If we’re going to execute, why not just hang them?

So… Radley Balko (who makes it forthrightly clear throughout that he opposes the death penalty) favors the firing squad over lethal injection, on the grounds that it’s actually more humane to shoot somebody than to feed them a paralytic drug and then slowly let them die, in intense pain, for almost ten minutes. I actually agree with Radley on that; but one thing that he noted was…

If you support the death penalty, the most obvious benefit of the firing squad is that unlike lethal injection drugs, correctional institutions are never going to run out of bullets. And if they do, more bullets won’t be very difficult to find. Ammunition companies aren’t susceptible to pressure from anti-death penalty activists, at least not to the degree a pharmaceutical company might be. This would actually remove a barrier to more efficient executions. As someone who would like to see executions eliminated entirely, I don’t personally see this as a benefit. But death penalty supporters might.

As a death penalty supporter I do see it as a benefit – one of the reasons that lethal injections has gotten more awful as a procedure is thanks to the Law of Unintended Consequences (equipment/medical boycotts and the like, by well-meaning death penalty opponents) – but if we’re talking about cost… well. A rope can be reused. It would also raise even more hackles than a firing squad would, which is actually a good argument in its favor: I want people in this country to take executions seriously.  I think that we spend too much time drawing out the process to execute people who deserve it, in order to compensate for the way that we make it possibly a little too easy to decide that people deserve to be executed. I would prefer a higher bar for making that decision, and a lower bar for implementing it.  Which means that I’m probably doomed to be disappointed, sure.

Wouldn’t be the first time.

Via Instapundit.

Moe Lane

PS: I’m not an IS death cultist. If a man needs to die, then kill him quickly and kill him cleanly.  Don’t make a spectacle out of it. Or, worse, a show.

19 thoughts on “If we’re going to execute, why not just hang them?”

  1. A higher bar for the decision? You know that it takes something like, on average, 15 years between sentencing and execution. Filled with protests and appeals and the like.

    Keep the bar the same, speed up the process, I’m a fan of a bullet to the brain. Quick, simple, cheap.

    1. What you’re talking about isn’t making the decision. The decision is made when the jury returns its verdict. And given that innocent people have been sent to Death Row to be killed (and we know this because they were later found innocent on one of those reviews that’s part of the process you want to speed up), I agree with Moe. The bar is too low if an innocent man can clear it.
      Look, I used to be a death penalty supporter. Now I’m not. I realized I couldn’t find a way to square it with my belief in our inalienable right to life. If it’s truly inalienable, then the government is not licensed to take it away under ANY circumstance. Having said that:
      1) The death penalty is clearly constitutional. The Founders had no problem with it. My objections are moral, not legal.
      2) If we are to have the death penalty, then we need to use it only when someone is unquestionably guilty. Right now, we don’t, as evidenced by the fact that we have overturned convictions.
      3) If someone is unquestionably guilty, then there is no need for the lengthy appeals process. I also believe the process should be sped up — if we can be sure of guilt. It’s more merciful to all involved…including the murderer.
      4) Kill the convicted quickly, cleanly, and painlessly. Whatever the “right” way is, lethal injections aren’t it. They only look good alongside something as barbaric as electrocution. Shooting and hanging are far more preferable.

      1. That’s silly. It doesn’t matter what the bar is, if a bar exists then there exists the possibility that an innocent man will wrongly clear it. That’s the inherent flaw in any judicial system. It’s impossible to devise a system in which innocent people will not be convicted and punished.

        1. Granted, our justice system will always make mistakes. But if we discover a person was sent to prison unjustly, it is possible to make some sort of restitution (however inadequate). If we discover a person was killed unjustly, no restitution is possible — not to them, anyway.
          I believe it is possible to set a standard for a death sentence high enough that no innocent person could possibly be convicted using it. Convincing me that I’m wrong would necessarily turn me against the use of the death penalty under any circumstances, which I don’t think is your aim. Frankly, I’m a little shocked that anyone here would write off the possibility of an innocent person being killed by the state as an unavoidable consequence of an “inherent flaw.” Oh, well, whoops.

      2. It is several decisions, spread out over time. It is not final with the jury.
        That system is a result of what lawyers tend to see as reforms. As a class, lawyers would have more work, more billable hours, from decreasing crime deterrent and having a catch and release program for habitual criminals. Folks with law degrees have a disproportionate impact on how the criminal justice system functions, considering lawyers, judges, and a whole lot of politicians.
        The alternatives to execution are therapy, which is often nonsense for this, and prison. The viability of prison depends on how secure the prisons are. Obama had throughly demonstrated that the prisons simply are not and can not be considered secure /before/ he started releasing terrorists for no good reason.
        Lawyers often seem to assume that they can make the legal system as burdensome and intensive as they care to, and that the rest of us will never have recourse to alternative means of resolving disputes. Settling these matters inside the legal system can be advantageous, and historically has been good for America. If the costs of letting arsonists, rapists, kidnappers and murderers run around become higher than those of blood feuds and vigilantism, we may reconsider things as a people.

        1. It is one decision to sentence to death. That is what I think Moe is talking about when he says “a higher bar for making that decision.” The rest of the decisions fall under the process of implementation.

      3. There are vanishingly few cases where anybody convicted of a capital crime and committed to death row has actually been found innocent.
        Did you miss the expose on The Innocence Project a few months back? They are not on the side of the angels. In fact, many of them should be in prison for their actions while pursuing their project.
        It’s good to take some time and strive to minimize the chance of error.
        But while you’re doing this, justice is being delayed and denied.

