DETERRENCE: U.S. Murder Rate Declined in 2004, Even As Death Penalty Use Dropped

Even as the use of the death penalty continued to decline in the United States, the number of murders and the national murder rate dropped in 2004. According to the recently released FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2004, the nation's murder rate fell by 3.3%, declining to 5.5 murders per 100,000 people in 2004. By region, the Northeast, which accounts for less than 1% of all U.S. executions, continued to have the nation's lowest murder rate, 4.2. The Midwest had a murder rate of 4.7, and the murder rate in the West was 5.7. The South, which has carried out more than 80% of all U.S. executions, again had the nation's highest murder rate, 6.6. (FBI Uniform Crime Report 2004, released October 2005). In 2004, the number of executions, the number of death sentences, and the size of death row all declined compared to 2003. See Deterrence and Executions.

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New Resource: A Review of Deterrence Studies and other Social Science Research

Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford University's School of Law, examines recent studies on deterrence and the death penalty, as well as other social science research ragarding capital punishment in the U.S. In The Death Penalty Meets Social Science: Deterrence and Jury Behavior Under New Scrutiny, Weisberg notes that many of the new studies claiming to find that the death penalty deters murder have been legitimately criticized for omitting key variables and for not addressing the potential distorting effect of one high-executing state, Texas. Later in the article, Weisberg examines studies on race-of-victim discrimination and on capital jurors. This article will appear in the forthcoming edition of the Annual Review of Law and Social Science. (1 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 151 (2005)). See Deterrence and Resources.

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Murders in New York City Reach Historic Lows Without Use of the Death Penalty

Homicide figures for New York City show that the number of murders in 2005 may fall below 500, a figure that would be the fewest since 1961 and would bring the city's murder rate below the rate for the nation as a whole.  So far this year, random murders and murders committed during robberies and burglaries have also declined. Experts note that both declines appear to be largely attributable to a greater police presence, fewer guns, and the decrease in random violence in the city that came with the waning of the crack epidemic. In Manhattan, the annual number of murders recently dipped below 100 for the first time since the 19th century. (New York Times, August 7, 2005).  New York City's steady murder-rate decline began after 1990, five years before the state restored the death penalty. The decline in murders has continued since the law was struck down as unconstitutional in 2004. See Deterrence.

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Expert Testimony Faults Death Penalty Deterrence Findings

In testimony before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary regarding proposed legislation to initiate a "foolproof" death penalty, Columbia Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan (pictured) analyzed recent studies that claimed that capital punishment deters murders.  He stated that the studies "fall apart under close scrutiny." Fagan noted that the studies are fraught with technical and conceptual errors, including inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key states, weak to non-existent tests of concurrent effects of incarceration, and other deficiencies.

"A close reading of the new deterrence studies shows quite clearly that they fail to touch this scientific bar, let alone cross it," Fagan said as he told members of the committee that the recent deterrence studies fell well short of the demanding standards of social science research. (J. Fagan, Public Policy Choices on Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Critical Review of New Evidence, testimony before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts Legislature on House Bill 3934, July 14, 2005). Read the full text of Fagan's testimony.

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Murders in the U.S. Decline Even as Number of Executions Drop

  Preliminary data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 2004 found that murders in the U. S. dropped last year by 3.6%. The number of executions also declined in 2004.  In 2003, the South had the highest murder rate in the country, and that appeared to continue in 2004 even as the South carried out 85% of the nation's executions. The Northeast, which had no executions in 2004, had the lowest murder rate in 2003 and that position appeared to remain the same in 2004. The FBI's final crime report for 2004 will be available in the fall. (See FBI Press Release, "Preliminary Crime Statistics for 2004," June 6, 2005. Execution data from DPIC). Read the FBI's complete Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report (in PDF format). See also Deterrence and Executions.

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DETERRENCE: Expert Testimony Discusses Recent Studies

Dr. Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia University Law School and a leading national expert on deterrence, testifed that recent studies claiming to show a deterrent effect to capital punishment are fraught with technical and conceptual errors. Fagan noted that a string of recent studies purporting to show that the death penalty can prevent murders use inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, fail to consider all the relevant factors that drive murder rates, and do not consider important variables in key states. During his testimony before committees of the New York Assembly gathering information regarding the future of the state's statute, Dr. Fagan stated:

These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication and basic comparisons with other scenarios.  Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in New York State compared to others, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or executions deter murder.... A close reading of the new deterrence studies shows quite clearly that they fail to touch this scientific bar, let alone cross it.

For a full discussion of the problems identified by Dr. Fagan, read the text of his testimony in PDF format. ("Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Critical Review of New Evidence," Dr. Jeffrey Fagan, January 21, 2005). See also, Deterrence

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