The Death Penalty Today

The Death Penalty Today

The Death Penalty Today

The Death Penalty Today


Addresses legal, empirical, political, and philosophical aspects of capital punishment. This book focuses on such topics as miscarriages of justice, including errors in conviction and possible remedies. It reviews potential causes of wrongful conviction and considers the responsibility of the state for reintegration of the wrongfully convicted.


In the late eighteenth century, Dr. Benjamin Rush (1747–1813), a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was among the most vocal opponents of the death penalty in the United States (Bedau, 1982, p. 13). Rush questioned the biblical support for capital punishment and the belief that it was a general deterrent to crime. He did not believe that the example of executions dissuades people from carrying out crimes they have contemplated committing. To the contrary, he thought that capital punishment might increase crime (Filler, 1967, p. 106; Gorecki, 1983, p. 85).

More than two centuries later, religious justifications and deterrence are no longer key issues in the death penalty debate. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the death penalty is still as controversial as it was in the late eighteenth century, but different issues now drive the debate. The ten chapters in this book examine some of those new issues. In the first part of this book, the focus is on miscarriages of justice, including the current lethal injection controversy, and innocence. The second part of the book addresses death penalty opinion, media access to executions, consensual executions, and the relationship between lynching and the death penalty. Following is a brief description of each of the chapters.

In Chapter 1, “Errors in Capital Cases and What Can Be Done about Them,” Robert M. Bohm describes the types of errors that occur in capital cases and provides an inventory of possible remedies. He argues that errors in capital cases happen with regularity and frequency, and the special procedural safeguards provided in capital cases do not significantly reduce them. According to Bohm, implementing the remedies described in his study could significantly reduce errors but that strategy would create a dilemma for death penalty opponents because to significantly reduce errors in capital cases might increase the legitimacy of a process that abolitionists are trying to undermine. He notes that although the public is becoming increasingly aware of problems with administering capital punishment, it may not make any difference because policy makers are unlikely to do much about them. If policy makers addressed the problems, they would have to admit the likelihood that many other criminal cases that do not receive nearly the scrutiny of capital cases also must be infected with errors.

In response to recent revelations about continuing problems with administering the death penalty, such as those described in Chapter 1, several states have created investigative bodies charged with the task of reviewing their . . .

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