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Capital Punishment in America


Capital punishment in America is a crucial and yet sensitive topic to deal with because it involves several social issues. This is a topic that should be given a significant focus in the criminal justice system. Several cases of capital punishment of innocent people such as the case of Carlos Deluma, who was executed in 1989 in Texas, and Leo Jones of Florida, who was executed in 1998, among others, have left Americans worried about how many other innocent people will have to die for crimes that they did not commit (Benson, Hansen, & Westfall, 2012).

In an ideal world, there would be no reason to discuss the death penalty. It would not exist because it is a violent and painful way to kill someone. It is a practice that is highly debatable among the fifty states because some people think that it is cruel while others think that it is worth. Yet, a lot of people have been killed in the name of justice. Committing murder is one of the most horrible crimes that one human being can inflict upon another. However, once one commits such a heinous act, the society has a greater obligation to commit its energies to the task of trying to minimize such acts in the future. Capital punishment should be studied for the society to determine whether it brings more benefit or harm to America.

Problem Statement

The death penalty has been a highly criticized and widely debated issue in the United States for over 30 years. The value of studying capital punishment has been questioned by opponents, citizens, along with scholars. Furthermore, opponents of studying capital punishment argue that continued research will delay what they perceive as an inevitable end to this form of punishment (Sarat, 2018). Furthermore, researchers have argued that capital punishment does not deter crime, is racially biased, and is too costly to continue.

However, some contend continuing research on capital punishment provides value. Opponents of studying capital punishment will point out that it has already been widely researched. However, evidence suggesting the operational value of capital punishment and future value of continued research is found in the value of studying capital punishment.

Popova et al. (2014) claim, “proper management and application of data can be one way to reduce the costs associated with death penalty cases”. Opponents may argue that there is no value in studying capital punishment because the value of this form of punishment has already been analyzed. However, Popova et al. (2014) assert that studying how to manage, process, and apply data in capital punishment cases may help reduce costs associated with death penalty cases.

The value of studying capital punishment is evident through the value of considering the essence of this form of punishment in future cases. For example, opponents claim that studies have not shown a value in capital punishment through deterrence. However, Sarat (2018) claims, that some evidence reveals that executions have a role in preventing murders. Thus, value can be gained from studying the value of capital punishment in deterring future crime.

Studying capital punishment is of great value because it offers room for understanding the many cases that have punished innocent people. It also provides value in understanding how to reduce the number of wrongful convictions and executions. The value of studying capital punishment is evident because it may help save innocent lives. The criminal justice system is meant to reduce the increasing cases of injustice in America and not to increase them. The criminal justice system is striving to serve the people of America in the right manner and the first and most practical step to take is to study capital punishment to ensure that it serves the right purpose.


Capital punishment is the lawful sentence of death that can be handed down by a criminal court in 16 states to convicted capital murderers. Capital punishment is also known as a capital sanction, capital punishment, execution, death sentence, or the supreme penalty. Capital punishment is divided into capital murder or capital offence, first-degree murder or capital crime, and capital cases. Capital punishment is legal in America but it is currently under debate on whether capital punishment should be abolished because capital punishment can sometimes lead to wrongful executions. Death penalty was authorized by the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. Capital punishment in America dates back to 1608 when Captain George Kendall was executed by firing squad for spying with Native Americans, who were known as enemy tribes. Capital punishment was later established with the case Commonwealth v. Caton et al. capital punishment was then expanded with the case United States v. Bajakajian where capital punishment became stronger(Markovitz, 2020). Capital punishment followed other decisions made by the US Supreme Court to expand capital punishment even further which led to legislators capitalizing on capital punishment in order to impose harsh sentences for capital crimes committed, which lead to capital punishment being capitalized on more than ever before. Capital punishment was then limited by the US Supreme Court in capital punishments that are considered cruel and unusual punishment, which is against the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.

Literature Review

A brief history of the death penalty will be followed by a description of executions from England through the American Civil War and into the twenty-first century. This article examines one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions on the death penalty. In addition to Furman v. Georgia (1972), Gregg v. Georgia (1976), Atkins v. (2002). The literature review also covers the history of the anti-capital punishment movement and how minorities and non-minorities have viewed the death penalty. Finally, the conclusion compares studies on perception and knowledge in the US and reviews studies on perception and knowledge among college students. In order to better understand the value of capital punishment in the eyes of the American public, the authors compiled a collection of background information and studies.

