists also fail to acknowledge other admirable nations that maintain capital punishment, such as Japan (which executed the mastermind of the deadly 1995 subway terrorist attacks) and India.  Japan and India are no less-respectable than France, Germany or any other E.U. nation, but abolitionists would rather focus elsewhere. 

Accordingly, abolitionists' arguments invariably fall flat.  They have successfully framed the issue as one of "compassion" versus "intolerance," but don't be fooled.  Death penalty abolitionists, not proponents, are the ones whose policies mean innocent deaths.   

October 5, 2006
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