On Being Informed About the Death Penalty: A Test of the Marshall Hypothesis

Matthew B. Robinson, Appalachian State University

This paper examines the Marshall hypothesis, posited by Justice Thurgood Marshall, in Furman v. Georgia (1972) and Gregg v. Georgia (1976). As noted by Justice Marhshall, a test of this hypothesis would examine "not whether a substantial proportion of American citizens would today, if polled, opine that capital punishment is barbarously cruel, but whether they would find it to be so in the light of all information presently available." Marshall suggested that the American people, if fully informed as to the purposes of the death penalty and its liabilities, would reject it as morally unacceptable. This paper tests this hypothesis by using pre-test, post-test data from a death penalty class offered at a comprehensive university in the south. Students were surveyed on the first and last days of class after being presented with all sides of the issue for a semester.

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Updated 05/20/2006