The Supreme Court has looked to evolving standards of decency in determining whether the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Evolving Standards of Decency examines the ways in which popular culture portrays the death penalty. By analyzing literature and film, Atwell argues that capital punishment becomes much more complex when both offenders and victims are presented as fully developed individuals. Numerous books and films from the last several decades expose flaws in the criminal justice system and provide audiences with stories that raise questions about race, class, and actual incence in the administration of the ultimate punishment. Although most people will t read legal briefs supporting or challenging the death penalty, many will see films or read vels that raise issues about its fairness. Themes and images gathered through popular culture may ultimately influence whether Americans continue to believe that capital punishment conforms to their evolving standards of decency and justice. Those studying justice issues, corrections, or capital punishment will find this an accessible and provocative work that places the stories read in vels or seen in movies in the context of the legal system that has the power of life and death.
The Author: Mary Welek Atwell is Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University in Virginia. She received her Ph.D. in history from Saint Louis University and is the author of Equal Protection of the Law? Gender and Justice in the United States (Peter Lang, 2002).