We draw on variations in the reach of capital punishment statutes between 1977 and 2004 to identify the deterrent effects associated with capital eligibility. Focusing on the most prevalent eligibility expansion, we estimate that the adoption of a child murder factor is associated with an approximately 20% reduction in the child murder rate. Eligibility expansions may enhance deterrence by (i) paving the way for more executions and (ii) providing prosecutors with greater leverage to secure enhanced noncapital sentences. While executions themselves are rare, this latter channel may be triggered fairly regularly, providing a reasonable basis for a general deterrent response.
ASJC Scopus subject areas