NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Death Penalty Moratoria Cost Lives, Say Researchers

June 27, 2002

There is a growing body of economic research on the deterrent effect of the death penalty, say two University of Houston researchers. Using diverse methodologies and data sets, all reveal statistical evidence that is consistent with the deterrence hypothesis.

In their own recent study, Dale O. Cloninger and Roberto Marchesini found that 1) a moratorium on executions may result in more-than-expected homicides over the affected period, and 2) executions have a deterrent effect over and above that of life sentences.

A court-ordered hiatus deferred the scheduled executions of 14 death row inmates in Texas, a de facto moratorium.

  • Depending upon the variant of the model used, the number of additional (unexpected) homicides that occurred over the approximate 12-month period ranged from 150 to 250.
  • Thus 11 to 18 unexpected homicides occurred for each deferred execution.

This occurred despite the fact that arrests continued to be made for homicide, scheduled trials for both capital and non-capital offenses went on, sentencing for capital and non-capital verdicts went uninterrupted, and there were no known, dramatic changes in the state's demographics. The only change relevant to the crime of homicide was the suspension of executions. Thus, it could be argued that the additional homicides that occurred were due, in the main, to the lack of the imposition of the death penalty.

Source: Dale O. Cloninger and Roberto Marchesini (University of Houston-Clear Lake), "Scientific Data Support Executions' Effect," Letters, Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2002; based on Dale O. Cloninger and Roberto Marchesini, "Execution and Deterrence: A Quasi-Controlled Group Experiment," Applied Economics, April 2001.

For text,,2_0048,00.html

See also, William Tucker, "Yes, the Death Penalty Deters," Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2002,,,SB1024617817464476960,00.html


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