Death Penalty

American Law Institute Shifts Course on the Death Penalty


Citing "the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment," the American Law Institute has retracted its guidelines for administration of the death penalty in the United States.

Adam Liptak argues in the New York Times that this may have been the most important death penalty story of 2009. The organization of 4,000 judges, lawyers, and academics essentially provided the scholarly heft behind the Supreme Court's reinstatement of the death penalty 30 years ago.

In 1962, as part of the Model Penal Code, the institute created the modern framework for the death penalty, one the Supreme Court largely adopted when it reinstituted capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. Several justices cited the standards the institute had developed as a model to be emulated by the states…

A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience had proved that the system could not reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment was plagued by racial disparities; was enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers were underpaid and some were incompetent; risked executing innocent people; and was undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections.