Capital Punishment in the U.S. States: Executing Social Inequality

Capital Punishment in the U.S. States: Executing Social Inequality

Capital Punishment in the U.S. States: Executing Social Inequality

Capital Punishment in the U.S. States: Executing Social Inequality

Synopsis

Archibald attempts to find variables that can explain the variation not only in the adoption of the death penalty, but also in the implementation of capital punishment. She combines Kingdon's Garbage Can model and Social Control Theory to explain the differences in the adoption and implementation of the death penalty. Given that there was only one model that showed a correlation between the adoption and implementation of the death penalty and homicide rates, while other variables, such as race and hate crimes, were correlated across multiple models, one could argue that the death penalty is used as a means of social control. Her results also bolster the argument that state policies are not merely reactions to murder rates, but are influenced by other sociological, political, and economic factors.

Excerpt

“The tendency to discuss the American death penalty as a national phenomenon overlooks what is in fact a sundry of state policies and practices” (Judith Randle in Sarat and Boulanger 2005:98).

In this book, I examine which political, economic, and social factors help explain the state-level variation in the adoption and implementation of the death penalty in the U.S. states in the last few decades. The modern era of death penalty legislation began in 1972 as a result of the findings in Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238 (1972)). This case nullified all 629 death sentences in effect at the time and commuted those prisoners’ sentences to life in prison as a result of finding the death penalty statutes in the states to be unconstitutional. Although each Supreme Court Justice wrote their own opinion in this landmark case, Justice Brennan, concurring with the majority, concluded that the death penalty was inflicted so infrequently that its obvious arbitrariness was “inescapable” and that capital punishment in the United States “smacks of little more than a lottery system” (Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972)). Justice Brennan’s statement had

Please see Appendix A for capital offense by state and Appendix B for the dates of capital punishment enactments. These tables reflect the trends in death penalty legislation over the years since Furman.

“The Justices in Furman repeatedly noted that the number of those actually sentenced to death represented only a tiny fraction of those eligible to be executed by the broad net cast by the state statutes at issue in the case” (Steiker and Steiker 1995: 365).

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