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This paper examines coverage of America’s death penalty in “mainstream” and “radical” newspapers in the 1970s. That decade was a crucial period for capital punishment, and…
This paper examines coverage of America’s death penalty in “mainstream” and “radical” newspapers in the 1970s. That decade was a crucial period for capital punishment, and newspapers during that time helped set the trajectory of the public’s awareness and understanding for the remainder of the twentieth century. While scholars have recognized the role played by newspaper framing of capital punishment, most have limited their consideration to the mainstream press. We broaden the consideration to the radical press and note similarities in the treatment of the moral status of the death penalty across newspapers of different types. We find that the radical press was more likely to portray it as an instrument of racial and class oppression. In addition, long before mainstream papers attended to questions about the reliability of the death penalty system, radical papers were calling attention to the number of innocent people who were erroneously sentenced to death. Like dissenting opinions in judicial decisions, the radical press highlighted issues not emphasized in mainstream papers and foresaw concerns that would become important in the death penalty debate a decade or two later.
The intersection between drug control and the death penalty represents a key nexus for human rights and drug reform advocacy and constitutes one of the most visible…
The intersection between drug control and the death penalty represents a key nexus for human rights and drug reform advocacy and constitutes one of the most visible examples of the link between abusive law enforcement and drug control in the current period. The issue has emerged as a flashpoint of international debates on drugs and is one that raises important questions and challenges for both ‘abolitionist’ countries that oppose the death penalty and ‘retentionist’ States that continue to execute people. The death penalty for drug offences cannot be dismissed as simply an internal matter for States. Not only do executions for drug offences violate significant international human rights legal protections, domestic capital punishment laws in many cases cannot be separated from the influence of the international drug control treaty regime. This chapter will explore the question of the death penalty for drug offences and the challenges it presents for the international drug control regime more broadly.1
Social problems researchers have documented the role of science in identifying, typifying and shaping policy responses with respect to a variety of new social problems…
Social problems researchers have documented the role of science in identifying, typifying and shaping policy responses with respect to a variety of new social problems. Researchers have given less attention, however, to the role of science in ongoing debates over problems that are well established and contentious. This paper examines the influence of mainstream scientific knowledge concerning the deterrent effects of the death penalty on a death penalty debate in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Mainstream scientific opposition to the deterrence hypothesis is found to influence the claims-making strategies of death-penalty proponents, leading them to draw heavily on common sense, to scale-back and qualify their claims concerning deterrence, and to reframe the debate in terms of just retribution. These effects are attributed to the cultural rules that structure debate in a legislative decision-making body.
Legislative action was historically the means by which U.S. states abolished capital punishment, but such action ceased for decades following the Supreme Court's 1976…
Legislative action was historically the means by which U.S. states abolished capital punishment, but such action ceased for decades following the Supreme Court's 1976 Gregg decision that reaffirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty. Despite the fact that several legislatures have considered abolition bills in the modern era, only three states successfully enacted such legislation. It is my purpose in this study to analyze why states are currently struggling to pass abolition legislation and to determine which factors contribute to success. I conduct a comparative, qualitative case study of New Jersey, the first state to legislatively abolish since 1976, and Maryland, a similar state whose abolition effort recently failed. I analyze the content of legislators’ debates about the abolition bills in committee and on the legislature floor, as well as news coverage of the abolition efforts in each state's largest newspapers. I reach two primary conclusions. First, an abolition bill is more likely to be passed by Democrats than Republicans, but unified Democratic control of the government is not a sufficient condition for abolition. Second, arguments about the risk of wrongful executions and the deleterious collateral consequences of the death penalty process on the family members of murder victims are powerful sources of political support for abolition, especially where doubts about the deterrent effect of the death penalty are widespread. This study reaffirms the central importance of the innocence frame in the modern death penalty debate, and it presents the first scholarly analysis of the collateral consequences frame. These findings may help activists in the abolition movement more effectively frame their arguments to appeal to legislators.
Drawing from televised debates over capital punishment on CNN’s Crossfire from February 2000 to June 2002, I argue that Teles’s (1998) theory of “dissensus politics” is…
Drawing from televised debates over capital punishment on CNN’s Crossfire from February 2000 to June 2002, I argue that Teles’s (1998) theory of “dissensus politics” is useful in understanding the U.S.’s preservation of capital punishment as well as current divisions in death penalty sentiment within the U.S. I pose the retention of capital punishment as the product of rival elites who are unwilling to forsake capital punishment’s moral character (and often the political benefits it offers), and who consequently ignore an American public that appears to have reached a measured consensus of doubt about the death penalty.
Recent trends against capital punishment raise the question of whether or when the U.S. is going to abolish the death penalty. One way of investigating this possibility is…
Recent trends against capital punishment raise the question of whether or when the U.S. is going to abolish the death penalty. One way of investigating this possibility is to study the work of capital prosecutors. In this chapter I analyze California capital prosecutors through a close reading of trial transcripts and interviews. The results show that prosecutor discourses evince a paradox – while instantiating powerful ideological themes that may underlie state killing, prosecutors also assert the primacy of ‘facts’ and ‘law.’ While this tension does not represent a strict measure of capital punishment's lifespan, its presence suggests that these types of tensions are not enough to change the law, thereby hinting that while the death penalty may be weakened in the United States, it is not close to dying.
The very contextual nature of most mitigating evidence runs counter to America’s individualistic culture. Prior research has found that capital jurors are unreceptive to…
The very contextual nature of most mitigating evidence runs counter to America’s individualistic culture. Prior research has found that capital jurors are unreceptive to most mitigating circumstances, but no research has examined the capital sentencing decisions of trial judges. This study fills that gap through a content analysis of eight judicial sentencing opinions from Delaware. The findings indicate that judges typically dismiss contextualizing evidence in their sentencing opinions and instead focus predominately on the defendant’s culpability. This finding calls into question the ability of guided discretion statutes to ensure the consideration of mitigation and limit arbitrariness in the death penalty.
This chapter explores knowledge practices around the subject of capital punishment. Capital sentencing jurisprudence and certain strands of academic scholarship on the death penalty have certain resonances with recent developments in reflexive cultural anthropology. Using the notion of productive unraveling, this chapter seeks to reinforce relations between these various knowledge practices by conceiving of them as situated on the same ground, already interwoven with one another. This chapter presents itself as both an example of and a call for the development of interconnections between these various kinds of expert knowledges concerning the death penalty.
The purpose of this paper is to introduce narrative construction, a method by which participants produce a narrative to make sense of their organizational context, as well…
The purpose of this paper is to introduce narrative construction, a method by which participants produce a narrative to make sense of their organizational context, as well as strategically guide action and decision making. While narrative theory has long‐held that people construct narratives to make sense of, and guide, their experience, narrative construction here entails a deliberate and strategic approach to narrative theory.
This is part of an ethnonarrative approach that includes both a constructionist and interpretive narrative and ethnographic methodology.
Narrative construction has research implications for an ethnomethodology of social construction and empirical observation of narrative enactment. There are practical implications for enabling change and building highly‐coordinated organizations.
Narrative construction offers a new qualitative methodology and extends ethnonarrative research. The research setting, a death penalty defense team, is also unique. It also moves narrative theory beyond an interpretive device to a constructionist strategy.