The Death Penalty
A Reference Handbook
by Joseph A. Melusky and Keith A. Pesto
June 2017, 372pp, 6x9
1 volume, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4549-9
$66, £51, 58€, A91
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4550-5
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

From 1976 through 2015, more than 1,400 executions took place in the U.S. Is this practice out of sync with current concepts of human rights and justice?

This book addresses the myriad controversies and examines the evidence regarding capital punishment in America. It answers questions regarding topics like the efficacy of capital punishment in deterring violent crime, the risks of mistakes, legal issues related to capital punishment, and the monetary costs of keeping inmates on death row.

Does the possibility of being put to death deter crime? Do the methods of execution matter? Is it possible for a state-ordered execution to be botched? Are innocent people ever sent to death row? Are there racial biases or other prejudices associated with the death penalty? This book examines the history of capital punishment in the United States; describes the significant issues, events, and cases; and addresses the controversies and legal issues surrounding capital punishment, making this important topic accessible to a wide range of readers.

The book presents both sides of the argument on whether capital punishment should continue or be abolished, looking at the evidence regarding whether it is necessary for carrying out justice and deterring violent crime or whether the practice is inhumane, ineffective, biased in its application, and costly. Readers will gain insights into how capital punishment should be used, if at all; whether effective safeguards are in place to ensure that only the guilty receive the death penalty; what crimes deserve this sentence; whether juveniles or individuals with diminished mental capacity should ever be sentenced to death; potentially viable alternatives to the death penalty; and the hidden costs involved in our capital punishment system that make it so expensive. The book also contains primary documents relevant to capital punishment, such as excerpts from documents like the U.S. Constitution, the Hittite case laws, and the Code of Hammurabi, as well as descriptions of and excerpts from key cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.


  • Presents "Perspectives" from various writers, allowing readers to consider opinions from many informed individuals—including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and professors—who are concerned with capital punishment
  • Supplies easy-to-understand information for general readers seeking to learn more about the history, purposes, effects, methods, and costs of capital punishment
  • Provides a balanced, objective discussion of the arguments and complex issues regarding capital punishment, enabling readers to reach their own opinions and conclusions
Joseph A. Melusky, PhD, is professor of political science at Saint Francis University (SFU), director of the SFU Center for the Study of Government and Law, and Coordinator of Public Administration/Government Service. He has been a full-time member of the teaching faculty at SFU since 1980. Melusky has received a number of teaching awards, including the Swatsworth Award, the Honor Society Outstanding Faculty Award, and the Alumni Association's Distinguished Faculty Award, and the John F. (Jack) Coleman Award for excellence in teaching and scholarship. He has served as interim vice president for academic affairs, chair of the Department of History and Political Science, chair of the Department of Education, and dean of general education. He is a former president and vice president of the Pennsylvania Political Science Association (PPSA), former president, vice president, and executive director of the Northeastern Political Science Association (NPSA), and former member of the Executive Council of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). Melusky earned his masters and doctoral degrees in political science from the University of Delaware and has done postgraduate work at the Universities of Delaware and Michigan and at Carnegie-Mellon University. With Keith Pesto, he has coauthored ABC-CLIO's The Death Penalty: Documents Decoded and Cruel and Unusual Punishments: Rights and Liberties under the Law as well as Greenwood's Capital Punishment. Melusky also authored The Contemporary Constitution: Modern Interpretations; The American Political System: An Owner's Manual; The Bill of Rights: Our Written Legacy; To Preserve These Rights: The Bill of Rights 1791–1991; and The Constitution: Our Written Legacy.

Keith A. Pesto has been a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania since 1994. He is coauthor with Joseph Melusky of three books on the law and history of capital punishment in the United States, and has been a lecturer in the political science departments at St. Francis University and Juniata College for the past two decades. From 2004 to 2007, he was appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist to the Federal Judicial Center's Magistrate Judge Education Committee.


"This complex book will work best for sophisticated learners who may appreciate in-depth information for reports, debates, or other projects. The book includes additional resources, a timeline, and an index. Recommended."—ARBAonline, December 6, 2017

"General readers and scholars at all levels alike will find value in this well-organized and informative resource. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels."—Choice, March 1, 2018

Contemporary World Issues

This award-winning series offers comprehensive, one-volume reference handbooks on important topics related to health, education, the environment, and social and ethical issues.

24-hour cable news. Millions of internet sites. Information overload. How can we sort through the information? Assess the analyses? Trust the sources?

A world of questions demands a library of answers. Contemporary World Issues covers the controversial topics that students, readers, and citizens want to read about, write about, and know more about.


Subject coverage spans six main categories:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Environment
  • Gender and Ethnicity
  • Politics, Law, and Government
  • Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • Society
Each volume offers a rich array of resources:
  • A background and history essay that provides essential context and grounding for further study
  • A balanced summary of ongoing controversies and proposed solutions that show numerous paths for further research on pressing, contemporary questions
  • A forum of authoritative perspective essays by experts, offering a broad spectrum of arguments on the issues
  • Carefully selected annotated documents, tables, and graphs that support statistical literacy and investigation of primary sources
  • A chronology of events, legislation, and movements that place events in sequence and draw connections between them
  • Annotated lists of print, web, and multimedia resources that power the next steps for in-depth research
  • Profiles of key players and organizations
  • A glossary of key terms
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