Deadly Justice Cover

Deadly Justice
A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty

Frank R. Baumgartner, Marty Davidson, Kaneesha R. Johnson, Arvind Krishnamurthy, and Colin P. Wilson

Oxford University Press, 2018


About the Book


Deadly Justice is a comprehensive examination of the record established through 40 years of experience with the “new and improved” death penalty. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated all existing death penalty laws in its landmark Furman v. Georgia decision. The Court was particularly concerned about the arbitrary and capricious administration of the penalty. Four years later in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) the Court approved a system with special guidelines to reduce or eliminate the problems earlier identified. The book poses a simple question: Has the modern system worked as intended? Have the states successfully targeted only a narrow class of particularly heinous crimes and the most deserving criminals for the ultimate punishment, or do various elements of caprice, bias, and arbitrariness continue to make the application of the death penalty akin to “being struck by lightning” as the Court noted in Furman?

With chapters focusing on homicides, race and gender dynamics, aggravators and mitigators, geography, reversals, delays on death row, exonerations, methods of execution and botches, last-minute stays of execution, mental illness, public opinion, cost, deterrence, and evolving standards, the book offers a comprehensive overview of our nation’s modern experiment with capital punishment. At a time when other countries have abandoned judicial execution, the U.S. attempted to fix its own deeply flawed system.


The book’s empirical focus provides hard statistical evidence that not only has the modern system retained the vast majority of the issues that concerned the Justices in Furman, but several new problems have arisen as well: cost, botched lethal injections, decades of delay, geographic concentration in just a few jurisdictions, enormous rates of reversal, and last minute stays of execution. Thus, if anything, the modern death penalty not only fails the Furman test, but it scores even worse than the historical death penalty which was declared unconstitutional in 1972. Efforts to repair the system have failed.


The book was published in November 2017 but carries a copyright date of 2018.


Click on the links to the left for additional information about our book, including all the data associated with it, both for replication and for updating through 2016 and beyond.


A note on our cover art: This original artwork was created by Cerron T. Hooks, an inmate on North Carolina's Death Row.


Here is a sense of the contents of our book, portrayed as a word-cloud:

word-cloud of Deadly Justice


(This page was last updated August 19, 2018.)

Table of Contents


Data, Updates, and Replications


Legal Citations and Cases


About the Authors

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