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The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a "Judicial Experiment"

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  • Hashem Dezhbakhsh
  • Joanna M. Shepherd

Abstract

Does capital punishment deter capital crimes? We use panel data covering the fifty states duringthe period 1960-2000 period to examine the issue. Our study is novel in four ways. First, we estimate the moratorium's full effect by using both pre- and postmoratorium evidence. Second, we exploit the moratorium as a judicial experiment to measure criminals' responsiveness to the severity of punishment; we compare murder rates immediately before and after changes in states' death penalty laws. The inference draws on the variations in the timing and duration of the moratorium across states provide a cross section of murder rate changes occurring in various time periods. Third, we supplement the before-and-after comparisons with regression analysis that disentangles the impact of the moratorium itself on murder from the effect on murder of actual executions. By using two different approaches, we avoid many of the modeling criticisms of earlier studies. Fourth, in addition to estimating 84 distinct regression models - with variations in regressors, estimation method, and functional form - our robustness checks examine the moratorium's impact on crimes that are not punishable by death. Our results indicate that capital punishment has a deterrent effect, and the moratorium and executions deter murders in distinct ways. This evidence is corroborated by both the before-and-after comparisons and regression analysis. We also confirm that the moratorium and executions do not cause similar changes in non-capital crimes. The results are highly robust.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Emory University (Atlanta) in its series Emory Economics with number 0314.

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Date of creation: Aug 2003
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Handle: RePEc:emo:wp2003:0314

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  1. Shepherd, Joanna M, 2002. "Police, Prosecutors, Criminals, and Determinate Sentencing: The Truth about Truth-in-Sentencing Laws," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(2), pages 509-34, October.
  2. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1975. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 397-417, June.
  3. Edward E. Leamer, 1982. "Let's Take the Con Out of Econometrics," UCLA Economics Working Papers 239, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Yunker, James A., 1976. "Is the death penalty a deterrent to homicide? Some time series evidence," Journal of Behavioral Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 45-81.
  5. McAleer, Michael & Veall, Michael R, 1989. "How Fragile Are Fragile Inferences? A Re-evaluation of the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(1), pages 99-106, February.
  6. Brumm, Harold J. & Cloninger, Dale O., 1996. "Perceived risk of punishment and the commission of homicides: A covariance structure analysis," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 1-11, October.
  7. John Donohue & Steven Levitt, 2000. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," NBER Working Papers 8004, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Lott, John R, Jr & Mustard, David B, 1997. "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(1), pages 1-68, January.
  9. Chressanthis, George A., 1989. "Capital punishment and the deterrent effect revisited: Recent time-series econometric evidence," Journal of Behavioral Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 81-97.
  10. Dale Cloninger & Roberto Marchesini, 2001. "Execution and deterrence: a quasi-controlled group experiment," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(5), pages 569-576.
  11. Christopher J. Ruhm, 2000. "Are Recessions Good For Your Health?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(2), pages 617-650, May.
  12. Hoenack, Stephen A & Weiler, William C, 1980. "A Structural Model of Murder Behavior and the Criminal Justice System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(3), pages 327-41, June.
  13. H. Naci Mocan & R. Kaj Gittings, 2001. "Pardons, Executions and Homicide," NBER Working Papers 8639, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1977. "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Some Further Thoughts and Additional Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(4), pages 741-88, August.
  15. McManus, Walter S, 1985. "Estimates of the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: The Importance of the Researcher's Prior Beliefs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(2), pages 417-25, April.
  16. Passell, Peter & Taylor, John B, 1977. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Another View," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 445-51, June.
  17. Cameron, Samuel, 1994. "A review of the econometric evidence on the effects of capital punishment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 23(1-2), pages 197-214.
  18. Paul R. Zimmerman, 2004. "State executions, deterrence, and the incidence of murder," Journal of Applied Economics, Universidad del CEMA, vol. 0, pages 163-193, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Charles F. Manski & John V. Pepper, 2011. "Deterrence and the Death Penalty: Partial Identification Analysis Using Repeated Cross Sections," NBER Working Papers 17455, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Gebhard Kirchgässner, 2011. "Econometric Estimates of Deterrence of the Death Penalty: Facts or Ideology?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(3), pages 448-478, 08.
  3. Donohue III, John J. & Wolfers, Justin, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," IZA Discussion Papers 1949, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Amanda Ross & Anne Walker, 2014. "Low Priority Laws and the Allocation of Police Resources," Working Papers 14-06, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
  5. Ross, Amanda, 2012. "Crime, police, and truth-in-sentencing: The impact of state sentencing policy on local communities," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1-2), pages 144-152.
  6. Berit C. Gerritzen & Gebhard Kirchgässner, 2013. "Facts or Ideology: What Determines the Results of Econometric Estimates of the Deterrence Effect of Death Penalty? A Meta-Analysis," CESifo Working Paper Series 4159, CESifo Group Munich.
  7. Hashem Dezhbakhsh & Paul Rubin, 2007. "From the "Econometrics of Capital Punishment" to the "Capital Punishment" of Econometrics: On the Use and Abuse of Sensitivity Analysis," Emory Economics 0715, Department of Economics, Emory University (Atlanta).
  8. Angela K. Dills & Jeffrey A. Miron & Garrett Summers, 2008. "What Do Economists Know About Crime?," NBER Working Papers 13759, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Ethan Cohen-Cole & Steven Durlauf & Jeffrey Fagan & Daniel Nagin, 2007. "Model uncertainty and the deterrent effect of capital punishment," Risk and Policy Analysis Unit Working Paper QAU07-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  10. Yang, Bijou & Lester, David, 2008. "The deterrent effect of executions: A meta-analysis thirty years after Ehrlich," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 453-460, September.
  11. Michael Frakes & Matthew Harding, 2009. "The Deterrent Effect of Expansions in Death Penalty Eligibility Criteria," Discussion Papers 08-033, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

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