The word “Death” itself scares a lot of people, but to get death penalty as one of their punishments sounds really terrifying and grows lots of questions and opinions. Death Penalty has been one of the most controversial social matters, since the early colonization period, in the United States. Whether it serves as a justified form of capital punishment or takes innocent peoples life, death penalty has continually produced a steaming debate. Death Penalty has a long history, starting the eighteen century B.C., when the first death penalty was established during the Babylon era (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). But, death penalty was already carried out during the early fourteenth century and the seventh century. During this time period, death penalty was the answer to all the crimes committed. Several methods of death penalty during the early century were beating to death, execution, burning alive, drowning and etc. (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012).
It was the most usual form of punishment that had no laws or regulations placed on them. Britain’s Colonization in the United States in the 1600’s brought several changes as well as the idea of death penalty. Death penalty was one of the most practiced forms of punishment during the colonization period. Captain Kendall, from Jamestown colony in Virginia was the first one to be executed in early 1600 (ACKER, 2003). Many believed that captain Kendall was a spy for Spain. During the Colonial Period, death penalty was implemented for minor offenses such as stealing, killing chickens and etc. As history explains how effective the death penalty was carried out, today’s society reflects a different perspective and mixed opinions about the issue of death penalty. The issue of death penalty reveals both positive and negative perception. Some extremist still believe that death penalty remains an effective method of punishment, whereas many other argue that it is immoral, unconstitutional, expensive and doesn’t deter the crime. Extremist supportive of capital punishment might argue that death penalty is the only answer to higher offenses such as murder, rape and such.
Likewise someone against the idea of capital punishment might think it is immoral to execute someone and to take someone’s life for the crime they did is not rational. This argument will always keep on moving and we will never reach a definite opinion, where death penalty is still carried out in our country. Britain’s colonization introduced the idea of death penalty to Americans, but during the late 18th century, many Americans began to question whether the death penalty should still be imposed on minor crimes such as stealing, burglary. The colonies also found influential opinions in newspapers and other writings about death penalty. Cesare Beccaria’s Essay on Crimes and Punishment in 1764 influenced many Europeans and Americans (Banner, 2003). The essay brought positive attributes about the death penalty towards the Americans and changed they mentality towards the death penalty. As a result, several European nations abolish death penalty. American intellectuals such as Dr. Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin were also influenced by the writing of Beccaria.
The executed the ideas mentioned in the writing and implemented several laws and regulation on death penalty. Pennsylvania was the first state to abolish death penalty for robbery, burglary and killing of animals (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). Several years later, Pennsylvania also cancelled death penalty for every other offense except first degree murder. The abolishment movement in Pennsylvania led to several states to reconsider capital punishment. In 1846, Michigan, Rhode Island and Wisconsin abolished the death penalty for all crimes, except treason (Bohm, 1999). American abolition movement was gaining major support during the late eighteenth century, but there were several other states, still practicing capital punishment and implementing more capital offenses, especially for the slaves. During the movement, nine states abolished the death penalty for all crimes or placed strict limitation on it. (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012)
The early and mid-nineteenth century saw decline in American abolition movement due to World War 1. During this period, there was a rise of Russian Revolution and Fascism. Americans were more worried about the threat of Russian Revolution and had just entered the war. The war created a social class conflicts, as many socialist were more worried about the challenge to capitalism. Due to the increasing revolution in Russian and capitalism, several states reinstated the death penalty by 1920 (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). In 1924, Nevada introduced the use of cyanide gas to execute its inmate. Gee Jon was the first person executed by lethal gas (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). During the 1930’s execution rate hit its highest peak in American History, averaging 167 a year (Bohm, 1999). After the war and revolution, many European nations abolished the death penalty and as a result, Americans diverted their attentions towards capital punishment.
In 1966, support for capital punishment reached an all-time low. A Gallup poll showed support for the death penalty at only 42% (Bohm, 1999). There have been a numerous cases regarding death penalty, which has contributed enormously, on how death penalty is viewed constitutionally in the Supreme Court. The first Supreme Court case was a case about federal kidnapping statue requiring that the death penalty be imposed only upon a recommendation of a jury. It was a case between U.S. v. Jackson in 1968, where the court held that this practice was unconstitutional (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). Similarly, one of the most landmark cases in death penalty history was a case between. Where the Supreme Court effectively voids 40 death penalty cases and suspends the death penalty in June, 1972. Years later, there were lots of talks about, how Furman v. Georgia states that only specific death penalty was unconstitutional (Union, 2011). After much debate, the U.S. Supreme Court opens the door to states to rewrite their death penalty statue.
