Law 429 - Capital Punishment in America

Sherod Thaxton

Sherod Thaxton

Professor of Law
B.A. University of California, Davis, 1997
M.A. Emory University, 2000
J.D. University of Chicago Law School, 2008
Ph.D. Emory University, 2009
UCLA Faculty Since 2013
Course Description:

This course provides a general introduction to death penalty law and practice in the United States. We will explore the constitutional and legal structure of capital punishment (i.e., common law authority, state and federal statutes), the procedures regulating capital trials, judicial and executive review, and the seminal social scientific literature analyzing important aspects of capital charging-and-sentencing systems (e.g., deterrence, incapacitation, cost, wrongful convictions, arbitrariness/capriciousness, and bias).

Course Learning Outcomes:

Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:

1.  Discuss the major “eras” of the death penalty in the United States and the key distinguishing features of those eras.

2.  Describe and explain the various ways in which legislatures and courts have attempted to regulate the discretion of legal actors from charging through execution.

3.  Develop and evaluate arguments in support of, as well in opposition to, the administration of the death penalty.

4.  Identify the crimes and offenders for which the death penalty may be imposed as punishment.

5.  Discuss the various execution methods that have been employed and the major concerns over the use of these methods.

6.  Evaluate a fact pattern to determine whether the substantive and procedural requirements for imposition of the death penalty in the United States have been satisfied.

7.  Describe the key social scientific research on both public opinion on the death penalty and the influence of race/ethnicity, sex, and region on the death penalty charging-and-sentencing process.

8.  Evaluate the efficacy of the “super due process” model of the regulation of our modern death penalty system and develop plausible reforms to address any perceived deficiencies.

9.  Appreciate the unique tension that the death penalty process places on lawyer-client relationships, as well as the special training and abilities required of counsel to provide an adequate level of representation at the various stages of the death penalty process.

Course Information:
​Faculty Term Course Section ​Schedule ​Units Requisite Satisfies SAW
Sherod Thaxton 21S 429 LEC 1 MW 1:45 PM - 3:10 PM 3.0 No No
Textbook Information:
Textbook for Spring 2021 LEC 1
Rivkin et al. Cases and Materials on the Death Penalty  4th ed.  
ISBN: 9781634590419. West Academic Publishing. REQUIRED $238.00
Notes: Per Professor Thaxton: "Students may purchase the 3d edition (2009) of this text."
Carter, Kreitzberg and Howe. Understanding Capital Punishment Law  4th ed.  
ISBN: 9781531008567. Carolina Academic Press. OPTIONAL $51.00
Notes: Per Professor Thaxton: "Students may purchase any edition of this text."