Brandon L. Garrett


On his book End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice

Cover Interview of October 08, 2017


We are all in it together, when we impose punishment on criminals. Our justice system affects our entire society, for good and ill. When innocent people are sent to death row, that injustice implicates us all. When a person is punished despite manifest mental illness; when a person gets a severe sentence because the lawyer appointed by the judge was incompetent; that is on us, too.

All of those problems that have plagued American criminal justice—flawed evidence, shoddy lawyering, neglect of mental health issues, prosecution overreaching—are all magnified in death penalty cases. Yet, despite those persistent problems, we have all but ended the American death penalty. Hard working lawyers learned how to make the case for mercy to jurors. As crime fell, attitudes towards severe punishment changed. Prosecutors relaxed their punitive muscles and realized that death sentences are costly, rarely result in executions, and are biased.

Although some politicians are trying to pound the tough-on-crime drums again, the death penalty decline shows how costly and pointless over-punishment can be. It mostly affects racial minorities and those who cannot afford Dream Team lawyers. The American death penalty decline points the way to a sane criminal justice system—one that treats the mentally ill, respects victims, avoids targeting the innocent, provides decent lawyers, and imposes punishment carefully and fairly.