Many states started writing a sentencing guideline for the judge and jury when deciding whether to impose death penalty. The Supreme Court approved most of the guidelines in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia and reinstated death penalty in Florida, Georgia and Texas (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). Several other cases have laid a foundation for death penalty laws and statue. In Ford v. Wainwright (1986), the Supreme Court stated that execution of an insane, mentally challenged person is unconstitutional therefore this practice was banned (Union, 2011). Likewise, another case of Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988) stated that execution of offenders age fifteen and younger at the time of other crimes is unconstitutional (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). Since its re-instatement to the constitution, there have been quite a few states pushing to end capital punishment. New York’s death penalty law was declared unconstitutional by the state’s high court in June 2004 (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). Also, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish capital punishment since it was re-instated in 1976 (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012).
Even though, the Supreme Court states that the death penalty is constitutional under certain circumstances, many states have all the rights to rewrite their death penalty law. To every issue, we always come up with an argument or sometimes we agree with the decision we make. Likewise, we might have majority of people stating that the death penalty is constitutional and will deter crime in a long run. But, many people believe that death penalty isn’t that answer to deter crime and it’s unconstitutional to someone’s life. We have had lots of statistics and useful information, which supports both arguments. Since, reinstating the death penalty, many have argued that the death penalty kills innocent people. Many people believe that the criminal justice system and the legal procedure system of this country aren’t effective enough. According to ACLU, “Since 1973, 138 death row prisoners have been released because they were innocent.” That number sounds really excruciating and explains how death penalty is really not the answer. At least 10 people have been executed since 1976, even though they were innocent.
Much has to do with wrongful evidence, false confession, mistaken eyewitness and such, American Civil Liberties Union explains that death penalty is racially biased and punishes the poor. Most defendants are poor and cannot afford qualified attorney to oversee their case. As a result, the defendant pleads guilty, thinking it would get them out of death penalty. Many believe that death penalty is much more expensive that life without parole because death penalty requires long and complex judicial process. According to NBER, the extra cost of capital trials was &1.6 million from 1982-1997. The recent study by the Urban Institute predicted that the lifetime cost to taxpayers for the capitally prosecuted cases in Maryland since 1978 will be $186 million (Costs of the Death Penalty, 2011). Since the state reinstated the death penalty, there have been five executions taken place. Mathematically, the cost of every execution was about $32 million.
As the numbers explain how death penalty is much more expensive, that amount could have been utilized in different sectors of infrastructure rather than death penalty. California is another state with higher death penalty cost. Since 1978, the average cost of death penalty in California has been over $4 billion (Ellis, 2011). California’s Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice reported that out of the $4 billion, pretrial and trails cost about $1.94 billion and the cost of incarceration is $1 billion. California has conducted 1.940 capital cases, with every case estimated to be around $1 million (Center, THE DEATH PENALTY IN 2011:YEAR END REPORT, 2011). There has been numerous capital cases in New Jersey resulted in death penalty. Since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1982, it has spent #253.3 million in death penalty cases. Besides Maryland, California and New Jersey, other states such as Kansas estimated that the cost of death penalty case in 70% more than comparable non-death penalty case (Costs of the Death Penalty, 2011).
When it comes to execution, every inmate on a death row is offered to pick their choice of execution. There is no limit placed on type of execution that can be performed with lethal injection to firing squad. Electrocution, gas chamber and hanging are other three methods of execution offered to an inmate depending on the state’s legation. New York was the first state to consider lethal injection in 1888 (Stewart, 2011). Today about 35 states use this method of execution. During lethal injection, the inmate is injected with sodium thiopental, which puts inmate to sleep. Next, Pancuronium bromide is injected which paralyzes the entire muscular system and the inmate stops breathing. Finally, the flow of potassium chloride stops breathing. Charles Brooks of New York was the first person to be executed by lethal injection. After the invention of lethal injection, New York wanted to introduce something more humane to execute the inmate.
