Failsafe or Fantasy?

Authored by: Cathleen Burnett

Routledge Handbook on Capital Punishment

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138651579
eBook ISBN: 9781315624723
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines what is known about executive clemency as it pertains to the state death penalty process. After the United States Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia (428 U.S. 153, 1976), it wasn’t until 1993, that the court gave any significant attention to the clemency process. In Herrera v. Collins (506 U.S. 390, 412) the court stated that executive clemency is “the historic remedy for preventing miscarriages of justice where judicial process has been exhausted.” Review of what is known about state structures, trends, and court decisions, provides the context to evaluate the relevancy of executive clemency in today’s scheme of death penalty administration. The conclusion reached is that executive clemency is not a failsafe, instead it remains an act of grace and mercy and hence, arbitrary and capricious in its bestowal.

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