General perspectives inform our understanding of state behavior. (Prentice 2005) A common approach in political sociology treats public outcomes as the result of external social and economic forces that influence state decisions. This orientation yields hypotheses about the effects of social divisions. (1) We begin by discussing the explanatory power of racial cleavages and economic inequality, partly because these threat explanations are so prominent in the literature. A micro approach focuses instead on individual belief systems. Political ideology may have strong effects on an intensely symbolic and moral issue like capital punishment. (Pregibon 2006)
Death Penalty -Law
American criminal law was not created out of nothing by the original colonists and the Founding Fathers. Rather, it took its shape directly from English criminal law of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In order to appreciate the structure that this tradition imparted to the American law of capital punishment, it is necessary to review, if only briefly, the experience in England with the death penalty during our nation's formative years. (2) Accordingly, in the following paragraphs, we shall examine the main features of the capital laws of England as a foundation for a study of the pattern of capital laws in colonial America. With this background of English and early American law in mind, we will then be in a position to appreciate the major American innovations in capital punishment developed during the past century and a half (privacy of executions, redefinition of the crime of murder, new methods of execution, and optional death penalties), innovations that give distinctive shape to this mode of punishment as it now exists in our country. (3)
By the end of the fifteenth century, English law recognized eight major capital crimes: treason (including attempts and conspiracies), petty treason (killing of a husband by his wife), murder (killing a person with "malice"), larceny, robbery, burglary, rape and arson. Under the Tudors and Stuarts, many more crimes entered this category. By 1688 there were nearly fifty.(4) During the reign of George II, nearly three dozen more were added, and under George III the total was increased by sixty. The highpoint was reached shortly after 1800. One estimate put the number of capital crimes at 223 as late as 1819. (5)It is impossible to detail here the incredible variety of offenses involved. Crimes of every description against the state, against the person, against property, against the public peace were made punishable by death. Even with fairly lax enforcement after 1800, between 2,000 and 3,000 persons were sentenced to death each year from 1805 to 1810.Conviction of a capital offense, whether or not sentence was executed, resulted in attainder: forfeiture of all lands and property, and denial of all right of inheritance ("corruption of blood"). (6)Although appeal of the death sentence itself to a higher tribunal was all but impossible, the descendants of an executed criminal occasionally succeeded in appealing the attainder. (7)
The usual mode of execution was hanging, though there were several ...