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JonIrenicus
08-22-2009, 04:36 PM
Take this case.

A man murders 5 people. He is caught, convicted, sentenced to life in prison.


He serves for 20 years, and then, becomes terminally ill. He is dying, has at most 6 months left of life. He is decrepit and no longer has the capacity or will to murder again. The direct harm to society has essentially been neutralized from this man.


Would you be OK having such a man released to live his waning days in freedom?

TwinSwords
08-22-2009, 04:40 PM
Take this case.

A man murders 5 people. He is caught, convicted, sentenced to life in prison.

He serves for 20 years, and then, becomes terminally ill. He is dying, has at most 6 months left of life. He is decrepit and no longer has the capacity or will to murder again. The direct harm to society has essentially been neutralized from this man.

Would you be OK having such a man released to live his waning days in freedom?

Yes.

Whatfur
08-22-2009, 04:41 PM
...
Would you be OK having such a man released to live his waning days in freedom?

Only if he is to be covered by Obamacare. ;)

[added] but similarly and seriously...up to living family members of murdered...if none existed then only if the cost to the Amercan people would be less. Cliche but true...the 5 murdered were not offered 6 months of freedom before death.

Starwatcher162536
08-23-2009, 10:06 PM
I agree with Whatfur on this one. The priority should be on how it affects the loved ones of the victims. Causing the loved ones of the victims less anguish should be the paramount concern.

If certain people I know were killed by someone, and that person were let out for any reason, I myself would kill them. Far better to not force the people left behind to have to face that choice. No reason to chance ruining any more lives.

TwinSwords
08-23-2009, 11:20 PM
No reason to chance ruining any more lives.

Meaning what?

Starwatcher162536
08-24-2009, 01:54 AM
Meaning what?

Presumably, the one that takes revenge on the released convict would also be sent to jail.

Edit:
There are a number of crimes that a person can do, such as child molestation for example, that in my mind, make that persons life worth less then dirt.

All I, and I expect Whatfur as well, are saying is that the benefits to the convict that will be accrued by releasing said convict should not be taken into account (Or that they are judged to be largely worthless in and off themselves).

All that should be taken into account are the costs and benefits too society and the loved ones of the victim.

...Naturally, how far this line of thinking should go depends upon how heinous the crime was.

JonIrenicus
08-24-2009, 02:07 AM
Yes.

Ok, lets take this further with another case.



Let's say a man murders hundreds of members of another race, i.e.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Himmler


Given two realities, one where Himmler is captured and commits suicide before he can stand trial, and another where he is prevented from committing suicide and does stand trial and serves life in prison, which would you prefer?



In both cases his harm to society is neutralized. In the latter case though society must bear a financial cost to incarcerate and house him.


Again, which would you prefer?

stephanie
08-25-2009, 01:12 PM
I agree with Whatfur on this one. The priority should be on how it affects the loved ones of the victims.

I completely disagree with this. Either it's right to let the guy live out his life in freedom (as much freedom as a dying person has) or it's not. (I don't think it's possible to answer this question in the abstract based on the facts given, but I'm inclined to say that if the only reason to change things is that he's dying, if he would not otherwise be eligible for parole, and if there is adequate medical care available to him where he is, probably not.)

However, basing it on whether the victims happen to have family who loved him or whether their family has all died or whether they were jerks who no one loved or homeless people or whatever really bothers me. It basically implies that we aren't, as a legal matter, valuing life equally, and saying that the killing of some people isn't as bad as the killing of others.

It's also making the justice system more about vengence and psychological closure than I am comfortable with, although I can see the argument on the other side here.

stephanie
08-25-2009, 01:15 PM
Ok, lets take this further with another case....

Given two realities, one where Himmler is captured and commits suicide before he can stand trial, and another where he is prevented from committing suicide and does stand trial and serves life in prison, which would you prefer?

In both cases his harm to society is neutralized. In the latter case though society must bear a financial cost to incarcerate and house him.

Again, which would you prefer?

