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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Donald Moeller Shows Death Penalty Costs Too Much

...So Does Risk to Innocents

A couple weeks ago, I posted on the American Law Institute's withdrawal of the death penalty from its model penal code. KELO's Don Jorgensen follows up with a conversation with State Senator Sandy Jerstad and lawyer Scott Abdallah about the cost of the death penalty.

Senator Jerstad agrees with me that capital punishment is bad budget policy as well as bad moral policy. Jorgensen reports that Donald Moeller, who's been on South Dakota's death row for nearly two decades, has cost us $1.5 million. Mr. Abdallah, who prosecuted Moeller at his second trial and defends the death penalty, says housing inmates can cost $20K to $30K. Hmmm... by those numbers, if we'd just skipped the death penalty and thrown Moeller in the deepest hole in the pen... 20 years, $30K... that would be $600,000. By Abdallah's numbers, Donald Moeller would have to live for 50 years to rack up the imprisonment costs that we've spent in 20 years trying to kill him.

But Abdallah is ready to concede the cost argument and still argue for capital punishment: "If the death penalty deters one, just one innocent human life in South Dakota, the value of that certainly out weighs the cost," he tells Jorgensen.

I'm not sure my Republican friends would like that "spare no expense for innocent life" argument applied to the health care debate (we don't care if people die from lack of insurance; we can't raise taxes!).

The follow-up question Don Jorgensen should have asked was, "But what if capital punishment kills just one innocent person?" We will likely never have evidence that the death penalty stopped a particular crime. We may find evidence that a prisoner we have killed is innocent. However, even if Abdallah were right about deterrence and I (and the American Law Institute) were right about flawed death sentences, which would you rather have on your hands: a sin of omission (Joe Criminal kills an innocent man because the state didn't threaten execution) or a sin of commission (the state executes an innocent man)?

The death penalty has financial and moral costs that we should not bear. Perhaps Senator Jerstad will favor us with a bill to repeal SDCL Chapter 23A-27A.


  1. What are all of these additional costs for?

  2. Additional costs: the appeals rack up big legal bills. You could take the Gene Abdallah position and just railroad the death penalty cases, but that would lead to more mistakes (and less justice) on the most serious penalty possible. There are also some eztra costs (not big, I imagine) to maintaining the facilities and bureaucracy to manage a death chamber.

  3. I would argue that anyone who would do something so heinous that would incur the death penalty is actually mentally dysfunctional. People get all fire and brimstoney when they can hate the convicted individual. However, if they spend any amount of time with the individual they would conclude that there is "something not right" with the individual.

    I'm not trying to condone the actions or anything. I can understand at least how these individuals could be so out of touch and out of the norm that they could commit such acts.

    Also, how does the death penalty deter? It works as deterrent for normal members of society, but these people don't need deterrent; they are normal. The outliers aren't deterred by a possible punishment.

  4. The only reason the death penalty costs too much is because liberals like yourself and the ones that fill our judicial system fight justice tooth and nail. If we could simply get on with the administration of justice, rather than dragging it out for the average 11 years it takes to execute a convicted murderer, a tremendous amount of money would be saved.

    If money is really a concern for you, then you should quit fighting to shield bloodthirsty convicted murderers from justice and allow them to be executed expeditiously. A year should provide plenty of time for an automatic judicial review to ensure due process was carried out, and if it was, then justice should be carried out without further delay. Endless appeals based on reaching technicalities are pathetic and make mockery of the law and of justice.

    Even studies conducted by death penalty opponents have found that it has a deterrent effect--even with an 11-12 year delay between the crime and the punishment. Only an obtuse person could believe that the threat of execution would not deter some crime. The threat of punishment (when it can be realistically expected to be carried out) never deters all but always deters some.

    But the deterrent effect is only a positive by-product of the death penalty. The real reason for the death penalty to is to administer a punishment commensurate with the crime. Taking an innocent human life is the ultimate crime. An innocent human life cannot be replaced; the wrongful taking of innocent human life robs the victim of all his remaining years, and robs all the loved ones affected by that loss of life.

