Executing Female Offenders and the Term Paper

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Support for this contention comes from the observation that male offenders too are comparatively lightly punished when domestic abuse is involved.

Other factors, however, indicate greater complexity. Streib (1990), for instance, showed that confounding factors for deserving the death sentence include the offender's prior record for committing crimes; premeditation of the crime; and her potential for future violent crimes. Women are less likely to represent or possess these characteristics than men and, therefore, subsequently are figured less often on Death Row.

However, it is also very likely that simple sexism plays a part. This is particularly likely when it is seen that those tending more towards the death penalty - i.e. more conservative, Republican, white-male dominated groups -- are also less strongly against women receiving this penalty. In fact, these groups have sometimes even prominently militated against women receiving the death sentence, as was the case with Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition protesting Tucker's 1998 execution. (Tucker, by the way, was also a born-again Christian).

Sex bias would be extremely hard to prove, particularly since the McClesey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987) case demands proof not only that the death row inmate's specific case involved discrimination but also that a pattern of discrimination exists, and few judges and jurors would be open to admitting such discrimination (positing that they were able to perceive it).

Worst of all, fighting for abolition of such discrimination could come to be seen in an unworthy light as either increasing the death penalty for women (in which case "it suggests a campaign to exterminate a few more wretched sisters" (Rappaport, 2000, 15), or attempting to decrease it for men.

Finally, women's rights organizations would presumably do their all to dissuade this sort of sexist discrimination to disappear. Although strong advocates for equal opportunity and equal rights and protection for women, death sentences might be one issue that they may well prefer to maintain unequal, particular since they tend to oppose the death sentence altogether. The only groups that do protest this imbalance are the so-called men's rights groups that challenge equality for sex in the death system too, calling for men to be accorded an equal ratio of execution to that of women.


In her 30 years as defense lawyer, Streib (2001) has represented several inmates on death row. Her research findings have convinced her of the following:

Men are eight times as likely as women to be arrested for murder, 72 times as likely to be sentenced to death, and 140 times as likely to be executed. Assumptions from such raw data are abetted by the informal comments of judges, jurors, and prosecutors over many decades, revealing their reluctance to execute women, at least as compared to executing men of the same culpability" (3).

The numbers given by the Death Penalty Information Center indicate that between 1632 and 2007, only 568 female offenders have been executed with the percentage of females to men being 2.8%. Could it be sex gender? Karla Faye Tucker's case in 1998 resulted in national controversy and uproar, although Judi Buenoano in that same year caused barley a ripple. Tucker was famed as the "pickax murderess', yet she was beautiful. Buenaono had only poisoned her husband; her looks were not great. Could it be that appearance stimulated response?

It might simply be a matter of socialization process (Law Justice, and Society: A sociological introduction" (*)) where internalized attitudes of women are stronger than the rationalized process that dictates punishment for egregious misbehavior.

The chapter on law and social control in the textbook "Law Justice, and Society: A sociological introduction" (*) that most of us are unwittingly and implicitly controlled by internalized norms of conduct that regulate our behavior. We use law to control citizen behavior, but, oftentimes, insidious messages internalized through enculturation, or other means, can invade and corrupt these objectives. Whether deterrence works, therefore, results not only on implementation of the law but also on a host of other factors, many of them less conspicuous to direct perceptive.


Baker, David V. (1999). A Descriptive Profile and Socio-Historical Analysis of Female Executions in the United States: 1632- 1997, Women and Criminal Justice 57

Bakken, G.M. (2010). Invitation to an Execution: A History…[continue]

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