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Death Penalty Literature Review

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Death Penalty Literature Review

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Abstract

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Death penalty is one of the most debated topics on whether it is right or wrong. Death penalty was created s one of the worst kind of punishment for the most heinous of crimes including murder, gang rape or robbery with violence. Over the years, however, there have been debates however on the need for this form of punishment. There have been numerous debates on death punishment gets to achieve its purpose which is too punish criminals. There is a divide that death penalty may not achieve this form of punishment because when one is killed they may at times have a way out. Another argument is deterrence of crime as many believe that capital punishment does not serve the role of deterring crime. Punishment is also seen as a way of helping people correct their crimes which death penalty does not serve. This paper will serve to look at the effectiveness of death penalty and why it needs to be eliminated.

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Introduction

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“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders. – Albert Camus.” The Death Penalty is among one of the many topics that cause much debate and bring controversy whenever it is addressed in our criminal justice system. Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I have read and researched a lot of data behind this concept and although some of it may be convincing, I have stuck with my stance that the death penalty is wrong and should not be supported. Capital punishment is a topic that I am highly passionate about and have formed many opinions on. The death penalty creates issues in society and has many risks attached to it. While I disagree with capital punishment, the majority of Americans agree with it and its policies. Most of them side with the fact that if you kill a person, then you should be killed as well – an eye for an eye. They feel that if you do such a heinous act, then why should mercy be shown towards you? Their perspectives on supporting the death penalty revolve mostly around revenge and retribution. These concepts date back to a Babylonian law from Hammurabi’s code which are said to have originated in 1754 BC. Although many countries still abide and their implement philosophies, death penalty creates social injustices.

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While revenge may leave a sense of satisfaction to some, it can be agreed that there is nothing good about taking revenge into one’s own hands. As a society, who are we to judge another? Why should we take a person’s life into our hands? The answer is simple – we are no one to decide whether a person gets to live or not. Taking away the life of a person because they killed someone does not change or make the situation right overall, two wrongs do not make right. If anything, we make the system worse by taking away more and more lives. There are other alternatives to giving them the highest punishment possible and one of them is sentencing them to life without parole. Life without parole makes a person spend the rest of their lives inside of a cell, with no chance of getting out and reminding them of their consequences. If we are looking to punish someone for murdering another person, we should do it in a way where we don’t stain our own hands, but rather remind a person of their actions. Continuing on, the death penalty shouldn’t be supported is the fact that race and place can have a toll on the sentencing. Although everyone is supposed to receive a fair and easy trial by their peers, sadly this does not always happen. Data and statistics show that blacks are often more incarcerated than whites, especially when the victim is white. Race should not be a factor in deciding whether someone gets to live or not. Evidence from prosecutors suggests that the death penalty was easier to seek if the defendant was black and jurors have states that the person’s race influenced their decision. All cases should be from an unbiased point of view and as per research, being unprejudiced is not guaranteed. The system is unfair, and racism is ingrained in it. Aside from the bias that is influences it, capital punishment does not serve as a deterrent for crime. If capital punishment were causing crime rates to go down, then maybe there would be a benefit towards using it. “Scientific studies have consistently failed to demonstrate that executions deter people from committing crime. Around our country, states without the death penalty have a lower murder rate than neighboring states with the death penalty.’ (OADP) If no evidence for deterrence has been found, why are states still using the death penalty? How is it benefiting society? There is no reason other than revenge against another person. When the state is the one killing, that means that we are also killing because we represent the state. The death penalty centers on ideas from past centuries and does not consider the dignity that a person has left.

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Background Information

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Capital punishment at times referred to as death penalty is when criminals are convicted of a certain crime and they have to pay for their crimes by going to jail. This is not a new aspect in the society as governments during the civilization period had penalty by death especially to individuals who committed heinous crimes were punished by death. Most countries in the world still have the capital punishment enshrined in the constitution although human right Activists are always advocating against it. In the US it is approximated that 30, 000 convicts have been put on death row so far. Capital punishment is a practice of executing somebody for committing a certain crime after subjecting the offender to proper legal trial. The state only uses it. It is only regarded as a punishment for severe cases such as murder, fraud, robbery with violence, and rape. It is for a fact that life is more valuable than anything else in the world therefore even the offenders with serious crimes should be spared not be subjected to capital punishment. Life should not be destroyed due to the offender`s misconduct. Life should be preserved otherwise there is a perfect reason to terminate it and must be justified in a court of law even if someone is half killed. The common argument against capital punishment is that innocent people are probably killed due to the loopholes of the judiciary system (Dezhbakhsh, 2003). In case of flaws in the system, the innocent suffer most. In most cases where capital punishment is applicable, such mistakes are inevitable.

