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Penn and Teller: Death Penalty


In this 30 minute video Penn and Teller break down our current system.

If this is standard libertarian thought, I must disagree. They conclude that we should NOT be using capital punishment. Because...

(1)They say it is not an effective deterrent and
(2)Human error

They also seem to imply prison is a proper alternative. I again disagree, as it currently costs ~ $50,000 each year per inmate, and it seems incredibly inhumane to lock a man in a cage like an animal for long periods of time.

Consider this system from Numbers 35...

9And YaHUaH spoke to Moses, saying, 10“Speak to the children of Yisra’ĕl and say to them, ‘When you pass over
the Jordan into the land of Kena‛an, 11then you shall choose cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the one who accidentally killed someone shall flee there.

12‘And they shall be cities of refuge for you from the revenger and the one who killed someone is not to die until he stands before the congregation in rightruling. 13‘And of the cities which you give, six are to be cities of refuge.

14‘Give three cities beyond the Jordan, and give three cities in the land of Kena‛an, as cities of refuge. 15‘These six cities are for refuge for the children of Yisra’ĕl and for the sojourner and for the settler in their midst, for anyone who accidentally kills someone to flee there.

16‘But if he has smitten him with an instrument of iron, so that he dies, he is a murderer. The murderer shall certainly be put to death. 17‘And if he has smitten him with a stone in the hand, by which one could die and he does die, he is a murderer. The murderer shall certainly be put to death.

18‘Or if he has smitten him with a wooden instrument that could kill and he does die, he is a murderer. The murderer shall certainly be put to death.
19‘The revenger of blood himself puts the murderer to death. When he meets him, he puts him to death. 20‘And if he thrusts him through in hatred, or throws an object at him while lying in wait, so that he dies,

21or in enmity he smites him with his hand so that he dies, the one who smote
him shall certainly be put to death, for he is a murderer. The revenger of blood puts the murderer to death when he
meets him. But if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws an object at him without lying in wait,

23or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, 24then the congregation shall judge between him who killed someone and the revenger of blood, according to these right-rulings.

25‘And the congregation shall rescue the one who killed someone from the hand of the revenger of blood and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the set-apart oil. 26‘But if the one who killed someone at any time goes outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled,

27and the revenger of blood finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge and the revenger of blood kills him who killed someone, he is not guilty of blood, 28because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest he who killed someone is to return to the land of his possession.

29‘And these shall be for a law of right-ruling to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 30‘Whoever kills someone has to be put
to death as a murderer by the mouth of witnesses, but only one witness does not bear witness against someone to die.

31‘And take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall certainly be put to death.
32‘And take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge to return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest.

33‘And do not profane the land where you are, for blood profanes the land and the land is not pardoned for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of
him who shed it.


Perjury in murder cases is worthy of death(Deut 19:15-21)
Must have at least 2 witnesses(above)
The punishment is carried out by the witnesses(Deut 17:7)
or by blood relatives if they meet(above)

And I also disagree with Penn about an eye for an eye. Sounds fair to me, but I'll save that for later...

I welcome your thoughts.

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Consider this --

The penalty for treason can be death. It would be no great effort in the current political environment to define even the most minimal opposition to government policy as "treason." Do we really wish to give the government that much power?

Is our government infallible?

Knowing the government puts innocent people to death, at what percentage of wrongful executions would you change your mind? 1%, 10%, 50%?
If you ask me, one wrongful execution is more then enough to do away with the death penalty.
I don't think the Bible is the place to look for moral guidance.
Remember ...
Ex 31:15 – Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be killed.
Lev 20:10, 13, 27 – You must kill adulterers, homosexuals, wizards and spirit mediums.
Lev 24:16 – Blasphemers must be killed.
Deut 22:21 – A bride found not to be a virgin must be stoned to death.

I think it is ok

for individuals in self defense. I don't think the government should have the power after the fact. Penn and Teller are using pragmatic arguments here, but i would favor the moral argument. It is too great a power for a government to have.

Fortune Favors the Bold


The practical arguments are important, but you hit the nail on the head.

No government should have power over life and death.

Don't use

the fiscal responsibility argument. It costs two to five times more to execute someone than it does to imprison him for life, because of the court costs of the process required by the Supreme Court.
And, isn't punishment supposed to be inhumane? Anyone who murders has a death wish for himself. Death row immates can't be given bedsheets because they try to hang themselves, or books because they try to choke themselves on the pages. Why reward a murderer by giving him what he wants?
I will never, ever, believe the death penalty is consistent with Christianity. I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran and I attended a "good Christian day school" for eight years. According to the gospels, Jesus talked a mob out of stoning an adulteress! IMO, Jesus's teachings carry far more weight than anything from the Old Testament.
Ron Paul is also against the death penalty, one of the few issues he's changed his mind about through the years.

