Book review: 'Stay of Execution: Saving the Death Penalty from Itself' by Charles Lane

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Saving the Death Penalty from Itself

By Charles Lane

Rowman & Littlefield. 164 pp. $19.95

Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane succinctly makes the case in this slim volume for shrinking the death penalty in order to save it. The Supreme Court has pruned around the edges in recent years, barring capital punishment for offenders who are mentally retarded or were juveniles at the time they committed the crime. But Lane argues that state legislators and Congress should now take the lead in ensuring capital punishment is reserved for "the worst of the worst" crimes.

He would limit the death penalty to acts of genocide, terrorism and the most heinous pre-meditated murders, such as those involving torture and rape, while excluding single murders committed in the course of more common felonies, such as robberies. Lane would also centralize state decision-making about who gets charged with capital crimes. He is not too concerned about alleged racial bias or executing the innocent, neither of which he says is as large or ineradicable a problem as foes insist. Rather, he is troubled most about the inconsistent way capital punishment is applied.

But Lane's eminently reasonable proposals are unlikely to be well received among lawmakers skittish about ratcheting back the war on crime or local prosecutors reluctant to cede control over capital punishment.

-- Seth Stern

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