Wednesday, November 28, 2012
G. Ben Cohen (The Justice Center's Capital Appeals Project) has posted McCleskey's Omission: The Racial Geography of Retribution (Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2012) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Twenty-five years after the Court in McCleskey refrained from addressing the overwhelming evidence that race, and particularly the race of the victim, plays a role in the administration of the death penalty, with no corrective measures taken to ensure that the worst of the worst offenders receive the death penalty, the death penalty in America is as arbitrary as it ever was.
This article suggests that while both the majority and the dissent in McCleskey noted the history of racism in the South, neither confronted the manner in which racism was imbedded in the goal of retribution, nor reconciled the sordid history of lynching with the modern system of capital punishment. A careful examination of death sentences in the modern era reflects that racism arises at a county rather than a state level. The author suggests that the history of lynching, especially in the deep south, is inexorably connected to retribution.
Future challenges to the constitutionality of capital punishment should address the validity of retribution as a basis for imposing the death penalty and the impact that desire for retribution has on county-level administration of the death penalty.
The United States Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, calls for further inquiry concerning the role of retribution in supporting the validity of the capital punishment. In Kennedy, the Court warned that “retribution” “most often can contradict the law’s own ends . . . When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint.”