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St. Mary's Law Journal


feminism, women, death penalty, capital punishment


In this Essay I explore the relationship between being a feminist and representing men on death row. It is appropriate to engage in this inquiry in considering how the law has developed in the twenty-five years since Furman v. Georgia. During that time both Furman and the advent of feminist legal theory have required a restructuring in the way we think about two fundamental legal questions: for death penalty jurisprudence, how and why we sentence an individual to death; and for feminist jurisprudence, how the law views crimes of violence against women. The relationship between these two developments becomes apparent when we consider the appropriateness of the death penalty for a man who murdered a woman in the course of a sexually violent felony or as part of a history of abuse. For many feminists, the focus is on the crime and insuring that the punishment acknowledges the gravity of the harm inflicted upon the female victim. For those defending a man in these circumstances, the crime, as it informs the punishment decision, is of less importance than explaining the background and character of the defendant. While these two positions may appear to conflict, this Essay will examine their similarities.