The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment

By Franklin E. Zimring | Go to book overview

III
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN
THE AMERICAN FUTURE

THE LAST TWO CHAPTERS of this book use the value conflict described in Chapter 6 as a foundation for explaining the recent history of capital punishment in American law and politics and for predicting the future course of the death penalty in the United States. Chapter 7 treats the cross-currents of policy reforms in the 1990s as a case history of conflict between inconsistent value traditions. The two major policy crusades of the 1990s were the attempt to speed up the path to execution and the effort to discover innocent defendants on death row and deliver them from wrongful execution. But steps taken to achieve each of these goals can work only to defeat the other objective. No wonder there was more controversy about the death penalty in the 1990s than ever before in American history.

Chapter 8 projects the future course of events in the conflict over capital punishment. My focus is developments in national politics and in the judiciary in the next fifteen to twenty years and the impact of these changes on the death penalty system and efforts to stop executions. I argue that the end game for American capital punishment has already begun but that the struggle will be intense. Different strategies are required for the pursuit of abolition when there is strong support in the culture for capital punishment than the quiet and polite path to abolition in Western Europe. Some of the specific objectives of an American abolitionist campaign are outlined. The effort required to end executions in the United States will be greater, but the benefits to the society and culture of exorcizing the vigilante spirit is well worth the additional work. The United States will not be at peace with the absence of capital punishment until it has become a better nation.

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