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The capital sentence cannot deter the same and bigger crimes to recur in future (Isaac, p 405). It there does not serve the role of rehabilitation the lawbreakers. The second punishment can deter the reoccurrence of the crime. The offender fears to be caught for the second time and give the same punishment thought mild. Even though is impossible to gauge the effect of the deterrent of the sentence, capital punishment should be discouraged. Another augment put forth is that one can punish the innocent people who have the same effect of deterring future crimes, but this is not always the case. The innocents are just rounded off randomly in the streets in the name of instilling fear in them (Paternoster, 2001). For this to be effective, it would be crucial for the offenders to go through a rigorous legitimate legal process before the court of law. The legal process can ascertain that the lawbreaker deserves the punishment.

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However, the jury can convict the offender due to substitutive evidence presented before the court, but this is not always a real situation. Some evidence that is given to court is merely fiction. At times, what is to the court is altered with the aim of winning the case. Statistics prove that capital sentence leads to the brutalization of the community (Goreck, 1003). The murder of one member of the community members stirs the rate of crime as the population gets furious and every individual can stand up to stage crime. Capital punishment always lowers the dignity and respect of the society at large. Civilized nations do not want stomach torture even if seen to produce good results in the long run. In the same manner, many people believe that the death penalty is not right in current and civilized. Many countries do not execute capital punishment publicly. For this reason, death penalty degrades public spectacle. But still, it can gain publicity through the media exposing the public of what is being done on the other side of the coin.

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Despite the moral status of the death penalty, many argue that all the execution approaches used, cause a lot of harm to the person. The common ways like lethal gas, electrocution, and strangulation cause untold suffering to the person. Some methods such as firing and beheading are thought to be barbaric. The state has the mandate to punish lawbreakers as a way of restoring sanity in the society, but it must do it in a less harmful way. Capital punishment is the ugliest and most harmful form of punishment, therefore, should be avoided otherwise is applicable if there is no any other less punishment is available. Other penalties that are less punitive can as well enable the state to achieve its goals.

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Literature Review

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Since time immemorial the debate on whether death penalty is right or not has always existed. Various scholars have often tried taking a stand on why or why not capital punishment is wrong. Pro death penalty scholars have often argued that death [penalty is needed in a society so that law and order may exist. According to Mona Lynch (2002), she looks into the topic and as to why capital punishment should not be banned. According to Lynch, capital punishment despite the cost it bears serves a role of punishing offenders. In examining the effectiveness of this punishment Lynch look at innocent victims as well as the evil (capital murderers). Often murders are likely to be put on death row and according to Lynch there is nothing wrong about punishing someone who killed another ruthlessly using the capital punishment. Most victims who have experienced the evil of crime such as their family member being killed are likely to support death penalty as compared to people who may not really understand what it feels.

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According to Sethuraju R. and Sole J. in their journal titled “Understanding Death Penalty Support” they look at the debates taken by both sides. From the journal, death penalty is the most intense form of sentence one can get. With a death penalty then one is likely to have committed a very heinous crime. Those in support of the punishment have argued that death penalty helps in deterring certain crimes from happening. When a person knows the risk of committing a certain crime then they are likely to avoid it. For the abolitionist, most have argued that death penalty does not serve the role of prisons which is helping people become better. The chances of also putting an innocent man on death row are also high and once this is done, nothing much can be done. The research closely looks at the arguments that seems to arise on both sides including the fact that death penalty is an expensive mode of punishment and that money being used to punish these offenders may be channeled into something else (Sethuraju, 2016).

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According to Gross et al (20014) the Death penalty was introduced in the United States as a legal practice used a tool of delivering justice to those who have committed crimes.it is regarded as necessary to those who have committed a crime in the united states. Thus, the judicial systems developed such as the death penalty that is in contemporary society referred to as capital punishment. Although on the decline death penalty continues to arouse controversy in the justice department especially on how it is being used, its legality and how it is effective in reducing recidivism and prevent people from committing capital offenses (Gross et al 2014). The development of this review in order to be complete highlights the history of the death penalty, the reduced number of deaths penalties and the likelihood of its reducing further and further. It shows the minimal contribution of the death penalty to their main aim that is reducing the committing of capital offenses. It shows the effectiveness of the death penalty as a way to reduce the chances of one recommitting an offense. And showing how the Americans are against the constitutional provision of the death penalty as the majority of these people call for its abolishment’s. The death penalty is regarded as a practice that has come of age and that it should be banned by the federal government. The review develops a gap in the review of the death penalty as there is an impact on the families of the victims who are executed convicts, thus the need to asses psychological and mental effects.

