Recently in Death Penalty Category

In mid-August, Bill and I both noted a poll by the Institute for Government Studies at Berkeley on the competing death penalty propositions.  That poll found the repeal proposition losing by 45-55 and the reform proposition winning by a landslide 76-24.  See also the IGS press release.

Last week, I noted a SurveyUSA poll showing the repeal proposition "trails by 16 points today and is headed for defeat."  Also noted the same day was a USC/LA Times/SurveyMonkey poll showing Prop. 62 down by 11%.  Neither of these polls asked about the reform measure, Prop. 66.

Now we have a poll done by Field and IGS, the same organization as the first poll above, that has a dramatically different result.  This one shows repeal at 48% yes, 37% no, and 15% undecided, while the reform measure is at 35% yes, 23% no, and 42% undecided.

As Seinfeld would say, what's up with that?  Has there been a dramatic shift in public opinion since the first IGS poll?  Not likely, given the essentially consistent results on 62 in the other two recent polls.

When I see dramatic differences like this in polls, the first thing I suspect is wording of the questions.

Another Poll Note

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Jazmine Ulloa has this post on the LA Times political blog noting a "a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll conducted by SurveyMonkey."  This one shows Prop. 62 losing by 11%, 40-51. 

I have my doubts about SurveyMonkey's method, and I wouldn't put too much weight on it.  Self-selected samples are dicey, even when "corrected" for demographic factors.  Nate Silver and crew at 538 rate SurveyUSA an "A" and SurveyMonkey a "C-."  Even so, when multiple sources give you more-or-less consistent results, it does boost confidence in those results. 

There is an interesting contrast in the two polls on the age crosstab.

SurveyUSA: Prop. 62 Headed for Defeat.

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SurveyUSA has this poll, conducted for four California TV stations. Among the findings:

"Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty in CA and replace it with life in prison, trails by 16 points today and is headed for defeat." 

The overall result is 36% yes, 52% no, 12% undecided.  They did not poll on Prop. 66, the reform initiative.  The poll has some interesting crosstabs, and some quirky ones.

Radio Discussion of Props. 62 and 66

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Last night I was on radio station KMUD in Humboldt County, discussing the California death penalty repeal and reform initiatives, Propositions 62 and 66.  Dionne Wilson presented the other side of the argument.  The hour-long podcast is available here.
I previously noted the false quote misattributed to me in a controversial study of cost of the death penalty by Creighton University economist Ernest Goss.  I followed up with a post on the completely inadequate "correction" that continued to indirectly cite my study for the exact opposite of what it actually found.

Criticisms of this badly flawed study continue to flow in.  Joe Duggan has this article for the Omaha World-Herald:

Anthony Yezer, a professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said such studies fail to account for what's called the "plea-bargain effect." The term refers to the role the death penalty plays in potentially saving trial costs by convincing some accused killers to plead guilty to their crimes rather than risk execution.

Death penalty opponents frequently argue that the death penalty has no deterrence effect. But Yezer disagrees. And he said Goss made no attempt to factor in how much the fear of execution could save the criminal justice system by potentially preventing a murder.

"What's the cost of the murders that would have happened if Nebraska hadn't had capital punishment?" asked Yezer, author of a textbook titled "Economics of Crime and Enforcement."

A Denial of Due Process

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Suppose a criminal defendant is on trial at a time when the law is clear that the state must prove X and Y, and if the defendant negates either he is entitled to acquittal.  He submits what he believes is conclusive evidence negating X, so he does not expend the resources to negate Y.  The jury convicts him anyway, and he appeals on the ground that the verdict is not supported by the evidence.

On appeal, it is decided that the defendant did indeed negate X, but the court changes its interpretation of the law so that Y alone is enough.  Since the defendant did not put on any case against Y, reasonably believing he didn't need to, his conviction is affirmed.

Wouldn't the defense bar, academia, and the press scream bloody murder?  Wouldn't they denounce that as fundamentally unfair?  Of course they would, and they would be right.

Yesterday the Florida Supreme Court did pretty much what I just described, but in the other direction.  It is no less unfair.

About Executing "Children"...

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Ed Whelan at NRO commemorates Shirley Crook, who died a horrendous death 23 years ago today at the hands of "children."


Jeff Jacoby has this article in the Boston Globe with the above title. The article is also available (with less hoop jumping) own Jacoby's own site.

It doesn't take a social-science degree to grasp the real-world difference between facing vs. not facing a potential death sentence. Criminals grasp it too.

Dmitry Smirnov did. A resident of British Columbia, Smirnov was smitten with Jitka Vesel, a pretty Chicago woman he'd met online playing "World of Warcraft" in 2008 and then dated for several weeks. When Vesel ended the brief relationship, Smirnov took it badly. He returned to Canada, but kept pursuing Vesel by phone and online. When she broke off communication with him, he began plotting to kill her.

Smirnov returned to the United States in 2011, bought a gun and ammunition, and drove back to Chicago. He attached a GPS device to Vesel's car so he could track her movements. On the evening of April 13, he tailed her to the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum in Oak Park, Ill., where she was a curator and board member. When she came out after a meeting, Smirnov ambushed her. He shot her repeatedly, firing multiple rounds into the back of her head even after she had crumpled to the ground.

A deranged suitor? Maybe -- but Smirnov wasn't too deranged to first check out whether Illinois was a death penalty state. He headed back to Chicago to murder Vesel only after learning that Illinois had recently abolished capital punishment. When he was questioned afterward by police, according to prosecutors, he told them he had confirmed Illinois' no-death-penalty status "as recently as the morning of the murder." In an e-mail sent to a friend after the fact, Smirnov -- who voluntarily surrendered to the police -- made clear that he knew what to expect. "Illinois doesn't have the death penalty, so I'll spend the rest of my life in prison," he wrote.


