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Proportionality and the Difference Death Makes

Criminal Justice Ethics, Vol. 21, pp. 40-43, 2002

11 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2008  

William A. Edmundson

Georgia State University College of Law

Date Written: 2002


Proponents and opponents of the death penalty both typically assume that punishment, in some form or other, is justified, somehow or other, and that just punishment must in some sense be proportionate to the crime. These shared assumptions turn out to embarrass both parties. Proponents have to explain why certain prima facie proportionate punishments, such as torture, are off the table, while death remains, so to speak, on it. Opponents have to explain why their favored alternatives to capital punishment, such as life without parole, are both proportionate to the worst crimes and not as bad as death. The commitment to proportionality makes trouble for both sides of the issue, and its resolution is unlikely until there is a satisfactory general account of proportionality in punishing. Such an account is nowhere in sight.

Keywords: death penalty, capital punishment, punishment, proportionality, sentencing

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Edmundson, William A., Proportionality and the Difference Death Makes (2002). Available at SSRN:

William A. Edmundson (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
85 Park Place NE
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States
404-413-9167 (Phone)
404-413-9225 (Fax)


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