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There have been arguments that have been presented on how effective death penalty is especially in deterring crimes. According to a research conducted by John Lamperti (1994), he examines the role of Capital punishment in deterring murder. In his research he concluded that capital punishment had a little deterrence to homicides and murder. He gives example of people who have killed in order to invite execution as a form of execution. A good example is where he cites how Clinton Duffy who was a warden in San Quentin prison stated that several homicide cases were as a result of the death penalty and the punishment did not deter the crime.

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Since the first use of the death penalty in 1608, there has been a number of documentaries developed to focus, analyses and discuss the practice. The first execution was experienced in the British North American colonies where they executed Captain George Kendall at Jamestown colony through the firing squad. Captain George was convicted for trying to spy on the Spanish government. The execution was shown often carried out by either the firing at the convict or hanging of the convict (Shirley & Gelman,2015). By the year 1991, in the view of Gross et al (2014), there had been over 15,200 cases of people executed after being sentenced to death. Cruel and unusual punishment was prohibited by the American constitution upon the 8th amendments of the bill of rights adopted in 1789, (Shirley & Gelman,2015). It is from the historical period in which death sentences attracted controversies with Barkan and Cohan (1994) extensively studying resistance movements against the implementation and use of the death penalty. According to Barkan and Cohan (1994), death sentences and resistance to these practices begun as early as 1846 in the United States. The case of Gregg vs Georgia saw the height of abolition of the death penalty although the authors through a number of states had abolished the practice before this case (Barkan & Cohan,1994).

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The judiciary took a proactive approach in reduction of the number of death penalty cases reducing the death conviction cases drastically. A study by Shirley and Gelman in 2015 showed how differently the citizens of the United States perceived the legality of the death penalty. Majority of the Americans thought perceived the death penalty as a cruel and unusual punishment that the state and the federal government should abolish. These were developed as finding from the study whose focus was on the effectiveness of the death penalty practice. Although these findings suggested otherwise, the federal government and other state governments widely use the death penalty and are still recommended for federal cases (Shirley & Gelman,2015).

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There was a major development in the death penalty practice in 1972 when the supreme court suspended the use of the death penalty against crimes of a capital offense. Although the suspension did not last for long, Welsh and Pfeffer (2013), viewed that this suspension came as a huge relief to the public who had mixed reactions. According to the authors, the use of the death penalty is being a violation of the fourth and eight amendments of the American constitution thus being unconstitutional (Welsh and Pfeffer,2013). This suspension did not remove the death penalty from the constitution as it was only the opinion of judges without a rationale. In a legal bombshell, the writers show how the death sentences were reduced from the pending death conviction to life imprisonment. Welsh and Pfeffer (2013) noted that the suspension was developed as a result of inconsistencies before the law thus it did not guarantee equality.

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Although death sentences have been in effect since 1608, capital offences are still being reported every day showing the inefficiency of the death penalty. A study by Canes-Wrone, Clark and Kelly (2014), the finding showed that Americans thought of the death penalty as an ineffective measure to reducing or stopping people from committing capital offenses. The study shows that the united nations tend to enforce the death penalty not as a measure of deterring but as a way of showing those with intent to commit an offense to often think before committing. The study proves that Americans do not think twice before committing a capital offense as there are a number of murder cases being reported on a daily basis. Use of death sentence to deter capital offences is no longer an effective way (Cane-Wrone, Clark and Kelly, 2014). The study is supported findings from a study by Acker (2017) that recorded a 59% of Americans who acknowledged and viewed the death penalty as a cruel unusual punishment thus unconstitutional. Every person has a right to live hence as a democratic nation, the United States should lead in protecting the rights of its citizens (Acker,2017). The findings from Acker’s study show that the black community view the death sentence as a scheme to infringe on their rights by the dominant race (Barkan & Cohan,1994).

