Capital Punishment as Closure: The Limits of a Victim-Centered Jurisprudence

42 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2007


This Article, a contribution to the Symposium Meting Out Justice: Fairness and Finality in the Death Penalty (Spring 2001) argues that in the United States, debates over capital punishment are increasingly influenced by victim's rights movements seeking to reshape the criminal justice system in ways that individual victims may experience closure. While legislation, policies, and a proposed Constitutional Amendment broadly confirm the internalization of victim-centered notions of closure, the impact on death penalty debates has been ambivalent. This is because victim's rights movements are themselves divided between those proposing vengeance or mercy as routes to "closure." This Article criticizes the former group and cautions to the latter, urging skepticism toward any expectation that meaningful closure might be achieved through the limited means of the criminal justice system.

Keywords: victims rights, law and social movements, capital punishment, death penalty, law and society, vengeance, closure, expressive function of law, mercy, retribution, law and humanities, emotion, outsider jurisprudence, law and popular culture, criminal justice, punishment, conceptual history

Suggested Citation

Kanwar, Vik, Capital Punishment as Closure: The Limits of a Victim-Centered Jurisprudence. NYU Review of Law and Social Change, Vol. 27, No. 2&3, pp. 215-255, 2002, Available at SSRN:

Vik Kanwar (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States

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