When “Many” Means an Aberration from the Norm
By: Dale S. Recinella
Catholic Correctional Chaplain for Florida’s Death Row
Unknown to many Americans is the fact that we have at least one U.S. Supreme Court Justice who uses his
speaking opportunities overseas to nudge Europeans in favor of reinstating the death penalty.
For example, a few years ago, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at the University College Dublin (“UCD”) to their Law
Society, he ardently advocated the inability to achieve justice without killing people.
“Justice is not just about deterrence but also about punishment, declared U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a frank questions
and answers session at O’Reilly Hall UCD.” states the web article “U.S. Supreme Court Justice engages in Q&A session at UCD,” Nuacht UCD.
We must assume that our esteemed jurist, in conceding to the overwhelming statistical evidence that refutes any social deterrent effect
from the death penalty, is confirming his opinion that deterrence is irrelevant. We should not be surprised. As noted in our last
newsletter, Justices Scalia and Thomas have written that factual innocence is irrelevant.
The UCD article quotes him further: “Rulings are a question of what justice demands.”
We might ask, Really? Does justice demand that someone be killed by the state even if the person condemned is factually innocent? Or
even if there is absolutely no demonstrable deterrent effect on society?
I am not able to track our justices as they speak around the world. So, I am grateful to those who do and, then, provide me with articles
about their words. In the Irish Times about the UCD event, reporter John Downes noted Justice Scalia’s view that many U.S. states
believe justice requires the death penalty.
The ambiguity of the word “many” could erroneously create the impression that it means most or almost all. Hard facts reveal that
the actual use of the death penalty in the U.S. is overwhelmingly a regional phenomenon, an aberration localized in the Bible belt,
the area of the country consisting of the eleven states and territory (Oklahoma) of the Confederacy and the slaveholding Border States.
From the launch by the U.S. Supreme Court of the modern death penalty experiment in 1976 through the end of 2011, over 85% of the
1,274 U.S. executions at the state level1 have been in the Bible-belt.2 Over 91% of the total U.S. state-level executions have taken
place in just 14 of the 50 states.3 More than two-thirds of U.S. jurisdictions, the other 36 states and the District of Columbia,
are either not participating (17 with no executions at all) 4 or virtually not participating (for example, another 11 states had only
one, two or three total executions over the entire 35-year period).5
We suggest that a more accurate description of what “many” states believe is that justice requires punishment. Life-in-prison without
parole is a punishment available in every state except Alaska, even in Texas. Moreover, as taxpayers are finally finding out, life
without parole costs a small fraction of what the death penalty costs.
We cannot stop Supreme Court Justices from conducting death penalty promo-tours overseas. But we can expect they will honestly admit
that U.S. executions are a geographic aberration. And that they will be honest in detailing their personal beliefs that state killing
is necessary despite factual innocence, despite crippling and excessive costs, despite the statistical evidence that deterrence in
society is a myth, and despite outcomes that show overwhelming and intractable bias against the poor and people of color.
Myths about the U.S. death penalty are easy to peddle overseas.
The truth about the death penalty makes for a tough sell on either side of the Atlantic.
(1) During this period, three (3) executions have occurred at the Federal level.
(2) Bible-belt Executions (from 1976 thru 2011): TX 477, VA 109, OK 96, FL 71, MO 68, AL 55, GA 52, NC 43, SC 43, LA 28, AR 27,
MS 15, TN 6 and KY 3: Total 1093.
(3) TX 477, VA 109, OK 96, FL 71, MO 68, AL 55, GA 52, OH 46, NC 43, SC 43, LA 28, AZ 28, AR 27, IN 20; Total 1,163
(4) KS, NH, NJ, NY, AK, HI, IA, ME, MA, MI, MN, ND, RI, VT, WV, WI, DC: Total Zero.
(5) WY, SD, CT, NM, CO, ID, OR, KY, PA, MO, NE: Total 21
©2012 Dale S. Recinella, Tallahassee, Florida U.S.A.
All rights reserved. No reuse or republication without permission.