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RFD for Death Penalty Debate

whiteflame
Posts: 1,378
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1/20/2016 3:09:33 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
This is an RFD for the debate between tejretics and Hayd given here: http://www.debate.org...

As YYW said, this was a good debate. I felt like there were multiple times throughout that my decision kept swinging back and forth, and that's usually a good sign. Each of you made substantive arguments, and there were quite a few good points put out by both sides.

That being said, there's a lot to cover, and I'm going to be pretty harsh, so keep in mind what I said above as I go through this.

Going to start with some overviews.

OV1. Counterplans

So, I think a large part of why there was such a focus on this in the last round was that Pro only really seemed to notice that Con was advocating a non-status quo plan. Con had actually presented a counterplan in R2, so I think that's also where Pro should have addressed it. That would have clearered a lot of this up.

Unfortunately, what confuses this is that Pro did state something relevant to this in R1, namely: "This debate will be on the current death penalty, meaning that I will be arguing that the death penalty, as it exists now should be abolished. Not as it will exist ten or twenty years from now, only the current system." What makes this problematic for Con is that his response is essentially "but I'll run one anyway" until R4. Pro only brings up in R3 that Con cannot run a counterplan, though he doesn't directly reference this quote, which he probably should have in order to solidify his statement.

What makes me still lean Pro's way on this is that Con only addresses the reason why Pro's statement shouldn't be true so late. That's partially a function of Pro's lack of response to the counterplan in R2, admittedly, but I put the onus more on Con. Pro clearly said that Con had to defend the status quo in R1. If Con didn't address that statement directly in R2, then Con lost the opportunity to do so. As such, any future references to Con's counterplan in response to various points made by Pro are functionally invalid, and as a result I will ignore those going forward. I will put something in the conclusion about what would have happened if the counter plan had been allowed, but it's not going to be a part of my decision.

OV2: Impact calculus

Shifting from a lapse made by both debaters to one solely made by Pro " impacts are good, and you have to milk them for all they're worth. Con spends a tremendous amount of time weighing and balancing impacts. Pro, comparatively, does scant little to elevate his impacts, merely stating that in the absence of Con's impacts, they still have weight. That's really not the position you want to be putting yourself in, mainly because it relegates you to only two possible win conditions: turn Con's impacts, or mitigate them into oblivion.

That's not where you want to go. You want to give yourself as many opportunities to win as possible, and this lapse basically sidelined all of your impacts to Con's. You could potentially win all 4 of your contentions and still lose this debate if one of Con's survives. That's not the position you want to be in by the end of the debate.

The other mistake Pro made when it comes to impacts was accepting Pro's statement that utilitarian cost/benefit analysis is the best way to decide government policy. I understand that that's the common route to go, but it allows Pro to minimize your impacts pretty easily. Arguments like Pro's C1 and C3 don't weigh very heavily under that framework, nor does Pro's C4 have nearly as much bite as it could. We can always discuss this separately, but I feel like this is a much stronger setup for Con, especially considering that he saw your contentions first.

OV3: Sources and Accessibility

This is always tricky, and the main reason why I don't like seeing books cited in these rounds: there's no way that anyone can be expected to have access to or time to check those sources.

Now, I understand the reason they're used. These are usually tremendously valuable repositories of information, often more reliable than any given site or study. The desire to use them certainly makes sense to me.

However, I'd recommend against it, specifically for the reasons given in this debate by Pro. If we can't check the sources, including directly assessing the studies presented by Lott in particular, it makes it very difficult to assess the validity of these sources. Con's response that formal debate doesn't allow full assessment of the sources they're using is well-taken, but given that this is an online debate and that assessment of the sources plays an integral role in how we vote on these debates, it's not so simple.

So, we have a problem. The major problem is that neither side is really engaging with the reasons the other side is giving for why the source should or should not remain in play. I could err in either direction, but neither side's giving me a particularly strong reason to either dismiss the source outright or to count it fully. As such, it ends up in a sort of limbo. What I'm going to do with it is treat it as support for the position that Con is taking, but not as sufficient support by itself. Essentially, it's an inflection point if the source of each side balance out, favoring Con.

Alright, now that those are done, let's get into the debate proper.

Pro's Case:

C1) The Right to Life

The argument essentially just says that there is a recognized right to life " recognized by the U.S. government and by the United Nations. The importance of that right to life is basically just asserted (honestly, the failure to explain the importance of that right is a pretty big missed opportunity), so all that matters is that both of these set a duty that requires action on the part of the U.S. government. That's fine, but as I mentioned above, there's no real impact coming from it. Why should the U.S. government uphold what's said in the Declaration of Independence to the letter? What harm is there in ignoring the word "inalienable?" For that matter, why is ignoring Article 3 of the UDHR harmful to the U.S. or anyone else? The links are all there, but the impact's just missing.

