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January 13, 2015

Our class's (unrepresentative) initial perspectives on the death penalty

I am grateful for the 23 students who completed and submitted the class questionnaire, and I am eager to get completed surveys placed in my faculty from anyone who has not yet submitted the form before 2pm on Thursday.  We will be sure to discuss some of the collective "results" in class, and I really appreciate all the thought that was evident in many answers.

I was moved to do this first post about the questionnaire because I was struck (and a bit surprised) by how titled the class seems to be against the death penalty this year.  In previous years, students have come into the class fairly evenly divided on the issue, with roughly half of students saying they were categorically against the death penalty and half saying they were not.  This year, however, 19 students (of 23 submitted questionnaires ) indicted they were against the death penalty (although a few back-tracked a little bit when asked about a sentence for the Boston Marathon Bomber).

In other words, it seems that more than 80% of our class generally oppose the death penalty, whereas Gallup polling reveals that more than 60% of people in the US generally favor the death penalty.  Especially as we engage in death penalty discussions, we should be ever minderful of this notable contrast in student viewpoints and broader US viewpoints.

In addition to simply noting these notable facts about views on the death penalty, I am eager to hear what folks imagine to be the general views of all Moritz students and/or all lawyers as a group.  Notably, some past Gallup poll data has highlighted that persons under 30 and "nonwhite" persons comprise the groups most opposed to the death penalty, and the Moritz student population as a whole is certainy younger and more diverse than the general population.  But all lawyers as a group tend generally to reflect, demographically, the general population.  (Consequently, I would guess that our class is not extremely unrepresentative of all Moritz students but likely is quite out of line with all lawyers generally on this issue.)

Also, on the topic of the death penalty, the first US execution in 2015 took place Tuesday night, see "Georgia executes Vietnam veteran who killed a sheriff's deputy", and Oklahoma is scheduled to carry out another execution on Thursday. 

January 13, 2015 in Death penalty aesthetics, Death penalty history | Permalink


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This is certainly an intriguing result. I would be interested to see how those who stated a general opposition to the death penalty may have strayed from that view when it comes to the Boston Marathon bomber. Although I am one of the students who stated an opposition to the death penalty and applied that same belief in my sentencing preference for the Boston Marathon bomber, I can see where a distinction could be made. Perhaps those people perceive the death penalty as being abused when it comes to people of certain socioeconomic backgrounds, races, education levels, etc., whereas they see the Boston Marathon bomber's actions to be particularly egregious and, thus, more deserving of the death penalty. Hopefully someone who did indicate such a distinction on his/her questionnaire can provide some insight into the matter.

Posted by: Sierra Cooper | Jan 14, 2015 1:26:37 PM

It is interesting how our class tilts so strongly in opposition to the death penalty. I am wondering whether the exposure we've had as law students contributes to this high percentage of students opposing the death penalty. We have had multiple opportunities to attend events at which death row exonerates discussed their cases and their experience with the criminal justice system. Additionally, there have been numerous lunch events discussing the death penalty, and the innocence project. I did not come to law school with a strong opinion on the issue. However, after attending the death row exoneree event, my opinion was heavily influenced and I now oppose the death penalty. In my opinion, the death of one innocent person outweighs any justification in favor of the death penalty. I find my opinion to be aligned with the concept Prof. Berman discussed regarding the idea in Europe of "extinguishing hope" as being a violation of human rights. I think hearing from, and observing, death row exonerates made me realize how important that concept of "hope" can be.

Posted by: Kat Ungar | Jan 14, 2015 9:37:12 PM

Sort of taking this in a different direction about the Boston Bomber, the United States clearly has a death penalty policy for similar terrorists. When terrorists are found outside the territory and control of the United States, these executions occur without a jury trial and just by executive order. Check out the New York Times database for more information on this: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/a/anwar_al_awlaki/index.html
If the United States does have a public death penalty policy for terrorists, then the Boston Bomber should be at least subject to possibly receiving the death penalty and it should not be taken off the table in plea negotiations.

Posted by: Chris Santoro | Jan 15, 2015 8:36:26 AM

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