© 2015

An American Dilemma

International Law, Capital Punishment, and Federalism

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About this book


An American Dilemma examines the issue of capital punishment in the United States as it conflicts with the nation's obligations under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In a number of high profile cases, foreign nationals have been executed after being denied their rights under the Vienna Convention. The International Court of Justice has ruled against the United States, but individual states have chosen to defy international law. The Supreme Court has not resolved the question of legal remedies for such breaches.


conflict federalism international law law sovereignty

About the authors

Mary Welek Atwell is Professor Emerita of Criminal Justice at Radford University, USA. She holds a PhD in American History from Saint Louis University, USA. She is the author of two previous books and several articles dealing with capital punishment.

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"An original and creative examination of how America's 'machinery of death' is not only out of step with international norms, but international law as well. This book is a necessary addition to the library of any scholar who wants to understand the full legal ramifications of state-sanctioned death." - Todd C. Peppers, Henry H. & Trudye H. Fowler Chair, Associate Professor of Public Affairs, Roanoke College, USA

"The complex national and international implications of the death penalty are typically obscured by Americans' acceptance of federalism-based state prerogatives concerning the imposition of criminal punishments. In An American Dilemma, Mary Welek Atwell remedies scholars' neglect of capital punishment's broader implications by illuminating legal issues and practical consequences that affect international relations and the place of the United States in the world community." - Christopher E. Smith, Professor of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, USA

"'Finality' and 'federalism' are legal concepts the Supreme Court has elevated to insulate state death penalty procedures from federal judicial scrutiny. The concepts play a large role in the recent history of state execution of foreign nationals, executions that violate international law. Expertly weaving together US death penalty jurisprudence and the clash of state, federal, and international actors, Mary Welek Atwell paints a compelling picture not of American exceptionalism, but of exemptionalism from international standards." Paul Parker, Professor of Political Science, Truman State University, USA