Con does attack the links, but his attacks are never really successful. The argument that the U.S. has legal abortions and can conscript people is irrelevant " those could be illegal under the Declaration and the UDHR as well. And with the only response to either of them being that they're appeals to authority, Con's really not making any headway with his responses.

But he really doesn't have to. If Con had utterly ignored this point, it would have led to virtually the same outcome. There's just not much meat to this point, and even among Pro's initial contentions, it is the weakest with regards to any utilitarian impact. So while Pro is winning it, he's really not garnering much.
whiteflame
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1/20/2016 3:10:21 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
C2) Cost

Usually, this becomes a really big issue in death penalty debates... not that I'm complaining. Frankly, I usually don't like how these arguments play out because they rely on a lot of assumptions for how money is spent across states and, more importantly, how the costs link to more substantial impacts regarding things like law enforcement.

Just the same, I think Pro makes the mistake of not linking dollars saved to anything substantial. Con's response is basically to dismiss this impact as irrelevant, and both sides agree that lives outweigh any dollar value. That means that any impact that involves lives is always going to be stronger than this.

Con's other point, that each murder costs $17 million, is a decent argument, but not particularly important. If Con's winning that he's saving more lives than Pro, then the dollar value is irrelevant. Now, maybe he could have employed this as a way to win out if innocent lives lost = murders prevented, since costs could potentially have weighed in his direction (given that innocent lives lost don't incur these costs), but that's assuming absolute equality on lives, which isn't likely to happen. As I saw it, this response really didn't mean anything.

So the cost issue becomes only marginally important. If there's no deterrent or recidivism difference, then it leans in Pro's favor. If there is some, then it likely leans in Con's.

C3) Prejudice

Most of the heft behind this point is just missing with a utilitarian calculus. There's really no strength to the argument that prejudice exists " prejudice does have potentially devastating impacts, but Pro had to explain what those were.

And the lack of that is a shame because Pro is winning this argument. He sufficiently explained that the justice system is racist, and that it places far more racial minorities in the line of fire than should be happening based on proportion of the population. I'm actually surprised that the major argument Con could have used (the death penalty requires far more investigation and layers of appeal than LWOP, resulting in fewer mistakes) didn't make a direct appearance, though it was alluded to a few times. Con does say that LWOP can be viewed as worse, but as Pro says, there are two problems with that. First, there's a finality to it that prevents any means for altering these outcomes, and second, people do try to avoid the death penalty for a reason.

Again, though, there's no real strength to this point. The fact that certain people are dying more often doesn't tell me anything about their relative weight, nor does it showcase any excessive burden on the wrongfully accused. Since the removal of a racist capital punishment system doesn't appear to have any benefits in terms of lives saved (maybe it does, but that's not clearly explained), this point just standas as weakly leaning Pro.

C4) Innocents

Given what I've said so far, it should be pretty clear that this is the most potent contention Pro has. There's initially some disagreement over the amount of people this affects, though Pro is winning those arguments. However, that doesn't mean a tremendous amount, since the numbers are all pretty low.

Still, it's loss of life, so that matters most in the context of this debate. That certainty lends Pro's case a good deal of strength, and leads me to the major question of the debate:

Does Con have more bodies on the flow?

Con's Case:

Con restricts himself the usual 2 contentions: deterrence and recidivism. I'm actually rather happy to see that he didn't go for the oft contradictory plea bargain argument, and Con doesn't mince words in his choices for where to focus his time on his own case. Both of these points focus on lives lost, and both emphasize the potential for much larger totals than the loss of innocents Pro cites. So either of these could be deadly.
whiteflame
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1/20/2016 3:10:41 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
C1: Deterrence

A lot of the discussion of deterrence is pretty muddled, but that's what it normally becomes: a source war. Each side throws study after study at the other, and we do our best to sift through the remains to determine what happened.

Much of these sources go away quickly. Pro's NRC source, along with the subsequent analysis of it, dispatches a great deal of Con's sources, and later attempts to discredit that source never reverse the damage.

What ends up left behind are the Gittings and Mocan study, the Zimmerman study and the John Lott book. I've already mentioned that the latter cannot stand on its own, so while it may bolster the outcome of this argument, it is not enough by itself. That wouldn't be particularly bad if this source wasn't where Con spends so much of his time in the final round, which gives him scant little time to address any concerns with the other two.

That's not to say that he doesn't hit them. Admittedly, by the end, I'm dismissing Zimmerman, mainly because Con confused the studies and didn't give Pro a solid opportunity to respond, but also partially because I'm unsure what separates the 2009 study from the 2004 study, which makes it difficult to determine which parts are addressed by the NRC report and which parts aren't.

