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Death Penalty and Capital Punishment in UK

Death Penalty and Capital Punishment in UK

What is Death Penalty

Lanier and Acker (2004) evaluated the concept of the death penalty being a deterrent to violent acts. They reported a steady decline in the belief of capital punishment as a deterrent, for years 1976 to 2000. Though policy makers, presidents, and Supreme Court justices continue to refer to capital punishment’s deterrent effect, the general public appears to believe their announcements less and less. No trends indicating the death penalty’s deterrent effects have been seen when analyzing murder rate and death penalty enforcement (Lanier & Acker, 2004).

Cochran and Chamlin’s (2005) Florida University study also tested the death penalty as a deterrent myth. Once participants were provided with evidence that capital punishment has not deterred murder or any crime, support for the death penalty declined. When looking at the deterrence issue in isolation, pre- and post-test scores were significantly different. This seems to indicate that capital punishment support significantly declines as a result of information claiming its non-deterrent nature (Cochran & Chamlin, 2005).

innocence meaning

Among their several investigations, Lanier and Acker (2004) assessed just how many people had been sentenced to death, when in fact they were innocent. Information from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC; as cited by Lanier & Acker, 2004) noted that 110 persons convicted and sentenced to death have been released since 1973 because of evidence challenging their guilt. Mishandled DNA evidence and false eyewitness accounts are two of the factors that can produce a false conviction (Lanier & Acker, 2004).

Unethical police and prosecutors, false and coerced confessions, improper interrogation, inappropriate use of jailhouse informants, ineffective counsel, incompetence, and fraud are other reasons for the conviction of innocent parties (Huff, 2004).

Using data from the Florida university study, Cochran and Chamlin (2005) sought an answer for the innocence question as well. The capital punishment special topics course covered the innocence factor by presenting data about how many people on death row had been acquitted because of faulty information.

A study conducted by Young (2004) also addressed the innocence question. Young (2004) analyzed data from the 1990 to 1996 responses to the General Social Surveys {GSS; Davis & Smith, 1996) for Caucasian respondents only. He found that certain circumstances established whether a person would be willing to convict an innocent person, rather than acquit a guilty one. Results indicated that White Americans “feel that it is a more serious mistake to acquit guilty defendants than to convict innocent ones” (p. 161). His findings also bring into account another issue that will be addressed later, respondent race.

Bohm and Vogel’s (2004) 10-year longitudinal study addressed the question of innocence as well. Participants were questioned on four occasions to test the stability of their opinions about capital punishment. Analysis of the pretest and three posttests showed lowered support for the death penalty when considering executing a possibly innocent defendant. Researchers used information about how innocent defendants have been tried and sentenced in the past. Responses throughout this longitudinal study were relatively stable across all four testing sessions, though some significant differences were seen between African American and Caucasian respondents. Overall, respondents were less likely to support the death penalty when presented with the idea of possibly convicting an innocent person (Bohm & Vogel, 2004).

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Jury Selection and the Penalty Phase

Jury selection in capital offense trials is extremely important. Ultimately, it is the jury’s choice to determine the innocence or guilt and punishment of the defendant. Terms such as life- and death-qualified jurors have been developed throughout the course of capital trial research. In the research, life-qualified persons are those people who would not, under any circumstance, sentence anyone to death. These people’s beliefs and attitudes prohibit them Jury selection in capital offense trials is extremely important. Ultimately, it is the jury’s choice to determine the innocence or guilt and punishment of the defendant.

Terms such as life- and death-qualified jurors have been developed throughout the course of capital trial research. In the research, life-qualified persons are those people who would not, under any circumstance, sentence anyone to death. These people’s beliefs and attitudes prohibit them participants answered a question pertaining to whether they supported the death penalty for adults and juveniles who were convicted of murder. All responses were scored on a five point Likert scale ranging from strongly favor to strongly oppose. All responses of strongly or somewhat favor were considered death penalty supporters.

Participants were then asked a second question: Would they support a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole rather than the death penalty for adults or juveniles convicted of murder? Responses for this question were also scored on a five point Likert scale (strongly favor to strongly oppose). The results were condensed to three points consisting of favor, uncertain, or oppose. The purpose of the research was to calculate how death penalty opinions would change if jurors were given a sentencing option of life in prison with absolutely no possibility of parole. Comparisons were made, -using a logistic regression analysis, between those that adamantly supported the death penalty, and the original supporters that would rather appoint a sentence of life without parole. No significant differences were found (Vogel, 2003).

However, there were several flaws in the Vogel (2003) study. The sample’s responses were originally made with a five-point Likert scale (strongly favor to stronglyoppose). When analyses were performed, the responses were broken down into only three parts {favor, uncertain, and oppose). Had Vogel (2003) analyzed these data in their original form, death-qualified persons would have been more apparent. Rather than using anyone who responded favor as death-qualified, only those who responded strongly favor would be considered death-qualified. The same analyses could have been performed. Those truly death-qualified respondents may not have chosen to support the life without parole option. Differences found between death penalty supporters and those opting for life in prison without parole may have been significant enough to determine if this phenomenon actually does occur. Though this may not have been the intent of’ the research, much can be gained from this study.

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Persuasion Theory

Marshall (as cited in Furman v. Georgia, 1972) gave great weight to the belief that knowledge could change the U.S. public’s opinion about capital punishment. Marshall believed that knowledge such as being aware that innocent individuals have been executed, and that with few exceptions released murderers are almost always law-abiding, would lead the majority of U.S. citizens to oppose capital punishment (Furman). In that regard Marshall stated, “this information would almost surely convince the average citizen that the death penalty was unwise” unless that support was based on a motive or desire for retribution/vengeance (as cited in Furman, 1972, p. 364). Regardless of the veracity of Marshall’s beliefs, it is clear that Marshall emphasized the role which knowledge could play in persuading the public to oppose capital punishment. Similarly, the belief that knowledge can change opinions is also among the key assumptions of persuasion theory (McGaan, 2005), the underlying theoretical framework for this study.