The latter. Because of the social need to sanction, enforce a set of standards, and related need to punish wrong when it occurs.

popcorn_karate
08-25-2009, 02:05 PM
However, basing it on whether the victims happen to have family who loved him or whether their family has all died or whether they were jerks who no one loved or homeless people or whatever really bothers me. It basically implies that we aren't, as a legal matter, valuing life equally, and saying that the killing of some people isn't as bad as the killing of others.

i think if you take starwatchers point, this is not quite true. His point is that letting the convict free poses a risk for the survivors of the crime, because they may feel compelled to take action to see "justice" done.

on one hand, we are all supposed to let the state take care of this. on the other hand, we are human and have our innate sense of justice. So, to protect the surviving family members, convicts could be treated differently not bec ause one life is worth more than another, but because of the facts of human nature, you may be creating more problems in one situation than in another.

I'm not convinced of Star's idea, but it sways me more than any of the other arguments against letting people out.

stephanie
08-25-2009, 02:38 PM
i think if you take starwatchers point, this is not quite true.

It's true that that's not the reasoning Star gave, but I think it's implicit and a risk any time you start basing incarceration or punishment decisions on how survivors feel. Basically, people get punished differently (and thus the crime is treated as different) depending on the particular connections and state of mind of the connections of the person killed. (And, yes, I think that's already in our justice system in some ways, and it bothers me.)

His point is that letting the convict free poses a risk for the survivors of the crime, because they may feel compelled to take action to see "justice" done.

They might, although the whole point of our system is that we've replaced private law enforcement with the state, so that would be wrong and unjustifiable, IMO, so should not be a factor. (On the other hand, if letting him off because dying would result in him serving a number of years that social would generally agree is too short, given the crime and the normal sentences served, then I wouldn't set him free, unless there were some compelling reason like an inability to care for him in prison.)

In fact, if fear of what victims might do to someone deserving of punishment (or who they believe is deserving of more punishment than they received) were a factor, it would also be a factor for saying we should ignore the various rules of evidence and civil rights protections where the result is not to punish someone, as then people might be tempted to take the law into their own hands. They might be, but the risk is less significant than our overarching principles, here the importance of maintaining our civil rights and protections. In fact, thinking about this more, I'm just as bothered by the notion of acting differently than we otherwise would think right based on a fear (implicit threat) of self-help.

JonIrenicus
08-25-2009, 03:16 PM
The latter. Because of the social need to sanction, enforce a set of standards, and related need to punish wrong when it occurs.

I agree with you completely, was just trying to show that some people are almost completely lacking this sense within them. To punish, for it's own sake, has merits, even if direct harm is neutralized.

Starwatcher162536
08-25-2009, 03:45 PM
[...]
It basically implies that we aren't, as a legal matter, valuing life equally, and saying that the killing of some people isn't as bad as the killing of others.
[...]


But we do not judge all human life as being equal, and I am fine with that. If you disagree, then what is your explanation for why character witnesses exist? How do you explain jury nullification?

Should there not be actions, that make us judge someone's life worth less then another's? If you had to choose between the lives of 5 rapists, and 1 Doctor who volunteers at free clinics, who would you choose? I know I would choose the doctor.

You cannot treat our system of laws as some abstract thing, it is very much a human endeavor, and as such has our value system built into it. I would not want it any other way.

cragger
08-25-2009, 04:09 PM
Steph - I think every point you make here is correct. The two alternatives come down to an approach based on principles and reason vs. one based more closely on emotion. The catch is that those who perfer the emotive approach are likely to tend to resist arguments based on reason as to why we try to organize society rationally.

Whatfur
08-25-2009, 05:13 PM
I completely disagree with this.
...
It's also making the justice system more about vengence and psychological closure than I am comfortable with, although I can see the argument on the other side here.
One person's vengence can be another's sense of fairness. Parole hearings, sentence hearing and hearings in general all let relatives hold some sway. In any case, you were also not looking at it like I was. I assumed this was a gift to the prisoner not something in any way earned. For anyone but the affected family to grant this gift seems presumptuous to me.