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Although the application of the death sentence across 30 states and its recommendation by the federal government, the review findings show that it is on the decline. The review shows the development of the death penalty as a punishment of capital offences dating back to 1608. From the studies reviews, they confirm that the 30 counties still apply the death penalty as a punishment for capital offenders. The review findings indicate that the United States view the use of death sentence although not that effective as a way to deter people from committing capital crimes (Shirley & Gelman,2015). It shows various resistance for the application of the death sentence and how it is unconstitutional based on the American constitutional amendments that abolished the use of cruel and unusual punishments in its 8th amendment. It is believed that with the landmark ruling that suspended the use of death sentence by the supreme court in 1972, the cases of death sentences convictions are drastically reducing.

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Recommendation

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The main reason as to why people are opposed to death penalty is because these individuals should be rehabilitated and by eliminating death penalty we eliminate likelihood of killing innocent people. The use of death punishment does not perform the required obligation as more and more people get to be incarcerated due to the same crimes that are termed as being heinous (Carlsmith et al. 2002). The continued use of capital punishment will only imply that more and more extremists have been killed and thus the primary purpose of deterrence doesn’t work as purported. This section will give recommendations on how one can deal with capital punishment.

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The capital sentence cannot deter the same and bigger crimes to recur in future. It there does not serve the role of rehabilitation the lawbreakers. When someone is killed a pain or something that they were going through may have been taken. Prisons were also created min order to help people in the society who commit crimes to reform but capital punishment is more of dooming them. The second punishment can deter the reoccurrence of the crime. The offender fears to be caught for the second time and give the same punishment thought mild. Even though is impossible to gauge the effect of the deterrent of the sentence, capital punishment should be discouraged. Another augment put forth is that one can punish the innocent people who have the same effect of deterring future crimes, but this is not always the case. The innocents are just rounded off randomly in the streets in the name of instilling fear in them (Baumgartner, 2008). For this to be effective, it would be crucial for the offenders to go through a rigorous legitimate legal process before the court of law. The legal process can ascertain that the lawbreaker deserves the punishment.

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Capital punishment should be eliminated to ensure innocent people are not killed. Being in prison for many years does not make it easier is also not justifiable, but unlike a prison sentence that can be reversed, death sentences cannot be reversed. A person is considered guilty if only compact evidence linking the person to the crime. However, innocent people may be found in the scene of the crime and therefore may end up being held captive for the crimes that they never committed. The innocent people, thus, serve the sentence of another guilty person who is left roaming free in the streets. There is no way a person can explain his innocence if the evidence might link to them and this makes them suffer ending up to death from unknown crimes to them. Hasty and poorly conducted investigations may lead to the execution of innocent individuals and therefore the innocent end up being punished. Without death penalty then such mistakes may actually be avoided (Sarat, 2018).

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The execution strategies used make death penalty actually more unethical. The common ways like lethal gas, electrocution, and strangulation cause untold suffering to the person. Some methods such as firing and beheading are thought to be barbaric. The state has the mandate to punish lawbreakers as a way of restoring sanity in the society, but it must do it in a less harmful way. Capital punishment is the ugliest and most harmful form of punishment, therefore, should be avoided otherwise is applicable if there is no any other less punishment is available. If death penalty is a must then there are humane methods that can be used to take away people’s lives. There are drugs that ends a person life without causing too much pain. It is not just to open a firing at someone or electrocute them (Hood, 2015). There are a class of barbiturate often used in euthanasia that can cause death without resulting in the excruciating pain that offenders convicted to death go through.

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According to the religious perspective, terminating the life of a person is considered a sin and against the will of God. Christians claim that God is the sole provider of life and therefore no one has the ability or the permission to terminate another person’s life. According to the Bible, humans were created by God in his likeness and controlled their fate. It is, therefore, the duty and responsibility of God to terminate the life of his creations, and the humans are entrusted in keeping guard of their brother’s life but not terminating it (Sachedina, 2005). On the other hand, ending the life of a person will be reducing the value of human life, and God created each one of us equal implying that no one has the authority to terminate another person’s life. Instead of ending the life of a person, they should be left in the hands of God to decide their fate and as well punish them for their wrongdoings.

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In conclusion, it is quite evident that capital punishment is not a way to punish criminals. The prisons were created in order to help the convict’s change their behavior and this cannot be accomplished through death row punishment. These criminals need to be given a second chance in the society and there are other better ways that can be used in sentencing them such as more years in prison (Garett, 2017). There is no proven evidence that penalty by death deter people from committing similar crimes as more criminals are booked with the same charges that are punished by death. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the countries that have adopted capital punishment to pull it down and adopt other strategies such as subjecting the criminals to life imprisonment with inclusion for hard labor for their food.

