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Mentally Culpable States - mens rea

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The Wrath
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What level of mental culpability does it take before the death penalty is justified? According to law, there are fourh levels of mental culpability:

-criminal negligence-you produce someone's death and did not know that your actions would do so, but you should have known

-recklessness-knowing that your actions could kill someone, but you do it unintentionally

-knowledge-you know that your actions will kill someone, but it is done in a fit of rage and you have not developed intent

-intent-planned out; you have thought about what you're doing and decided to go through with it

In my opinion, "intent" is the only of these that should really be punishable by death. Knowledge (i.e. crimes of passion) and recklessness should be punished by life without parole. Punishments for criminal negligence would vary widely, according to each situation.

<Edited for title clarification, by the author's permission. -Elle>

Edited by Elle
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According to law, there are fourh levels of mental culpability: [...]

Which law (or body of law?) are you referring to? U. S. law, British law, Canadian law, or something else? (ObjectivismOnline is an international forum.)

Second, is culpability the only factor to consider in whether to set death as a penalty for violating a law?

Edited by BurgessLau
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I say intent, also beyond that, for that punishment(death) there should be NO DOUBT for it to be properly(morally) given; not just the standard guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is because death is irreversible and you can not free a dead man that you wrongly sentenced to die.

No Doubt would either be an uncoerced admission of guilt or irrefutible scientific evidence such as DNA that says the guilty party did it with trillions to one probabilities. Anything less than this and the proper punishment can only morally be life imprisonment for the reason outlined above. If the state administers a death sentence under any other circumstance it is now the violator of rights and should be rightfully condemned over the man that it is wrongly executing.

Edited by Rational_One for spelling.

Edited by Rational_One
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Which law (or body of law?) are you referring to? U. S. law, British law, Canadian law, or something else? (ObjectivismOnline is an international forum.)

Second, is culpability the only factor to consider in whether to set death as a penalty for violating a law?

I'm pretty sure it's the law for the whole US, but I know for a fact it is for the state of Texas.

I'm not exactly sure what you're asking with that second question.

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I say intent, also beyond that, for that punishment(death) there should be NO DOUBT for it to be properly(morally) given; not just the standard Guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is because death is irreversible and you can not free a dead man that you wrongly sentenced to die.

No Doubt would either be an uncoerced admission of guilt or irrefutible scientific evidence such as DNA that says the guilty part did it with trillions to one probabilities. Anything less than this and the proper punishment can only morally be life imprisonment for the reason outlined above. If the state administers a death sentence under any other circumstance it is now the violator of rights and should be rightfully condemned over the man that it is wrongly executing.

I would agree with this, although I doubt that anyone would admit guilt when they know that doing so will, in effect, be signing their own death warrant.

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Yeah, but he doesn't apply.  We're talking about trying criminals in a court of law.  UBL is a self-confessed and proud terrorist mastermind: there will be no court of law for him.

If he is captured alive there will be a trial. But do know that I understand the difference between a terrorist and a murderer who is a citizen. The point of my previous post was that there are at least some people who will readily admit their guilt even though the number is relatively few in number.

Edited by Rational_One
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I say intent, also beyond that, for that punishment(death) there should be NO DOUBT for it to be properly(morally) given; not just the standard guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This is because death is irreversible and you can not free a dead man that you wrongly sentenced to die.

What is the purpose of a sentence for a crime?

If the purpose is "punishment" i.e. equivalent to slapping a child's hand for stealing a cookie in the desire that this will instruct them not to do it again then the death penalty is NEVER warranted: dead people can't learn.

Jack Wakeland on TIA Daily Forum said this better than I did: I will paraphrase some of what he said and also link to that thread here so you can read it.

Punishment is only effective for individuals that retain some vestiges of rationality. Petty thieves, vandals, and con artists are rarely violent people and, with sufficient effort, can re-think their basic premises and become productive citizens. However, those who initiate violence against another person are much further along the irrationality curve (Jack's words, I believe) and it is extremely doubtful they could reform.

In this case, the purpose of sentencing is not punishment (it's too late for that), but to physically prevent a reoccurance of the crime; either by restricting the criminal's freedom via jail or, if necessary, by death. It makes no difference whether the individual's criminal irrationality is the result of mental incapacity, passion, or bad premises; the result was the same and the sentence should be the same.

Read Mr. Wakeland's words: he is more eloquent than I.

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The point of the death penalty, in my mind, is not punishment, revenge, or deterrence, although these three make a nice bonus. Although, the death penalty has actually been shown to have very little deterrent effect. The purpose is justice. People must know that they will reap the just desserts of their actions.

Edited by Moose
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The point of the death penalty, in my mind, is not punishment, revenge, or deterrence, although these three make a nice bonus.  Although, the death penalty has actually been shown to have very little deterrent effect.  The purpose is justice.  People must know that they will reap the just desserts of their actions.

