POLI 495
The Decline of the Death Penalty
M, W, 5:00 to 6:15pm, Murphey 115

Prof. Frank R. Baumgartner
313 Hamilton Hall, phone 962-0414
Web site: http://www.unc.edu/~fbaum/

Office hours: M, W, 2-3pm and by appointment

Click here for the syllabus

Click here to read a copy of the North Carolina Racial Justice Act

Read the Press Release and the Amicus Brief related to the RJA filed by the Wake Forest School of Law Innocence Project on Aug 30, 2010.

See the four part series in the Raleigh News and Observer regarding their investigation of the State Bureau of Investigation, from August 2010. These revelations are currently reverberating throughout the criminal justice system.

Read an interesting article from the NYTimes from September 13, 2010 on why people confess to crimes that they did not in fact commit.

See the slides presented in class by Pam Laughon and Ed Chapman (Caution: This file is over 26 megs so may take a long time to open)

Click on the links below to see three of many articles related to the Republican Party flier attacking Democrats for the RJA.

The first story, from October 21, 2010
GOP Apology story, October 22
Charlotte Observer commentary from October 23

Click here to see some new maps relating to the geographic coverage of death sentences and executions.

Gallup poll report from November 8, 2010 on public opinion.

Spanish Coca Cola commercial using several exonerees.

Paper assignment for September 15. Pick three national trends documented in the first three chapters of The Decline of Innocence that put into broader context some of the elements of the case of Ron Williamson. How does Williamson's case illustrate these trends? Discuss one way in which Williamson's case is unique or not reflective of national trends. Is there likely anything truly new about these trends?

Paper assignment due on Monday Oct 18. (Note: the papers should be approximately 5 pages double spaced.) Based on the readings included in Cohen, Temple, and the presentations by class speakers including especially Ed Chapman, describe: a) two precise instances of error in a trial that were likely based on inadvertent error (that is, honest mistakes); b) two particular instances that were more likely based on bias or willful error. Then c) discuss what approaches would be needed to reduce each kind of error. End d) with your assessment of which type of error, willful or inadvertent, is a more important problem as it relates to the death penalty.

Paper assignment due on Wednesday Nov 17. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall commented that the more one knows about how the death penalty is implemented in practice, the less one supports it. After having studied the issues associated with the death penalty throughout this course, you now know more about the death penalty than the vast majority of Americans. List what you consider the three most compelling facts or examples that justify an anti-death penalty stance. By compelling I mean potentially convincing to an undecided or pro-death penalty person. Give some detail about your examples and why you consider these elements to be the most convincing arguments. In the second half of your paper, you have a choice. A) Do you believe that Justice Marshall was right and that if all Americans were exposed to the three arguments you point to (and gave them credibility), they would indeed oppose the death penalty? Explain in detail why or why not. Or, B) Considering the strength of the anti-death penalty arguments you have laid out, what would be the most effective pro-death penalty response if one wanted to engineer a resurgence of capital punishment? Be as specific as possible; write the basics of a 'strategy memo' highlighting the best arguments the could be used to reverse recent trends and to counter the powerful anti-death penalty arguments. Note that sometimes the strongest counter argument is not a direct contradiction but rather to admit that and to raise another issue entirely.

Announcements (read carefully):

No class on Wednesday September 15; your papers are due on Monday September 20. Thank me later.

No class on Wedneday October 20; this is fall break, so there are no classes after 5pm. This time, however, you have a paper due that day according to the syllabus, so I am going to move the deadline UP to Monday October 18. So we are even, but you have plenty of advance warning.

Group assignments: Each of you is responsible for coordinating with others in your group to introduce one of the speakers. Here are the assignments. If your name is not listed, it's because you are not officially registered as of today, September 13, so contact me about that so we can resolve the problem.

Speaker introduction assignments


Jim Woodall (Sep 23) Baldwin, Berlenback, Berry
Ed Chapman and Pam Laughlin (Sep 27) Bringard, Brod, Colwell
Ellie Kinnaird (Oct 4) Chapman, Condon, Cook
Ken Rose (Oct 18) Dworak, Ellis, Fincannon
Mark Kleinschmidt (Oct 25) Forrister, Franceschini
Steve Dear (Nov 8) Giles, Gould, Kelly
Dick Dieter (Nov 22) Medlin, Menesick, Needham
Jeremy Collins and Gerda Stein (Dec 1) Ott, Quesada, Reid
Kurt Rosenberg and Shabaka WaQlimi (Dec 6) Safarpour, Santiago, Stephens

Stay tuned for further announcements; watch this space for class resources.