That leaves Gittings and Mocan, and frankly, this is where I think Con drops the ball. Much as he spends a lot of time here in his final round, all of his points are really just questioning the correlation, arguing that there are numerous other potential causes, which he lists, and that death penalties are different. But there's a difference between introducing doubt through reasoning as to why these potential complicating factors could have played a substantial role in the trends Con is citing and merely presenting them as complicating factors. I buy that they do complicate the situation, but that really doesn't eliminate the point, as Con points out. He tells me that these changes happened in multiple states after the status of the death penalty changed, and that the result reflects predictions regarding its deterrent effect. What I need to know is why he's wrong. I don't need potential mitigating factors " I need a real factor that would explain those changes. This link is not credibly established in Pro's turn, meaning that there's little reason to buy that the death penalty increases crime rates as Pro suggests. So while I agree that there's reason to be skeptical of Con's claims, Pro's not giving me any reason to buy his over Con's, while Con is giving me decent reasoning as to why correlation does imply causation.

Without that, I'm forced to give this some weight, and as soon as it gets some weight, that's when the Lott study comes into play. More on how that affects the debate later.

The remainder of this point is basically just a back and forth over what deters individuals, and frankly the discussion gets away from Con. I don't find that there's much to the point, mainly because it's never firmly established that the threat of the death penalty is actively preventing crimes in the same way that prison sentences are. It's possible they could, but I need a clearer walk through of the mentality that leads to that cost-benefit analysis, and when Pro's addressing why the details would confound such an analysis for many, I'm getting more dismissiveness than I am rebuttal from Con. I don't think Pro's point was particularly strong, but it should have been addressed more directly.

C2: Recidivism

I think this is really where more time should have been spent, specifically talking about killings that take place in prisons. Con does mention them, but he hardly spends enough time here, failing to cover why these deaths are obviated in a system with the death penalty and why LWOP creates more opportunities. I think quite a bit of ground could have been gained here with that point, but it's mostly muddled by the end of the debate, and I'm given no reason to believe that the death penalty provides for anything particularly special. Admittedly, it does kill the offender, but there's still long prison times, which makes it difficult to distinguish.

The remainder of the recidivism point gets similarly muddled, despite some good starting material. I don't see any further discussion of escape attempts and how they may be mitigated by the death penalty What gets most of the focus is the possibility for parole, but I don't get serious explanation of why removing the death penalty as an option increases the probability that more prisoners will be released on parole. I can actually think of a link or two, but it's never explained for me. You can present all the individuals you want as evidence, but it doesn't explain why Pro's LWOP system wouldn't have the same effect as the death penalty system.

Conclusion:

For a debate with so much involved, it really does come down to a single study, namely Gittings and Mocan. As I mentioned above, I'm buying the study and thus the accompanying Lott study lends it some heft. It didn't really need it, though. Since the deterrence numbers are never directly attacked, what's left for me to do is to weigh that substance against Pro's, and while Pro is winning every point, as my OV2 explains, there's just not a lot of impact to any of them. The potential is there, but it's never actualized. Since we're agreed that lives matter most, I'm basically just comparing innocent lives lost to the value of deterrence, and with the deterrent effect clearly being larger, that's where I'm forced to vote.
tejretics
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1/20/2016 3:14:44 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
Thanks a lot for the in-depth RFD, whiteflame.
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." - Frederick Douglass
tejretics
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1/20/2016 3:58:28 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 1/20/2016 3:44:38 PM, Hayd wrote:
Bruh, Mocan and Gittings was included in the paper. See, R2

He noted that -- but you conceded that the *statistic* in Gittings and Mocan was fine, and you only objection to causation. You actually conceded the correlation in R3. The only dispute you had, even via the NRC paper, was the causation. The problem you raised was "there are multiple factors affecting that correlation," and you didn't raise anything that actually held no correlation. So whiteflame voted on the causation point.
"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." - Frederick Douglass
whiteflame
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1/20/2016 4:21:53 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 1/20/2016 3:58:28 PM, tejretics wrote:
At 1/20/2016 3:44:38 PM, Hayd wrote:
Bruh, Mocan and Gittings was included in the paper. See, R2

He noted that -- but you conceded that the *statistic* in Gittings and Mocan was fine, and you only objection to causation. You actually conceded the correlation in R3. The only dispute you had, even via the NRC paper, was the causation. The problem you raised was "there are multiple factors affecting that correlation," and you didn't raise anything that actually held no correlation. So whiteflame voted on the causation point.

^That. Pretty much exactly what I was going to say.