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Murders of Passion, Execution Delays, and the Deterrence of Capital Punishment (From Committee on Law and Justice: Death Penalty Seminar, 2004, -- See NCJ-206355)

NCJ Number
Joanna M. Shepherd
Date Published
July 2004
44 pages
This working paper, examines the types of murders deterred by capital punishment and the effect the length of death-row wait has on deterrence.
Previous researchers have concluded that the economic model of crime, in which offenders weigh the costs and benefits of committing a crime, is not applicable to the crime of murder. Murders committed in the heat of passion are not contemplated beforehand and are thus, nondeterrable. These researchers assert that the deterrent effect of capital punishment on murder would be only among pre-meditated murders. In order to discover the types of murders deterred by capital punishment, the author analyzed monthly murder, execution, and death row data at the State level between 1977 and 1999. Monthly data have been previously unexamined within the capital punishment literature, although it is a more accurate measure of deterrence because it reveals monthly fluctuations in murders and allows for a model in which offenders update their perceived execution risk frequently. Results of least squares and negative binomial estimations revealed that each execution deterred, on average, three murders. This finding was true of crimes of passion as well as murders committed by intimate partners. Findings also showed that murders of both Black and White victims decreased after executions. However, the longer the duration of waits on death row, the weaker the deterrent effect grew. The analysis indicated that 1 fewer murder was committed for every 2.75 year reduction in death row waits. As such, recent legislation designed to decrease the wait on death row should strengthen the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Tables, figures, references


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