Mike Renzulli

More About: Death Penalty

Federal Courts Restrain Use of Capital Punishment

The past few months have not been good for supporters of capital punishment.
Despite upholding Kentucky's lethal injection statute in April, earlier this week the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that had required a death sentence if a defendant was found guilty of child rape.
The case in question involved a Lousiana man who raped and badly beat his 8-year old step sister which contributed to the girl dying on the operating table during emergency surgery.
What is unique about this ruling is that not only did the Louisiana decision thrust the issue of capital punishment back into the national spotlight, but earlier this month in Ohio, a federal district judge determined that inmates could experience severe pain when administered the state's chemical cocktail.
Consequently, the federal judge ordered Ohio to alter its method of execution in which the state's lethal injection method utilizes a combination of three chemicals to put condemned inmates to death.
Back in April, a study conducted by a sociology and criminology professor at the University of Denver was released detailing racial disparities in death penalty administration and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Stevens renounced his support of capital punishment.
After the Supreme Court's Kentucky ruling in May, while states have resumed executions, fortunately, questions about how capital punishment is used are being raised again as well.
Also, a new anti-death penalty documentary was released last month that has gotten alot of publicity too. The film documents the ideological journey of a Christian minister from death penalty retentionist to abolitionist.
Hopefully with the advent of these recent events, the death penalty, or death by lethal injection, would be up for another constitutional challenge and capital punishment's days are numbered since the courts could determine that death by lethal injection would be in violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The fact that a death row inmate could suffer severe pain while he or she is being injected to carry out a death sentence, could mean the injection procedure or the chemicals used are unconstitutional.
It's looking like something along these lines will happen.
As it turns out, relatively little is known about Kentucky's chemical administration procedures. However, some of the 35 other states that execute death row inmates by lethal injection, like Ohio, have much more transparency making evidence of the risks involved with the chemical cocktails used for executions public knowledge that can be used by abolitionist lawyers in a court challenge.
Baze vs. Rees leaves no distinct guideline as to whether or not the chemical cocktail used by Kentucky can be used in other states nor has the issue of flaws in the administration of lethal injections been considered.
If the courts strike down death by lethal injection because a condemned individual experiences severe pain while chemicals to execute them are administered then it could leave the other methods of execution open to court challenges as well. Hopefully resulting in the state's death machinery being struck down.
Like abortion, the subject of the death penalty is another a point of contention among libertarians. Possibly objectivists too.
Supporters of capital punishment in the libertarian movement view it as as part of government's retaliatory force powers. They conclude that, by executing prisoners, the state can protect individual rights by executing condemned prisoners which would inhibit future wrong doers from conducting violent crimes, like murder.
The methods used to execute condemned prisoners didn't seem horrible to me when I supported capital punishment until I read about all of the manners in which a defendant has the deck stacked against them nearly guaranteeing death sentences and increasing the risk of wrongful death.
As a result of reading about the issue and discussing the issue at length with defense attorney and author Clay Conrad, I concluded that government should exist to protect life, liberty, and property and not determine who lives or dies.
Ron Paul came to a similar conclusion and so has conservative columnist George Will.
Anthony Gregory brings up a good point about this issue too when he said:
Now, obviously, there are crimes so vicious that the perpetrator has sacrificed his right to life. But how can anyone who pretends to understand the corruptible and inherently coercive essence of government ever defend the right of the state to kill people?
Think about it. With our reluctance to maximize government power, the only sensible position any libertarian can take is to support allowing juries to sentence murderers to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
To give government the ability to execute condemned prisoners is an excessive exertion of its power since the ability of just one person being wrongfully killed is a price too high to pay and is irreversible.
Therefore, the only logical and consistent conclusion a libertarian, or anyone distrustful of enhancing the powers of the state, can make is in favor of the death penalty's abolition.

1 Comments in Response to

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Like Mr. Renzulli, many libertarians oppose capital punishment on the grounds he stated:

**QQ**...how can anyone who pretends to understand the corruptible and inherently coercive essence of government ever defend the right of the state to kill people? ...Think about it. With our reluctance to maximize government power, the only sensible position any libertarian can take is to support allowing juries to sentence murderers to life in prison without the possibility of parole.**QQ**

Mr. Renzulli and others miss an equally problematic point: on what grounds do libertarians favor having a coercive government:

(1) use lethal coercive force against innocent citizens to extract tax money to

(2) keep a known murderer -- who is a danger to everyone -- alive?

As Walter Williams has clearly explained, the tax laws are enforced by threat of death. Walk through the sequence of events if you refuse to pay taxes and refuse to be dragged into custody ... and at the end of the sequence is you getting killed ... all because the government has been given the power to enforce tax laws by lethal force.

The **QQ**life imprisonment**QQ** option for murderers is what Mr. Renzulli and others favor, and that option currently is lethal-coercive tax funded.

So there is a grave moral problem of forcing -- with threat of death -- the living persons who suffer because of the murder to pay to keep the murderer alive.

Yes -- if your parent, sibling, or child is murdered, under Mr. Renzulli**Q**s regime, you**Q**d be coercively taxed to support the murderer for life.

How is it morally right, under libertarian principles, to empower the **QQ**inherently corruptible**QQ** government to use lethal force to coerce crime victims to pay to keep the aggressor alive and well for his entire remaining life?

Frankly, I don**Q**t think it is morally acceptable under libertarian principles.

It would be morally acceptable, under libertarian principles, for Mr. Renzulli and his colleagues to raise funds voluntarily to keep murderers alive. If Mr. Renzulli is serious about his anti-capital punishment position, then to be consistent he must encourage an all-volunteer **QQ**keep the murderers alive**QQ** funding campaign.

It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Renzulli or his colleagues jump to that opportunity to convert the tax-coercive life imprisonment system into a voluntarily-funded charity.

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