The Illusion of Heightened Standards in Capital Cases

By Anna VanCleave, University of Connecticut - School of Law, on 25 January 2024

Fair Trial

Published on April 3, 2023.

The death penalty has gained its legitimacy from the belief that capital prosecutions are more procedurally rigorous than noncapi-tal prosecutions. This Article reveals how a project of heightened capital standards, set in motion when the Supreme Court ended and then revived the death penalty, was set up to fail.

In establishing what a constitutional death penalty would look like, the Court in 1976 called for heightened standards of reliability in capital cases. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the Supreme Court laid out specific constitutional procedures that must be applied in capital cases, and left the door open for the Eighth Amendment to do even more. In the decades that followed, state and federal courts have fueled a perception of heightened procedural rigor in capital cases by referring repeatedly to the heightened standards applica-ble in capital cases.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Fair Trial