The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment

By Franklin E. Zimring | Go to book overview

2
More Than a Trend: Abolition in the
Developed Nations

IN SEPTEMBER 1977, Hamida Djandoubi was led to his death by guillotine in southern France and so became an important figure in the history of modern Europe. His place in history was not a function of the enormity of his crime. Mr. Djandoubi was a Tunisian agricultural worker who had been convicted of murdering a female acquaintance, a garden-variety homicide in any nation. What set his execution apart, however, was that it was to be the last state execution in Western Europe in the twentieth century and perhaps for all time (Forst 1999, p. 112).

When compared with the recent events in the United States, the events in the other developed democracies in the last quarter of the twentieth century are remarkable in two respects. The first is that as recently as the late 1970s, the situation in the other developed democracies was not much different from conditions in the United States. In 1977, only one person was executed in the United States: Gary Gilmore became the first offender put to death in a decade. But that same year, France beheaded two homicide offenders.

As similar as conditions may have seemed in 1977, the second remarkable aspect of recent history is the great gap that now separates the United States and Europe in action and in ideology about capital punishment. One reason for the current difference between Europe and the United States on the death penalty is the enormous distance the Europeans have traveled in their views on the death penalty as a political issue. Until 1949, all the major powers in Europe had death penalties in their statute

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