The History of Capital Punishment

The death penalty is one of the world’s oldest forms of retribution, having been in use for thousands of years. Hammurabi’s Code contains a number of the very first laws, all of which are viewed as a means of appeasing God. Traditionally, patriarchs carried out executions of their own family members, and executions were frequently formal, day-long public events that were broadcast on television. Throughout human history, methods of execution such as drowning, beheading, stoning, crucifixion, burning, and impaling have been used. By the sixteenth century, when hanging became popular in the United Kingdom, beheading, boiling, and drawing and quartering were among the most frequently used methods of execution in the country. By the Civil War’s conclusion, the United States of America sought a more humane method of execution than the traditional hanging. As a result, the first electric chair was built in 1888 and first used in 1890, ushering in the modern era. Prior to the introduction of lethal injection in Texas in 1982, firearms and gas chambers were among the methods of execution used in the United States (Acker, 2019). The Death Penalty’s Origins and Evolution The death penalty is one of the world’s oldest forms of retribution, having been in use for thousands of years.A number of the earliest laws date back to Hammurabi’s Code and were viewed as a means of appeasing God. Historically, patriarchs executed members of their own families, and executions were frequently formal, day-long public events that were broadcast on television. Drowning, beheading, stoning, crucifixion, burning, and impaling were some of the earliest methods of execution used throughout history (Sarat, 2018). By the sixteenth century, when hanging became popular in England, beheading, boiling, and drawing and quartering were common methods. By the end of the Civil War, a more humane method of hanging was sought. An electric chair was built in response in 1888, and used for the first time in 1890. Before lethal injection, other methods of execution included firing squads and gas chambers.

Early Death Penalty Laws

The death penalty can be found in 14th century Babylonian and Hittite codes. During Hammurabi’s reign, 25 crimes were punishable by death. False murder and sorcery charges were both punished. The Mosaic Law was passed in order to limit the use of the death penalty. 19 For God’s sake, the majority of early codes were founded on the concept of lex talionis (Sarat, 2018). Around 621 B.C., even minor offenses like stealing salt were punishable by death. Only the “good” would be able to survive in Draco’s world. The Draconian code had to be revised on a regular basis.

The death sentence was imposed by the Law of the XII Tablets of the Roman Republic, but it was not mandatory for everyone. Upon conviction of murdering a freedman, a slave is sentenced to death; yet, the freedman receives no punishment for his crime. Slaves were seen as less than human, and adolescents were subjected to less harsh punishments for the same offenses as adults in the same conditions as they were.

Throughout Europe, sorcery, sexual deformities, and bestiality were all thought to be crimes punishable by death. In 1500, there were just eight capital offenses in the United Kingdom. From 1714 to 1803, the English Parliament legislated 156 new deadly offenses, and by 1800, England’s Bloody Code had specified over 200 additional capital offenses, including treason, murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, burglary, arson, counterfeiting, and theft, tree falling, and robbing a rabbit warren, among other things. During Henry VIII’s reign, almost 72,000 people were executed, and one of them may have been hanged for a range of misdeeds, including 20 marrying a Jew, refusing to confess to a crime, and treason, among other things. The vast majority of these new crimes were property-related felonies that targeted mostly low-income and minority communities.

Executions throughout the middle ages

In ancient times, tribal patriarchs were known for putting their own family members to death in order to glorify God, and Hammurabi’s Code outlined 25 sins for which a person might be put to death, some of which date back to Babylon. When the Roman Empire was at its height, Christians, criminals, and misbehaving slaves were all put to the lions in public coliseums in front of adoring crowds. As a result of Rome’s fall, there was little pomp and circumstance, however executions were common. For trial in Nuremberg’s public marketplace in the year 1000, the prosecutor would bring the defendant to Nuremberg’s public marketplace. The perpetrator will be hanged from a pole, tied to a tree, or otherwise strangled to death, if he is found to be responsible. By the year 1400, however, torture was being used to get confessions from those behind prison walls, and public trials had all but disappeared. Despite the fact that the penalty was swift, citizens were no longer in control of how it was administered. It was decided instead to delegate the burdensome work to a court official.

For the commemoration of executions, large banquets and ceremonial parades were staged, with representatives from the government in attendance. Because executions were performed in front of a large crowd at the time, the prisoner was compelled to express his forgiveness to his executioner before addressing to the audience. The majority of captives were genuinely scared of performing this task, and execution team members would have to restrain them. He was put to death in the most horrible manner imaginable, with no mercy. When the prisoner was near death, one method comprised hanging him until he was close to death. Then, while the prisoner was still conscious and alive, the prisoner was cut down, drawn, and quartered. Drawing and quartering is the term used to describe the process of carving out the intestines and slicing the person into four halves. In addition to being shoved upward on the steering wheel, the detainee sustained several fractures to his limbs and legs. A quick rotation of the prisoner’s body on the wheel resulted in his body parts being scattered across the room till he died. Other options included hanging the corpse by the feet and sawing the corpse in half vertically. These types of punishments were not meted out to the average offender. It is possible that the sentence for the more serious offender will be increased. Two of these adjustments included the application of searing wax to the offender’s wounds and flesh tearing. Crowds frequently provoke more violence against death row inmates. It was normal practice during the Inquisition to carry out mass executions, with convicts being paraded through the village in a beautiful procession before being carried to a platform built just for the execution and in front of the King.

