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Victims, 'Closure', and the Sociology of Emotion


Susan A. Bandes


DePaul University - College of Law


Law and Contemporary Problems, Forthcoming
U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 208
Emotion in Context: Exploring the Interaction between Emotions and Legal Institutions Conference, University of Chicago Law School, May 2008
Vermont Law Review, Vol. 33, 2009

Abstract:     
The concept of closure, almost unknown two decades ago, has had a meteoric rise. It has been enthusiastically embraced by the legal system not only as a legitimate psychological state, but as one that the criminal justice system ought to help victims and murder survivors to attain. In the death penalty context, the concept of closure has changed the way we talk about the rationale for capital punishment, it has changed the shape of the legal process, and it has even changed what both survivors and jurors in capital cases expect to feel. Yet, as I will illustrate, the term closure in fact connotes several different and poorly differentiated concepts, each with separate and quite serious implications for the conduct of the capital trial. For example, depending on how closure is understood, it might require a chance to give public testimony, an opportunity to meet with the accused, a more expeditious trial, a sentence of death, or an execution. Yet there is inadequate evidence on whether any of these institutional processes or outcomes can actually contribute to a state of closure for survivors.

As current research in disciplines including cognitive neuroscience, sociology, psychology, and political science suggests, emotions are dynamic processes that evolve in a reciprocal relationship with social structures. As the legal system becomes increasingly invested in helping victims and survivors achieve closure, we need to take a hard look at the emotional content of this concept, and at how it affects, and is affected by, the institutional framework in which it operates.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 34

Keywords: closure, death penalty, capital punishment, victims, emotion

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Date posted: March 24, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Bandes, Susan A., Victims, 'Closure', and the Sociology of Emotion. Law and Contemporary Problems, Forthcoming; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 208; Emotion in Context: Exploring the Interaction between Emotions and Legal Institutions Conference, University of Chicago Law School, May 2008; Vermont Law Review, Vol. 33, 2009 . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1112140

Contact Information

Susan A. Bandes (Contact Author)
DePaul University - College of Law ( email )
25 E. Jackson Blvd.
Chicago, IL Cook County 60604-2287
United States
(312) 362-8452 (Phone)
(312) 362-5448 (Fax)
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