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and seeing punishment administered to others should deter. The Logic ... 100% say politicians support death penalty to appear tough on crime; and ...

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justifications for capital punishment part ii

Justifications for Capital Punishment (Part II)


CJ 4530, The Death Penalty

Appalachian State University

Dr. Matthew Robinson

There are at least two meanings:

1) Special (or specific) Deterrence aimed at creating fear in the offender by punishment so that he or she will not commit another crime

2) General Deterrence aimed at creating fear in all members of society by sending a message through punishment of an offender so that we will not commit crimes

First, it is obvious that the death penalty is NOT A SPECIFIC DETERRENT -- Why?

If the offender is DEAD, he or she cannot be afraid of committing another crime

So the only issue is whether the death penalty is a GENERAL DETERRENT

That is, does it cause fear in US that stops US from committing murder?

the logic of deterrence
The Logic of Deterrence
  • Gosh, it makes sense at least! …here’s an example
  • How do you stop a dog from peeing on the floor?
the logic of deterrence4
The Logic of Deterrence
  • Why do we punish a dog for peeing on the floor?
  • To make it not do it again (PREVENTION)
  • We assume dogs learn through punishment …
  • As do cats, other animals, and PEOPLE! …
the logic of deterrence5
The Logic of Deterrence
  • When it comes to humans, we assume:
  • People are hedonistic (pleasure-seeking)
  • People are rational (can think in advance of behavior)
  • People want to avoid pain such as punishment (deterrence)
  • So the thought of death should deter … and seeing punishment administered to others should deter
the logic of deterrence6
The Logic of Deterrence
  • BUT …
  • Just because deterrence is logical, does this mean that the DEATH PENALTY IS ACTUALLY A DETERRENT ???
  • (What does the evidence say?)
  • Hint: it is not good …
quotes from supporters
Quotes from Supporters ...
  • “… we must conclude that we lack strong statistical evidence that capital punishment deters … There is no such evidence for nondeterrence either. The statistics available are simply inconclusive ...” (Pojman, 1998)
  • “Statistics have not proved conclusively that the death penalty does or does not deter murder more than other penalties” (Van den Haag, 1997)
  • Meanwhile, virtually all experts agree that the death penalty DOES NOT DETER would-be MURDERERS
does it matter to people deterrence and public support
Does it Matter to People?(Deterrence and Public Support)
  • Historically, deterrence has been a major reason cited in public opinion polls as to why people favor capital punishment
  • (e.g., to stop others from committing murder)
  • But recently, it is not widely cited by supporters
  • Perhaps people know the evidence? …
  • (That the death penalty is NOT considered a deterrent to murder according to the scientific evidence)
key facts to remember up front
Key facts to remember up front …
  • About 2% of aggravated murderers (death eligible killers) get the death penalty
  • How could it be a deterrent when it is not used?
  • (Evidence about deterrence suggests that most important element is CERTAINTY OF PUNISHMENT – for punishment to deter, it must be likely to happen)
summary of evidence
Summary of Evidence
  • Studies tend to compare:
  • States with death penalty and without …
  • Nations with death penalty and without …
  • Jurisdictions before and after having death penalty …
  • Effects of highly publicized executions … ETC! …
  • What would you expect to find in these studies?
summary of evidence11
Summary of Evidence
  • States WITH death penalty have HIGHER murder rates than those without …
  • Nations WITH death penalty have HIGHER murder rates than those without …
  • Effects of imposing and removing death penalty have OPPOSITE effect expected …
  • Effects of highly publicized executions show NO EFFECT or BRUTALIZING EFFECT … ETC! …
  • Murder rates 48-101% LOWER in states WITHOUT the death penalty
  • South has HIGHEST murder rate and MOST executions:
  • 2007:
  • South: 7 murders per 100,000
  • West: 5.3 murders per 100,000
  • Midwest: 4.9 murders per 100,000
  • Northeast: 4.1 murders per 100,000
  • Average murder rate in 2007 of DEATH PENALTY STATES was 5.83 per 100,000