Executions were day-long events during this time period, frequently coinciding with a wedding or coronation, and the 22 readings of charges may take hours. The convicted were imprisoned in cages that were visible to the public, as they awaited their final fate. Resisting prisoners were burned alive, while those who were more repentant were strangled before being burned alive. While early legal codes emphasized the principle of proportionality, the same argument – lex talionis – was instead used to legalize fatal punishment in the twentieth century. Crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, impalement, burning the criminal alive, and stoning were all methods of execution that were used in the early days of the Christian church. The execution of prisoners was a popular public spectacle during the middle Ages. There would be a mix of children, males, and adults in attendance. The condemned were paraded through streets that had been decorated for the occasion. Authorities from the church were in charge of the ritualization of the execution, the blessing of the event, and the reading of biblical verses during the execution. Murdering or having sexual relations with humans was a reason why animals were occasionally put to death in the past. If they were to be punished in a manner equivalent to that meted out to people, they would be hanged, burned, and possibly even buried alive.

Executions in England

In the ninth century, hanging was the most common means of death in England, but by the sixteenth century, a dizzying array of alternatives had replaced it. Henry VIII executed 72,000 people via boiling, burning at the stake, hanging, beheading, or drawing and quartering. England’s Bloody Codes era executed people differently based on their social position. It is feasible to “painlessly” decapitate the upper crust. The unfortunate lower classes would suffer horribly at the hands of their executioners. The executioner may, in rare cases, postpone the hanging of lower-class members. Prisoners were quartered, broken at the wheel, and burned at the stake. Women were drowned unless accused of witchcraft, and tens of thousands of women were burned alive in Europe. The people was shocked by the approach after seeing the gruesome consequences of disembowelling and beheading. A cap was worn over the condemned’s face to mask his agony and provide some privacy during such a public execution. Tradition has it that the church ritualized capital punishment by singing special prayers and ringing church bells. Inebriated or hungover from the night before or on the route to the executioner’s gallows, the condemned were supposed to drop a handkerchief expressing his readiness to die if able. Executions were sometimes followed by meals at wealthy parties. Visits to condemned inmates in their cells were encouraged not just for the sake of the general public, but also for the benefit of children and young people. Until the mid-19th century, executions took place inside, out of sight of the public.

Capital Punishment in the United States

Originally from England, early colonists brought capital punishment to America. Daniel Frank was executed for stealing in Virginia in 1622, becoming the world’s first execution. To execute political prisoners of conscience was first legalized in 1636 in Massachusetts Bay Colony. The first three offenses to be executed were witchcraft, idolatry, and blasphemy. Sodomy, man snatching, fraud, and murder with malice were all capital offenses. However, death penalty laws differ from colony to colony. In early Pennsylvania, only murder and treason were capital offenses.

During the Quaker rebellion of 1793, a reform movement grew in Pennsylvania. When Pennsylvania passed degrees of murder in 1794, only the first degree was capital. Although many other states adopted Pennsylvania’s strategy, the Quakers’ ultimate goal was to eliminate the death sentence. Despite rejecting this idea, the US executed over 1500 people by the end of the 18th century. Throughout the nineteenth century, the death penalty was nevertheless used on occasion. The number of executions climbed by 60% between the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1835, the state of New York declared public executions illegal and moved the process away from prying eyes. After New York, no state carried out a public execution until 1937.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many states banned and then reinstated the death penalty. In 1846, Michigan, like the vast majority of European countries, abolished the death sentence for all crimes. It wasn’t until 1963 that all states removed their mandatory death penalty legislation. Rhode Island and Wisconsin abolished the death sentence on July 27, 1852. Ohio and Pennsylvania were the next states to abolish the death penalty, though it was later revived in Ohio and Pennsylvania. In 1864, the first state-sanctioned execution occurred. By 1890, municipal governments were responsible for almost 90% of executions. In 1890, the electric chair replaced the hanging as the first legal means of execution. Lethal injection, firing squad, and gas executions would all be used later. Despite the decline in popularity of hanging, the firing squad remains legal in three states, including New York.

