The literature suggests mixed results with some studies supporting the death penalty as a deterrent (Ehrlich, 1975; Mocan & Gettings, 2003; Dezhbakhsh & Shepherd, 2006). Others suggest that there is no general deterrent impact from the use of the death penalty (Bailey & Peterson, 1997; Bedau, 2004). It appears that many of the studies claiming a deterrent effect are econometric studies utilizing methodologies that have been sharply criticized by sociologists (Bohm, 2017). Others report that the literature on deterrence from the death penalty is inconclusive (Chalfi n, Haviland, & Raphael, 2013). Still others suggest that the confl icting research as to deterrence is further clouded by the “suspicion that researchers tend to fi nd what they set out to fi nd, or what they would prefer to fi nd” (Schwarz- schild, 2002, p. 10).
The fact that condemned killers nearly always fi ght their death sentence to the end is offered as support for deterrence.
The fact that those who are condemned to death do everything in their power to get their sentences postponed or reduced to long-term prison sentences, in the way lifers do not, shows that they fear death more than life in prison.
(Pojman, 2004, p. 61)
However, this argument fails to consider that fear of death while sitting on death row is not comparable to the suggested fear of death experienced by a person contemplating taking the life of another in real time. The condemned prisoner on death row has more than enough time to dwell on the state ordered end of his life. This is in sharp contrast to the much more constricted time frame within which the decision to kill the victim typically takes place.
7 Why We Need the Death Penalty
Donohue and Wolfers (2006) compared the U.S. and Canada because of the geographical proxim- ity and contrasting policies on the death penalty (the U.S. had it except for 1972–1976, and Canada had it but did not use it after 1962 and abolished it in 1976) and found that the homicide rates of the two nations moved in the same patterns. These patterns were the same even through the years between Furman and Gregg when the U.S. had no death penalty and the subsequent years when the U.S. restored the death penalty and Canada abolished capital punishment. They also compared the states that had the death penalty with those that did not for the period from 1960–2000 and found the same patterns of homicides in both groups, even for the Furman-Gregg years. Thus, it is suggested that the suspension of the death penalty by Furman or its reinstatement by Gregg had no impact on homicide rates.
While deterrence is a valid and important issue for consideration, the diffi culty in assessing actual deterrence renders this argument problematic and unconvincing for either side. The confl icting research and controversy over deterrence and capital punishment should lead both abolitionists and retentionists to offer other more compelling arguments in favor of their respective positions regarding continued use of the death penalty.