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The Bitter Fruit of American Justice
International and Domestic Resistance to the Death Penalty
Alan W. Clarke, Laurelyn Whitt

Northeastern University Press
2007 • 280 pp. 6 x 9"
Criminal Justice / International Relations / Law

$40.00 Hardcover, 978-1-55553-682-4

“Clarke and Whitt’s approach is fresh, their logic impeccable, and their conclusions so persuasive that even the staunchest defenders of capital punishment might take notice. In fact, one of their aims is precisely to demonstrate how the very logic used by death penalty supporters collapses on its own weight when confronted with increasingly persuasive evidence that some of the most fundamental problems with capital punishment, especially the risk of executing the innocent, are generated and reproduced by the system itself and hence not amenable to fixing.”—International Review of Modern Sociology

A study of the increasing international opposition to and growing domestic disaffection from the death penalty in America

The Bitter Fruit of American Justice examines two increasingly important factors in the debate over state execution, the conjunction of which may well signal an end to the death penalty in the United States. The first is external to the country. Mounting international resistance to state execution is raising the political stakes for the United States. Much of the democratic world has abolished state execution, regarding it as a grave human rights violation. Drawing on new understandings of state sovereignty, these nations are using extradition policy and existing treaty obligations to pressure the United States to end capital punishment. The second is internal to the country: the discovery of large numbers of innocent people on America’s death rows has shaken public opinion and political resolve on this issue. The moral potency and rhetorical effectiveness of the innocence argument is radically altering the terms of the debate, undermining traditional justifications for capital punishment and weakening the attitudes of even the most adamant retentionists.

The authors contend that while there have long been compelling reasons to oppose the death penalty (the persistence of race, class and ethnic bias, its profound arbitrariness, its failure to deter more effectively than its alternatives, its exceptional costs), the power of such critiques is itself significantly enhanced by the convergence of international pressure and the innocence argument. The fact that a significant number of those whose lives the state ends are not only selected on arbitrary and discriminatory grounds, but are also innocent of the crime for which they are being punished, only intensifies the gravity of the abuse of state power that the American death penalty represents. The authors argue that domestic disquiet over a system that gets it wrong all too frequently is combining with the international critique of the death penalty as a human rights violation to bring an end to America’s death penalty.

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"This book is an unusually valuable resource for those who want to understand the inherent contradictions of American death penalty policies, and how these contradictions will inevitably lead us, like virtually all other industrialized countries, to the eventual abolition of capital punishment."—Michael L. Radelet, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado

"Essential reading for those concerned with current and emerging issues in America's use of the death penalty."—Margaret Vandiver, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Memphis

ALAN W. CLARKE and LAURELYN WHITT teach in the Department of Integrated Studies at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.

Fri, 21 Sep 2012 08:30:11 -0500