As a result, Electrocution was introduced by New York in 1888 and years later executed William Kemmler in 1890 (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). The electric chair execution requires the person to be seated in the chair with belts around his chest, legs and arms. A metal skullcap electrode is attached to the scalp and forehead. After every tool has been connected to the person, a jolt of between 50 and 200 volts is given to the person. This process continues until the person is dead. Today, only Nebraska uses electric chair as the sole method of execution, while 9 other states provide as an alternative method (Stewart, 2011). Another method of execution is the gas chamber, which was introduced in 1924 in Nevada (ACKER, 2003). For execution by this method, the person is tied to a chair in a chamber. As instructed, the executioner flicks a leveler that releases crystals of sodium cyanide into the pail, situated below the chair. This causes a chemical reaction that releases hydrogen cyanide gas. Arizona, California, Missouri and Wyoming currently authorizes gas chamber as a method of execution.
In recent history only two inmates have been executed by firing squad, both in Utah: Gary Gilmore (1977) and John Albert Taylor (1996) (Stewart, 2011). Depending upon the choice of the inmate, only 3 states, Idaho, Utah and Oklahoma currently use Firing squad a method of execution. For this type of execution, the inmate is placed on a chair with belts around him and a black hood to cover his head. A doctor marks a white target spot around his heart, where the executioner from 20 feet away tries to aim the spot, resulting in execution of the inmate. Hanging was the primary method of execution used in the United States and is still used in Delaware and Washington, although both have lethal injection as an alternative method of execution (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012).
Before the execution, the prisoner’s hands and legs are secured, and the prisoner is blindfolded, and the noose is placed around the neck, with the knot behind the left ear. The execution takes place when the trap door is opened and the prisoner falls down. The prisoner’s weight should cause a rapid fracture-dislocation of the neck. Currently, Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington are the only three states still using hanging as a method of execution, alternative to lethal injection, depending upon the choice of the inmate (Stewart, 2011).
Compared to the early eighteenth and nineteenth century, death penalty is still practiced in the United States but the public support is diminishing. A majority of the U.S. public now prefers alternatives over the death penalty as the best punishment for the crime of murder. Compared to 98 execution in 1999 and 37 in 2008, executions have declined as well. In 2010, there were only 46 executions and 43 in 2011 (Center, THE DEATH PENALTY IN 2011:YEAR END REPORT, 2011). Death sentences have also declined sharply since 1990’s. There were only 78 death sentences in 2011, a decline of about 75%, compared to 315 death sentences in 1996.Compared to 47 death sentences in 1999; Texas had a massive drop to only 8 death sentences in 2011. California, the state with the largest death row had more than half death sentences this year- only 10 compared with 24 in 2010 (Center, THE DEATH PENALTY IN 2011:YEAR END REPORT, 2011).
According to Gallup poll in 2011, 61% of the total population favors death penalty. Even though, more than half of the citizens think death penalty should be continued, there have been continuous developments in the banning of capital punishment (Center, History of the Death Penalty, 2012). Many states are trying to replace death penalty with other form of punishment. In March 2009, Governor Bill Richardson signed legislation to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico, replacing it with life without parole. Two years later, Governor Pat Quinn from Illinois also signed legislation in March 2011, replacing death penalty with life without parole (ACKER, 2003). Also four other states in the past four years have already abandoned the death penalty altogether. Personally, the death penalty law in the United States should be abolished, in consideration to its expensive cost and wrong convictions to innocent person. Abolishing death penalty or replacing it with other punishment would only bring positive incentives to the community.
Resources spent on death penalty can be used to expand the resources available for education, rehabilitation program, and drug treatment program and crime prevention. The death penalty is a scary theory for a lot of Americans. People who are convicted of crimes they have not committed have always shown in large numbers. That is why people feel that morally, the death penalty is too harsh, even if you find new evidence in a crime, and are able to free a wrongly convicted person, if you use the death penalty, then you can just bring that person back to life. Like all other politically debated topics, it is difficult to find a middle ground for people to rely upon. As for today, states are making it more and more difficult to keep the death penalty instated.
Costs of the Death Penalty. (2011). Retrieved from Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty ACKER, J. R. (2003). THE DEATH PENALTY: AN AMERICAN HISTORY. Retrieved 2012, from The University of Hawaii System: http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/The%20Death%20Penalty%20%20An%20American%20History.pdf Banner, S. (2003). The Death Penalty: An American History. Harvard University Press. Bohm, R. M. (1999). Deathquest:an introduction to the theory and practice of capital punishment in the United States. Anderson Publication Company. Center, D. P. (2011, December). THE DEATH PENALTY IN