Some forensic techniques named as suspect in National Academy of Sciences report [Why I Don't Like the Death Penalty]

Forgiveness does not eliminate the debt that only punishment can pay.

 *At first sight, to speak of punishment after sacramental forgiveness might seem inconsistent. The Old Testament, however, shows us how normal it is to undergo reparative punishment after forgiveness. *[FONT=Arial](JPII General Audience, 1999)[/FONT]*[FONT=&quot]


For him who has shown mercy, mercy shall be shown.

Mercy consists in applying a lesser punishment than one’s actions deserve. If you argue that the merciful punishment is life without parole do you accept that the death penalty is the just punishment?

Judge not, lest you be judged.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (#402):

*In a State ruled by law the power to inflict punishment is correctly entrusted to the Courts *

One of my concerns with the arguments over the death penalty is seeing how much of our personal concepts of justice, mercy, and punishment deviate from what the Church actually teaches on these subjects.


There’s no justice if an innocent man is incarcerated for 10 years either. So unless you can quantify numbers of the wrongly executed and determine how often this wrong is being done, your argument is not particularly compelling because its not being compared to anything. No one should be surprised that mistakes, errors of judgment and incompetency occurs in the criminal justice system, yet the system hasn’t been abandoned because of these errors. Tweaked and fixed where necessary, but not abandoned. There is an acceptable error rate for people wrongly executed.

I happen to disagree with that one. Executions could be based on ‘no doubt’, not ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, as is the case now. That’s at least a stopgap measure.

Death sentences always receive an automatic appeal, and between the appeals and writs in state and federal courts, the conviction and DP-eligibility are both really scrutinized, more closer to “no doubt” than beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, a last minute battery of reliable scientific tests should be available, considering the gravity of the sentence, which will come even closer to your “no doubt” standard.

I do not think the concept of “no doubt” has any legal meaning. Reasonable doubt entails any doubt that has some reason behind it, as opposed to a fanciful doubt that is based on “what ifs” to which there is not evidence or reason.

There are no documented cases where this has been determined to have occurred since the courts reinstated the death penalty in 1971(?). That aside, this is a prudential argument that is relevant to the overall issue but not relevant to its moral aspect. Some criminals - like Sirhan Sirhan - are known to be guilty with absolute certainty and I suspect that most who oppose executions because of the possibility of executing the innocent would still be opposed to executing the undeniably guilty. I’m not that interested in the prudential aspects of the justice system; I am only interested in the moral considerations as to whether capital punishment is or is not a just and appropriate penalty.


In this hypothetical, the USSC may choose to articulate a standard higher than beyond a reasonable doubt. There are already three standards, why not another?

I’ve never heard a judge or a prosecuting or defense attorney give an actual definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

I do recall a prosecutor once saying that it does NOT mean “beyond the shadow of a doubt.” There are some juries who take it to mean pretty much that, and as a result, the guilty may not be convicted simply because the jurors are looking for more. They’ve seen too much TV.

Having this discussion once with an attorney in our office, I said something like, well when all the evidence is in, I ask myself if I think he’s guilty. If so, then I ask, do I have any doubt? And if I have a doubt, I ask, is it reasonable? And if it’s not, a guilty vote is still in order.

He said that he would excuse me from any jury he was involved with.

As to the death penalty, the Church’s position is that most countries have the means to protect society without resorting to it. But having the means and using them are two different things. If murderers are routinely released on parole (from life sentences) how is society protected?

Finally, though, it seems the death penalty is nearly useless. If one is sentenced to death, it will be more than 10 years, and maybe never, that the sentence is ever carried out. And it costs more than keeping them behind bars for life, (if indeed that is actually done.)

That’s because according to law, they are not supposed to.

Without doubt would mean that there is no question at all that the person did the deed.

Yes, I realize they are not supposed to, because the term is left undefined in the law.

“Without doubt” comes close to meaning “beyond the shadow of a doubt.” I’ve been on a few juries where some jurors in fact seemed to take this approach, even though it is wrong.

I’d rather see the current standard with more convictions, than a higher standard with no convictions. If that means dropping the death penalty, fine. A death penalty which takes decades to carry out is hardly a deterrent anyway.

The judge reads or makes available an instruction on reasonable doubt in the jury instructions. The attorney in your office should have referred you to something like this

"Ninth Circuit Model Criminal Jury Instructions


Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty. It is not required that the government prove guilt beyond all possible doubt.

A reasonable doubt is a doubt based upon reason and common sense and is not based purely on speculation. It may arise from a careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence, or from lack of evidence.

If after a careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence, you are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, it is your duty to find the defendant not guilty. On the other hand, if after a careful and impartial consideration of all the evidence, you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, it is your duty to find the defendant guilty.


The Committee strongly recommends that the jury be provided with a definition of reasonable doubt.

The Ninth Circuit has expressly approved a reasonable doubt instruction that informs the jury that the jury must be “firmly convinced” of the defendant’s guilt. United States v. Velasquez, 980 F.2d 1275, 1278 (9th Cir. 1992).

In Victor v. Nebraska, 511 U.S. 1, 5 (1994), the Court held that any reasonable doubt instruction must (1) convey to the jury that it must consider only the evidence, and (2) properly state the government’s burden of proof. See also Lisenbee v. Henry, 166 F.3d 997, 999 (9th Cir. 1999), cert.denied, 120 S. Ct. 82 (1999).

Earlier model instructions instructed the jury to find the defendant guilty only if “you find the evidence so convincing that an ordinary person would be willing to make the most important decisions in his or her own life on the basis of such evidence.” Ninth Circuit Manual of Model Jury Instructions 3.04 (1984); Ninth Circuit Manual of Model Jury Instructions 3.04 (1985). The Committee rejected this analogy because the most important decisions in life—choosing a spouse, buying a house, borrowing money, and the like—may involve a heavy element of uncertainty and risk-taking and are wholly unlike the decisions jurors ought to make in criminal cases. See United States v. Ramirez, 136 F.3d 1209, 1213-14 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 415 (1998)."

Ah, so there IS a definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” After reading it over, I’m not entirely sure that it’s preferable than the simple phrase itself. I can see jurors going round and round about whether the evidence is sufficient for them to be “firmly convinced” or if they will be firmly convinced only if more evidence is forthcoming!

There should be an actual scale, like a balance beam, the kind you’d use to weigh powder charges when you’re reloading. Pile up the evidence and simply measure it.

Why not indeed. I do not think there would be much objection. I think it an excellent idea. Either that or narrow the scope of reasonable doubt.

That’s ‘preponderance of the evidence’, i.e. 51%. It’s a lower standard

So is the “clear and convincing” standard.

To now extend and destroy the simple elegance of my analogy, a balance beam can be set to balance at any point: preponderance, clear and convincing, or beyond a reasonable doubt, or, any other standard the court could articulate.

Actually, as was explained in a trial I was on the jury for, “Reasonable Doubt means doubt that could exist in a reasonable person.” -Judge Sen Tan, Superior Court for the 3rd Judicial District of Alaska, 1998

I have heard that before. I never did like that definition because it defines nothing since it uses the word reasonable in the definition and only begs the question of what a reasonable person is.

Deterrence is, like the protection of society, one of the secondary objectives of punishment therefore it is not the appropriate criterion to determine whether the death penalty should be applied. The primary objective is justice - to levy a punishment proportionate to the crime.


The actual definition and interpretive commentary used in court in the form of a federal jury instruction used in the Ninth Circuit is quoted above, accept no substitutes.

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