        1. Let me stipulate to the rarity of an innocent man being convicted for murder. That said, unless your definition of “vanishingly few” is semantically equivalent to zero, I can’t imagine how you could think that would be a convincing argument to me. To misquote Blackstone, better ten undoubtedly guilty men be locked up for life than one possibly innocent man be killed.
          I don’t know very much about the Innocence Project. Neither do I care. I try to ignore progressive advocacy organizations whenever I can. I arrived at my current stance based on an examination of conservative principles.
          If someone who is innocent is executed, that is a permanent denial of justice. Setting a higher bar for implementation of the death penalty, while shortening the time between that decision and its execution (which is what I was advocating earlier), should address both my concerns and yours. No?

          1. No.
            I do not see “being locked in a cage with savages for the rest of your life (long)” as more desirable than “being locked in a cage with savages for the rest of your life (short)”.
            Much better to quickly and cleanly execute the ten undoubtedly guilty men, and if the statistically insignificant innocent man finds his way into the line-up, at least he won’t suffer.
            Nothing designed and implemented by man will ever be perfect.
            I understand that and accept it.
            But I do not understand this irrational fear of death. Everybody is going to die. There are many worse things than death, and prison includes many of them.
            I also do not want a higher bar for implementation of the death penalty. Rather, I want a lower one.
            If you rape children, I want you dead.
            If you commit an armed robbery, you should be exposed to at least as much a lethal consequence as you inflicted on those you threatened.

  2. I’ve long been of the belief that the cure for over-zealous prosecutors hunting capital convictions is simple. In factually overturned convictions (i.e. you got the wrong guy, not you forgot to sign page 13 of form 137B), impose the same sentence on the prosecutor.

  3. I’ve some essays in me on this subject.
    Capital punishment under our system has several requirements. These include reliability, speed, witnesses, and resilience in the face of lawfare.
    Being a hangman is a skilled trade, and there isn’t some other trade where one can learn the same skills. Setting up the rope correctly is partly dependent on weight, and can have many results that our pool of witnesses may be degenerate enough to find intolerable. Even without variations like short drop and lift.
    Of the methods compatible with our legal system, injection has the advantage of being relatively clean and hygienic, and being most resistant to lawfare. Random medical supplies and whatever chemicals are at hand are more likely to be usable than anything short of, say, execution by power tools. In a pinch you could pump in air, and it would kill eventually.
    We don’t execute enough people to really procure custom equipment, or give people specialized training, especially in an art. Whoever supplied the equipment, or who carried out a few executions a year, would likely need to be doing something else for their bread and butter. Such people are vulnerable to blacklisting.
    Ask your wife how likely it is that an engineering firm would do well offering the government a turnkey execution solution.

    1. In many parts off the country, wood is still a frequently used fuel source. Plenty of folks around who can swing an ax. Most of them wouldn’t mind making some money rendering a public service, and couldn’t care less about what some bedwetter thinks about it.
      Turnkey solution, under $100 to set up. Maybe 3x that to employ.
      Firing squad would run about 10x initial setup costs. And about 6x employment costs. Still pretty cheap.
      Hanging is probably out. Not due to it being an art, but because weight tables from over a century ago do not match up well with the weight of today’s prisoners.

      1. Weight tables not matching? I’m not aware that the gravitational constant has changed between then and now…
        As for wood-splitting equating to heading, I’ve split my share of wood, but I wouldn’t want to have to translate that…Remember the Duke of Monmouth’s execution, when after five blows se was still alive and the skin barely broken…the executioner threw down the axe and declared he wouldn’t continue, but the sheriff of London persuaded him to finish the job with a knife…
        I’m surprised that no one yet has mentioned Madame Guillotine…

        1. You want enough energy to break the neck. Too much, and the head comes off, potentially making identification difficult or upsetting witnesses. Too little, and they slowly strangle, potentially taking too long or upsetting witnesses. Weight tables empirically matched weight and drop height, energy, to what worked for snapping necks.
          Humans have enough variation that reliably killing them takes some effort. It would take a fair amount of deaths in experimental work to refine something so that it wouldn’t produce much botched executions.
          When I was younger and stupider, I thought revising the guillotine was what we needed to fix things. I had fundamentally misunderstood the situation. The mechanics are not the difficult part.

      2. Shooting and decapitation, with who we have to settle for as witnesses, might be too upsetting or cause too much uncertainty as to identity. Identity is one of the reasons why throwing people off buildings isn’t any good.
        I’ve doubts that decapitation is so easily trained as you make it sound. It’d also be a huge health and safety liability issue, which probably is prohibitive. An execution is about the last place one could get away with violating any law, no matter how stupid.
        I think it’d make more sense to place saran wrap over the face than cut off the head.

  4. A broken neck does not kill you right away. If it is badly broken, it paralyzes you and stops your lungs. Hanging kills everyone by suffocation, the ones who are hanged properly don’t struggle because they are paralyzed. A broken neck is very painful. I favor guillotine or firing squad. Decapitation probably suffers the same problems as hanging except you get rapid blood loss from the brain which will remove conciousness faster than suffocation.

    I favor a huge, unconciousness-inducing dose of general anesthetic before any of these things. I’d imagine hanging wouldn’t be bad with that. I also don’t like putting it on a doctor to kill someone, but a doctor easing the pain of someone someone else will kill? Seems much better.

  5. Two in the hat , KGB – style , seems pretty efficient and very painless . It takes a special sort of person to pull the trigger but the whole nation could get by with a couple of dozen of those types . Then again Gulag -style work camps life without parole works for one’s moral qualms of which I have my fair share . Just sayn’.

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