Capital Punishment



There has been many controversies in the history of the United States, ranging from abortion to gun control, but capital punishment has been one of the most hotly contested issues in recent decades. Capital punishment is the legal infliction of the death penalty on persons convicted of a crime (Cox). It is not intended to inflict any physical pain or any torture; it is only another form of punishment. It is irrevocable because it removes those punished from society permanently, instead of temporarily imprisoning them. The usual alternative to the death penalty is life-long imprisonment.

Capital punishment is a method of retributive punishment as old as civilization itself. The death penalty has been imposed throughout history for many crimes, ranging from blasphemy and treason to petty theft and murder. Many ancient societies accepted the idea that certain crimes deserved capital punishment. Ancient Roman and Mosaic law endorsed the notion of retaliation; they believed in the rule of "an eye for an eye." Similarly, the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, and Greeks all executed citizens for a variety of crimes. The most famous people to be executed are Socrates and Jesus. Only in England, during the reigns of King Canute (1016-1035) and William the Conqueror (1066-1087) was the death penalty not used, although the results of interrogation and torture were often fatal (Kronenwetter 12). Later, Britain reinstated the death penalty and brought it to its American colonies.

Although the death was widely accepted throughout the early United States, not everyone approved of it. In the late-eighteen century, opposition to the death penalty gathered enough strength to lead to important restrictions on the use of the death penalty in several northern states, while in the United States, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island abandoned the practice altogether (Kronenwetter 15). In 1794, Pennsylvania adopted a law to distinguish the degrees of murder and only used the death penalty for premeditated first-degree murder. Another reform took place in 1846 in Louisiana. This state abolished the mandatory death penalty and authorized the option of sentencing a capital offender to life imprisonment rather than to death. After the 1830s, public executions ceased to be demonstrated but did not completely stop until after 1936.

Throughout history, governments have been extremely inventive in devising ways to execute people. Executions inflicted in the past are now regarded today as ghastly, barbaric, and unthinkable and are forbidden by law almost everywhere. Common historical methods of execution included: stoning, crucifixion, burning, breaking on the wheel, drawing and quartering, peine forte et dure, garroting, beheading or decapitation, shooting and hanging (Kronenwetter 171). These types of punishments today are considered cruel and unusual. In the United States, the death penalty is currently authorized in one of five ways: firing squad, hanging, gas chamber, electrocution, and lethal injection. These methods of execution compared to those of the past are not meant for torture, but meant for punishment for the crime.

For the past decades capital punishment has been one of the most hotly contested political issues in America. This debate is a complicated one. Capital punishment is a legal, practical, philosophical, social, political, and moral question. The notion of deterrence has been at the very center of the practical debate over the question of capital punishment. Most of us assume that we execute murderers primarily because we believe it will discourage others from becoming murderers. Retentionists have long asserted the deterrent power of capital punishment as an obvious fact. The fear of death deters people from committing crimes. Still, abolitionists (people against capital punishment) believe that deterrence is little more than an assumption-and a naive assumption at that.

Abolitionists claim that capital punishment does not deter murderers from killing or killing again. They base most of their argument against deterrence on statistics. States that use it extensively show a higher murder rate than those that have abolished the death penalty. Also, states that have abolished the death penalty and then reinstituted it show no significant change in the murder rate. They say adjacent states with the death penalty and those without show no long term differences in the number of murders that occur in that state. And finally, there has been no record of change in the rate of homicides in a given city or state following a local execution. Any possibly of deterring a would-be murderer from killing has little effect.

Most retentionists (people for capital punishment) argue that none