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Conclusion

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Arguments on validity of capital punishment will always exist. Although capital punishment may be seen as a form of punishment for criminals in deterring crime, there is evidence that there are better ways that can be used to punish criminals without really subjecting them to a death penalty. Role of the prisons is reformation of criminals, and capital punishment does not seem to do this. There are criminals who have often turned their life around while in prison becoming better people in the society but when a death penalty is imposed, then these individuals are denied this chance. The possibility of also hanging or executing innocent people has often presented itself and most of the time, these individuals die for a crime they did not commit. Unlike a prison sentence that is reversible, a court ruling is not reversible and this often leads to severe loss by the family as they will always feel the pain of losing a family member who in the first place did not need to die.

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The dilemma of whether it is ethical for the continued use of capital punishment has triggered debates with each stakeholder having their opinion. According to my opinion, capital punishment is unethical and should be terminated to save the dignity of the life of humankind. Besides, there is no proven evidence that penalty by death deter people from committing similar crimes as more criminals are booked with the same charges that are punished by death. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the countries that have adopted capital punishment to pull it down and adopt other strategies such as subjecting the criminals to life imprisonment with inclusion for hard labor for their food. I believe that doing away with capital punishment will also save up on the millions of funds that are often used in these executions and these funds will be channeled to something else.

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References

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Acker, J. R. (2017). Scrutinizing the death penalty: State death penalty study commissions and their recommendations. The death penalty today (pp. 45-76). CRC Press.

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Barkan, S. E., & Cohn, S. F. (1994). Racial prejudice and support for the death penalty by whites. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 31(2), 202-209.

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Baumgartner, F. R., De Boef, S. L., & Boydstun, A. E. (2008). The decline of the death penalty and the discovery of innocence. Cambridge University Press.

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Carlsmith, K. M., Darley, J. M., & Robinson, P. H. (2002). Why do we punish? Deterrence and just deserts as motives for punishment. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(2), 284.

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Canes-Wrone, B., & Clark, T. S. Kelly., Jason P. 2014.“. Judicial Selection and Death Penalty Decisions.” American Political Science Review, 108(1), 23-39.

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Dezhbakhsh, Hashem, Paul H. Rubin, and Joanna M. Shepherd. (2003). “Does capital punishment have a deterrent effect? New evidence from postmoratorium panel data.” American Law and Economics Review 5.2 \: 344-376.

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Ehrlich, Isaac. (2003). “The deterrent effect of capital punishment: A question of life and death.”

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Gorecki, Jan. (2003). Capital punishment: Criminal law and social evolution. New York: Columbia University Press.

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Garrett, B. L. (2017). End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice. Harvard University Press.

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Hood, R., & Hoyle, C. (2015). The death penalty: A worldwide perspective. OUP Oxford.

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Lamperti, J., Marshall, J., & Nixon, R. M. (1994). Does Capital Punishment Deter Murder?. URL (consulted 17 May 2004) http://www. dartmouth. edu/~ chance/teaching_aids/books_articles/JLpaper. pdf.

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Lynch, M. (2002). Capital punishment as moral imperative: Pro-death-penalty discourse on the Internet. Punishment & Society, 4(2), 213-236.

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Paternoster, Raymond. (2001). Capital punishment in America. New York: Lexington Book.

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Sachedina, A. (2005). End-of-life: the Islamic view. The lancet, 366(9487), 774-779.

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Sarat, A. (2018). When the state kills: Capital punishment and the American condition. Princeton University Press

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Sethuraju, R., Sole, J., & Oliver, B. E. (2016). Understanding death penalty support and opposition among criminal justice and law enforcement students. SAGE Open, 6(1), 2158244015624952.

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Shirley, K. E., & Gelman, A. (2015). Hierarchical models for estimating state and demographic trends in US death penalty public opinion. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 178(1), 1-28.

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Vito, A. G., & Vito, G. F. (2014). Capital punishment. The Encyclopedia of Theoretical Criminology, 1-4.

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Welsh, B. C., & Pfeffer, R. D. (2013). Reclaiming crime prevention in an age of punishment: An American history. Punishment & Society, 15(5), 534-553.

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