Criminal Justice , 2009 David B. Muhlhausen, "The Death Penalty Deters Crime and Saves Lives," Heritage Foundation, August 28, 2007. www.heritage.org. Reproduced by permission of the author. "Capital punishment produces a strong deterrent effect that saves lives." In the following viewpoint, David B. Muhlhausen argues that capital punishment should not be abandoned because it deters crimes, saves lives, and the majority of American citizens support its use. Additionally, he maintains that evidence does not support claims that racial discrimination results in a disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated on death row. David B. Muhlhausen is a senior policy analyst in the area of criminal justice for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy research organization.
As you read, consider the following questions: 1. According to the 2006 study conducted by the RAND Corporation, what affects whether the death penalty is sought as punishment for a crime? 2. What are the three findings of Joanna M. Shepherd's analysis of data from 1977 to 1999 on the death penalty? 3. Based on research conducted by H. Naci Mocan and R. Kaj Gittings, how many murders result from each commutation of a death row sentence? While opponents of capital punishment have been very vocal in their opposition, Gallup opinion polls consistently demonstrate that the American public overwhelmingly supports capital punishment. In Gallup's most recent poll, 67 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, while only 28 percent are opposed. From 2000 to the most recent poll in 2006, support for capital punishment consistently runs a 2:1 ratio in favor. Despite strong public support for capital punishment, federal, state, and local officials must continually ensure that its implementation rigorously upholds constitutional protections, such as due process and equal protection of the law. However, the criminal process should not be abused to prevent the lawful imposition of the death penalty in appropriate capital cases.
Crime Characteristics More Important Than Race
As of December 2005, there were 37 prisoners under a sentence of death in the federal system. Of these prisoners, 43.2 percent were white, while 54.1 percent were African-American. The fact that African-Americans are a majority of federal prisoners on death row and a minority in the overall United States population may lead some to conclude that the federal system discriminates against African-Americans. However, there is little rigorous evidence that such disparities exist in the federal system. Under a competitive grant process, the National Institute of Justice awarded the RAND Corporation a grant to determine whether racial disparities exist in the federal death penalty system. The resulting 2006 RAND study
set out to determine what factors, including the defendant's race, victim's race, and crime characteristics, affect the decision to seek a death penalty case. Three independent teams of researchers were tasked with developing their own methodologies to analyze the data. Only after each team independently drew their own conclusions did they share their findings with each other. When first looking at the raw data without controlling for case characteristics, RAND found that large race effects with the decision to seek the death penalty are more likely to occur when the defendants are white and when the victims are white. However, these disparities disappeared in each of the three studies when the heinousness of the crimes was taken into account. The RAND study concludes that the findings support the view that decisions to seek the death penalty are driven by characteristics of crimes rather than by race. RAND's findings are very compelling because three independent research teams, using the same data but different methodologies, reached the same conclusions. While there is little evidence that...