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Some facts about life: The law, theory, and practice of life sentences.

Hamilton, Melissa (2016) Some facts about life: The law, theory, and practice of life sentences. Lewis & Clark Law Review, 20 (3). pp. 803-855.

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Abstract

A diverse band of politicians, justice officials, and academic commentators are lending their voices to the hot topic of correcting the United States’ status as the world’s leader in mass incarceration. There is limited focus, though, upon the special role that life sentences play in explaining the explosion in prison populations and the dramatic rise in costs that result from providing for the increased needs of aging lifers. This Article highlights various ways in which those serving life sentences occupy unique legal and political statuses. For instance, life sentences are akin to capital punishment in likely resulting in death within prison environs, yet enjoy few of the added procedural rights and intensity of review that capital defendants command. In contrast to term prisoners, lifers cannot expect to reenter civil society and thus represent an exclusionist ideological agenda. The Article reviews whether life penalties remain justified by fundamental theories of punishment in light of new evidence on retributive values, deterrence effects, and recidivism risk. It also situates life sentences within an international moral imperative that reserves life penalties, if permitted at all, for the most heinous offenders, and in any event, demands periodic review of all long-term prison sentences. This Article also provides a novel perspective by presenting an empirical study to further investigate the law and practice of life sentences. Utilizing federal datasets, descriptive statistics, and a multiple regression analysis offers important insights. The study makes an original contribution to the literature by exploring the salience of certain facts and circumstances (including demographic, offense-related, and case-processing variables) in accounting for life sentence outcomes in the federal system. While some of the attributes of life sentenced defendants are consistent with current expectations, others might be surprising. For example, as expected, sentencing guideline recommendations, the presence of mandatory minimums, and greater criminal history predicted life sentences. Results also supported the existence of a trial penalty. On the other hand, lifers in the federal system were not representative of the most violent offenders or worst recidivists. Life sentences were issued across a variety of violent and nonviolent crimes, and in recent years a substantial percentage presented with minimal criminal histories. Regional disparities in the use of life sentences were also indicated. In concluding, this Article reviews potential remedies to the overreliance upon life penalties in the American justice system.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Law
Authors :
NameEmailORCID
Hamilton, Melissamh0066@surrey.ac.ukUNSPECIFIED
Date : 2016
Copyright Disclaimer : Copyright 2016 The Author
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Melanie Hughes
Date Deposited : 19 Sep 2017 16:54
Last Modified : 19 Sep 2017 16:54
URI: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/id/eprint/842334

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