Capital punishment in the 21st century

There would be new arguments and constitutional safeguards regarding the death penalty as we moved into the twenty-first century. The book “Actual Innocence,” written by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer, was released in 2000 and argues against the death penalty. Death penalty should be eliminated as a result of poor convictions, “junk” research, erroneous eyewitness testimony, incompetent police work, prosecution incompetence, and reliance on jailhouse informants 43 President Bill Clinton declared a moratorium on capital punishment in 2000, and Illinois Governor George Ryan controversially commuted the death sentences of all 167 inmates on Illinois’ death row, most of whom had been sentenced to life in prison, in 2003. The executions of Gary Graham in Texas in 2000 and Stanley “Tookie” Williams in California in 2005 re-ignited the debate over the appropriateness of the death penalty in the United States. Besides the fact that Graham was only 17 at the time of the crime, he also had a large following and a substantial amount of evidence to support his claim of innocence. The impending execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams spurred debate on whether it was worthwhile to spare a life that had been redeemed by the Lord. Williams was scheduled to pass away on December 13, 2005. Cases involving the death penalty would continue to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. In the case of Atkins, the Supreme Court barred the execution of mentally ill individuals, and in the case of Roper, the Court prohibited the execution of those who were minors when they committed their crimes.

The Advantages of Capital Punishment

Among the many reasons why the death penalty is good is the fact that it may serve as a deterrent to violent crimes. Because individuals are more afraid of death than they are of anything else, capital punishment is more likely than other punishments to be discouraged. In the minds of many criminologists, deterrence is associated with the death penalty and how the threat of such a punishment can stop someone from doing violent acts in the first place. A value proposition is eventually formed because the vast majority of people are terrified of death, the death penalty deters a great proportion of potential criminals from committing crimes.

Using the death penalty does not result in the re-victimization of the victim’s family members. The family of someone who has been accused with a capital offense is entitled to pity and sympathetic consideration. These people are grieving the loss of a loved one as a result of the actions of the justice system. The victim’s family has also suffered a setback as a result of the incident. There is no need to feel sorry for the person who committed the capital offense (which is usually aggravated murder). When the death penalty is a possibility for punishing someone for their conduct, the victim’s family is protected from being subjected to another sort of victimization as well.

Furthermore, it removes the possibility of future victims evading detection. It is well known that El Chapo, also known as Joaquin Guzman, the notorious drug lord, has a history of getting apprehended and escaping from maximum-security prisons. With the assistance of bribed security officers, he managed to escape in 2001, sneaking into the trunk of a waiting Monte Carlo. During his 2014 detention in Mazatlan, he spent days concealing himself in tunnel systems. In 2015, he managed to sneak out of Mexico’s maximum-security prison through a tunnel. When someone is sentenced to life in prison, there are no ramifications for escaping the country.

The Disadvantages of capital punishment

When used, it constitutes the most egregious violation of human rights known to man. Human rights organization Amnesty International believes that the death penalty is the pinnacle of human rights breaches. It is the purposeful, cold-blooded murder of a human being by the state, committed in the name of justice. It is a blatant violation of the right to life. It is the most heinous, brutal, and degrading punishment that can be imagined. In no circumstance can torture or other forms of brutal treatment be acceptable.

It is possible that the death penalty will result in the death of an innocent person if it is used. Because of a Supreme Court decision that allowed it to be employed as a tool of justice in the United States, over 1,400 people have been murdered by either the state or the federal government since the death penalty was reinstated in the country in 1973. In the United States, a court will normally not consider an accused individual’s claim of innocence until after the accused person has died of natural causes or has been put to death. Carlton Michael Gary, who was executed by the state of Georgia in 2018, was the most recent of the 15 cases in which substantial evidence demonstrated innocence.


Benson, D. H., Hansen, H., & Westfall, P. (2012). Executing the Innocent. Ala. CR & CLL Rev.3, 1.

Yehia, B. R., Schranz, A. J., Umscheid, C. A., & Lo Re III, V. (2014). The treatment cascade for chronic hepatitis C virus infection in the United States: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one9(7), e101554.

Sarat, A. (2018). Killing me softly: Capital punishment and the technologies for taking life. In When the State Kills (pp. 60-84). Princeton University Press.

Acker, J. R. (2019). American Capital Punishment Over Changing Times: Policies and Practices. In Handbook on Crime and Deviance (pp. 395-417). Springer, Cham.

Markovitz, S. (2020). America’s Deadliest Penalty: The Future of Capital Punishment in the United States (Doctoral dissertation, New York, NY. Stern College for Women. Yeshiva University.


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