  • Average murder rate in 2007 of NON-DEATH PENALTY STATES was 4.1 per 100,000
  • http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-states-without-death-penalty-have-had-consistently-lower-murder-rates
  • Also see: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-1996-2007
  • Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976
  • 2001 homicides (554) were 23% lower than 1975 homicides (721)
  • Homicide rates in Canada about 3 times lower than in US
  • US: 5.7 per 100,000 (1999) (98 executions in 1999)
  • Canada: 1.8 per 100,000 (1999) (0 executions in 1999)
  • US murder rate also 3 times higher than Europe
  • We have death penalty … they do not
summary of evidence20
Summary of Evidence
  • No studies considered valid today show evidence of deterrence (see web page for examples)
  • The largest, most sophisticated study which found evidence of deterrence (Ehrlich, 1975) concluded for each execution, 7-8 murders would be prevented
  • This study was replicated numerous times and found NO EFFECT
  • Study is plagued by numerous flaws so that National Academy of Sciences report did not accept his findings
examples of studies
Examples of Studies
  • Cochran et al. (1994) -- studied effects of 1990 execution in Oklahoma (first in 25 years)
  • No deterrent relationship between murder and executions in 1990 and 1991
  • Execution related to 1 more stranger homicide per month (“brutalization effect”) … replicated by Bailey (1998)
  • Thompson (1999) -- studied effects of 1992 execution in California (first in 25 years)
  • No deterrent relationship between murder and executions
  • Execution related to increase in murders in following 8 months (“brutalization effect”)
examples of studies22
Examples of Studies
  • Sorenson et al. (1999) -- Executions in Texas 1984 to 1997
  • No relationship between murder and executions
  • No support for “brutalization effect”
  • Katz et al (2003) -- executions in the US from 1950 to 1990
  • No deterrent relationship between murder and executions
  • Death rate of prisoners (poor prison conditions) related to lower crime rates
dr robert bohm
Dr. Robert Bohm
  • “ With the exception of a handful of thoroughly discredited analyses or the few newer studies that have not been subjected to rigorous examination, no evidence exists … ” of deterrence (2003, p. 119)
  • Fewer new studies???
new death penalty studies
“New” Death Penalty Studies
  • See Chapter 4, Death Nation:
  • Economic studies “find each execution results in three fewer murders, five fewer homicides, between three and 25 fewer murders with an average of 14, between 8-28 murders with an average of 18, and even 150 fewer murders.”
  • Studies suffer from numerous flaws
  • Replications produce opposite findings
  • See: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/discussion-recent-deterrence-studies
so supporters say
So supporters say ...
  • Consider the BEST BET HYPOTHESIS …
  • If we do not know if the death penalty is a deterrent, we should bet that it is
  • … it would be better to assume there is a deterrent (when there is not) and use death penalty -- this unnecessarily kills guilty murderers
  • … than to assume there is not a deterrent (when there is) and not use the death penalty -- this allows innocent people to die …
so supporters say26
So supporters say ...
  • Consider the ANECDOAL EVIDENCE ...
  • Stories do exist of those who claim to have been deterred by fear of capital punishment …
expert opinion
“Expert” opinion
  • Survey of Presidents of American Society of Criminology (ASC), the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS), and the Law and Society Association (LSA) found:
  • 84% say death penalty is not a deterrent to homicide;
  • 93% say the threat of the death penalty is not a greater deterrent to murder than long prison terms;
  • 87% say abolishing the death penalty in a state would have no significant effects of murder in that state;
  • 0% say the death penalty significantly reduces homicide;
  • 100% say politicians support death penalty to appear tough on crime; and
  • 87% say debates about death penalty distract law makers from focusing on real solutions to crime problems.
Does capital punishment, as actually practiced in the United States, achieve deterrence (i.e., prevent future murders by causing fear in would-be murderers so that they do not commit murder)?

