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Richard C. Dieter

For most of human history, the death penalty has been the norm, rather than the exception, in response to the most serious crimes. It is only in recent times that capital punishment has found itself on the defensive-criticized and virtually abandoned by the majority of countries around the world. Despite its long history, capital punishment is now being rejected in law and in practice at an accelerated pace. The growing number of abolitionist countries and the international pressure exerted on retentionist countries point to a possible worldwide elimination of this practice, similar to the ending of the entrenched institutions of slavery and apartheid. However, because the death penalty is so closely entwined with the political philosophies by which countries are governed, its complete disappearance in the near future seems unlikely. In some regions of the world it is actually expanding. Measuring the death penalty by the number of people potentially impacted by its use paints a different picture from one that counts only the number of countries with death penalty laws. Two-thirds of the world’s population reside in countries that retain the punishment and many of those countries are rapidly growing in size. This volume of in-depth essays on the death penalty examines many of the common themes from disparate parts of the world that have led to the recent rejection of capital punishment by many countries. The introductory chapter will briefly examine the status of the death penalty around the world and highlight the competing pressures that may either ensure the continued decline of the death penalty or allow its continuation for decades to come. Other chapters will explore the sources of death penalty law, including the offenses meriting execution and the classes of offenders who may be spared from such punishment; the legal safeguards employed in various places to secure and confirm a death sentence; the modern problems of the death penalty that have come under closer review, including the methods of execution, conditions on death row and the issues of race and innocence; and finally the international institutions that have taken up the mantle of challenging capital punishment, both in individual cases and systemically. The book closes with an assessment of the likely future of the death penalty, based on the myriad of forces pushing it along different paths.