This course analyzes the constitutional, statutory, procedural, and policy dimensions of capital punishment in the U.S. It introduces students to the historical, legal and sociological debates over the death penalty in the U.S. and to substantial portions of the constitutional doctrine the U.S. Supreme Court has created in the area since 1972. Included in this legal examination are the substantive and procedural law governing capital trials and the judicial (e.g. state appellate and federal habeas corpus) and executive procedures used to review capital verdicts. Questions considered are the success of the Supreme Court's recent effort to submit to law the decision whether or not to take life; the capacity of law generally to achieve the competing goals of certainty and flexibility; the relevance of systemic outcomes (e.g., based on race, geography, or other patterns or a lack thereof) in identifying the actual social purposes and assessing the appropriateness of law and legal proceedings; and the uses and limits of litigation and other forms of legal activity as a mechanism for legal and social change.
Grades are based on class participation, including a simulated, structured opportunity for death-penalty focused advocacy, and a final (open book) exam. Students may have the option to submit a final paper in lieu of the exam.