Yes 9%

No 79%

Unsure 12%

N= 43

“It clearly does not. … only poorly executed studies produce evidence of any deterrent effect. Upon correction the data used for many of these studies fails to support deterrence.”
  • “The empirical evidence I know does not convince me that death is any better a deterrent than life in prison.”
  • “The research strongly suggests that capital punishment has little deterrence value. Most murderers are not rational people who think out their actions. Moreover, many murderers give little care about living or dying. In fact, the research suggests that the death penalty may actually increase violent crime.”
“ No debate here for me. Never has deterred; never will deter. [Cesare] Beccaria is on target here: life imprisonment carries as much, if not more, deterrent value (of course, Beccaria argues for life imprisonment at hard labor, which I cannot support).”
  • “Studies show that the death penalty is not a superior deterrent than [life imprisonment without the possibility of parole] (LWOP) – no I don't feel that [capital punishment] achieves deterrence.”
“A detailed, careful, and honest investigation of capital punishment in the United States does not support the deterrence thesis. Likewise, a sound examination of the existing empirical literature on capital punishments reveals that deterrence is minimally achieved, if at all. To the contrary, there is some evidence showing the increase of homicide, following an execution – better known as the ‘brutalization effect.’ Hence, the concept of ‘deterrence’ has little to do with practicality ... it’s simply a powerful political weapon used by policymakers during elections ... and to silence a feared society.”
The “weight of evidence suggests little if any deterrent effect.”
  • Capital punishment “does not deter others from committing similar crimes in the future.”
  • NO. “I assume you mean by comparison to a system of sentencing murderers to life in prison.”
  • “In this question ... it is not a matter of how I feel; it’s a matter of what the evidence shows. My study of the history of capital punishment and my reading of the research evidence leads me to conclude that the death penalty has no marginal deterrent effect greater than that of alternate punishments.”
“Not the way it is currently carried out in the U.S.”
  • "No. I’m not persuaded by the recent studies finding a deterrent effect.”
  • “I know of no credible studies that suggest capital punishment is an effective deterrent.”
  • “Deterrence is a scientifically weak claim, no evidence to support it that meets social science standards for causal inference.”
  • Lots of evidence on this.”
“To the best of my knowledge, there is not meaningful evidence that [capital punishment] deters murder or any other crime. The earlier studies that reported deterrent effects have been seriously challenged on methodological & substantive grounds. It simply defies common sense, logic, and human experience to think that [capital punishment] will prevent a murder, but a life sentence will not. Individuals contemplating death eligible crimes are simply not evaluating potential punishment in a manner necessary of [capital punishment] to be a deterrent. On the other hand, I do not think that [capital punishment] has a significant 'brutalization' impact either. I do not think that we conduct enough executions to affect public/individual psyches in the manner suggested by such hypotheses.”
“If deterrence is achieved, then states that use the [death penalty] extensively – [Texas, Virginia], etc. – should have the lowest murder rates in the nation. Deterrence assumes that offenders are thinking about the consequences of their actions [and] the [death penalty] is largely the result of prosecutorial discretion – these cases are so selectively chosen to move forward, how could it possibly be a deterrent?”
  • “Except for specific deterrence [incapacitation], the death penalty does not deter. States with the death penalty often have higher murder rates than neighboring states without the death penalty.”
“Please -- I can’t believe anyone is still wasting time on this one. Playing the game of finding that one 0.001th of a statistical advantage point and getting a journal article/consulting career out of it. What does actual observation say about how a killing takes place? ‘Let’s see (mmm, this rock is some good sh*t, must put the dealer on my dialer!) -- does this state have the death penalty, or should I go to Michigan to rob a convenience store/kill my ex-wife’s boyfriend/cover up my other illegal activities with a little murder? Screw it, my beater of car won’t take me that far. Anyway, they’ll never catch me.’ Someone under a compulsion -- be it addiction, rage, sexual desire, jealousy, or deviance, fear, greed -- making up the scenario as s/he goes along, and dumb, egotistical, or unimaginative enough to believe in not getting caught.”
“The empirical evidence is mixed. Sociologists say no. Economists say yes. My research ... shows that what first appears to support the relationship is but an illusory correlation upon closer examination. Given that [Texas] actually accounts for the overall relationship found by economists examining U.S. data ... it is unlikely that a properly specified model will find evidence of deterrence. However, this is not to say that it may not exist, but that it is simply impossible to measure empirically (you know, an event that does not occur).”
“It may deter some individuals, but that effect is probably canceled out by its counter deterrent or brutalizing effect. It does not appear to have a marginal deterrent effect.”
  • “I do not believe that the death penalty provides any additional deterrent value beyond LWOP. I also think that some of the research indicating that the death penalty may actually increase crime is very persuasive.”
  • “The evidence suggests that deterrence of any consequence does not occur due to the death penalty. Of course, this is still debated by many, but my own personal feeling on it is that any marginal amount of deterrent effect is overridden by a brutalization effect.”
“Latest studies support this.”
  • “At the present time, capital punishment is utilized far too infrequently to provide a strong deterrent to homicide. But on the basis of my own research on capital punishment, I believe there is a statistically perceivable deterrent effect, although it is a numerically quite weak effect owing to the infrequency of application.”
“To say otherwise would be to admit that potential murderers are not rational (and thus admit that they should not be subject to criminal justice at all). I have no doubt that the death penalty, like most lesser penalties, has some deterrent effect. I also have no doubt that is the wrong question to ask. The right question is whether the death penalty has significantly more deterrent effect than lesser penalties (even, say, ten years imprisonment). After two centuries of trying to establish that it does, I think we are entitled to conclude that whatever added deterrent effect the death penalty has (and I believe it must have some), it is not large – not large enough to measure.”
“I believe that [capital punishment] probably does deter some crimes but so does imprisonment. I think there is no evidence that [capital punishment] deters better than prison.”