Law and Economics of the Death Penalty

Law and Economics of the Death Penalty

client Michael Laurence, Executive Director, Habeas Corpus Resource Center instructors John L. Donohue III
deliverables Amicus Brief number of students students (Law)
deadline Winter 2015 quarters offered Autumn


This seminar and practicum examined the legal and policy aspects of a capital punishment regime. Students explored three primary issues: 1) the Supreme Court’s forty-year effort to define what cases can permissibly receive the death penalty and the procedures under which it must be imposed; 2) the arguments for and against the death penalty, with a major focus on whether the death penalty deters, is administered in a racially biased way, or is otherwise implemented in an arbitrary and capricious manner; and 3) the current status of the death penalty in the U.S. and internationally and prospects for the future. Students wrote an Amicus Brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on the issue of the deterrence of the death penalty, pursuant to the appeal taken by the California Attorney General in the case of Jones v. Chappell. In that case, Federal District Court Judge Cormac Carney struck down the California death penalty as unconstitutional because the system is not serving a legitimate penalogical justification. Students focused on the deterrence issue. arguing that deterrence, as it applies specifically in California, is ineffective in a system that has had about 900 death sentences but only 13 executions in 30 years, and, thus, where more death row inmates die from old age rather than execution.

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Clients & Deliverables


  • Brief Of Amici Curiae Empirical Scholars Concerning Deterrence And The Death Penalty In Support Of Petitioner/Appellee in Jones v. Davis (appeal of Jones v. Chappell)

Students researched the issue of deterrence as it applies specifically to the California death penalty, a system that has had about 900 death sentences but only 13 executions in 30 years. They then contributed to a Brief of Amici Curiae in Jones v. Chappell, in the U.S. District Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit. When the case comes up for oral arguments, students will attend to watch what could be one of the most important death penalty cases in the last decade. The case examines a federal district court decision that struck down the California death penalty as unconstitutional because it failed to further either of the two requirements for constitutionality: deterrence and retribution. The Brief points out that the last murder to lead to an execution in California was committed 33 years ago and sets forth the strong case that–whatever may be true for other states—the California death penalty system does not deter homicides.