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Extra resources for Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in global Perspective

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Nevertheless, public support for capital punishment remained strong, and formed the backdrop to retention of capital punishment until the mid-1960s. In France, opposition to capital punishment remained a distinct minority view, and could only finally be achieved by a seismic leftward political shift in the early 1980s, which permitted a Socialist presidential candidate to adopt total abolition as a plank of his campaign platform without fear of a public backlash. In Germany, the abolition of capital punishment by Article 102 of the postwar German constitution took place in the atmosphere of uncertainty and chaos after World War II, and almost did not happen at all.

Amid the upheaval that followed World War II, no European government saw any particular reason to dismantle existing structures that insulated penal policy from the popular will. Indeed, most European elites saw such insulation as more necessary than ever. In Germany, for instance, sweeping criminallaw reforms were launched during the era of National Socialism to bring criminal legislation into line with gesunde Volksempfinden, roughly, ‘healthy popular instincts’. Legal doctrines which limited judicial power, such as the Analogieverbot (which forbade judges to punish acts which were ‘analogous’ to America and Europe Diverge on the Death Penalty 23 existing crimes) or the principle of legality (forbidding retroactive punishment) were abolished (Lustgarten 2003:118–19).

A 2007 poll, for instance, found a majority ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ in favor of capital punishment in countries as diverse as Mexico (71%), South Korea (72%), and the United States (69%) – although when given the option, many survey respondents endorsed life without parole as an alternative punishment (Ipsos/Public Affairs & Associated Press 2007). ‘Top-line’ support for capital punishment (the answer to the simple question of whether the respondent is in favor of capital punishment or against) is also ‘strong’ in India (Greenberg and West 2008:308) and reaches 59% in Brazil (Rötzsch 2007).

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