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The Abolitionist Movement Comes Of Age: From Capital Punishment As A Lawful Sanction To A Peremptory, International Law Norm Barring Executions, John D. Bessler Jan 2018

The Abolitionist Movement Comes Of Age: From Capital Punishment As A Lawful Sanction To A Peremptory, International Law Norm Barring Executions, John D. Bessler

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The anti-death penalty movement is rooted in the Enlightenment, dating back to the publication of the Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria’s treatise, Dei delitti e delle pene (1764). That book, later translated into English as An Essay on Crimes and Punishments (1767), has inspired anti-death penalty advocacy for more than 250 years. This Article traces the development of the abolitionist movement since Beccaria’s time. In particular, it highlights how the debate over capital punishment has shifted from one focused primarily on the severity of monarchical punishments, to deterrence, to one framed by the concept of universal human rights, including ...


The Italian Enlightenment And The American Revolution: Cesare Beccaria's Forgotten Influence On American Law, John Bessler Jan 2017

The Italian Enlightenment And The American Revolution: Cesare Beccaria's Forgotten Influence On American Law, John Bessler

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The influence of the Italian Enlightenment—the Illuminismo—on the American Revolution has long been neglected. While historians regularly acknowledge the influence of European thinkers such as William Blackstone, John Locke and Montesquieu, Cesare Beccaria’s contributions to the origins and development of American law have largely been forgotten by twenty-first century Americans. In fact, Beccaria’s book, Dei delitti e delle pene (1764), translated into English as On Crimes and Punishments (1767), significantly shaped the views of American revolutionaries and lawmakers. The first four U.S. Presidents—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—were inspired by ...


Foreword: The Death Penalty In Decline: From Colonial America To The Present, John Bessler Jan 2014

Foreword: The Death Penalty In Decline: From Colonial America To The Present, John Bessler

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This Article traces the history of capital punishment in America. It describes the death penalty's curtailment in colonial Pennsylvania by William Penn, and the substantial influence of the Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria -- the first Enlightenment thinker to advocate the abolition of executions -- on the Founding Fathers' views. The Article also describes the transition away from "sanguinary" laws and punishments toward the "penitentiary system" and highlights the U.S. penal system's abandonment of non-lethal corporal punishments.


The Anomaly Of Executions: The Cruel And Unusual Punishments Clause In The 21st Century, John Bessler Jan 2013

The Anomaly Of Executions: The Cruel And Unusual Punishments Clause In The 21st Century, John Bessler

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This Article describes the anomaly of executions in the context of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. While the Supreme Court routinely reads the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause to protect prisoners from harm, the Court simultaneously interprets the Eighth Amendment to allow inmates to be executed. Corporal punishments short of death have long been abandoned in America’s penal system, yet executions — at least in a few locales, heavily concentrated in the South — persist. This Article, which seeks a principled and much more consistent interpretation of the Eighth Amendment, argues that executions should be declared unconstitutional ...


Tinkering Around The Edges: The Supreme Court's Death Penalty Jurisprudence, John Bessler Oct 2012

Tinkering Around The Edges: The Supreme Court's Death Penalty Jurisprudence, John Bessler

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This Essay examines America's death penalty forty years after Furman and provides a critique of the Supreme Court's existing Eighth Amendment case law. Part I briefly summarizes how the Court, to date, has approached death sentences, while Part II highlights the incongruous manner in which the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause has been read. For instance, Justice Antonin Scalia-one of the Court's most vocal proponents of "originalism" conceded that corporal punishments such as handbranding and public flogging are no longer constitutionally permissible; yet, he (and the Court itself) continues to allow death sentences to be imposed. The ...


The American Historical Review (April 2012) (Reviewing David Garland, Peculiar Institution: America’S Death Penalty In An Age Of Abolition, John Bessler Apr 2012

The American Historical Review (April 2012) (Reviewing David Garland, Peculiar Institution: America’S Death Penalty In An Age Of Abolition, John Bessler

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No abstract provided.


Madness Alone Punishes The Madman: The Search For Moral Dignity In The Court's Competency Doctrine As Applied In Capital Cases, J. Amy Dillard Apr 2012

Madness Alone Punishes The Madman: The Search For Moral Dignity In The Court's Competency Doctrine As Applied In Capital Cases, J. Amy Dillard

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The purposes of the competency doctrine are to guarantee reliability in criminal prosecutions, to ensure that only those defendants who can appreciate punishment are subject to it, and to maintain moral dignity, both actual and apparent, in criminal proceedings. No matter his crime, the “madman” should not be forced to stand trial. Historically, courts viewed questions of competency as a binary choice, finding the defendant either competent or incompetent to stand trial. However, in Edwards v. Indiana, the Supreme Court conceded that it views competency on a spectrum and offered a new category of competency — borderline-competent. The Court held that ...


