The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment

By Franklin E. Zimring | Go to book overview

8
The Beginning of the End

THE LAST CHAPTER of any book about the death penalty in America must, of course, be about the future. The level of activity and controversy about capital punishment has never been greater in any era of American history, and the issue has never been of greater public importance. Major changes have occurred in the level of executing, the issues in controversy, and the meanings of execution in culture and law over the last fifteen years. The contradictory crusades of the 1990s warn us of both the velocity of change and the difficulty of predicting even tomorrow's trends in American capital punishment. What happens next? How long will it take for a significant change in capital punishment policies? What are some of the leading indicators of change in American attitude and conduct? How can citizens act to influence the American future?

To answer these questions with authority, we need a crystal ball; lacking that, this chapter uses the findings of this study to provide a new framework for thinking about the future of capital punishment in the United States. The tug-of-war between vigilante and due process values and the structural predictions about the impact of such conflict provide a somewhat more disciplined way of thinking about the future of the death penalty in the United States than would unmitigated speculation.

What are the likely developments over the next fifteen years in institutions that will host the climactic battles about the death penalty in America: the federal courts, governments in capital punishment states, and the national government's executive and legislative branches? What should be

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