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Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty Hardcover – 6 Feb 2004

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (6 Feb. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330426885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330426886
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,377,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The bestselling writer of fictional courtroom drama - and highly respected criminal lawyer - gives a vivid account of his own experiences with capital punishment, from his days as a zealous young prosecutor to his recent service on the Illinois Commission on the Death Penalty which influenced the Governor's commutation of 164 death-row inmates on his last day in office. He provides a brief history of the ultimate punishment and analyses the potent reasons for and against it, and relates several powerful stories behind the statistics as he moves from the Governor's Mansion to Illinois state-of-the-art 'super-max' prison and the execution chamber. This clear-sighted examination of a fundamental dilemma in a democracy has all of Scott Turow's vivid imagery, drama and intellectual substance of his celebrated novels.

From the Back Cover

'Poignant and hugely powerful . . . a forensic and yet heartfelt examination of the cases for and against capital punishment' Daily Telegraph

As a pioneer of the modern legal thriller and a criminal lawyer, Scott Turow has been involved with the death penalty for more than a decade, including successfully representing two different men convicted in death-penalty prosecutions. In this vivid account, Turow describes his own experiences with capital punishment from his days as an impassioned young prosecutor to his service on the Illinois commission which investigated the administration of the death penalty and influenced Governor George Ryan's unprecedented commutation of the sentences of 164 death-row inmates on his last day in office.

Along the way, he provides a brief history of America's ambivalent relationship with the ultimate punishment and illuminates the powerful stories behind the statistics, as he moves from the Governor's Mansion to Illinois' state-of-the art 'super-max' prison and the execution chamber.

'Gripping and lucid' Sunday Times

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Horner VINE VOICE on 23 July 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having been a human rights 'activist' for some time, while holding specific views on crime and punishment, I was intrigued when I saw Scott Turow's book and bought it on impulse. I thought it would be a book weighing up the ethical rights and wrongs of capital punishment, almost from a religious perspective, and I was interested to see another point of view. I'm always on the lookout for alternative points of view on many subjects (how else do you grow and understand?) and this was another opportunity. However, as I quickly realised, the book, sub-titled "A lawyer's reflections on dealing with the death penalty" did not go down the spiritual route. Turow, a very experienced prosecuting and defending lawyer, was selected in 2000 to be part of a commission set up to determine what reforms, if any, would ensure that the Illinois capital punishment system is fair, just and accurate. Turow uses the book to skilfully look at some case examples and outline the thinking and research of the commission, as well as their findings. The main point is really that cases which appear to be black and white, even with confessions from the accused in some instances, turn out to be unsound and in need of deeper investigation. Turow exposes some myths - for example the idea that it's cheaper to execute someone than keep them in prison for life - and puts forward some very interesting and thought provoking views. It's interesting to note that he's not against capital punishment, but wants to be absolutely certain that the accused is guilty beyond doubt, something that can be difficult to achieve. My only criticism, and it's the reason I never awarded five stars, is because he lapses into a spot of jargon now and again, and UK readers don't always understand US terminology. However, this was a minor point - overall a very interesting and thought provoking book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 2 May 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you are like me, you mostly know Scott Turow from his many best-selling legal thrillers, including Reversible Errors which death with a death penalty case. Although his book jackets point out that he is lawyer, I haven't gotten a strong sense of that part of his life since his first book, One-L, in which he described life as a new Harvard Law School student.
In his legal career, Mr. Turow has had some exposure to capital punishment cases both as a prosecutor and as a defendant's attorney. From these experiences, he learned that the law doesn't operate as smoothly as advertised in death penalty cases.
I picked up the book because I had read a little about Illinois Governor George Ryan's commutation of 167 death sentences on the last day of his term in office, and wanted to know more about how they came about. The book more than fulfilled my interest, because Mr. Turow was a member of a commission looking into reforming the application of the death penalty for Governor Ryan. The findings of that commission and the subsequent foot dragging by the legislature caused Governor Ryan to act.
Although I have been opposed to the death penalty for as long as I can remember, I was shocked to find out how poorly the sentence had been applied in Illinois. Prosecutors overlooked police torture to obtain confessions, judges overlooked obvious procedural errors, defense attorneys were expected to defend their clients at trial for a total payment of $300, defendants to the same crime often didn't receive the same sentence even when their acts were worse, AND many innocent defendants spent years awaiting death. If you want to understand all the gruesome details, this book provides them in a reasonably dispassionate way.
When he started with the commission, Mr.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Thought provoking, as it sets out to be, and a useful record of this time of reform, and its undoubtedly civilizing effects.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 35 reviews
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
A Very Valuable Book on a Controversial Subject 22 Sept. 2003
By Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have been a fan of Scott Turow's fiction for a number of years. So, when I was asked to read and review his latest work, a nonfiction book dealing with one of the most controversial topics in America today, that of capital punishment, I eagerly anticipated the opportunity to find out what this bestselling author-lawyer had to say on the subject. I was not disappointed. Turow's very short treatise on the "ultimate punishment" (only about 120 pages of actual discussion) immediately brings the controversy into focus and lays out the arguments on both sides of the issue.

