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The Death Penalty in the 21st Century

by Brian Risman, Publisher, www thelawjournal co uk

A review of  The Leviathan's Choice: Capital Punishment in the Twenty-First Century


The death penalty, alternatively called Capital Punishment, is a major, simmering legal issue around the world. Countries which have banned the death penalty -- or indeed have refrained from its use -- condemn those countries which have continued its use. For example, many UK law graduates work in the United States with "death row" law firms to defend those facing this penalty -- and clearly fight for its elimination.


On the other hand, there are scholars -- and highly respected ones, including U.S. scholar Walter Berns with whom I have studied, who advocate the use of the death penalty in certain circumstances.


What those interested in this topic need, therefore, is a work that explores all the issues and facets of the death penalty in an impartial manner -- a rare commodity for such a sensitive and emotional issue.


The Leviathan's Choice: Capital Punishment in the Twenty-First Century, edited by J. Michael Martinez, William D. Richardson, and D. Brandon Hornsby is such a work. It covers background material and views from many perspectives -- philosophical, theological, social science and legal -- giving a balanced, thoughtful and detailed view of the issue.


For example, those opposing the death penalty point to the terrible statistics involving executing innocent people. As well, there is a concern, particularly in the U.S. regarding the disproportionate number of Black criminals receiving this penalty, compared to White criminals. Leaving race issues aside, even a large number of convicted Whites -- even if not facing the death penalty -- are innocent.


The issue of the innocent being convicted is not restricted to the United States. Canada, which banned the death penalty many years ago, has nonetheless experienced the highly publicised overturning of convictions. If there would have been a death penalty, these innocent people could not return from the dead -- let alone the injustice that they faced in any case in a non-death penalty country, having lost a large portion of their lives.


On the other hand, are there crimes so horrific that the death penalty is the only real option? Should the perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attack be exempt from the death penalty? Walter Berns, for example, points out in the book that the only response possible for the horrific crimes of the Nazis, including the Holocaust,  would be capital punishment. For the sake of humanity, that would be the only choice.


Yet the issue does not go away, particularly in the United States. Witness the past Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, who on his final weekend as Governor, commuted the penalties of all death-row inmates to forty years. Governor Ryan's justification was that he, during his term in office, had seen too many death-row inmates released once their innocence became clear. To continue the use of the death penalty would, in his view, be tantamount to government murder of the innocent.


On the other side of the spectrum was Governor George W. Bush of Texas -- yes, that George Bush who is now the President of the United States. Governor Bush holds the distinction of carrying out the most executions of any Governor in United States history!


It is interesting that both Governor Ryan and Governor Bush are both Republicans. So internal U.S. party politics does not provide a clear definition of stances on this issue between the parties.


Another concern with the death penalty is its purpose -- is it retribution -- or is it justice -- or is it as a deterrent?


Retribution would fit the concept of the only approach to deal with horrific crimes.


Justice is a much more difficult concept -- is the executing of too many innocents justice? On the other hand, are some crimes of such a nature that society has only that option available?


What about as deterrent? That stream of thought is even more difficult to justify. I have been to Texas more than once, and have been struck by the level of violence and crime compared to other States. Although Chicago in Illinois has a high crime rate, the streets are filled during the day and night, particularly in the major downtown hubs. The streets of Houston, in Texas, were by contrast virtually empty -- and I was advised not to walk outside during mid-day due to the threat of dangerous crime. People didn't even eat their lunch outside, despite the glorious weather. So is the use of the death penalty a deterrent? A tale of two cities, with apologies to Dickens.


To conclude, this book would be valuable for legal professionals, students, and indeed anyone interested in this highly volatile topic. I heartedly recommend it. To purchase the book from Amazon, please click on the following link : The Leviathan's Choice: Capital Punishment in the Twenty-First Century. Alternatively you can click on the links (text and book image) at the top of this page.


Brian Risman, Publisher, www thelawjournal co uk

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