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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Titles
Course Description

The Killing State: Capital Punishment in America

Beau Breslin, Associate Professor of Government

Supporters of capital punishment often justify the practice by appealing not only to ancient custom and historical tradition, but also to the social benefit that accompanies killing our most dangerous offenders. Opponents of capital punishment, in contrast, suggest that the practice is outdated and effective. They insist, with similar passion, that imposing a death sentence is so rare and so unsettling that its place in the criminal justice system is, at best, tenuous. Of course, both of these positions beg a number of important questions: Is capital punishment morally justified or barbaric? Why is it that America continues its tradition of executing when the rest of the western world has condemned the custom as evil? The primary purpose of the seminar is to explore the many contradictions that inform America’s system of capital punishment. As part of the seminar, students will work on an actual death penalty defense. Students will be responsible for conducting primary research with the aim of providing the most effective defense possible for a specific death row inmate.

Course Offered