Simply stated, persuasion theory is based on the belief that attitudes, beliefs, and preferences can be changed through the act of persuasion (Fotheringham, 1966). Fotheringham (1996) stated the process of persuasion, that is, the attempt of one individual or group to influence another person or organization, could be done by a variety of means. These included (a) verbal communication, (b) radio, as well as (c) video (Fotheringham). The ultimate goal of persuasion, as held in persuasion theory, is to cause individuals and or groups to doubt their belief on a given subject and to act on that new belief/opinion (Fotheringham). Yet it is important to note that persuasion is not forced coercion and does not result in a guaranteed opinion change. As individuals who receive the persuasion effort(s) can either accept or reject the message being offered (Fotheringham)

Key assumptions

Key assumptions to persuasion theory include:

Persuasion theory attempts to change opinions, predominately through information, in an effort to get individuals to act (McGaan, 2005). A relevant assumption for research that seeks to test the Marshall hypotheses. Particularly as a primary goal held by Marshall (Furman v. Georgia, 1972) was to change capital punishment supporters into nonsupporters. Marshall believed that such a transition in opinion would ultimately be reflected in public opinion polls. That is significant as future polls could influence criminal justice practitioners and lawmakers when it comes time to (a) recommend or non-recommend a case for the death penalty, (b) decide whether or not to allow those on death row to have access to resources such as DNA testing for their defense, and or (c) decide to ban or continue the use of capital punishment.

Information provided with the intent being to persuade individuals on a particular subject, will have a better chance of successfully changing opinions if the information comes from a credible source (Arnold, 2000). Therefore, the manipulation in this experimental study does not include data presented solely by anti-capital punishment or pro-capital punishment groups. Important as participants could have concluded that anti or pro capital punishment groups have an obvious agenda, in that both likely offer only one viewpoint, and therefore lack credibility. Instead the movie entitled American Justice: Death Penalty (Kurtis & Towers, 2004), presented by A&E and the History Channel, which presents both pro and opposition perspectives regarding capital punishment was used. Testing the Marshall hypotheses with knowledge in the form of a video is supported. Lambert and Clarke (2001) concluded their experimental study, which used written essays on the subject of capital punishment in an effort to test the Marshall hypotheses, with the recommendation that future research test the capability of changing death penalty opinions through a variety of delivery methods; video being one of the methods they recommended.

Information provided that is weak, that is, not strongly compelling, may not only fail to produce a change in opinion but can harden the starting opinion (Petty, Wheeler, & Bizer, 1999). Subsequently, information identified by Marshall that is most compelling, such as the sentencing and execution of innocence that has been found to decrease capital punishment support (Jones, 1994) was presented. In contrast, more debatable and less compelling issues offered by Marshall (as cited in Furman v. Georgia, 1972), such as society has evolved to a moral level where capital punishment should no longer be condoned, was not included in the manipulation.

Failure to change attitudes through persuasion can be caused by; (a) biased assimilation, (b) attitude polarization; and (c) forewarning, that is, individuals know ahead of time that the information they are about to receive is designed to change their opinion (Mitchell, 2005). This assumption played an important aspect in this study for two key reasons. First, in an effort to counter the effects of forewarning, while participants were told that the study was about capital punishment and the Marshall hypotheses, the point about whether or not knowledge will lower capital punishment support was not emphasized. Second, as it specifically relates to biased assimilation and attitude polarization, this assumption helps one understand the competing hypothesis to Marshall’s, which was derived by researchers Lord, Ross, and Lepper (1979). In contrast to Marshall’s belief that knowledge will lower capital punishment support, Lord, et al found that factual and empirically based information seemed to solidify opinions on the death penalty. Lord, et al’s participants, both critics and supporters of capital punishment, hardened their starting viewpoint by picking out facts and statements that supported their original opinion, and disregarded data that did not. Lord, et al. coined that phenomenon as biased assimilation.

Biased assimilation is described by the authors as a process of deciding whether or not information is credible based solely on whether it supports or refutes an individuals preexisting opinion (Lord, et al. 1979). In all, biased assimilation refers to the process of biased learning that prevents opinion change and instead results in attitude polarization (Munro, Leafy, & Lasane, 2004). Furthermore, biased assimilation was a phenomenon that Marshall Hypotheses researchers’ Ellsworth and Ross (1983) also spoke of. Like Lord et al (1979), Ellsworth and Ross (1983) found that a statistically significant number of participants defended their original position on capital punishment no matter what they were told by the researchers.

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Bohm, R. M., & Vogel, B. L. (2004). More than ten years after: The long-term stability of informed death penalty opinions. Journal of Criminal Justice, 32, 307-327.

Cochran, J. K., & Chamlin, M. B. (2005). Can information change public opinion? Another test of the Marshall hypotheses. Journal of Criminal Justice, 33, 573-584.

Davis, J. A., & Smith, T. W. (1996). General social surveys, 1972-1996. Storrs, CT: The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut, distributor.

Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

Huff, C. R. (2004). Wrongful convictions: The /American experience. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 46, 107-120.

Lanier, C. S., & Acker, J. R. (2004). Capital punishment, the moratorium movement, and empirical questions. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 10(4), 577-617.

Vogel, B. L. (2003). Support for life in prison without the possibility of parole among death penalty proponents. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 27(2), 263-275.

Young, R. L. (2004). Guilt until proven innocent: Conviction orientation, racial attitudes, and support for capital punishment. Deviant Behavior, 25, 151-167.