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NCJ Number: 211176 Find in a Library
Title: "Abuse Excuse" in Capital Sentencing Trials: Is It Relevant to Responsibility, Punishment, or Neither?
Journal: American Criminal Law Review  Volume:42  Issue:3  Dated:Summer 2005  Pages:1027-1072
Author(s): Paul Litton
Date Published: 2005
Page Count: 46
Document: DOC
Type: Case Study
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Based on a case study, this paper articulates the reasons, if any, that evidence of suffering childhood abuse is relevant to a capital defendant’s just punishment.
Abstract: This paper searches for reasons for penalty-phase jurors to consider evidence showing that a capital defendant suffered severe abuse and neglect as a child. It is argued that suffering childhood abuse does not render a defendant less than fully responsible for his/her crime merely because it may be a cause of his criminal act. In presenting this argument, the case of Robert Alton Harris, a victim of childhood abuse and a subsequent convicted murderer is recounted and discussed throughout the paper. The paper proceeds by summarizing the relevant sixth and eighth amendment jurisprudence of the Supreme Court with a view of why childhood abuse evidence is relevant to the sentencing jury’s determination and arguing that suffering childhood abuse does not diminish responsibility but is relevant to responsibility. It is also argued that it is necessary to distinguish between a diminished capacity to conform to moral and legal requirements and understandably lacking the motivation to do so. Moral considerations are cited based on the connection between respect and responsibility. Lastly, it is argued that suffering childhood abuse may be a relevant punishment consideration, if it interferes with a minimally decent moral education. In summation, there are two ways in which suffering severe childhood abuse and neglect may be relevant to a sentencing jury’s determination: (1) if abuse caused an individual’s capacity for rational self-control to be diminished and (2) if abuse deprived an individual from a safeguard against entering a life of violence.
Main Term(s): Capital punishment
Index Term(s): Child abuse; Child abuse as crime factor; Child abuse as delinquency factor; Constitutional Rights/Civil Liberties; Environmental influences; Home environment; Jury decisionmaking; Murderers; Offender profiles; Reasonable doubt; Sentencing factors; Sentencing/Sanctions
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