U.S. Supreme Court Justice cites co-authored work by Arvind Krishnamurthy

Thursday, July 5, 2018
U.S. Supreme Court Justice cites co-authored work by Arvind Krishnamurthy

On June 28, 2018, the US Supreme Court denied requests by two death row inmates from Mississippi to have their cases heard. Justice Stephen Breyer dissented from these decisions, citing a recent work by Prof. Frank Baumgartner along with UNC undergraduate students Marty Davidson, Kaneesha Johnson, Arvind Krishnamurthy, and Colin Wilson on three different points. First, one of the inmates has been on death row for 42 years, and Breyer notes the research they conducted on exactly this topic. Second, he refers to their analysis of studies of whether the states have narrowly targeted the death penalty only for those crimes and criminals who are truly the “worst of the worst,” noting their finding that indeed in many states the vast majority of homicides remain eligible for the death penalty. And finally, he cites their research on the declining use of capital punishment and increasing geographical concentration of it. All of these facts, the Justice argues, merit concern. Continue reading the original news post here

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.

Arvind Krishnamurthy graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 2016 where he first began working alongside Frank Baumgartner and other coauthors.  He became a Ph.D. student in the Duke University Department of Political Science in 2017.

Explore more about the book here