Punitive Damages Vs. The Death Penalty: In Search Of A Unified Approach To Jury Discretion And Due Process Of Law, José F. Anderson Apr 2011

Punitive Damages Vs. The Death Penalty: In Search Of A Unified Approach To Jury Discretion And Due Process Of Law, José F. Anderson

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The role of the jury in awarding monetary damages to plaintiffs in a wide range of civil cases has captured the attention of the media, contemporary non-fiction writers, and reform-minded politicians in recent years. Particular attention has been focused on huge jury awards, which has led many commentators to criticize the wisdom of permitting juries to move so much money from one place to another. Although the right to a jury trial, and with it the exercise of broad judicial discretion, is constitutionally based, many reform efforts have moved toward removing juries from cases both as to the subject matter ...


And Death Shall Have No Dominion: How To Achieve The Categorical Exemption Of Mentally Retarded Defendants From Execution, J. Amy Dillard Mar 2011

And Death Shall Have No Dominion: How To Achieve The Categorical Exemption Of Mentally Retarded Defendants From Execution, J. Amy Dillard

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This article examines the Court’s categorical exclusion of mentally retarded defendants from execution and explores how trial courts should employ procedures to accomplish heightened reliability in the mental retardation determination; it maintains that if a mentally retarded defendant is subjected to a death sentence then the Atkins directive has been ignored. To satisfy the Atkins Court’s objective of protecting mentally retarded defendants from the “special risk of wrongful execution,” the article explores whether trial courts should engage in a unified, pre-trial competency assessment in all capital cases where the defendant asserts mental retardation as a bar to execution ...


Revisiting Beccaria's Vision: The Enlightenment, America's Death Penalty, And The Abolition Movement, John Bessler Oct 2009

Revisiting Beccaria's Vision: The Enlightenment, America's Death Penalty, And The Abolition Movement, John Bessler

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In 1764, Cesare Beccaria, a 26-year-old Italian criminologist, penned On Crimes and Punishments. That treatise spoke out against torture and made the first comprehensive argument against state-sanctioned executions. As we near the 250th anniversary of its publication, law professor John Bessler provides a comprehensive review of the abolition movement from before Beccaria's time to the present. Bessler reviews Beccaria's substantial influence on Enlightenment thinkers and on America's Founding Fathers in particular. The Article also provides an extensive review of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and then contrasts it with the trend in international law towards the death penalty's ...


Death And Harmless Error: A Rhetorical Response To Judging Innocence, Colin Starger Feb 2008

Death And Harmless Error: A Rhetorical Response To Judging Innocence, Colin Starger

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Professor Garrett’s impressive empirical analysis of the first 200 post conviction DNA exonerations in the United States (“Garrett Study”) has the potential to affect contemporary debates surrounding our nation’s criminal justice system. This Response explores this potential by harnessing the Study’s data in support of arguments for and against a contested doctrinal proposition — that guilt-based harmless error rules should never apply in death penalty appeals. My analysis starts with the premise that the Study’s real world impact will necessarily depend on how jurists, politicians, and scholars extrapolate the explanatory power of the data beyond the 200 ...


Without Limitation: 'Groundhog Day' For Incompetent Defendants, J. Amy Dillard Jul 2007

Without Limitation: 'Groundhog Day' For Incompetent Defendants, J. Amy Dillard

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This Article offers a brief overview of the standards for determining competency to stand trial. After examining the seminal case of Jackson v. Indiana, which held that the indefinite pre-trial detention of incompetent defendants violates due process, this Article argues that Virginia Code § 19.2-169.3, like statutes in twenty other states, violates a defendant's right to substantive due process, including the right to be free from forcible medication. This Article proposes legislation that will make the process constitutional, while addressing the concerns about the release of dangerous individuals held by the prosecutors and the community.


The Innocence Protection Act Of 2004: A Small Step Forward And A Framework For Larger Reforms, Ronald Weich Mar 2005

The Innocence Protection Act Of 2004: A Small Step Forward And A Framework For Larger Reforms, Ronald Weich

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Passage of the Innocence Protection Act in the closing days of the 108th Congress was a watershed moment. To be sure, the bill that finally became law was a shadow of the more ambitious criminal justice reforms first championed five years earlier by Senator Pat Leahy, Congressman Bill Delahunt and others. But the enactment of legislation designed to strengthen — not weaken — procedural protections for death row inmates was rich in symbolic importance and promise.

Writing in the April 2001 issue of THE CHAMPION (Innocence Protection Act: Death Penalty Reform on the Horizon), I said optimistically: "The criminal justice pendulum may ...


The Botched Hanging Of William Williams: How Too Much Rope And Minnesota’S Newspapers Brought An End To The Death Penalty In Minnesota, John Bessler Mar 2004

The Botched Hanging Of William Williams: How Too Much Rope And Minnesota’S Newspapers Brought An End To The Death Penalty In Minnesota, John Bessler

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This article describes Minnesota's last state-sanctioned execution: that of William Williams, who was hanged in 1906 in the basement of the Ramsey County Jail. Convicted of killing a teenage boy, Williams was tried on murder charges in 1905 and was put to death in February of the following year. Because the county sheriff miscalculated the length of the rope, the hanging was botched, with Williams hitting the floor when the trap door was opened. Three deputies, standing on the scaffold, thereafter seized the rope and forcibly pulled it up until Williams - fourteen and half minutes later - died by strangulation ...


