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8 Law & Hum. Behav. 1 (1984)

handle is hein.journals/lwhmbv8 and id is 1 raw text is: Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 8, Nos. 1/2, 1984

Editor's Introduction
Craig Haney*
For nearly a generation, American courts have been struggling with a special set
of profoundly important moral and legal questions. In a sense, these questions
establish the very boundaries of the criminal sanction: Does the state ever have
the right to inflict punishment by taking a human life? If so, who will decide
which persons deserve such punishment? By what process? Of course, these are
ancient questions over which societies have been agonizing for centuries, not
decades. But in recent years they have become the focus of intense legal debate
and the topic of numerous appellate court opinions.
For the time being, at least, a majority of the United States Supreme Court
has concluded that nothing in the Constitution prohibits states from enacting and
enforcing death penalty statutes. Agreement over exactly what standards should
govern the decision-making process in death penalty cases has proven more elu-
sive and provides the grist for an evolving jurisprudence of death. For obvious
reasons, these standards hold special significance for persons touched most di-
rectly by the outcomes of death penalty case-capital defendants. Despite the
statistical infrequency of these cases, the size of this group is growing rapidly.'
Of course, the importance of capital punishment extends far beyond the size of
the group it affects most directly. The death penalty is an emotionally charged,
symbolic issue. It represents a cognate of deeply held moral and political beliefs
and values, and indicates something very basic and essential both about how our
society comprehends the sanctity of human life and about the means that we have
chosen to safeguard it.
It also seems clear that the resolution of various legal conflicts over capital
punishment will have enormous impact on other parts of the criminal justice
system. The legal processes that we find fair and due in capital cases are likely
to set standards for noncapital cases, if only indirectly. That is, it seems reason-
*Adlai E. Stevenson, University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California 95064. I am very
grateful to my colleagues Thomas F. Pettigrew and Richard Wasserstrom for assisting in the editorial
review of the manuscripts in this volume.
'As this special issue goes to press, there are over 1200 persons on death rows throughout the United

0147-7307/84/0600-0001$03.50/0 © 1984 Plenum Publishing Corporation

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