Starred Review. In his debut, Lane puts himself squarely in the camp of the "pro-death penalty American majority," yet believes that its application reveals "troubling flaws." Addressing the lack of a standards in sentencing that allows counties to act autonomously, Lane says that "There is no ÿAmerican criminal justice system,' but rather 3,141 criminal justice systems." He studies the use and abuse of capital punishment, and uncovers statistical evidence of racism (until 1967, Southern courts defined the rape of a white woman by a black man as a capital crime.) Lane dismisses claims that the penalty is a deterrent, comparing the homicide rate in Canada, where the death penalty was abolished in 1967, with that of the U.S. Lane feels that the death penalty should be used sparingly, not as retribution but as a "special penalty" for "special crimes" in order to affirm the sanctity of human life, and breaking with the European Union's definition of capital punishment as a human-rights issue ("everyone has an absolute right not to be put to death by the state"). A member of the Washington Post's editorial board, Lane has produced a careful, considered examination of a divisive issue. (Oct.)
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Lane, a Washington Post staff writer, approaches the perennially controversial subject of capital punishment from two angles. He assesses the cases for and against the death penalty, concluding that each has legitimate points and that each also contains some serious flaws (for example, one of the anchors of the case against is the idea that it’s racially unequal, but, the author shows, the racial disparity is frequently overstated by death-penalty opponents). The real issue here, Lane says, is the apparent contradiction surrounding the capital-punishment debate: polls indicate a majority of people support the death penalty, while they also believe that it is not a deterrent (which itself points up a flaw in the pro–death penalty argument). Not so much a discussion of whether capital punishment is right or wrong, or morally justified or repellent, the book is rather a thoughtful overview of the subject. Lane’s conclusion about capital punishment—the law works, but it’s application is clunky—is sure to provoke spirited debate. --David PittSee all Editorial Reviews