Deterrent Effect, if One Exists Research Proposal

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¶ … deterrent effect, if one exists, of the death penalty on violent criminal acts in states with capital punishment laws compared to those that do not. Authoritative legal resources will be used to develop appropriate definitions of capital punishment, capital crimes, and violent criminal acts for the purposes of the proposed study. Various relevant metrics will be used to gauge the deterrent effect of capital punishment if one exists, including the murder rate per 100,000 citizens, and the number of violent crime acts per 100,000 citizens in states where the death penalty exists compared to these same rates in states that do not have the death penalty. In sum, the proposed study seeks to identify any relevant correlation between violent criminal acts in general and instances of murder in those states that have the death penalty compared to those that do not to measure its deterrent effect on such violent criminal activities.

Research Questions

Part One: Description Questions about the Independent and Dependent Variables.

As noted above, the purpose of the proposed study is to investigate the deterrent effect, if one exists, of the death penalty on violent criminal acts in states with capital punishment laws compared to those that do not.

What types of metrics are used to report violent crimes, including homicide and murder, in the states with and without capital punishment laws?

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What types of legal descriptors are used to define capital offenses in the various states with capital punishment laws? Do these legal definitions of capital offenses differ significantly from state to state?

Are reported state-level statistics sufficiently compatible to allow for across-the-board comparisons of any potential deterrent effect capital punishment may have had on violent crime rates?

Research Proposal on Deterrent Effect, if One Exists, of the Assignment

Is it possible to discern an age differential (e.g., younger people may be more reluctant to engage in a capital offense act compared to much older individuals because they have more "life" to lose as a result) in any deterrent effect the death penalty may have among criminals in states with the death penalty on the books?

Are there any gender-related differences in the percentages of capital offenses committed in states with and without the death penalty?

How have the American public's views about capital punishment changed in recent years?

Part Two: Questions that Compare the Independent Variable with the Dependent Variable.

For the purposes of the proposed study, the independent variable to be considered will be death penalty and the dependent variables will be the respective impact of the death penalty on various capital offense crime rates as described below. The three states proposed to be used all have comparable capital punishment statutes as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (e.g., capital punishment for first-degree murder only) (2007).

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected the murder rate per 100,000 citizens in Florida over the last 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected the homicide rate per 100,000 citizens in Florida over the last 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected other violent crime rates in Florida over the past 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected the murder rate per 100,000 citizens in Louisiana over the last 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected the homicide rate per 100,000 citizens in Louisiana over the last 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected other violent crime rates in Louisiana over the past 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected the murder rate per 100,000 citizens in North Carolina over the last 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected the homicide rate per 100,000 citizens in North Carolina over the last 20 years?

To what extent, if any, has the death penalty affected other violent crime rates in North Carolina over the past 20 years?

Implications of the Study

Today, the United States stands with some veritable international pariahs in terms of being among the few nations in the world today that still actively practice capital punishment. To the extent that the several states in the U.S. are allowed to continue to use capital punishment as a punishment alternative, then, is likely the extent to which the international community will continue to regard the U.S. As failing to live up to its constitutional mandate to avoid the use of cruel and unusual punishments and the extent to which the nation will be viewed as hypocritical when issues of human rights abuses are debated. According to Manning and Rhoden-Trader (2000), the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 allows states with capital punishment laws on their books to executive convinced criminals using one of five approved methods: electrocution, firing squad, hanging, lethal gas and lethal injection. In this regard, Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington continue to authorize hanging as a capital punishment, and firing squads are authorized in Idaho, Oklahoma and Utah, with the remaining states using either electrocution, lethal gas or lethal injection as their method of execution (Manning & Rhoden-Trader).

All of these execution methods, though, are increasingly being regarded as barbaric by many countries, including some of America's most otherwise-stalwart allies. According to Grant (1999), "One effect of this divergence between the U.S. And many of its key international allies has been to isolate the U.S. On an issue which is seen increasingly by other governments not merely as a question of domestic law and policy, but as implicating internationally protected human rights" (p. 19). Consequently, the United States has been cited by the United Nations for violations of international law, requests for extradition of fugitives wanted in the U.S. are routinely refused by European states because the criminal sought could face the death penalty in the U.S., and the Supreme Court has been placed in the awkward position of having to refuse a stay of execution delivered by the International Court of Justice (Grant, 1999). This latter incident, involved a Paraguayan national, Angel Breard, who was arrested in Virginia in September 1992, charged, tried and convicted of murder; Breard was sentenced to death and is appeals to the state courts dismissed. The International Court of Justice intervened and sought a stay of execution until it could rule on the merits of the case, but the Supreme Court refused and the execution of carried out anyway in violation of existing treaties with Paraguay (Grant, 1999). This case in particular Grant maintains serves to highlight the untenable nature of the death penalty among the international community today: "The U.S. government portrays itself as a world leader in the protection of human rights and as a champion of international law. Yet, when confronted with a unanimous opinion from the world's highest court compelling its compliance, the U.S. chose instead to renege on its binding treaty obligations" (Grant, 1999, p. 19). Furthermore, some analysts suggest that retaining the death penalty for criminals such as international terrorists in the post-September 11, 2001 climate simply encourages further attacks on the U.S. By Al Qaeda-inspired terrorist organizations. In this regard, McDonnell (2004) asks, "Might the death penalty help create martyrs rather than discourage similar attacks? Could our imposing the death penalty increase support in the Islamic world for al Qaeda and other extremist groups?" (p. 353).

These implications of the death penalty are outweighed at the individual level, though, by the sheer and absolute finality of the punishment involved, with no recourse or appeal available to those capital punishment victims whose innocence is only discovered after the fact. The alarming number of death row inmates who have been exonerated based on DNA evidence suggests that the time to put an end to the death penalty as a constitutionally acceptable punishment for capital offenses is today rather than tomorrow. In fact, 130 individuals have been released from death row since 1973 based on newly discovered evidence of their innocence (Innocence and the death penalty, 2008). In this regard, Bird (2003) notes that, "Critics of the death penalty cite the increasing number of convicted murderers on death row who have been exonerated and released from a system 'haunted by the demon of error' based on DNA and other factual evidence. They contend that the death penalty is no greater a deterrent than life imprisonment without parole, and that retribution cannot justify capital punishment, which is arbitrary and capricious -- and therefore immoral" (p. 1329).

By contrast, death penalty supporters will cite various studies that lend credence and support to their position that capital punishment serves as a deterrent, of course, but other studies either contradict or qualify these findings to the point where meaningful discussions of the impact that the death penalty has on new criminals is unclear and dangerously misguided. As Bird (2003) emphasizes, "Rhetoric piles high on both sides of the political debate regarding the place capital punishment should or should not have in twenty-first century America" (p. 1329).… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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