Not deterrant; preventive. Dead men (or women) don't commit crimes. And most criminals, IIRC are repeat offenders by the time something is actually done about them.

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I see the death penalty as a way of imposing a kind of metaphysical justice. When you play with fire you get burned, but fire burns automatically. Humans don't act automatically. They have to use volition in order to create consequences that ensure that man can not exist if he attempts to survive by the wrong method.

Think of it this way. There are two opposing principles involved - justice, or pacifism. Justice, when practiced consistently, will result in the destruction of the murderer. Pacifism, when practiced consistently, will lead to the destruction of everyone.

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Not deterrant; preventive.  Dead men (or women) don't commit crimes.  And most criminals, IIRC are repeat offenders by the time something is actually done about them.

In theory, it would deter other people from committing murder. So, what we have is a specific deterrant, not a general deterrant.

Edited by Moose
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What level of mental culpability does it take before the death penalty is justified?  According to law, there are fourh levels of mental culpability:

-criminal negligence-you produce someone's death and did not know that your actions would do so, but you should have known

-recklessness-knowing that your actions could kill someone, but you do it unintentionally

-knowledge-you know that your actions will kill someone, but it is done in a fit of rage and you have not developed intent

-intent-planned out; you have thought about what you're doing and decided to go through with it

In my opinion, "intent" is the only of these that should really be punishable by death.  Knowledge (i.e. crimes of passion) and recklessness should be punished by life without parole.  Punishments for criminal negligence would vary widely, according to each situation.

I don't agree with "crimes of passion". There is no reason why someone should be let off the hook for, say, murder, just because they killed on impulse rather than thinking and plotting before hand. If anything, it's worse because an impulsive killer would be far more likely to "do it again".

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In theory, it would deter other people from committing murder.  So, what we have is a specific deterrant, not a general deterrant.

Is there conclusive evidence that a punishment, however gruesome, deters someone from committing a crime? My understanding is that most criminals don't really expect to get caught; they are concrete-bound mentalities, that do not consider the future and are surprised when it occurs.

I do not understand the concept of metaphysical justice. Justice is based on ethics, and thus should be ethical. The only ethical method of dealing with the viciously irrational, with the mad dogs of humanity, is to prevent them from having anything to do with the rational, ethical members of humanity.

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Punishment serves as a general deterrent, provided that it is swift and certain. The death penalty is hardly certain and is far from swift. I think you're wrong when you say that criminals do not consider the future. Speaking as a proponent of the Rational Model of criminology, I believe that most criminals weigh the potential rewards vs. the potential costs.

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I also think the main purpose of a sentence is Justice. I read Wakeland's post and agree with it in its entirety. That said I stand by my original assessment that the death penalty should only be the given sentence in cases of NO doubt for the reason that it would be EVIL for a government even a proper government to accidentally execute an innocent man when he could have been simply imprisoned and released if exonerated instead.

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I also think the main purpose of a sentence is Justice. I read Wakeland's post and agree with it in its entirety. That said I stand by my original assessment that the death penalty should only be the given sentence in cases of NO doubt for the reason that it would be EVIL for a government even a proper government to accidentally execute an innocent man when he could have been simply imprisoned and released if exonerated instead.

I think this is true, also, which is why I am a strict proponent of objective (small o) rules of evidence. Better to occasionally release a guilty man on insufficient evidence than to indict an innocent man accidentally.

However, once guilt is established, justice should be swift and certain.

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I agree. Even though justice is the main purpose, it would be nice to get a general deterrent effect from the death penalty, which can't happen as long as there's such a long wait between conviction and execution.

By the way, who is Wakeland? I just scanned the whole thread and didn't see anyone with that name.

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I agree.  Even though justice is the main purpose, it would be nice to get a general deterrent effect from the death penalty, which can't happen as long as there's such a long wait between conviction and execution.

By the way, who is Wakeland?  I just scanned the whole thread and didn't see anyone with that name.

He's on the second page of the thread, and I think he's like an editor or something for TIA.

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I think this is true, also, which is why I am a strict proponent of objective (small o) rules of evidence.  Better to occasionally release a guilty man on insufficient evidence than to indict an innocent man accidentally.

However, once guilt is established, justice should be swift and certain.

I have no problem with the death penalty as is, if anything I think we (Americans) are too slow to administer it. However, I am quite certainly horrified by the idea of murdering an innocent man.

But for my own edification let me ask this:

Is it really better to occasionally release a guilty man (when he is a murderer of innocents) then to indict an innocent man accidentally and sentence him to death?

The two seem equally heinous to me.

EDIT: Actually the accidentally indicted man has worlds more of a chance at life then do the victims of the occasionally released murderer, and although I have no reference to refer, my impression is that far more of the latter actually occur, and what needs to change is the acknowledgement of objectivity and reality as the guiding points of justice. Of course we are not infalliable, but I see far too much "Who am I to judge or to know" and far too little justice.

(and edit for clarity)

Edited by Dominique
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