Books

BOOKS: "Questioning Capital Punishment"

Questioning Capital Punishment, a new book by James R. Acker, a professor of criminal justice at the University at Albany, provides a comprehensive overview of the death penalty in America. With a basis in court decisions and research studies, the book covers all the key issues and the arguments for and against capital punishment. Chapters are devoted to deterrence, sentencing criteria, racial discrimination, and innocence, among other topics. In reviewing the book, Carol Steiker, a professor at Harvard Law School, said, "In the rapidly changing political and legal landscape around capital punishment, this volume offers up-to-the-minute materials and fair-minded questions to counter the partisan bromides that often dominate the conversation. A terrific introduction to a timely and important issue." In the preface, Prof. Acker wrote, "This volume is intended for anyone who is interested in exploring the history and current status of capital punishment in this country, including its legal foundations, its justifications, and its empirical and policy dimensions."

BOOKS: "I Am Troy Davis"

I Am Troy Davis is a recent book by Jen Marlowe and Troy Davis' sister, Martina Davis-Correia, that tells the story of a possibly innocent man who was executed in Georgia in 2011. Troy Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Savannah. Years later evidence casting doubts about his guilt emerged, including recantations from several of the witnesses who had testified against him. Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, and 51 members of Congress petitioned for his clemency. Regarding the book, actress Susan Sarandon said, "I Am Troy Davis is a painful yet very important book, one that will bring you face to face with the human impact of the death penalty system, prompt you to think deeply about the flaws in our criminal justice system, and inspire you to stand with all those who have been wrongfully placed on death row." Kirkus Reviews called the book, "Poignant and humane... a powerful narrative that challenges the notion that 'the taking of one life can be answered by the taking of another.'"

BOOKS: "Gruesome Spectacles" Reveals the History of Botched Executions

A new book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, describes the history of flawed executions in the U.S. from 1890 to 2010. During that period, 8,776 people were executed and 276 of those executions went wrong in some way. Of all the methods used, lethal injection had the highest rate of botched executions--about 7%. Austin Sarat, the author of the book and a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College, described the evolution of new methods of execution: "With each development in the technology of execution, the same promises have been made, that each new technology was safe, reliable, effective and humane. Those claims have not generally been fulfilled." In an interview, Sarat was asked how the recent botched execution of Clayton Lockett might affect the public discussion on the death penalty. He replied, "This execution has happened at a time of national reconsideration of capital punishment. The death penalty is really declining. I’m tempted to say it’s dying in the United States. Public support is down, the number of death sentences over the last decade or so has been cut by two thirds, the number of executions is down by about 50 percent. More and more, Americans are focusing on the practical realities and worrying that while the death penalty might in some abstract way satisfy some people, when you look at how it’s actually administered, maybe it’s not worth the cost."

BOOKS: Quest for Justice - Defending the Damned

In his book, "Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned," Richard Jaffe explores the problems of the American death penalty system through his experience as a capital defense attorney in Alabama. During the past twenty years, Jaffe has helped secure the release of three death row inmates: Randall Padgett and Gary Drinkard, who were fully exonerated, and James Cochran, who was cleared of murder charges, but pleaded guilty to a related robbery charge. In his book, Jaffe wrote, "I always keep in mind the maxim that history will judge a society by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable. Although most would assume that applies to the poor and the elderly, all one has to do is look at those who end up on death row: an overwhelming number are poor, disenfranchised and suffer from some mental defect or even brain damage." Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., a Harvard Law Professor, said of Quest for Justice, "This book tells the stories of people once convicted and sentenced to death and later acquitted of the same charges. It tells how it happened, shows the criminal courts are fallible and that poor people facing the death penalty may live or die depending on the competence and dedication of the lawyers appointed to defend them."

BOOKS: "The Wrong Carlos" Argues Texas Executed an Innocent Man

One of the strongest accounts pointing to the execution of a probably innocent man in recent times concerns the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed in Texas in 1989. In a forthcoming book, The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, Professor James Liebman of Columbia Law School describes his investigation into the case, along with a team of students. The investigation uncovered serious problems in DeLuna's case, including faulty eyewitness testimony and the police's failure to investigate another potential suspect. DeLuna maintained his innocence and said another man, Carlos Hernandez, committed the crime. Hernandez and DeLuna looked so similar that their own families mistook photos of the men for each other. Moreover, Hernandez had a history of violent crimes like the one for which DeLuna was executed. The book and its accompanying website provide evidence of a grave mistake with police and witness records, trial transcripts, photographs, and more. The Wrong Carlos will be released in July 2014 but is available for pre-order now.

NEW VOICES: Former California Chief Justice Questions Arbitrariness in Death Sentencing

Ronald George is a former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, who regularly upheld death sentences. However, in his recent book, Chief: The Quest for Justice in California, he questioned the geographical disparities in the application of the death penalty in the state. In his chapter, "Reforming the Judicial System," he wrote, "You could have the exact same crime, let's say a straightforward street robbery homicide, result in the seeking of the death penalty in one part of the state and not in the other, among various defendants with similar past histories and records. This, to me, raises some troubling issues. I'm not saying I find this necessarily rises to the level of a constitutional infirmity, but it may raise policy concerns about the manner in which the death penalty is administered in California." Similar disparities were highlighted in DPIC's recent report, "The 2% Death Penalty," which noted that, in 2009, only 3 counties in California were responsible for 83% of the death sentences, and almost all sentences (96.6%) came from just 6 of the state's 58 counties.

BOOKS: Robert Blecker's "The Death of Punishment"

Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School, has written a new book supporting capital punishment, The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice among the Worst of the Worst. Blecker urges readers to consider his retributivist argument for the death penalty: "We retributivists view punishment differently," he wrote. "We don't punish to prevent crime or remake criminals. We inflict pain--suffering, discomfort--to the degree they deserve to feel it." He would impose the death penalty not only on some murderers, but also on corporate leaders responsible for the death of innocent people. On the other hand, he would spare many among those now on death row because they are not the "worst of the worst." Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School called the book "an eloquent, unsparing, often counterintuitive, and sometimes painful meditation on why, whom, and how a decent society should decide to punish, and what those questions can teach us about universal truths of morality and justice."

Upcoming Events to Review Death Penalty Practice

Two events in November will examine the application of the death penalty from a variety of perspectives. On November 12, the American Bar Association will host the National Symposium on the Modern Death Penalty at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference will culminate the ABA's eight-year effort to asses the death penalty in various states, using criteria for due process established by the ABA. Former President Jimmy Carter will be a featured speaker at the symposium, along with former Texas Governor Mark White, and other legal experts and law enforcement officials. For more information, click here. On November 9, the Catholic Mobilizing Network will host a one-day conference, Where Justice and Mercy Meet, at the the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC. Prominent  speakers include Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, and Vicki Schieber, a national advocate for murder victims’ families. Panelists will discuss how Catholic teaching has evolved on the issue of capital punishment. Click here for more information about the event.

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