International Journal of Business and Social Science

ISSN 2219-1933 (Print), 2219-6021 (Online) DOI: 10.30845/ijbss


A Tale of Two Towns: Why Relying on Aggravating Circumstances to Support Capital Punishment among Law Enforcement Has Become So Aggravating
Terrence P. Dwyer, George F. Kain

There has been much discussion concerning capital trial decisions which have focused on aggravating circumstances and the likelihood of obtaining a sentence of death after conviction, as well as discussions of murder cases that are not processed as capital cases, but which contain similar aggravating circumstances. Comparing the results of capital and non-capital cases with similar aggravating circumstances can reveal to us some of the most basic problems with the use of capital punishment in America. This paper will address this issue in two ways. First, we compare two strikingly similar time-proximate cases in different states (one with and one without a death penalty statute) that yielded very different results, and which highlight the most basic problems with considering aggravating circumstances as having primary importance in murder cases. We then discuss the utility of arguments in favor of capital punishment by those in law enforcement which stem from a traditional strong law enforcement ideology, in light of evolving arguments against capital punishment which have come to challenge this ideology with evidence of its weakness and effectiveness. We suggest that these challenges can move the strong consideration of aggravating circumstances as justification for capital punishment to the back burner in the death penalty debate and allow a more reasoned and practical approach with law enforcement toward removing their support for the claimed benefits of a death penalty statute.

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