Critically important dimensions of this hotly contested death penalty debate—whether moral, legal, or political—are laid bare for public scrutiny in these carefully reasoned essays and judicial decisions. Is capital punishment a deterrent to criminal behavior? Do state executions of criminals violate the proper standards of civilized society? Should the death penalty be declared illegal as a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment or because potentially innocent individuals may be executed? Do evident racial disparities in applying the death penalty make it unconstitutional? These and similar core questions are at the center of the debate over capital punishment. This collection of authoritative essays by noted professionals in law, psychology, civil rights, and journalism addresses these vitally important questions in thoughtful yet compelling ways. The editors divide the collection into six parts. The first part contains essays that review the history and current status of the death penalty, while the next section presents moral arguments for and against capital punishment. The heart of the book consists of edited excerpts from two recent, controversial decisions by the United States Supreme Court. In both cases, the Eighth Amendment plays a decisive role. In the first case, Baez v. Rees, the Court affirms a lower court decision that the method of capital punishment used in most states—lethal injection—does not violate the Eighth Amendment. In the second case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, the ruling majority concludes that a death sentence for the crime of raping a child, even when that rape is violent, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, so long as the child does not die. The contributors in part five consider the effect of modern DNA evidence on invoking the death penalty, especially since this new technology has led to the exoneration of several death-row inmates and consequently has raised doubts about the ability of the legal system to protect innocent defendants. This compelling and insightful volume concludes with an examination of the evidence for racial bias implicit in the disproportionate number of black prisoners sentenced to death.
The Death Penalty by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum