The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

Criminal Justice: M.S.


Criminal Justice


School of Public Affairs

First Advisor

Andzenge, Dick T.

Second Advisor

Williams, Shawn L.

Third Advisor

Yeo, Younsook

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


For decades, Americans have favorably disposed to capital punishment for convicted murderers and that support continues to accelerate. Radelet and Akers (1996) observed the increased percentage of support towards capital punishment, and had risen from 72% in 1995 to 80% in 1994. However, the polls were influenced by several factors because Americans agreed on some circumstances that deserved death as a justifiable punishment. Under the theory of "just deserts," the death penalty is legitimized by the justification that murderers should be executed based on retributive reasons; they should suffer because life imprisonment is an inadequate punishment for taking a life (Bedau, 1978; Finckenauer, 1988). Regardless of such retributions being worthy of debate, no pragmatic research has been presented with substantial evidence proving whether the argument is “correct” or “incorrect” (Radelet & Akers, 1996). Empirical research can neither justify the support towards which particular criminals deserve death penalties nor settle debates over moral concerns engulfing capital punishment.

Consequently, support of capital punishment is based on its inherent value as a general restriction where it can discourage potential murderers from engaging in criminal suicide. Politicians have applied similar school of thoughts as a deterrence rationale for quicker executions when they observe that such logic appeals to voters. Whether to utilize or ban the death penalty as a method of avoiding and discouraging homicide is an empirical subject that cannot be logically answered based on morality or political stands (Radelet & Akers, 1996). It is a subject that has subjected researchers since Edwin Sutherland to examine its rationality. According to Hochkammer (2017), both proponents and abolitionists have presented ritualistic arguments concerning the controversy. Although the arguments have been based on unsupported facts, both groups have presented statistical data and research to justify and validate their respective positions. However, a blurry line exists between unsubstantiated perspective and facts creating confusion.

The paper gauges factors that influence the support for the death penalty among young Americans. Prior research provides that favorable perceptions of capital punishment still hold a significant majority especially in the 1980s and early '90s, but among the young American people, the support has declined (Lochinger, 2013). The study will explore updates on finding and provide in-depth insight concerning death penalty views and their association with fear for crime, demographics, and causal factors. Interviewing college students concerning their standpoint on capital punishment is imperative to the current debate on analyzing the support among young Americans. The United States future depends on college students because they have a significant influence in executing critical and informed policy decisions. Comprehending their current outlook can assist in envisaging whether capital punishment will prosper in the future era. Furthermore, it aids in investigating their perspective on crime causation. Scores of studies have concentrated on reasons that drive people towards criminal activities, but few have targeted the young people and more so, college students and then investigate the mediating effect it impacts on the attitudes toward capital punishment.