Admitting that initially he was an "agnostic" regarding the death penalty, Turow was appointed to serve on the Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment by then-Governor George Ryan, who had declared a moratorium on further executions in Illinois on January 31, 2000, a decision that was heavily criticized by many both in his own state and also nationwide. Ryan's justification for his action was that the Illinois' capital justice system was "fraught with error." Shortly after he issued the moratorium, Governor Ryan put together a fourteen-member Commission to look into the matter of reforming the system. Former prosecutor and now-defense attorney Scott Turow has used his experience serving on the Commission to examine the very serious debate over the death penalty in "Ultimate Punishment."

Turow's examination of capital punishment is not merely theoretical. He has been directly involved in death penalty cases, including successfully representing two different individuals convicted in death-penalty prosecutions. In other words, he can speak from practical experience and not just from the ivory tower of academic debate. Along the way, the reader will get a brief overview of the history of the capital punishment debate in America as well as insights into the pros and cons that have divided those in favor of the death penalty and those opposed to it. To his credit, I found Turow to be profoundly fair in his analysis of both sides of the argument.

One senses in this book that for the author this has been a very personal quest for wisdom regarding the matter of capital punishment. One can sense a continuing wrestling with the issue over a lengthy period of time. This book seems to be no "rush to judgment" on the part of Scott Turow. His writing at times is very introspective and at points, one might say, it is a clinical study in self-analysis involving very private ethical conflicts over a matter of supreme importance. He discusses the ordinary elements in the debate -- conviction of the innocent, deterrence, recidivism, and redemption -- but he also pays attention to the victims and their concerns, and how these concerns should be addressed in the calculus of the debate.

The death penalty as a form of punishment is not a subject one should take lightly. For decades, I have publicly debated the issue, written about it, and agonized over my position regarding it. Ultimately, I decided that capital punishment as a punitive practice should be discarded by society, not because it was cruel and unusual, and not because it didn't really deter, but simply because, since the right to life as a natural right is not derived from the State, the State had no right to take a human life. While Turow does not address the natural right argument in his book, he does discuss one aspect of the controversy to which I had not in the past given serious thought, namely the matter of "moral proportion" or "moral order." If nothing else, I thank him for bringing this matter to my attention for further thought.

After the Commission finished its task of investigation and discussion, Turow says in the final pages of the text, "when...called upon...to offer a definitive judgment on the death penalty, a number of my fellow commissioners revised their positions. But I appear to have finally come to rest on the issue. Today, I would still do as I did when...asked whether Illinois should retain capital punishment." How did novelist-lawyer Scott Turow vote on the issue? Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out. I'm not going to tell you.

At the end of the book, Turow includes a copy of the Preamble to the Report of the Illinois Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment, issued in April of 2002, with the suggested recommendations of the Commission. If capital punishment is to remain the policy of the day, then the recommendations made by the Commission demand everyone's attention, no matter what state they reside in, simply because the ultimate punishment, if it is to be fairly and rationally applied, needs to meet the highest standards of justice possible. Also, for those who want to go beyond Turow's brief discussion of the subject, the book includes thirty-eight pages of notes with citations to legal cases and text references, many of them available on the Internet.