If three credible

witnesses see you commit murder you should go to the front of the line. When an animal has rabies we kill it to both protect ourselves and end its suffering.

He dunnit!

Eye-witnesses are notoriously unreliable. I would venture to guess that the large majority of condemned men who have been exonerated by new evidence were convicted on the testimony of eye-witnesses.

I am with Ron Paul on this one. The death penalty is no good.

Thou shalt not kill. The government hates competition.


Ĵīɣȩ Ɖåđşŏń

"Fully half the quotations found on the internet are either mis-attributed, or outright fabrications." - Abraham Lincoln

I agree, but on 2 points

It's false information (propaganda) that eye witnesses are notoriously wrong. Second, the correct translation is thou shall not commit murder, not "kill".


I have family serving a life sentence in prison.

Not one witness.

If this one rule was followed a lot of men would be set free.


Hear, O Israel: YHUH our God YHUH one. And thou shalt love YHUH thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

i dont believe in our

i dont believe in our government enforcing the death penalty. There are crimes that i do believe some people should be put to death for but we cant be the one to kill him, i just have a problem him that. I suggest emptying Guantanamo of EVERYTHING. Then anybody who should receive the death penalty should be sent to exile on Guantanamo or some other place. And they can either survive like a caveman for the rest of their lives or die because they don't possess the skills to live in the wild. Maybe thats extreme but oh well.

I'll say it again. Read what

I'll say it again. Read what Ron has to say in Liberty Defined. It just might change your outlook. It's quite amazing how well he positions himself to defend all life as sacred.

This surely is the idea of religion, that all life is sacred and only god chooses who is to live and who is to die.

I'm not religious in the normal sense, but to kill because someone has killed is highly hypocritical and us judging who is to live and die is very immoral for our society.

Commerce with all nations, alliance with none, should be our motto. - T. Jefferson rЭVO˩ution

"Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.” - BASTIAT

Old Testament

Jesus is a better example of libertarianism, and describes God as being more libertarian than people had considered Him before.

There are people in the Libertarian Party and in the movement who support the death penalty, as Ron Paul did before he changed his mind. But it is barbaric, in my opinion, and a sign of moral immaturity.

Bullies and weak people see it as a solution, but if you are strong and self-confident, you don't see the point. When OJ went free, I didn't worry too much: better 10 guilty go free than one innocent be convicted.

In California, it is cheaper to keep the guilty in jail than to execute them. The money argument does not hold up.

What do you think? http://consequeries.com/

Thanks for posting your

Thanks for posting your thoughts. Don't let the attack dogs get you down. Folks around here can be ornery and have been know to pick a fight just for the exercise. :P

I'm gonna have to disagree rather strongly with your arguments.

1.) We cannot allow any religious arguments to cloud the purely moral and ethical issues dealing in Law.
2.) Cost of imprisonment is irrelevant to the issue. Are you suggesting that cost be a determining factor when meting out justice?
3.) My strongest argument - Innocent people die. How can that be justice?

"The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that." — Alan Greenspan

more disagreement

Not to turn this into a big, nasty storm, but I disagree strongly with the logic of your points.

1) What do you mean "religious arguments" cloud "purely moral and ethical issues". What is this "pure morality"? Is it objective? Is it universal? Is it binding on all men at all times? How was it revealed to you? What gives it the authority to override all competing claims? Where is the source of its authority? You are (as we all always are) already neck deep in religion, but don't seem to be aware of it.

2) Cost of imprisonment is actually quite relevant- since it is the victims of the the crime who are paying for it. Life in prison is a horrible sentence as it simply punishes the victim a second time by forcing the victim to now feed and clothe and house his attacker against the victim's will. I agree that the cost of justice should be irrelevant, but when you force the victim to assume those costs, then you can no longer place the verdict under the banner of "justice". Justice involves the restoring the victim at the aggressor's expense, not the other way around.

3) You state: "Innocent people die? How can that be justice?" I could just as easily state "Innocent people go to jail. How can that be justice? Therefore we must abolish prison sentences." The misapplication of the death penalty is no argument against the death penalty, per se. It's more of an argument against the crappy government that frequently misapplies it.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt

Well said

Let me add this to number one:

I try to avoid religion. The example above is as much history as it is religion. At least to me anyway...

