Sociology Index


Capital punishment is the punishment of crime by execution of the offender. The word capital in capital punishment is from Latin and it refers to the head, the locus of life. Capital punishment is still widely imposed in world societies. Capital punishment has been abolished in the countries of western Europe and in Canada.

Getting to Death: Fairness and Efficiency in the Processing and Conclusion of Death Penalty Cases After Furman, Final Technical Report Jeffrey Fagan ; James S. Liebman ; Valerie West ; Andrew Gelman ; Alexander Kiss ; Garth Davies - This document discusses why the capital punishment system makes so many mistakes, and how these mistakes might be prevented.

Abstract: The hypothesis was that the more a jurisdiction used the death penalty relative to homicide rates, sentences would be found legally invalid and overturned. Error rates were computed within States from 1973, when capital punishment was reinstated in the United States following the Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S.238 (1972)), through 1995. Every capital punishment imposed during the study period under a valid post-Furman capital statute was reviewed across three stages of appeal: direct appeal in State court, State post-conviction review in the State’s highest court, and Federal habeas corpus appeals. It was concluded that heavy and indiscriminate use of the capital punishment created a significantly higher risk that reversible mistakes will occur. The more often officials use the capital punishment, the wider the range of crimes to which it is applied, and the more it is imposed for offenses that are not highly aggravated, the greater the risk that capital convictions and sentences will be seriously flawed. Policy options include limiting capital punishment to a small number of offenses, stopping the use of the capital punishment, and limiting the capital punishment to “the worst of the worst” cases. The reforms that might help to limit the death penalty to these cases include barring the capital punishment for defendants with inherently extenuating conditions; making life imprisonment without parole an alternative; and insulating capital-sentencing and appellate judges from political pressure.

Deterrence versus Brutalization: Capital Punishment's Differing Impacts Among States 
JOANNA SHEPHERD, Emory University School of Law 
Abstract: The first study to establish that capital punishment's impact is different among U.S. states, deterring murders in some states, but increasing murders in many others. Studies by economists, including myself, have typically used data sets of all 50 states or all U.S. counties to show that executions, on average, deter murders. In contrast, studies by sociologists, criminologists, and law professors often examine only one or a few jurisdictions and usually find no evidence of deterrence. Using a well-known data set and well-tested empirical methods, I find that the impact of executions differs substantially among the states. Executions deter murders in six states and have no effect on murders in eight states. In thirteen states, executions increase murders - what I call the "brutalization effect." In general, the states that have executed more than nine people in the last twenty years experience deterrence. In states that have not reached this threshold, executions generally increase murders or have no significant impact.

Is Capital Punishment Morally Required? The Relevance of Life-Life Tradeoffs 
CASS R. SUNSTEIN, University of Chicago Law School
ADRIAN VERMEULE, Harvard University - Harvard Law School 
Abstract: Recent evidence suggests that capital punishment may have a significant deterrent effect, preventing as many eighteen or more murders for each execution. This evidence greatly unsettles moral objections to the death penalty, because it suggests that a refusal to impose that penalty condemns numerous innocent people to death. Capital punishment thus presents a life-life tradeoff, and a serious commitment to the sanctity of human life may well compel, rather than forbid, that form of punishment. Moral objections to the death penalty frequently depend on a distinction between acts and omissions, but that distinction is misleading in this context, because government is a special kind of moral agent. The familiar problems with capital punishment - potential error, irreversibility, arbitrariness, and racial skew - do not argue in favor of abolition, because the world of homicide suffers from those same problems in even more acute form.

Does Capital Punishment Have a Deterrent Effect? New Evidence from Postmoratorium Panel Data - Hashem Dezhbakhsh, Paul H. Rubin and Joanna M. Shepherd 
Emory University, Clemson University and Emory University 
Send correspondence to: Joanna M. Shepherd, John E. Walker Department of Economics, 222 Sirrine Hall, Box 341309, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634-1309; Fax: (864) 656-4192;
Abstract: Evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment is important for many states that are currently reconsidering their position on the issue. We examine the deterrent hypothesis by using county-level, postmoratorium panel data and a system of simultaneous equations. The procedure we employ overcomes common aggregation problems, eliminates the bias arising from unobserved heterogeneity, and provides evidence relevant for current conditions. Our results suggest that capital punishment has a strong deterrent effect; each execution results, on average, in eighteen fewer murders, with a margin of error of plus or minus ten.

Support for and Opposition to Capital Punishment 
Some Associated Social-Psychological Factors 
JERRY NEAPOLITAN, Tennessee Technological University 
As it has become recognized that the issue of deterrence of capital punishment can never be fully resolved, attention has shifted to the retributive functions of capital punishment. To investigate this issue, this research utilized a sample of college students divided into those who (1) oppose capital punishment, (2) support capital punishment only if it deters murder, and (3) would support it even if it did not deter murder. The results indicate that opponents have greater respect for human life, greater opposition to interpersonal violence, greater respect for the law, and more sympathy for the victims of murder than either type of supporter, and that supporters who require deterrence have greater respect for human life and opposition to interpersonal violence than do other supporters. Thus it is unlikely that capital punishment reinforces or enhances respect for life, opposition to interpersonal violence, respect for the law, or sympathy for the victims of crimes.