Thursday I noted a paper by Ernest Goss, et al. with a quotation that was purportedly from me but was completely false. I did not write those words, and the words report my study as finding the opposite of what I actually found.

If I received notice that a paper with my name on it contained a gross error, I would make the correction with scrupulous care and go over the correction with a fine tooth comb -- myself, not delegated -- to be very certain that the corrected paper was unimpeachably correct.  Evidently, Professor Goss does not share this view.  The "corrected" version remains a serious misrepresentation, either deliberately deceptive or with reckless disregard of the truth, which are morally about the same thing.
Bill noted earlier today the poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  Let's look a little more at these data.

Four years ago, we defeated a death penalty repeal initiative, but the opponents got closer than they should have.  I believed at the time that the reason was not opposition to the death penalty as such but rather the success of the opponents in blocking enforcement of the death penalty and the absence of a reform alternative on the same ballot.

The topline results of the new poll tend to confirm this hypothesis.  For the repeal initiative, the poll found 45.1% in favor and 54.9% opposed.  For the reform initiative, the poll found 75.7% in favor and 24.3% opposed.  At a minimum, then, one fifth of the people of California intend to vote for both initiatives.  That is, if all of the 24.3% who intend to vote no on reform vote in favor of repeal, then 20.8% who intend to vote for reform also intend to vote for repeal.  If anyone intends to vote no on both, though I'm not sure why anyone would, then the "yes on both" vote is that much larger.  A large segment of the population of California is so fed up with the status quo that, although they would like to see the system fixed, they would rather scrap it than go on as we are.

The "crosstabs" are also interesting.  What would happen if California Democrats decided this issue by themselves?
A report out today from the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley states:

California voters oppose an effort to abolish the death penalty and strongly support a competing measure that would streamline procedures in capital cases, according to a new poll released today by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Respondents opposed the abolition measure 55.1 percent to 44.9 percent, while three out of four respondents supported the streamlining proposition, the survey found. Since the two measures conflict, if both should pass, the measure receiving more votes would take effect.

The poll used online English-language questionnaires to survey respondents from June 29 to July 18. All respondents were registered California voters, and the responses were then weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the California population by gender, race/ethnicity, education and age. The sample size for the questions on the two death penalty initiatives was 1,506 respondents for one question and 1,512 for the other.

The chances that a UC Berkeley poll would overstate support for the death penalty are the same as the chances that I'll be giving $10,000 to Black Lives Matter.


Update:  See follow-up post.

I have been battling the opponents of the death penalty for a very long time.  In that time, I have found that the intentionally misleading half-truth is their weapon of choice, and I spend a lot of time correcting the mistaken impressions they intentionally create.

However, the opponents are not above outright lying when they think they can get away with it.  A whopper has just come to my attention from the state of Nebraska, where the people are going to vote on whether to abolish or retain the death penalty.

Ernest Goss, Scott Strain, and Jackson Blalock have released a paper titled The Economic Impact of the Death Penalty on the State of Nebraska: a Taxpayer Burden?  The paper is sponsored by the anti-death-penalty campaign.  On page 23 we find this:

According to Scheidegger,48 "There is no credible evidence that replacing the DP with LWOP will result in significant added trial costs to the state due to defendants refusing to plead guilty and forcing prosecutors to meet their burdens at trial. The few studies that have been completed support the proposition that the threat of the DP does not increase plea bargain rates."

48Kent S. Scheidegger, The DP and Plea Bargaining to Life Sentences, Criminal Justice Legal Foundations, Feb. 2009, p. 10.
Note the quotation marks.  The authors are not saying that this is their interpretation of my results.  They are saying that these are my exact words and my interpretation.  This is a bald-faced lie.
Shane Newell has this article with the above title in the LA Times.

Top Los Angeles County officials including Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey have joined a November election battle, announcing support for preserving California's death penalty and reforming the state's appeals process.

The death penalty should be "for the worst of the worst," McDonnell said Monday night at an event dubbed, "Mend, Don't End California's Death Penalty."

"We want to be in a position to be able to say that there is a disincentive for the most horrific of murders," McDonnell said.

Also speaking out at the event was Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. The goal: opposing Proposition 62, which would abolish executions and replace them with life without parole, and supporting Proposition 66, which aims to speed up executions in California.
When Hurst v. Florida was decided earlier this year, I wrote a post titled Dangerously Sloppy Language in the Hurst v. Florida Opinion.  Sure enough, four of the five justices of the Delaware Supreme Court have now decided that the state's long-established and thoroughly vetted death penalty statute is unconstitutional.  That would be true only if one sloppy piece of obiter dictum wipes out the distinction between the eligibility decision and the selection decision crafted over decades and clearly set forth in numerous U.S. Supreme Court opinions.

The case is Rauf v. State.  See Justice Vaughn's dissent for the correct answers.

Does Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn have the requisite vertebrae to petition for certiorari?  Let's hope so.
Sometimes the obvious stares you in the face.

One of the leading arguments used by death penalty opponents is that capital punishment costs too much.

Let's put to one side the fact that it costs so much mostly because those self-same opponents have spent decades larding it with manufactured procedural delays having nothing to do with either basic fairness or factual guilt.

Aren't the following two sentences a complete answer to the cost argument?

Expense is a reason to be selective and use the death penalty infrequently.  It is no reason to make it legally unavailable, ever. 

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