Economists have recently reexamined the “capital punishment deters homicide” thesis using modern econometric methods, with most studies reporting robust deterrent effects. The current study revisits this controversial question using annual state panel data from 1977 to 2006. Employing well-known econometric procedures for panel data analysis, our results provide no empirical support for the argument that the existence or application of the death penalty deters prospective offenders from committing homicide.
Although policymakers and the public can continue to base support for use of the death penalty on retribution, religion, or other justifications, defending its use based solely on its deterrent effect is contrary to the evidence presented here. At a minimum, policymakers should refrain from justifying its use by claiming that it is a deterrent to homicide and should consider less costly, more effective ways of addressing crime.