Death Penalty Meets Social Science: Deterrence and Jury Behavior Under New Scrutiny

Annual Review of Law and Social Sciences, 2005

Stanford Public Law Working Paper No. 114

Posted: 14 Jul 2005

Abstract

Social science has long played a role in examining the efficacy and fairness of the death penalty. Empirical studies of the deterrent effect of capital punishment were cited by the Supreme Court in its landmark cases in the 1970s; most notable was the 1975 Isaac Ehrlich study, which used multivariate regression analysis and purported to show a significant marginal deterrent effect over life imprisonment, but which was soon roundly criticized for methodological flaws. Decades later, new econometric studies have emerged, using panel data techniques, that report striking findings of marginal deterrence, even up to 18 lives saved per execution. Yet the cycle of debate continues, as these new studies face criticism for omitting key potential variables and for the potential distorting effect of one anomalously high-executing state (Texas). Meanwhile, other empiricists, relying mainly on survey questionnaires, have taken a fresh look at the human dynamics of death penalty trials, especially the attitudes and personal background factors that influence capital jurors.

Keywords: Capital punishment, econometrics, sentencing, life imprisonment, juries, discrimination

Suggested Citation

Weisberg, Robert, Death Penalty Meets Social Science: Deterrence and Jury Behavior Under New Scrutiny. Annual Review of Law and Social Sciences, December 2005; Stanford Public Law Working Paper No. 114. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=752044

Robert Weisberg (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-723-0612 (Phone)
650-723-4330 (Fax)

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