Injustice Casts Shadow On History Of State Executions, John Bessler Dec 2003

Injustice Casts Shadow On History Of State Executions, John Bessler

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This article, published in the StarTribune of Minneapolis, discusses the history of lynchings and executions in the State of Minnesota. It specifically discusses miscarriages of justice that have taken place in Minnesota, along with highlighting other problems associated with capital punishment.


America’S Death Penalty: Just Another Form Of Violence, John Bessler Jan 2002

America’S Death Penalty: Just Another Form Of Violence, John Bessler

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The author in this piece reflects on the death penalty in the U.S. in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The writer goes on to argue that capital punishment is, in and of itself, a form of violence. Also discussed in the article are the gradual removal of executions from public view, issues of deterrence and violent crime, and the author's preference for life-without-possibility-of-parole sentences.


Innocence Protection Act: Death Penalty Reform On The Horizon, Ronald Weich Apr 2001

Innocence Protection Act: Death Penalty Reform On The Horizon, Ronald Weich

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The criminal justice pendulum may be swinging back in the direction of fairness. The Innocence Protection Act of 2001, introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives earlier this year, promises meaningful reforms in the administration of capital punishment in the United States.

Unlike previous slabs at reform, the Innocence Protection Act (lPA) has a real chance to become law because it commands unusually broad bipartisan support. The Senate bill (S. 486) is sponsored by Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont and Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon. The House bill (H.R. 912) is sponsored by Democrat Bill Delahunt ...


When The Wall Has Fallen: Decades Of Failure In The Supervision Of Capital Juries, José F. Anderson Jan 2000

When The Wall Has Fallen: Decades Of Failure In The Supervision Of Capital Juries, José F. Anderson

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Since the return of capital punishment after Furman v. Georgia nearly three decades ago, the Supreme Court of the United States has struggled to control the administration of capital punishment when those decisions are made or recommended by a citizen jury. Although there is no constitutional requirement that a jury participate in the death penalty process, most states do provide, through their capital punishment statutes, that a jury will participate in the decision. The preference for jury sentencing in these circumstances reflects a reluctance to leave power over life solely in the hands of one judge. Still, some scholars have ...


Will The Punishment Fit The Victims? The Case For Pre-Trial Disclosure, And The Uncharted Future Of Victim Impact Information In Capital Jury Sentencing, José F. Anderson Jan 1997

Will The Punishment Fit The Victims? The Case For Pre-Trial Disclosure, And The Uncharted Future Of Victim Impact Information In Capital Jury Sentencing, José F. Anderson

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The United States Supreme Court decision in Payne v. Tennessee, upholding the use of victim impact statements in capital jury sentencing proceedings, marked one of the most dramatic reversals of a precedent in the history of United States constitutional jurisprudence. The decision in Payne expressly overruled Booth v. Maryland decided only four years earlier. The Booth case rejected the use of victim impact statements in capital sentencing cases that involved juries. In Payne, the Supreme Court made it clear that victims were entitled to offer, and juries were permitted to consider, the effect that a "death eligible" homicide had on ...


The “Midnight Assassination Law” And Minnesota’S Anti-Death Penalty Movement, John Bessler Jan 1996

The “Midnight Assassination Law” And Minnesota’S Anti-Death Penalty Movement, John Bessler

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This article traces the history of Minnesota's anti-death penalty movement and the 1889 Minnesota law - dubbed by contemporaries as the "midnight assassination law" - requiring private, nighttime executions. That law, authored by Minnesota legislator John Day Smith, restricted the number of execution spectators, prohibited newspapers from printing any execution details, and provided that only the fact of the execution could be lawfully printed. Also commonly referred to as the "John Day Smith law," this Minnesota statute was challenged as being unconstitutional by Minnesota newspapers after those newspapers printed details of a botched hanging and were charged with violating the law ...


Televised Executions And The Constitution: Recognizing A First Amendment Right Of Access To State Executions, John Bessler Jan 1993

Televised Executions And The Constitution: Recognizing A First Amendment Right Of Access To State Executions, John Bessler

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This article examines the history of public and private executions and the passage of private execution laws. It concludes that existing laws restricting media access to executions – and requiring private executions that exclude television cameras – are unconstitutional. The author examines existing statutory schemes which curtail media access and prohibit the filming of executions, discusses legal challenges to such laws, and explores freedom of the press jurisprudence. In particular, the article analyzes First Amendment case law and right-of-access cases. The author also discusses the Eighth Amendment's relationship to First Amendment case law in the area of media coverage of executions.


Commentary: Rummel V. Estelle: Mockingbirds Among The Brethren, Kenneth Lasson Jan 1981

Commentary: Rummel V. Estelle: Mockingbirds Among The Brethren, Kenneth Lasson

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In this commentary Professor Lasson discusses the Supreme Court's decision in Rummel v. Estelle and reveals a poignant personal memorandum that reflects the analysis of human values necessarily performed by whichever Justice cast the deciding vote.