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Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

Ian O'Donnell

Published in print November 2017 | ISBN: 9780198798477
Published online December 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780191839467 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198798477.001.0001

Series: Clarendon Studies in Criminology

Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Justice, Mercy, and Caprice is a work of criminal justice history that speaks to the gradual emergence of a more humane Irish state. It is a close examination of what can be learned from the National Archives of Ireland about the decision to grant clemency to men and women sentenced to death between the end of the civil war in 1923 and the abolition of capital punishment in 1990. Frequently, the decision to deflect the law from its course was an attempt to introduce a measure of justice to a system where the mandatory death sentence for murder caused predictable unfairness and undue harshness. In some instances the decision to commute a death penalty sprang from merciful motivations. In others it was capricious, depending on factors that should have had no place in the government’s decision-making calculus. The custodial careers of those whose lives were spared repay scrutiny. Women tended to serve relatively short periods in prison but were often transferred to a religious institution, such as a Magdalen laundry, where their coercive confinement continued, occasionally for life. Men, by contrast, served longer in prison but were discharged directly to the community. Political offenders, such as members of the IRA, were either executed hastily or, when the threat of capital punishment had passed, incarcerated for extravagant periods. The issues addressed are of continuing relevance for countries that retain capital punishment as the ultimate sanction.

Keywords: death penalty; capital punishment; clemency; coercive confinement; IRA; Magdalen laundry; commutation; mercy

Book.  336 pages. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

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Table of Contents

Introduction in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Classifying Clemency in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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For and Against Clemency in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Juries and Judges in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Extraordinary Courts in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Governments in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Blurring the Separation of Powers in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Undoing Death I in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Undoing Death II in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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Release in Justice, Mercy, and Caprice

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