In his anti-death penalty piece “Cruel and usual” (Ideas, April 27), Austin Sarat suggests that a method of killing that “does not run the risk of violating our most important moral and constitutional commitments . . . simply does not exist.” In his effort to support this finding, he and his research team examined “every execution from 1890 to 2010” and found that “3 percent of all executions were botched.”
Sarat includes such anomalies as unintentional decapitation during hanging in his definition of what constitutes a botched execution. But how is that so? Aside from the obviously shocking and abhorrent nature of unintentional decapitation, I fail to see how any execution that ends with the swift and painless death of the condemned could be considered botched.
Notably, despite this statistical maneuvering, Sarat could only come up with 3 percent that he quantifies as such.
While legal arguments on matters such as these should be made strictly on the grounds of constitutionality, I think Sarat will find that, when it comes to the court of public opinion, it is difficult to engender sympathy for this 3 percent who completely disregarded the constitutionally protected rights of 100 percent of their victims.
Most who oppose the death penalty don’t oppose it because of its cruelty or even the pain the convicted might feel. What they fear is killing the wrong person. Therein is the problem, and we have had too many cases of the wrong person convicted and the wrong person executed.
If one innocent dies at our hands, then the penalty is the wrong penalty.