Easy for someone on the outside looking in to generalize. Speaking of outside, it may actually be more painful for the prisoner there.

stephanie
08-25-2009, 06:47 PM
But we do not judge all human life as being equal, and I am fine with that.

I disagree. Absent some basis to be deprived of their rights as a matter of law, all have the right to life and are equal under the law, so as a legal matter, it should be as bad to kill an unliked or unattached person, without justification or excuse, as it is to kill a popular one. Sure, I know there are plus factors based on implicit harm to society or to others (i.e., killing someone who is charged with enforcing the law, for certain motivations, etc.), which is a separate issue. But to suggest that the general penalty for a crime should depend on who the victim is troubles me and seems contrary to our basic principles of equality.

If you disagree, then what is your explanation for why character witnesses exist?

Not to determine if the victim was likeable enough to make the crime serious, but due to relevance to the determination of whether someone did something he or she was accused of.

How do you explain jury nullification?

The reasoning of the jury in criminal cases is generally not questioned, so it would be hard to avoid. Plus, some things are felt to be excused by the conscience of the community and some laws are left on the books when they shouldn't be or inconsistently enforced. But that some jury could decide, on their own, that someone deserved killing and let off the killer doesn't mean that as a matter of societal rules we should be making such troubling distinctions as a matter of law.

Should there not be actions, that make us judge someone's life worth less then another's? If you had to choose between the lives of 5 rapists, and 1 Doctor who volunteers at free clinics, who would you choose? I know I would choose the doctor.

We aren't talking about a "who do you save from the fire" situation, but a pre-thought-out, societal determination that it should be considered more serious to kill certain types of people (those with appealing and effective loved ones to speak on their behalf) rather than others (the lonely, the homeless, those who perhaps mattered very much to some people, but mainly to people who for whatever reason are not as able to speak on their behalf or perhaps had died).

You cannot treat our system of laws as some abstract thing, it is very much a human endeavor, and as such has our value system built into it. I would not want it any other way.

I disagree that we shouldn't strive for abstraction. That's what a system of laws (the rule of law) is. That's why you have the cliche that hard cases make bad law (which is true). However, I also disagree that that is somehow contrary to the idea that it has our value system built in -- I think the laws are supposed to have the value system built in, and when you start changing the rules or making them subject to personal feelings at the time or certain interests, you risk losing some of the key principles (like due process, equality) and thus justice itself.

Okay, I'll jump off the soap box.

stephanie
08-25-2009, 07:00 PM
I assumed this was a gift to the prisoner not something in any way earned. For anyone but the affected family to grant this gift seems presumptuous to me.

To me this seems to misunderstand what the justice system should be doing (my fairness vs. vengeance distinction, perhaps).

I don't think society should grant the "gift" other than on terms that would equally apply to others in the same situation. Just as families can't waive prosecution of a crime, the question should not be whether the family is willing to let out someone early or not. The criminal justice system addresses the harm to society as a whole. The family in many cases will feel so emotionally involved (rightly so) that they would be unable to apply the rules of fairness and civil protections so significant to our society, on the one hand, and that a family is focused more on forgiveness (as some are) or an individual prefers not to prosecute (as with battered partners, commonly) does not mean that the society as a whole doesn't have strong reason to prosecute or keep someone in prison.

Easy for someone on the outside looking in to generalize.

Bad to make this about indvidual emotions/personal desires rather than society's concerns. The prosecutor represents the people/the state, and when that gets lost bad things tend to happen.

Starwatcher162536
08-25-2009, 07:33 PM
I do not concede that taking into account the emotional well being of the loved ones of the victim is not rational.

Starwatcher162536
08-25-2009, 07:38 PM
Okay. I disagree with you that people should not, and are not judged to have varying values, but I won't go further on this, as this is a basic values decision, and doubt either of our outlooks can be changed through discussion.

stephanie
08-25-2009, 08:41 PM
Okay. I disagree with you that people should not, and are not judged to have varying values, but I won't go further on this, as this is a basic values decision, and doubt either of our outlooks can be changed through discussion.