    If a human life is wrongfully taken, anything less than the surrender of of the perpetrator's life fails to acknowledge the value of the human life wrongly taken. We would not call a weekend in jail for the rapist "justice," nor would we call a $25 fine for the burglar "justice." Even life in prison--with the murderer retaining their life after they took the life of the victim--is not close to being commensurate with the wrong perpetrated; the murderer continues to retain that which he wrongfully took from the victim.

    Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers. (Proverbs 21:15) People who vehemently defend the killing of innocent human beings in their mother's wombs or who defend the killing of the disabled and aged should ask themselves why they so vehemently defend the life of someone convicted of murdering an innocent human being.

    It's no wonder God commanded murderers be put to death (a command that has never been rescinded), nor is it a wonder that any society dedicated to justice has always carried out capital punishment. South Dakota and the United States should not seek to be like lesser nations and do away with this important instrument of justice. Rather, we should work harder to ensure the innocent are not convicted, and that capital punishment for those who are convicted is carried out with minimum delay.

  5. Yes, Bob, and we liberals will continue to fight for the rule of law, the application of due process to all criminals, and the end of a fundamentally broken system that cannot fairly mete out death.

    And now that Bob has had his predictable little macho rage, would any real Christians care to weigh in on how they feel about killing prisoners?

  6. I knew you wouldn't have the maturity or he moral foundation to accept much less grasp what I told you. You have unfortunately proved me once again correct.

    I only bothered because I felt an obligation to provide a lifeline to truth for any uninformed (but open) minds who might wander by and read your misdirection and error.

    That obligation has now been met.

  7. Steve Sibson1/19/2010 7:42 PM

    "And now that Bob has had his predictable little macho rage, would any real Christians care to weigh in on how they feel about killing prisoners?"


    Why are you personally attacking Bob instead of dealing with the content of what he said?

  8. Steve,

    Bob's post has a bunch of offensive non-sense.

    Paragraph #1 - Label's CAH as a liberal that is against justice.

    Paragraph #2 - Insinuates that CAH is all for shielding bloodthirsty convicted murderers as opposed to the pursuit of justice.

    Paragraph #3 - Labels CAH as an obtuse person.

    Seriously, if you want to convince someone of anything, personally attacking them is the last thing you want to do. Bob's arguments in paragraphs 4-7 are reasonable and certainly debatable, but are going to be ignored because of the personal attacks.

  9. For all of this in favor of the death penalty I would point you to:


    The US is pretty neat because some states have the death penalty and others do not. If we compare the two groups directly, those with the death penalty consistently have higher murder rates per person.

    So if the goal is deterrence, we shouldn't have the death penalty.

  10. The truth usually is offensive...to those on the wrong side of it.

    And I'll make no apologies for the truth.

  11. Bob-

    You provide no evidence for any position you take. Evidence is how we determine truth.

    Instead you make personal attacks. Can you delineate between the two?

    (FYI, that was a personal attack)

  12. I provided evidence before, but you obviously do not have eyes to see or ears to hear. In fact, the evidence exists in abundance for anyone even mildly interested in the truth. And the logic is incontrovertible.

    Sadly, you, like Cory, lack the maturity and moral foundation to have the slightest clue what I'm talking about.

    Apparently I've once again wasted more than enough time on those who adamantly refuse to accept what is right. Hopefully some unsuspecting casual passer-by might benefit, though, and not be ensnared by these errors.

  13. "And now that Bob has had his predictable little macho rage, would any real Christians care to weigh in on how they feel about killing prisoners?"

    I hesitate to call myself a "real Christian," but I'm trying to act that way.

    I oppose the death penalty for a simple reason. If I were Governor, I could not sign a death warrant for any human being, for fear that on the Judgement Day (and I do believe such an event will occur), I would stand accused of murder in the first degree before the court of the Almighty, and I would lack a credible defense.

    If I were to support the death penalty in any way, for any crime, no matter how heinous, after making a statement like that, then you could justly accuse me of hypocrisy.

    In my opinion, life in prison -- perhaps solitary confinement in the most heinous cases -- without any possibility parole constitutes a punishment worse than death. I would, however, provide such prisoners with all the religious reading that they might desire.


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