Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States

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Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States

Title: Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States

Preface to the Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States

The second edition of this encyclopedia builds upon the first by, among other things, including material that
reflects alterations in capital punishment laws. Since the first edition appeared in 2001, the United States Supreme
Court has issued more than forty opinions addressing capital punishment issues and, when necessary, state and federal
capital punishment laws have been amended to reflect the Supreme Court’s decisions. Some of the changes
brought about as a result of the decisions of the Supreme Court include prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded
felons, barring imposition of capital punishment on defendants who commit capital crimes while younger than
eighteen, and permitting death row inmates to use civil rights legislation to challenge aspects of the methods in which
they are to be executed.
The legal history of capital punishment dates to the founding of the nation. The American colonists brought
capital punishment with them from Europe and, except between 1972 and 1976, the punishment has always been a
living instrument in Anglo-American jurisprudence. This encyclopedia provides a comprehensive A-to-Z source of
information on the legal, social and political history and the status of capital punishment. The breadth of coverage
provided by the entries is especially critical at this juncture of capital punishment’s history. Tremendous pressure continues
to be brought domestically and internationally to remove capital punishment from every penal code in the
United States. The outcome of the struggle will be resolved in large part by the understanding or lack of understanding
of the punishment by the majority of the citizenry. This encyclopedia should serve not only as a tool for academic
researchers, but for laypersons on both sides of the debate.
Every effort has been made to present the material in a manner readily understandable to a lay audience. Of
course, the lowest common denominator of some issues simply does not shed its legal trappings, nor its terminology.
Cross-references have been provided to enable nonspecialist researchers to gain access to all of the material.
While it is not practical to summarize the entire encyclopedia in this preface, some discussion of its highlights
is in order. First, the encyclopedia has an entry for virtually every capital punishment opinion issued by the United
States Supreme Court, from its inception through 2006. (Supreme Court case entries do not include memorandum
opinions. Also, the Supreme Court, during its early years, periodically issued opinions that did not state what punishment
a defendant received; consequently, some cases that appeared to be capital punishment cases were not included
simply because of the lack of certainty on the punishment.) The Supreme Court case entries summarize the
important legal issue(s) presented by a case. The cases provide a synopsis of the history of capital punishment because
they shaped the manner in which capital punishment was allowed to operate.
A second important type of entry is that of each jurisdiction that has (or does not have) capital punishment.
These entries summarize the relevant death penalty laws of each jurisdiction, as well as provide information on the
judicial structure of each jurisdiction. Several special types of entries have been included. Almost 200 entries set out
the status of capital punishment in the nations of the world. Numerous entries summarize famous and not-so-famous
capital prosecutions. Entries have been included for many of the organizations that are for or against capital
punishment. Special entries discuss the impact of capital punishment on African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic
Americans, Native Americans, women, and foreign nationals. Entries look at the history of each current method
of execution in the nation. Additionally, a special entry examines capital punishment by the military. A wealth of diverse
statistical data accompanies many of the entries.
A note about abbreviations: CJ. stands for chief justice, J. for justice and JJ. for justices.

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