We disagree on that, perhaps, but I'm not sure agreement is needed for my point to still stand. Let's say that we agreed that in some circumstances, when a choice between who gets resources (whether it's being saved from a fire or a kidney), making a distinction between people on certain criteria would be rational and necessary.

(I still think it's normally better not to place these in an official manner on a judgment of who is worth more as a person, as opposed to certain more objective guidelines, since that creates an inequality which we probably don't really mean and leads to abuse, but we can table that argument.)

Even if in those circumstances it made sense to value one person more than another, that's not the same thing as saying that it's less wrong to murder one person than another (or that as a matter of law we should make such distinctions). That's what I think you are saying when you make the kinds of distinctions that are being made based on whether the victim leaves survivors who will be upset (vs. survivors who might want to forgive vs. no survivors).

It honestly surprises me that people are willing to say that they make distinctions in how wrong murder is based on the victim's identity, when we haven't sugggested that the allegedly less worthy victim is in any way culpable. Sure, the system does give the victim's family a say in sentencing and such, as Whatfur brought up, but usually I hear it denied that this means that we are distinguishing between victims.

cragger
08-25-2009, 08:51 PM
I think you both may both misunderstand the use of character witnesses based on this thread. Character witnesses are not used in order to make the claim that the victim was a good enough person that we should care that they were a victim or that they should receive special consideration from the law. Under US law everyone is (and I agree should be) considered equal as stated in the founding documents.

Character witnesses are used to establish or attack the credibility of the defendant. The defense might bring forth a parade of folks to claim that the defendant was too nice, honest, pacific or whatever to have comitted the crime, thus bolstering the defendant's denial. Once the defense has opened this legal door, the prosecution can counter by bringing forth witnesses to claim that the defendant is instead of bad character in such ways as to be disposed to the commission of such crimes.

Character witnesses in the phase of trial that determines (legal) guilt or innocence are different than the victim's impact statements that are sometimes allowed in the sentencing phase of trials. I agree that this latter is a rather disturbing trend, a sort of political correctness taken to the ultimate degree in determining the sanctions applied by the state not based on what someone has done, but upon how others say they feel about it.

stephanie
08-25-2009, 09:19 PM
I think you both may both misunderstand the use of character witnesses based on this thread.... Character witnesses are used to establish or attack the credibility of the defendant.

Yeah, I thought that's what I was saying in 16. It's what I meant, anyway.

cragger
08-25-2009, 10:08 PM
Yep, that seemed possible. The "character witness" aspect of this thread started with Starwatchers "what about character witnesses" exclamation in favor of punishment based on emotional reaction and I was being a bit pedantic about the difference since online arguments are so rife with misperceptions about facts. I think we are in violent agreement about the substantive issues here.

Whatfur
08-25-2009, 11:06 PM
To me this seems to misunderstand what the justice system should be doing (my fairness vs. vengeance distinction, perhaps).

I don't think society should grant the "gift" other than on terms that would equally apply to others in the same situation. Just as families can't waive prosecution of a crime, the question should not be whether the family is willing to let out someone early or not. The criminal justice system addresses the harm to society as a whole. The family in many cases will feel so emotionally involved (rightly so) that they would be unable to apply the rules of fairness and civil protections so significant to our society, on the one hand, and that a family is focused more on forgiveness (as some are) or an individual prefers not to prosecute (as with battered partners, commonly) does not mean that the society as a whole doesn't have strong reason to prosecute or keep someone in prison.

Bad to make this about indvidual emotions/personal desires rather than society's concerns. The prosecutor represents the people/the state, and when that gets lost bad things tend to happen.

You are creating some new concepts. I was responding to a specific one with specific circumstances...20 years served 6 months to live. I also was not asked what was lawful, or best for "society". I responded with how I would want to see it dealt with given those conditions.

Actually, now that I think of it, I believe Jon asked a trick question. The real answer should have been that the guy who murdered 5 people...should already be dead.
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