Capital Punishment versus the Swift Belt of Justice

Growing up in the 1950s presented youngsters with many challenges in their formative years. The foremost challenge was that many of the fathers in the 50s were soldiers, marines and sailors during WWII. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the most quoted axiom of the decade.

Big Daddy G, my father, was an adherent of that axiom. For as long as I can remember, he has always worn a two-inch black leather belt with a large brass buckle. In my youth, that buckle appeared to be the size of a pie pan. Now that I am a grandfather, I recall it to be about half the size of a pie pan.

My father used that belt to discipline me exactly five times. The first, second, and fifth times were the most memorable. The first time was when I was 5 years old. The last time was when I was 16 years old.

Let me give you a sample of the justice dispensed by Big Daddy G. The second time I received “a belting” was after a visit to my grandmother’s house, which was 12 miles from our house. The road between our houses was a very busy highway. We were at Grandma’s for dinner. She made Southern fried chicken. How she learned to make it in the Midwest, I will never know. I digress. It was a wonderful meal. I, at the tender age of 6, did not want Southern fried chicken. So I said to Grandma, “Grandma, can I have a bowl of shredded wheat?” Shredded wheat, at that time, looked like hay bales – exactly the kind of hay bales we had on the farm. Grandma said, “Sure you can have shredded wheat.” I ate it blissfully.

When halfway home, my dad pulled his car onto the side of the busy highway. He reaches into the back seat, yanks me out, and proceeds with the “belting.” Once completed, he says to me, “You will always eat what people put in front of you when you are a guest in their house.”

Two notable things resulted from this. Number one, at the ripe age of 6, I suddenly was the “least picky eater” that you would ever find. I have been to this day! Number two, I was more ashamed than I was hurt. Every car that passed us during the “belting” was honking with approval and just about everyone that passed knew my dad and me.

With Big Daddy G, doing the crime and receiving the punishment were only minutes apart. I don’t ever recall a jury trial, or even an opportunity for cross-examination, rebuttal, or appeal.

So before I go any further, I want to make two things perfectly clear. I was not abused as a child. I was “parented.” Secondly, I deserved every “belting.” The first time, at the age of 5, I lied to Big Daddy G. That did not go well for me. The fifth and last time, I swore at the family dinner table. That didn’t go too well, either. The fact is, I knew the rules and got what I deserved for not obeying them.

So how does my tale of woe fit into this post?

In 1984, the average time a person sentenced to death row in the US, was actually on death row was 74 months. In 2010, the average time on death row increased to 178 months!  More than double in 26 years!

When the constitution was written, the time between sentencing and execution could be measured in days or weeks. A century later, the Supreme Court noted that long delays between sentencing and execution, compounded by a prisoner’s uncertainty over time of execution, could be agonizing. This resulted in mental anguish and horrible feelings by the prisoner.

Really? They are going to be executed and we are concerned about their mental anguish? Could this possibly be remorse? What about the mental anguish suffered by the surviving victims or their families? I am sure that the “victim of murder” would have wanted 178 additional months to live!

But in the wake of the Supreme Court-mandated temporary suspension of the death penalty from 1972 to 1976, numerous reforms have been introduced to create a less arbitrary system. This has resulted in lengthier appeals as mandatory sentencing reviews have become the norm. Continual changes in the laws and technology have necessitated reexamination of individual sentences.

Here are some interesting statistics concerning death row inmates as of 12/20/2011:

* 55.4% of the population is white, 41.7% are black, and 2.9% are of another race

* Men on death row make up 98.1%, while women make up 1.9%

* 7,879 people have been sentenced to death from 1977 until 2010

* The median education level of death row inmates is 12th grade

* 8.6% of inmates had a prior homicide conviction

* Half of all inmates were 20-29 years old at the time of arrest, 11% were 19 or younger

* The average age at time of arrest was 28

* 65.7% had prior felony convictions

The first recorded death sentence in the British North American colonies was carried out in 1608 on Captain George Kendall, who was executed by firing squad at the Jamestown colony for allegedly spying for the Spanish government.

An enterprising team of researchers have determined that 15,269 people were executed in the US and its predecessor colonies between 1608 and 1991. In the period from 1930 to 2002, 4,661 executions were carried out in the US.

So why has the time on death row for a convicted inmate increased so dramatically? I understand appeals, but would modern technology not conteract the appeal process?

If one can believe what is on TV, there are cameras everywhere: on buildings, at stoplights, parking lots, drones, etc. If a crime is recorded, would that not shorten the appeal process?

How about all that new DNA technology? Here again, if you can believe what is on television, any DNA sample can determine the identity of a criminal. Hair, blood, cigarette butt – we are lead to believe it is conclusive and reliable. Would that not reduce the appeal process?

Currently, the District of Columbia and eighteen states do not have enforceable death penalty statutes. The Supreme Court of the US has never determined the death penalty to be unconstitutional. In extreme cases, the federal government can exact the death penalty in a state that does not have the death penalty.

Can you guess which state has had the most executions? That would be the great state of Texas. But what states would have the second and third most executions? Florida and California? Nope, not even close. The second and third states for executions are Virginia and Oklahoma. The state with the most people on death row is California with 727 inmates. Oddly enough, they have only executed 13, while Texas has executed 498.

Everyone understands the severity of sentencing someone with the death penalty. Everyone agrees that every effort needs to be made to determine that the person being given the death penalty is indeed the person that committed the crime. The crime of murder is the cause in the majority of the cases. What I find interesting is the argument that the time spent on death row has increased because of our technological advances.

I do not understand that argument, as it is not presented very well. My understanding of it is this: there are more advanced technological tests available, so to perform “due diligence” before execution, they must be performed. More tests available = more tests taken = more time on death row.

My common sense solution? Put Big Daddy G in charge of all death row inmates. That 178-month wait time would be cut down to about 5 minutes, not giving the inmates time to suffer all that “mental anguish” everyone is concerned about.

Seriously, is one appeal not enough instead of all the multiple appeals at different levels of the judicial system? I believe a 5 year maximum time limit should be applied between the time of conviction and the time of execution. Common sense dictates that if no extenuating evidence appears in five years, it probably is not going to appear at all. Case closed.

PS: Today is a landmark day (5/19/13) for It has been 16 weeks since I began writing this blog as a hobby, and I have had just under 8500 hits. My twelve posts are now producing about a thousand hits a week. I enjoy writing it and hope you enjoy reading it. I am overwhelmed with the response. Thanks so much.

One thought on “Capital Punishment versus the Swift Belt of Justice

  1. Anonymous

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