India Uncut

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Why rapists shouldn't get the death sentence

Sometime last year, I was discussing crime and punishment with my good buddy Yazad Jal. "If you introduce the death penalty for rapists," Yazad told me, "you will give rapists incentive to murder." It struck me then as an excellent insight, and Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek now elaborates in an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Put yourself in the place of a man who is a threat to rape women. If you learn that rapists will no longer merely be locked in prison for years but, instead, executed, you're a bit less likely than before to rape. That's good. But suppose that this higher "marginal" cost of committing a rape isn't sufficient to prevent you from raping a woman. So you rape a woman. Once you commit the rape, you are subject to being executed if you're caught and convicted.

What will you now lose by becoming also a murderer? Nothing. In fact, you have everything to gain by killing your rape victim. If you let her live, you run a real risk of being identified, captured and convicted -- and then executed. But if you murder the woman after you rape her, you reduce your chances of being caught and convicted. (The chief eyewitness to your heinous crime, after all, will be in her grave.) So with nothing to lose and much to gain by killing your rape victim, you're more likely to kill her than you would be if the penalty for rape were lower than is the penalty for murder.

Punishing rape less severely than murder ensures that rapists still have something more to lose if they kill their victims. [Emphasis in the original.]
Quite. You might argue that such crimes are committed by people when they are not in the grip of reason, but are slave to their passions. Do consider, though, that just as the passions are sometimes rationalised to sound reasonable, so too does reason sometimes keep a check on emotion. We are all, after all, creatures of volition.

Darn, that last para was too verbose. I must go and read some Dr Seuss now. Ta.

Update: Here's an old post by Naveen Mandava on the subject.
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