Book Review: Capitlal Punishment on Trial

TITLE: Capital Punishment on Trial SUBTITLE: Furman v. Georgia and the Death Penalty in Modern America AUTHOR: David M. Oshinsky PUBLICATION DATE: April 14, 2010
PUBLISHER: University Press of Kansas PAGE COUNT: 160 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-7006-1711-1 (Paper)
978-0-7006-1710-4 (Cloth)
PRICE: $14.95 (Paper)
$29.95 (Cloth)

Oshinsky , a Pulitzer-prize winning historian at the University of Texas, summarizes the tangled web of legal arguments for and against the death penalty in modern American justice. He focuses on the brief period of time during the 1970s in which capital punishment was banned by the U. S. Supreme Court, how the prohibition occurred, and how it ended as suddenly as it began. Highlighting the case that brought about the temporary halt to executions, the author details the appeal of William Henry Furman and how a deeply-divided Supreme Court concluded that a process so pervasively riddled with discrimination and arbitrary standards violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Oshinsky concludes that it was exactly this determination by the Court in 1972 that precipitated the reinstatement of the death penalty four years later by requiring the elimination of capricious and discriminatory standards from state death penalty statutes. The author describes the current Supreme Court as bitterly divided over the concept at a conceptual level, as Justices continue to struggle with the legal implications of a process that attempts to impose uniform standards and guidelines while at the same time pursues what Oshinsky believes to be an arbitrary, and thereby imperfect, formula for death that is the hallmark of the past. He argues that the issue is far from settled, as a stream of reports and findings portray the current system as racially biased, weighted against the poor, marred by substandard defense attorneys, expensive to maintain, and subject to intolerable error. The book is aimed at an academic audience and is thus recommended mainly for college, university, and law libraries.

Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Library, First Judicial District, New York, New York

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