In 1764, Cesare Beccaria, a 26-year-old Italian criminologist, penned On Crimes and Punishments. That treatise spoke out against torture and made the first comprehensive argument against state-sanctioned executions. As we near the 250th anniversary of its publication, law professor John Bessler provides a comprehensive review of the abolition movement from before Beccaria's time to the present. Bessler reviews Beccaria's substantial influence on Enlightenment thinkers and on America's Founding Fathers in particular. The Article also provides an extensive review of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and then contrasts it with the trend in international law towards the death penalty's abolition. It then discusses the current state of the death penalty in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Baze v. Rees and concludes that there is every reason to believe that America's death penalty may finally be in its death throes.
Revisiting Beccaria's Vision: The Enlightenment, America's Death Penalty, and the Abolition Movement, 4 Nw. J. L. & Soc. Pol'y 196 (2009)