In summary, this is a book to be recommended to all Americans because the issue is timely and very important. Turow has made a significant contribution to the subject of criminal justice and he is to be commended on his sober and impartial presentation.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Death Penalty agnostic falls off the fence 15 Sept. 2004
By C. Middleton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Rendered with his fictional writing flair, Turow has tackled a subject matter that literarily deals with life and death. In this short though thorough essay, the novelist reflects on the many arguments surrounding the death penalty. In March 2000, a Moratorium on executions was declared by the then Governor of Illinois, George Ryan. Turow, along with many distinguished lawyers and academics, after two years of deliberation, submitted their recommendations. As a result of these findings, Ryan made international news by commuting the sentences of 167 persons left on death row. (This made headline news in Australia as the death penalty here was abolished over forty years ago) It should go without saying that this was a bold move by the Governor and potential political suicide. However he was at the end of his tenure and decided to make a choice and act on that choice. This book summarizes the many aspects of the Moratorium's deliberations, which makes fascinating reading.

Before the Moratorium, Turow admits that he was a "Death Penalty Agnostic". In other words, the man was a fence sitter, refusing to make a stand either way. However, after two years on the committee, and by the end of the essay, if asked whether Illinois should retain Capital Punishment, his answer is a certain, no. After reading the many reasons for and against the debate, I found it understandable why he fell off the fence. That the system is fallible and the fact that, for the most part, we seem to be hard wired for revenge, it has been all too easy, in our zealousness for justice or retribution, to execute innocent people. This has occurred far too many times for any government to be comfortable executing its citizens. But of course, as Turow plainly points out, this issue is a complex one, which begs to be further unpacked, potently analysed, in order to make it law, either way, across the boards.

From my reading, the actual recommendations from the committee are reasonable and fair. For example, ensuring the videotaping of all questioning of a capital suspect conducted on a police facility; that the eligibility criteria for the death penalty is narrowed to five points; that the death penalty is not available when a conviction is based only on the testimony of a single eyewitness. (p. 122) The Moratorium did not want the death penalty abolished entirely, however, these recommendations are designed to ensure an innocent defendant stands a lesser chance of wrongful execution.

Turow writes great novels about the law. In this case, he has approached a subject that absolutely requires further debate. And he has done it with honesty and enthusiasm with a novelist's flair and elegance. Good reading.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By William T. Prince - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am not the type to offer a verbose review. Suffice it to say that this is an exceptional work of non-fiction that offers arguably the most balanced view to date of the U.S. system of capital punishment. I am a reformed death penalty proponent who went through a period of Turow-esque "agnosticism" before settling firmly on the side of opposition. I am no longer ambivalent. The death penalty should be abolished--period. Though Turow's book had no effect on my change, it did help solidify my current stance. This book should be required reading in any course of study dealing with the criminal justice system, and I do plan to use it in the future in the college criminal justice courses that I teach, along with Scheck, Neufeld, and Dwyer's "Actual Innocence." Perhaps the powers that be will eventually wake up and smell the stench of injustice . . . but I'm not holding my breath. . . .
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Possibly the most impartial book on the subject 4 Nov. 2003
By Adam Woodrum - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Calling himself a "death penalty agnostic," Turow takes a moderate position on the death penalty. It's a refreshing read inspired by Turow's participation in the post-moratorium, Illinois death penalty commission. Turow lays out an analysis of some very important considerations. While he never really takes a position, he examines the issues from all angles, from a very good discussion of victim rights to a very good discussion of alternate incapacitation of criminals. He candidly admits that this is a book based on his experiences and not necessarily on scholarly study. Overall, I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the topic, with the caveat that you don't limit your reading on the topic to this book.
As far as Turow goes, I'm not even a big fan of his non-fiction work.
Happy Reading
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
We should all care about what this book has to say. 31 Jan. 2005
By hpp77 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Scott Turow shows us the illogicality of the death penalty by telling of his own experiences as both a prosecutor and as a member of a task force assembled to inform the governor of Illinois on death penalty policy. Contrary to what many people may think, the book does not condemn the death penalty for moral reasons but on the basis of the ambiguity with which it is exercised in America. It would be too absolutist to say every American should read this book, so I will limit it only to those Americans who feel the death penalty has a place in our society and legal system. I doubt they will come away so staunchly in support of capital punishment and all that it entails.
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