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The Death Penalty: Past, Present and Future

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The Death Penalty: Past,

Present and Future


In the United States today the concept of the death penalty brings about a lot of arguments. There are those who are strongly opposed and those who are in favor of its use. For each side there are legitimate arguments, but the death penalty has been around for centuries and different tactics have been used throughout time. In today's society there are states that still use capital punishment for offenders and in others it has been abolished.

In the Beginning

The use of the death penalty came back as far back as the Code of King Hammaurabi, when the penalty was used for 25 different crimes (DPIC, 2007). The tactics used included crucifixion, burning alive, and drowning to name a few. There were instances where women were burned like witches for committing certain crimes. Over time the methods that were used changed and there were fewer crimes that were punishable by death and in some countries the penalty given was determined by the social class of an individual.

The "death penalty remained in the largest part of the legal systems until the end of the Eighteenth Century, when the attempts to oppose it started to be many and important" (Thinkquest, 4). During this time those who were opposed to the use of the death penalty as punishment outnumbers those who were in favor. Because of the oppositions there came the first known abolishment of the death penalty. The abolishment came first overseas in Italy, but then soon followed in some of the western states. The states that took part in the abolishment turned to punishing criminals to life in prison. Despite the states and countries that were doing away with the death penalty there were still some that continued using it such as in Russia in the time of Lenin and Stalin (Thinkquest).

When the states began to take part in the abolishment of the death penalty many of them didn't do away with it completely. The crimes that were punished by death changed and some states took the executions out of the public eye. It wasn't until Michigan in 1846 that the death penalty was abolished in the states for all crimes except for treason (DPIC, 2007). Soon after Michigan abolished the use, other states and countries followed in their path.

Death Row Today

The death penalty today is still a topic that is argued over. "On the one hand, you have many victims' families demanding retribution, demanding a closure they say can only come from knowing that the murderer's life has been snuffed out" (Kalet, 2006, 2). Those who are for the death penalty make claim that ending the offenders life brings about closure, but the question remains as to whether or not it brings justice. The amount of time that an individual spends on death row keeps the pain of the victims on the surface even longer. An individual facing the death penalty has an opportunity to appeal numerous times which keeps the wounds inflicted on those around the victim open (Kalet, 2006). So the question remains, is the death penalty a good punishment for violent crimes?

Those who are opposed to the death penalty state that it is in violation of the Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

"In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty for murder or for rape violated the prohibition against 'cruel and unusual punishment'. The Court argued that death sentences were imposed with 'freakish' irregularity and so the use of capital punishment was 'arbitrary' and 'cruel'" (Geocities, 2007, 4).

After the ruling in that particular case the statute was changed so that a sentence of death or life can only be handed down after a post conviction hearing. The case of Gregg v. Georgia was a landmark case that reinstated the death penalty. In the United States today are 37 states that utilize the death penalty for sentencing. Among those states is Texas, which has the highest number of executions since 2000, in 2006 alone they had 24.

It has been shown over the years that the death penalty does not deter crime. The facts show that states that do have the death penalty have a higher index crime rate than those without. People who are going to go out and commit a crime that could eventually receive the death penalty are not thinking about the consequences at the time. If caught and sentenced to death the wait to be executed can be a long one. The truth behind the facts is that an inmate on death row inmate often dies while waiting to be executed.

Those who are for the death penalty many times refer to the statement 'an eye for an eye' and that cruel and unusual punishment is not even in question. In some cases the punishment of death is suitable for the crime committed, but the length of time spent on death row needs to somehow be changed so that the execution takes place quicker. If an offender is executed after committing their first violent crime then it can possible deter others from doing the same. Allowing offenders a second chance only gives them a second chance to do the same thing. If a murderer is put to death the first time he or she kills then another innocent life does not have be lost.

People who are on death row are still given certain privileges that other inmates receive. "Offenders on death row receive a regular diet and have access to reading, writing, and legal materials. Depending on their custody level, some death row offenders are allowed to have a radio" (TDCJ, 2007, 2). The question remains, why should an offender who is being put to death be allowed to have such privileges? When they were out victimizing innocent people such things were not thought about. The people who fall victim to brutal crimes do not have an opportunity to make a final statement or profess their last will as death row inmates do.

Though death row inmates do seem to have certain luxuries, they are still monitored so that they do not try to harm themselves. In some cases inmates on death row try to take their own life in many different ways, the most common of which is hanging themselves. "Death row inmates, in the days leading



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