Debating the Death Penalty: Facts, Opinion, and Ideology

Kenneth Mentor, New Mexico State University

Although empirical research supports the goals of those trying to abolish capital punishment, attempts to utilize this research in efforts to end the death penalty are typically met with resistance. The battle to translate death penalty research into policy change has taken place on several fronts. This research examines efforts to sway courts, legislatures, and public opinion. The United States Supreme Court has been reluctant to consider empirical evidence regarding capital punishment. Similarly, legislative efforts are often frustrated as individuals choose to reject empirical evidence. Much of the public appears to be equally immune to "fact-based" arguments that are offered in opposition to capital punishment. This research outlines the history of this debate and examines various reasons for the failure to effectively translate death penalty research into policy and practice.

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Updated 05/20/2006