1st Edition

Questioning Capital Punishment Law, Policy, and Practice

By James R. Acker Copyright 2014
    416 Pages
    by Routledge

    416 Pages
    by Routledge

    The death penalty has inspired controversy for centuries. Raising questions regarding capital punishment rather than answering them, Questioning Capital Punishment offers the footing needed to allow for more informed consideration and analysis of these controversies. Acker edits judicial decisions that have addressed constitutional challenges to capital punishment and its administration in the United States and uses complementary materials to offer historical, empirical, and normative perspectives about death penalty policies and practices. This book is ideal for upper-level undergraduate and graduate classes in criminal justice.

    PART I: The Death Penalty’s Justifications: Pro and Con 1. Retribution (Just Deserts) 2. Deterrence 3. Incapacitation, Cost, and Consideration for Victims 4. Capital Punishment for Murder: Sentencing Criteria and Procedures 5. Proportionality: Offenses and Offenders 6. The New Death-Penalty Laws in Application: Race Discrimination and Arbitrariness 7. Defense Attorneys and Capital Jurors PART III: Post-Conviction 8. Capital Errors: Procedural Issues and Actual Innocence 9. The Final Stages: Death Row, Clemency, Execution


    James R. Acker is a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany.  He received his JD at Duke University and his PhD in criminal justice at the University at Albany.  He has edited several books and authored numerous scholarly articles that focus on legal and empirical aspects of capital punishment.  In 2005, Acker helped establish the National Death Penalty Archive at the University at Albany, a repository that houses one of the largest and most significant collections of historical materials relating to the death penalty in the United States.  His other academic interests include the integration of social science into law, legal doctrine relating to criminal procedure, criminal law, and juvenile justice, and issues pertaining to miscarriages of justice.

    "This volume is the most comprehensive overview of the death penalty in America that has been published this century.  Acker gives us a thorough overview of the issues involved, combining factual data with unbiased analysis.  Undoubtedly the book will be widely adopted in a wide array of death penalty courses."

    • Michael L. Radelet, Sociology, University of Colorado

    "Questioning Capital Punishment is, hands down, the best available resource for getting students to think about the hard questions surrounding America's death penalty.  By presenting excerpts of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, among other materials, James Acker's book highlights all the major issues--from jury selection to execution, and from arbitrariness to deterrence to race--surrounding the administration of capital punishment.  The questions Professor Acker poses--the product of decades of his own thinking about these issues--are sure to engage students in the classroom."

    • John Bessler, University of Baltimore School of Law, and author of Cruel and Unusual: The American Death Penalty and the Founders' Eighth Amendment

    "Questioning Capital Punishment provides a terrific introduction to the theory and practice of the American death penalty.  The book captures the broad philosophical issues surrounding recourse to the death penalty as well as the difficulties on the ground in its present day administration.  Moreover, the book does so in a commendably accessible fashion."

    • Jordan Steiker, Director, Capital Punishment Center, University of Texas School of Law

    "This book is indispensable reading for anyone seeking to develop an informed opinion on capital punishment.  Drawing on statutes, research, and judicial opinions, as well as his own insights as a leader in the field, Acker delivers an exceptional overview of death penalty history and jurisprudence and provides an essential foundation for meaningful debate."  

    • Deborah Denno, Fordham Law School

    "This is the right book, at the right time, written by the right person.  In meticulous detail and an eloquent voice, Acker guides the reader on a journey that invites questions of, rather than provides answers to, all facets of our system of capital punishment.  The thoughtful reader will end the journey questioning their initial beliefs – whatever they were -- and wondering whether a definitive answer to any facet of our system of capital punishment is possible."

    • Marla Sandys, Criminal Justice, Indiana University

    "This is a remarkable book by a renowned teacher and scholar.  It tells about America's return to capital punishment after it was outlawed in 1972.  The story is keyed to the twists and turns in the thinking and writing of Supreme Court Justices whose decisions have determined the fate of thousands of convicted murderers.  And it is timely because the future of the death penalty appears to be moving from the hands of the High Court to those of the people like you and me. In the past dozen years six states have abandoned the death penalty and the pace appears to be picking up."

    • William Bowers, Director of the Capital Jury Project

    "Questioning Capital Punishment offers an outstanding, comprehensive overview of one of our most enduring legal controversies, the death penalty. In clear and engaging prose, Acker first delineates the justifications for and against this most extreme punishment, then illustrates the many challenges in its application, including its legal complexity and the threats it poses to justice and fairness in its administration. This is an essential text for students and others interested in learning more about the contemporary American capital punishment system."

    • Mona Lynch, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine

    "Balanced, thoughtful and thought-provoking, this fine text is a well-written and highly engaging tour of the main ways we should examine capital punishment when we think carefully about our ultimate penal sanction."

    • Robert Johnson, Justice, Law, and Criminology, American University, author of Condemned to Die and Death Work.

    "Questioning Capital Punishment offers a thoughtful and well-edited compendium of materials and commentary that introduce the difficult moral and policy issues surrounding capital punishment and explain the complex constitutional doctrines and legal institutions that shape the imposition of the death penalty in the United States today.  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."

    • Carol Steiker, Harvard Law School

    "Full of fascinating details, this book raises important, thought provoking questions about the ultimate penalty. It is an eloquent, well documented exploration of a wide range of issues interspersing the author’s own cogent discussion with quotes from landmark court cases and recognized social scientists and legal philosophers."

    • Wanda D. Foglia, Law and Justice Studies, Rowan University