PILEUP ON DEATH ROW by Burton H. Wolfe


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Doubtless many present-day anti-capital punishment advocates can trace the origin of their convictions back to the Chessman case, wherein an apparently reformed and certainly talented man was, after twelve years of death-row agonies and stays, executed by the State of California for a crime less than murder. Wolfe is one of those people, and over the years he has come to feel even more strongly about the issue -- thus this historical review of the legal situation, beginning with Sacco-Vanzetti and the Scottsboro Boys and running through McNabb, Mallory, Love, Morse, Escobedo, Miranda, and Witherspoon to the disappointing 1971 McGautha-Crampton decision re the absence of legally fixed standards and finally the 1972 ruling on the ""cruel and unusual"" question in which the Court found for the liberals. Wolfe concludes that ""Unless the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself again, or Congress became reactionary enough to pass mandatory legislation or to overturn the Constitution by weakening the courts' powers, the death penalty in the United States seemed to be past history."" Students of the controversy, both pro and con, will find this a remarkably sanguine reading, as state after state introduces and passes new death legislation. But whatever the future might bring, Wolfe's case by case analysis is a practical addition to the literature.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1973
Publisher: Doubleday