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Chapter 20. The Death Penalty. the entrance to death row San Quentin, California. women’s death row: Central California Women’s Facility. capital punishment debate the PRO side. moral arguments retribution calls for death penalty utilitarian arguments (deterrence)

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chapter 20
Chapter 20

The Death Penalty

capital punishment debate the pro side
capital punishment debatethe PRO side
  • moral arguments
    • retribution calls for death penalty
  • utilitarian arguments (deterrence)
    • 200 studies: most--no evidence of deterrence:
      • Peterson & Bailey: murder rates were higher in states with death penalty than in adjacent states without it
      • Lempert: confirmed no effect
      • Ehrich: each execution between 1933 & 1969 prevented between 7 & 8 murders
        • National Academy of Sciences reanalyzed data & dismissed findings
  • economic arguments
    • death penalty is less expensive than life imprisonment

capital punishment debate the con side
capital punishment debate the CON side
  • moral arguments
    • capital punishment is not moral
    • state does not have the right to take a life
  • utilitarian arguments (deterrence)
    • no convincing evidence that capital punishment deters
    • many capital crimes cannot be deterred
      • drug/alcohol-based, psychological disturbance, rage
  • economic arguments
    • death penalty more expensive than life sentence

extra $216,000 to prosecute; $2.16 million to execute

  • other arguments
    • mistakes are unavoidable & irreversible
    • death sentence imposed in unfair & discriminatory way

eg, by race, jurisdiction, even politics (see Houston)

eg, 1,000 murders to 1 execution

public opinion death penalty
public opinion: death penalty
  • nearly 3/4 Americans support death penalty.
  • majority have supported it since Gallup survey first asked about it in 1936
    • only exception was 1960 - 1965
  • support generally risen over last 35 years
  • important note on survey methodology:
    • support level depends on how question worded
    • when offered alternative to capital punishment, many supporters opt for the alternative
      • life without possibility of parole
        • >20% shift to “opposition,” when given this option
      • life, in addition to restitution to the victim
states with death penalty
% states with death penalty

NO death penalty

WITH death penalty

death penalty by the numbers
death penaltyby the numbers
  • 270 death sentences are pronounced yearly
    • compared to 22,000 yearly arrests for murder & non-negligent manslaughter
  • # persons on death row exceeds 3,700
    • 54 women are on death row
  • 722 executions from 1976 - July, 2001
  • yearly executions generally > 74 since 1976
furman v georgia 1972
Furman v. Georgia, 1972
  • U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty, as administered, constituted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
    • invalidated death penalty laws of 39 states & D.C.
    • 35 states re-enacted laws
    • issue returned to Supreme Court...
gregg v georgia 1976
Gregg v. Georgia, 1976
  • U.S. Supreme Court upheld death penalty laws which
    • required the sentencing judge or jury to take into account specific aggravating and mitigatingcircumstances in deciding which convicted murders should be sentenced to death, and which
    • authorized a “bifurcated” proceeding (trial to determine guilt and a separate hearing exclusively to determine penalty)
mccleskey v kemp 1987
McCleskey v. Kemp, 1987
  • U.S. Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge (to Georgia’s death penalty law) on the grounds of racial discrimination
    • attorney cited rigorous research showing the application of the death sentence in Georgia was racially biased.
    • Court rejected claim (5-4 vote), ruling:
      • in cases alleging racial discrimination, defendant has to provedecision makers acted with adiscriminatory purpose in that specific case.
      • statistical evidence showing discrimination throughout the state was notadequate proof.
    • McKleskey executed in 1991
legal issues re capital punishment
legal issues re: capital punishment

execution of “insane”


execution of juveniles

populations & processes


execution of retarded

ford v wainwright 1986
Ford v. Wainwright, 1986
  • U.S. Supreme Court ruled the 8th Amendment prohibited the state from executing the incompetent; the accused must comprehend both the fact that he has been sentenced to death and reason for it.
    • accused was delusional, claiming KKK was part of a conspiracy to get him to commit suicide
    • Court ruled there is no deterrent or retributive value to executing the mentally disturbed
    • idea is offensive to humanity
execution of juveniles
execution of juveniles
  • minimum age for execution varies by state
    • 8 states don’t specify
    • in some, age is same as juvenile “waiver” age
  • 84 males on death row who were < 18 (at time of offense)
  • Thompson v. Oklahoma, 1988
    • decided that William Thompson, 15 when he committed murder, could not be executed
  • Sanford v. Kentucky & Wilkins v. Missouri, 1989
    • offenders aged 16 and 17 can be executed
execution of the retarded
execution of the retarded
  • 360 offenders on death row are retarded
  • the retarded account for 10% of executions
  • Penry v. Lynaugh, 1989
    • Supreme Court held 8th Amendment does NOT prohibit execution of the mentally retarded;
    • Penry was a convicted killer with an IQ of 56 and mental capacity of a 7-year-old.
habeas corpus petition


“habeas corpus petition”
  • a writ requesting a court to review the conditions of incarceration or the basis of detention
    • habeas corpus is the only means by which a federal court can hear challenges by state inmates to their convictions and/or sentences
    • before an inmate may file a complaint in federal court, he must “exhaust” all the administrative remedies that the state courts make available to him.
  • average time sentence--execution: 7- 8 yrs
  • recent moves to limit that interval
    • McCleskey v. Zant, 1991, Supreme Court:

except in exceptional circumstances, lower federal courts must dismiss prisoner’s second and subsequent habeas corpus petitions.

    • 1993 Supreme Court: offender who presents belated evidence of innocence not necessarily entitled to new hearing in federal court; evidence must be “truly persuasive”
  • Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act, 1996
    • death row inmates must file habeas corpus petition within one year
  • appointed counsel often receive small fees
    • eg, $1,000 per case; $20/hr (Alab.); $11.75/hr (Miss.)
  • Stickland v. Washington, 1984, Supreme Crt:
    • defendant has a right to representation that meets an “objective standard of reasonableness”
    • accused must show “that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.”
where death penalty imposed
where death penalty imposed

% of all death sentences imposed

where executions happen 1976 july 2001
where executions happen, 1976 - July, 2001

722 executions carried out since 1976