Thanks for helping respond here.

And thank you to AntiFed1791 for the kind words above.


Hear, O Israel: YHUH our God YHUH one. And thou shalt love YHUH thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Definitions matter.

1. In a pure manner.
2. Entirely; exclusively. 

See number 2.

1. Religious law has no place in a secular system of jurisprudence.
I really don't think you want to defend the absurdity of using religion as a basis for law. You'll lose that argument.

2. No the victims are not paying for it. The taxpayer as a collective whole are paying for it. And so now that you have literally stepped in it, by what other means do you suggest imprisonment be paid?
If it is decided that the price for keeping prisoners is too high, what should be done with them? Should we start executing drug offenders?

3. Your last argument is so far out of the loop that it needs no reply. It is just piss poor reasoning. If you are honest you will have realized this already.

"The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that." — Alan Greenspan

this is pathetic

1) Um, you didn't answer any of my questions. Please do so. Also, why is using religion as the basis of law absurb? Now, maybe is it, and maybe it isn't. But who says? And why is this binding? You keep making absolute assertions, but not backing them up or attempting to describe WHY or HOW your assertions are absolute. You just assert them, and pretend you've made an argument. Try and make an argument instead of a mere assertion.

2) Well (a) drug offenders should not be in jail at all, since they have committed a crime with absolutely no victim. Jailing someone for a victimless crime is the height of our current system's stupidity. And (b) the victim is most certainly paying for it. Just because the government also steals money from many other people unassociated with the crime to also pay for it, doesn't change the fact that. No, the the final outcome of the crime is that the victims, both individually and collectively, are forced to give money to feed and clothe and house the criminal class. (c) To answer your question, I think moving to a system where criminals re-compensate and work towards the restoration of the victim would be much better than our current system that punishes the victims by forcing them to clothe, house, and feed the criminals. The costs should be assumed by the criminal, not the innocent. And also, by locking them in cages to exclusively socialize with other criminals and get raped for years on end, the current system doesn't really do justice to the criminals either. Criminals should be allowed to make good towards the victims for the sake of their own restoration. Simply throwing someone in a all-expenses paid cage doesn't really seem to do justice to either party, and also seems to be simply creating a permanent criminal class. The people who make prisons, however, are getting fabulously wealthy from all this.

3) Oh, man. You have NO idea how to construct an argument, do you? You have to actually MAKE a counter-argument, not just say "your argument sucks and needs no reply." This is pathetic. Would someone here with any intellectual ability care to take up this argument in antifed's place, so we can have an actual profitable discussion?

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt

Well, it seems as though you

Well, it seems as though you aren't really interested in what I have to say, or you are incapable of comprehending it. It seems to me that you are not interested in discussion. What you want is a fight. Either way, I have no interest in participating in a back and forth with you.

"The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that." — Alan Greenspan

Oh geez

I'm not into picking fights with people, but I do think it's profitable to pick apart arguments. But you seem to think that you're too good to have to make actual arguments and go through a proposition step by step. You simply want to make assertions and think yourself beyond the need to justify them. Oh well. Maybe you should take a day off (it's Saturday, after all), and come back when you're ready to try and support your propositions.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt

Under current federal law,

the penalty for treason can be death. Considering that the powers that be, in the current, heated, political climate are often quick to label even the most minimal opposition to government policy as "treason," is it really wise to give government so much power over life and death?

yes, but...

Your argument seems to be "because of government is crappy and corrupt and given to abuses of any power it wields, it is unwise to give it the power of the death penalty, because it will simply use that power (like it does all others) to pursue its own power agenda, and not the agenda of actual justice". This is a darn good point, but I still have to say that we already give (and are correct to do so) the government the power to wage war, just like we give the local policeman the power to shoot a criminal in life threatening circumstances. Now the fact that our fedgov abuses its war powers, and local cops abuse deadly force, is no argument, per se, against giving them those powers. It's more of an argument for policing the exercise of those powers with proper systems of checks and balances and severely punishing their misuse- neither of which we do, unfortunately.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt

Ah no.

If we had moral leaders like Dr. Paul, then it would be used very rarely,if at all. With the Current crop of Czars and Secretaries however, it may very well be used to destroy freedom and silence opposition of any type.

"Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern." ~~C.S. Lewis
Love won! Deliverance from Tyranny is on the way! Col. 2:13-15

The problem is that we don't

The problem is that we don't have moral leaders. They exercise power for the sake of power.

