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June 3, 2009

Two notable new death penalty papers

These two new papers from SSRN concerning the death penalty look worthy of some attention:

Science and the Death Penalty: DNA, Innocence, and the Debate over Capital Punishment in the United States by Jay Aronson & Simon A. Cole

Abstract: The death penalty debate in the United States has recently undergone a fundamental shift. The possibility of executing the innocent has emerged as some abolitionists’ most salient argument, displacing debates over such issues as fairness, deterrence, and cost. Innocence has managed to move to the fore of the debate in part because of the epistemological certainty attached to one particular kind of postconviction exoneration, one vouched for by the authority of DNA evidence.  We suggest that such rhetorical moves draw upon the epistemic authority of science as lever with which to challenge law’s claims to truth-making authority.  A few abolitionists and other scholars have expressed misgivings about the abolitionist embrace of the innocence argument. We push this concern further, suggesting that both abolitionists and death penalty reformers, who seek to promote a “scientific” death penalty centered on DNA evidence, draw upon a mythologized notion of “science” as a producer of epistemic certainty. Paradoxically, this association of science with certainty is inconsistent with contemporary notions of science as characterized by efforts to measure, manage, but always acknowledge, uncertainty.

The Deterrent Effect of Expansions in Death Penalty Eligibility Criteria by Michael Frakes & Matthew Harding

Abstract: Homicides must possess certain characteristics before they become eligible for capital punishment. Over the last several decades, virtually every state has added to its list of possible eligibility criteria. We draw on this rich set of eligibility-law variation to identify the deterrent effects ensuing from expansions in the reach of capital punishment.  Eligibility expansions may deter future homicides through two channels: (1) by paving the way for more death sentences and executions and (2) by providing prosecutors with greater leverage to secure enhanced sentences (capital or non-capital). The former channel is only rarely implicated, confounding the ability to identify deterrent forces.  The latter channel, on the other hand, is likely to be triggered on a fairly common basis.  We focus on the provision most responsible for the within-state variation in eligibility laws and estimate that the adoption of a law making child murders specifically eligible for capital punishment is associated with an approximately 19% reduction in the rate of homicides of youth victims.  In two key falsification exercises, we find no evidence to suggest that this estimate is reflective of a differential trend between treatment and control states that originated in the period prior to the eligibility expansions and we estimate no corresponding association between child-murder eligibility laws and adult homicide rates.  We estimate deterrence findings of similar magnitude when we turn to the estimation of an empirical specification that draws on variations in the full set of eligibility criteria and that parameterizes general eligibility statutes using a simulated measure of the propensity of each state to extend capital eligibility to a given murder. However, the findings of this general deterrence investigation are relatively noisy and are not robust to the exclusion of the child-murder factor from the simulation analysis.

June 3, 2009 at 10:15 PM | Permalink


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» Saving Children's Lives from Crime and Consequences Blog
Here is another piece of the deterrence puzzle, from economists Michael Frakes at MIT and Matthew Harding at Stanford (hat tip: SLP), and this one is a bombshell. They estimate a 19% reduction in child murders from addition of a... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 4, 2009 5:11:06 PM


"Paradoxically, this association of science with certainty is inconsistent with contemporary notions of science as characterized by efforts to measure, manage, but always acknowledge, uncertainty."

So does that mean when a doctor pronounces the executed dead he/she isn't certain?

Posted by: George | Jun 3, 2009 10:47:51 PM

123D. The rest? Garbage.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 4, 2009 12:13:57 AM

Why three? Because it sounds like baseball?

Posted by: Gray | Jun 4, 2009 9:15:24 AM

Gray. It has to do with the Holy Trinity.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 4, 2009 5:49:54 PM

You name the number of violent crimes you would personally endure before asking for the death penalty. If three is enough for you, why wouldn't it be enough for the rest of crime victims? A higher number would extend the utility of the commodified criminal to the rent seeking aims of the criminal law lawyer, including the criminal lover on the bench.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 5, 2009 3:37:45 PM

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