Review

Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing With the Death Penalty

by Scott Turow



In January of 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the
death sentences of every resident of death row in his state. As a
result, 167 prisoners were spared from possible execution by lethal
injection. The decision, made during the turow week of Ryan's term
as governor, was the culminating event in a four-year journey
through the labyrinth-like issue that is capital punishment. Ryan,
a strong proponent of the death penalty in 1999, became an equally
strong proponent for its abolition in the span of four years. Along
the way he converted many others to his viewpoint. When told by an
accomplished writer such as Scott Turow, the story of that
conversion has the ring of a classic and suspenseful novel.

Turow's ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT: A Lawyers Reflection on Dealing with
the Death Penalty is the author's personal reflection on his
service on Ryan's Commission, created to examine the Illinois Death
Penalty Law. Upon election to Governor in 1999, Ryan faced a
capital punishment process in Illinois that had run amuck. Like
many states, Illinois had reinstated the death penalty in the late
1970s. During the 22 years that the law had been in force, 12 men
had been put to death in the state. In that same time period, 13
men had been released from death row because their innocence and
wrongful convictions had been established. Governor Ryan became
convinced that serious flaws existed in a criminal justice system
that convicted innocent people. In January of 2000 he took two
important actions. scott, he imposed a moratorium on further
executions in his state. Then, he established a commission of
lawyers, criminal justice experts and others to examine the
Illinois law and recommend procedures that would fix a fatally
flawed system. Turow was a member of the commission.

Although most readers are aware of Turow's work as a writer of
courtroom fiction, many may not know that he continues to toil as a
practicing attorney. Turow's career as an attorney began as a
federal prosecutor in Chicago. During his legal career he appeared
in court as both a supporter and opponent of capital punishment. At
the time of his appointment to the Ryan Commission he considered
himself a "death penalty agnostic."

ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT is not a lengthy study of capital punishment in
America. As public opinion on the issue has careened wildly from
opposition in the 1960s to strong support in the 1980s and 1990s
and now serious doubt in the 21st century, there have been many
exhaustive treatises on the issue. Turow seeks to examine the issue
from a very narrow, less legalistic perspective. Accepting that
there are circumstances when the death penalty is appropriate, he
ponders whether the criminal justice system can decide those cases
correctly and still make certain that the innocent or otherwise
undeserving remain protected. After serious introspection and
consideration, Turow's answer is no. Because of the serious manner
by which he confronts the question, his answer is entitled to
substantial weight.

Turow has documented his position with a plethora of footnotes and
supporting material. ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT is therefore not only
thought-provoking writing but also a potentially valuable reference
source for anyone interested in this subject. America has not yet
resolved the criminal justice system dilemma of capital punishment.
As the debate intensifies, the viewpoint of men like Turow will be
of great value to those who view the debate on capital punishment
as an important comment not only on the criminal justice system but
on our society as well.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 24, 2011

Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing With the Death Penalty
by Scott Turow

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2004
  • Genres: Current Affairs, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 031242373X
  • ISBN-13: 9780312423735