I don't trust the government

I don't trust the government enough to give it authority over matters of life and death.


well, I don't trust our crappy government to wage war either, since it usually does so primarily for its own agenda, and not the interest of the citizenry. But, that's an argument for electing honest leaders, strengthening check and balances, and punishing government abuse- not removing the power of war from the government altogether.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt

Most of the crime and poverty

Most of the crime and poverty is a result of government intervention in the economy. Our response is always to give severe punishment, which isn't a cure for poverty. The death penalty just ensures that the criminal is never given a chance at redemption. I believe all people have value in our society, no matter how flawed they are.

i like this

I like your line of thinking. You're totally right that most of the crime and poverty is the government's fault through their own intervention. My point is simply that the prison system is part of that process- by creating a taxpayer funded criminal sleepaway camp for offenders and not giving them, as you suggest, a chance to make good by compensating and working for the good of their victims. But in the case of murder, there is no way for the murderer to compensate the victim or sacrifice for their good, because the victim is dead. All the murderer can do is sit around and get free room and board at society's expense for the rest of their lives. They have taken something that can never be replaced and can never make it right. And so the forfeiting of their own life in return doesn't really bother me. I think it's an issue that decent people can legitimately disagree on, but I don't see a problem with it.

All people may have value, but that's no argument against the death penalty. If all people have some inherent value, and that value acts as unbreakable insurance against just execution, then we couldn't even execute Nazi war criminals. Did the Nazi officers who ran concentration camps have individual value? I suppose so, since, as you say, every human does. But the issue isn't someone's theoretical individual value. The issue is "do they deserve to be killed based on the crimes they've committed?" not "how much value does the criminal possess and let's adjust criminal's punishment based on this value". And what is this value? If it's universal and inherent, then where does it come from? Is it value to society? Value to God? I'm not so sold on the value argument unless it's fleshed out a bit.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt

With sufficient incentive,

With sufficient incentive, all men are productive. Even killers can be reformed into productive members of society. Productivity increases everyone's wealth, not just the producer's. Notice that recidivism has increased as the sentences have increased. Today there's a sort of "in for a penny, in for a pound" mentality among criminals. You're either a criminal or you're not. We no longer view criminals as men who've made mistakes and owe a debt to society, we view them as burdens who must be punished. It's a barbaric mentality designed to create class warfare among the citizens.


Why are you talking about productivity? Is that what you mean by value? So, (if I understand you correctly) you're saying that because any person could theoretically contribute some form of productive work to society which could benefit society, then they shouldn't be executed or imprisoned for extended periods? If that's your thesis, then I disagree.

1) what if the person doesn't DO productive work when in society, but simply continues to rape and murder. The fact that he is theoretically capable of productive work is useless when considering the very thing that jurisprudence is supposed to consider: What did the defendant do and who did it wrong? Not "what could the defendant have theoretically done?"

2) If someone's productive output mitigates against their punishment, then can the most productive member of society, who increases the community's wealth the most, commit more crimes and serve lighter sentences because of it? If so, how is that fair? If not, then why isn't the criminal's productivity or "value" to society taken into consideration during sentencing?

3) Crimes aren't committed against some abstract notion called "society". Crimes are committed against individuals. If someone rapes you, they raped you- not "society". Criminals should be paying their debt to victims in some capacity, not an abstract collective and CERTAINLY not to the government.

4) Recidivism definitely increases as sentences increase. 100% true. So, the solution is probably found outside of the current model of "throw them in an all-expenses-paid criminal summer camp" prison model. But what are the alternatives? That's what I was wanting to talk about. I think most people support the prison model simply because they can't think of any other way to deal with criminals that seems fair to the victims.

5) I don't think it's designed to create class warfare between citizens. I think it's designed to make a LOT of money for the prison industry. But either way, it has to go.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt

A killer or rapist should be

A killer or rapist should be imprisoned as punishment, where they should have an opportunity to work and repay their victims. Life sentences and death penalties cost a lot of money and leave no incentive for reform. I don't have the answers, but killing killers doesn't help them or their victims so that's obviously not the answer. Labor is a scarce resource on this planet. Every time a man or woman dies or is imprisoned our wealth potential is reduced and our standard of living suffers. The killer kills one source of productivity, so the state killing another just doubles the blow. Let's say you and I control the only two sources of water on the planet. I poison your well, leaving only my source of water for the whole planet to use. By our current understanding of justice (eye for an eye), the right thing to do is poison my well. Now there are are no water sources. That's our justice model.