STUDIES: "Minority Practice, Majority's Burden: The Death Penalty Today"

A new report by Professor James S. Liebman (pictured) and Peter Clarke from Columbia University Law School analyzes the declining use of the death penalty and concludes that, although it is abstractly supported by two-thirds of the public, the death penalty is actually practiced by only a distinct minority of jurisdictions in the United States. In their forthcoming article, “Minority Practice, Majority’s Burden: The Death Penalty Today,” Liebman and Clarke attempt to explain why the use of the death penalty tends to predominate in certain communities, and why relatively few executions are carried out compared to the number of death sentences imposed. The abstract of the report states, “It turns out that the imposition of death sentences, particularly for felony murder … provides parochial and libertarian communities with a quick and cheap alternative to effective law enforcement.” The authors conclude in the body of the report, “As spare and unvarnished as this response is locally, it is costly to the majority of communities and their residents who do not much use the death penalty. It leaves crime unattended that spills over into neighboring communities. It generates verdicts fraught with costly error. It misleads the family of murder victims into thinking death verdicts will be executed, not just expressed… . Although hidden and diffuse, the costs are so great that one has to wonder why the majority puts up with them.” The report will be published in a forthcoming volume of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.

(J. Liebman and P. Clarke, “Minority Practice, Majority’s Burden: The Death Penalty Today,” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, forthcoming; posted by DPIC, Aug. 24, 2011). See Arbitrariness, Costs and Studies.