Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2007


Death penalty, Capital punishment


Criminal Law


The debate over capital punishment in the United States - be it in the courts, in state legislatures, or on nationally televised talk shows - is always fraught with emotion. The themes have changed little over the last two or three hundred years. Does it deter crime? If not, is it necessary to satisfy society's desire for retribution against those who commit unspeakably violent crimes? Is it worth the cost? Are murderers capable of redemption? Should states take the lives of their own citizens? Are current methods of execution humane? Is there too great a risk of executing the innocent?

We are not alone in this debate. Others around the world - judges, legislators, and ordinary citizens - have struggled to reconcile calls for retribution with evidence that the death penalty does not deter crime. Yet, while the United States has thus far rejected appeals to abolish the death penalty or adopt a moratorium, other nations have - increasingly and seemingly inexorably - decided to do away with capital punishment.


This publication pre-dates the author's affiliation with Cornell Law School.

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