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January 2, 2008

A cornucopia of capital headlines to ring in 2008

Though 2007 was quite a year for the death penalty (some basics here and here), 2008 promises to be even more eventful and dyanmic.  One main reason is because of Supreme Court activities (as the new CC Review details).  But this array of new year stories and commentaries shows many dimesions to the capital debates brewing in 2008:

January 2, 2008 at 08:53 AM | Permalink


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The LA Times piece is by Vince Beiser, who is identified simply as a "writer." He states, "Although about two-thirds of all Americans still support capital punishment in principle, that number is considerably lower than what it was just five years ago."

Really? Here is what Frank Newport of Gallup says:

"Gallup's annual October Gallup Poll Social Series update on Americans' attitudes toward crime shows no diminution in Americans' strong support for the death penalty in cases of murder....This level of support for the death penalty is generally in line with the level of support that Gallup has measured in 13 polls featuring this question since 1999."


Doesn't the LA Times fact-check its guest pieces?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 2, 2008 10:06:47 AM

Oh come on. You ask the general public a loaded question on any legal issue, you get whatever answer you want. So, no amount of fact-checking will ever resolve what public “attitudes” are, anyway. Besides, they are completely irrelevant to the debate.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 2, 2008 12:00:56 PM

Gallup's phrasing of the question can certainly be questioned, and I have been critical myself, but it remains very useful for measuring relative changes in public support over time simply because of how long they have been asking it. Beiser made an assertion of fact that support has dropped considerably in the last five years, and that assertion is contradicted by the polling data.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 2, 2008 1:12:21 PM

Polls are useless in such emotionally charged issues. Ask the question after a long drought of horrific crimes it may go down, ask it right after a high profile rape and murder it will go up. Add the word 'for the children' and it will probably be a 100% support for it.

One thing i would love to see is a poll asking how they would feel if its a loved one that is on death row. I think you would get some very interested results from that poll.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 2, 2008 3:02:19 PM

I think Scalia got it right: the only way to assess actual sentiment about the DP is by empirical analysis of what jurisdictions actually do. This mean, we need to look at what legislatures, judges, and yes, juries do. Indeed, since the Supreme Court (in a decision that some called “activist”) said that a jury verdict is required before the state can kill someone that plead not guilty. Scalia’s counting of noses is best illustrated in Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361, 373-6 (1989), where he says “...the determinations required by juvenile transfer statutes to certify a juvenile for trial as an adult ensure individualized consideration of the maturity and moral responsibility of 16- and 17-year-old offenders before they are even held to stand trial as adults. The application of this particularized system to the petitioners can be declared constitutionally inadequate only if there is a consensus, not that 17 or 18 is the age at which most persons, or even almost all persons, achieve sufficient maturity to be held fully responsible for murder; but that 17 or 18 is the age before which no one can reasonably be held fully responsible.”

My guess is that most of the lower classes would say that they are in favor of killing people that murdered in horrific gruesome ways, but against killing people that didn’t do it. These views are of little use to the law.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 2, 2008 4:26:04 PM

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