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Reviewed by:
  • Capital Punishment: Strategies for Abolition, and: America's Experiment with Capital Punishment: Reflections on the Past, Present and Future of the Ultimate Penal Sanctions
  • Richard L. Siegel (bio)
Capital Punishment: Strategies for Abolition (Peter Hodgkinson & William A. Schabas eds., Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004);
America's Experiment with Capital Punishment: Reflections on the Past, Present and Future of the Ultimate Penal Sanctions (James R. Acker, Robert M. Bohm, & Charles S. Lanier eds., 2d ed., Durham, N.C., Carolina Academic Press, 2003).

The death penalty continues to be a major focus of civil liberties, human rights, and criminal justice scholars and activists. While such scholars as William Schabas, Roger Hood, Austin Sarat, and Franklin Zimring have provided excellent recent single-author studies that span a wide range of topics related to the US and global contexts, edited volumes of papers often can bring to the table an even wider range of perspectives and expertise.

In its second edition, America's Experiment with Capital Punishment offers an exceptionally comprehensive and up-to-date set of studies relating to the US death penalty. Although this book is mostly abolitionist in purpose, with chapter authors ranging from Ernest van den Haag to David Baldus there are varying perspectives and methodologies. Readers are able to access in this volume concise summaries of research, including new findings by the well-selected authors on the impact of race as well as recent statutory changes and judicial decisions.

The topics that are at the center of current discussion get considerable attention, with chapters by Michael Radolet and Hugh Adam Bedau on "the execution of the innocent," and by Victor Streib on the application of US capital [End Page 1367] punishment to women, juveniles, and the mentally retarded. Richard J. Wilson writes ably on the influence of international legal and political developments on the situation in the United States, and Robert Johnson offers an intriguing chapter on "Life Under Sentence of Death."

Although it is a challenge to come up with omitted or de-emphasized topics on the US experience in America's Experiment, there is a lack of emphasis on the crucial and still unresolved matter of executing severely mentally ill and brain-damaged perpetrators. This is dealt with peripherally in this volume by Charles Patrick Ewing in terms of the roles of mental health professionals. The federal and state politics of capital punishment is ably discussed by Stephen B. Bright in terms of outcomes—though less satisfactorily regarding political dynamics.

This reviewer found the Wilson chapter in the Acker, et al. volume on international legal influences and the Baldus and George Woodworth chapter on race to be especially thorough and interesting. However, scholars will find other chapters equally valuable. Great credit should be given to editors Acker, Bohm, and Lanier for an excellent book outline and their considerable success in obtaining outstanding authors and papers.

The Hodgkinson and Schabas volume benefits from the writing and editing by two of the leading scholars on the death penalty as a global legal and policy issue. Peter Hodgkinson has been a central figure in the almost entirely successful effort to end the use of the death penalty in Europe, largely through his work with the Council of Europe and the European Union. Schabas has written a definitive legal study, The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law, now in its third edition.

In their new co-edited book Hodg-kinson offers strongly-worded critical judgments about the abolitionist movement in the US and globally, together with a sweeping presentation of abolitionist and retentionist developments around the world and in international institutions. Schabas ably summarizes and pays tribute to the impact of international law as a force that has achieved at least de facto abolition in the majority of the world's nation states, and his larger treatise is adapted here in a concise and reorganized presentation.

M. Cherif Bassiouni contributes a brilliant presentation of "Death as a Penalty in the Shari'a," and other authors offer enormously valuable (and rather rare English language) studies of efforts to abolish the death penalty in Lithuania, South Korea, Japan, Georgia, and the "Commonwealth Caribbean." As noted by Hodgkinson...


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