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Capital Punishment in Modern Society

Capital punishment has been controversial for centuries, even before it was commonplace. It isn’t as simple as saying that capital punishment is good or bad. Both sides have convincing arguments. It is one of the most divisive issues in America today. Some feel it is necessary to keep the public safe from violent offenders, while others believe killing another human being is never an acceptable response to any crime. Regardless of an individual’s personal beliefs, the use of capital punishment has a long history, and modern society continues to debate its merits. With so much information and opinion about this subject available, it’s easy to get caught up in the noise and forget what’s important. As a result, many people often question capital punishment beyond whether they support its use. The most common understanding of capital punishment is that it is a sentence given to someone convicted of murder, with the consequence being that they are executed. However, there is much more to this practice than meets the eye. In most countries, the death penalty is no longer legal. Those few nations still have it on their books typically use it very rarely and rarely actually carry it out. That being said, some countries are currently debating whether or not to bring back capital punishment for certain crimes. This trend is likely due to a combination of factors. Depending on where one lives and their personal views, one may think this controversial practice should be brought back into usage or vehemently opposed at all costs.

History of Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is the imposition of the death penalty as punishment for a crime. It has a long and controversial history in the United States. Some argue that it is a humane and effective way to deter crime, while others believe it is inhumane and does not effectively deter crime. The death penalty was first used in the United States in 1608 when Jamestown colony governor Sir Thomas Dale enacted the “Divine, Moral, and Martial Laws.” The death penalty was used throughout the American colonies for various crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, and horse theft. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, many states abolished the death penalty, only to reinstate it later. The first recorded execution in the colonies was Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. Kendall was convicted of spying for the Spanish government and was executed by firing squad in the territory of Virginia. Since then, there have been over 16,000 executions in the United States. Currently, there are about 3,000 inmates on death row. The death penalty is now legal in 30 states. However, executions are rare. The death penalty remained a relatively common form of punishment in the early United States. By the time of the American Revolution, every colony except Georgia had laws authorizing capital punishment.

Today, the death penalty is still used in a handful of states, although its use has declined in recent years. The reasons for this decline are varied but include the increasing use of life imprisonment as a punishment for severe crimes and the growing recognition of the fallibility of the criminal justice system. Other reasons for this decline, public opinion polls that show declining support for the death penalty include the high cost of capital punishment, the availability of alternative disciplines, and the heightened scrutiny of death penalty cases. In 2019, only seven states carried out executions. Another reason for the decrease is that death sentences are being overturned more often. In 2019, there were 42 death sentences reversed. This is the highest number of death sentences overturned in a year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. This is a stark contrast to the 1990s when over 80% of Americans were in favor of capital punishment. The decrease in executions is also due to the ongoing shortage of the drugs used in lethal injections. Many pharmaceutical companies have stopped selling these drugs for use in executions. As a result, some states have had to delay executions.

There is a dark side to capital punishment in the United States. This dark side is not often talked about, but it is there. It is a side that includes innocent people who have been convicted and sentenced to death. It is a side that provides for people who have been executed despite serious doubts about guilt. It is a side that includes people who have been committed botchedly.

Who Can Be Sentenced to Death?

The death penalty is reserved only for the most severe crimes. Crimes such as murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, treason, and aircraft hijacking are punishable by death in most countries that practice capital punishment. Some countries like China and Saudi Arabia have broad definitions of a capital crime, including nonviolent crimes such as drug trafficking. The death penalty is also reserved for people who have committed severe crimes. Many countries that still use the death penalty do not give out life sentences for repeat offenders. If a man has been convicted of a crime and spent time in prison before, he may be sentenced to death as a repeat offender. In the US, Several states permit anyone who took part in a felony that resulted in a death to be convicted of murder and face execution, even if they did not directly brutally murder anyone. A typical example of felony murder is the case of unarmed accomplices in a bank heist in which an employee is killed. Because the death penalty is presumed to be confined for the “worst of the worst” cases, lawmakers or courts could limit its application to those who directly participated in the victim’s death. Prisoners have also claimed that the potential penalties that make an offense eligible for parole are too broad, with some state death-penalty policies incorporating nearly all murders rather than reserving it for the most heinous crimes. Therefore, state laws are crucial to determining the specific circumstances an offense is categorized for the death penalty.

What Happens During an Execution?

Executions are very different depending on the country. In many countries, the condemned is given a choice between an electric chair and lethal injection. Lethal injection is the most common method in the United States. It takes around 10 to 15 minutes for the chemicals to put a person to death. During the execution, witnesses may see the condemned person yawn or grimace. This is normal and often happens because of the sedative administered before the lethal injection is given. The condemned person is strapped to a gurney while medical technicians place an intravenous needle in one of the arms. A medical examiner then injects a sedative and/or saline solution into the condemned person’s veins. After the sedative has taken effect, a lethal dose of a chemical is injected. In the United States, most injections consist of three drugs: an anesthetic, overdose of pentobarbital, a paralytic agent and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Extreme pain can occur if a representative of the execution team injects the drugs into a muscle rather than a vein, or if the needle becomes clogged. Many prisoners have damaged veins as a result of heavy drug use, and finding a usable vein can be difficult at times, resulting in lengthy delays while the inmate remains strapped to the gurney.

What Are the Different Types of Capital Punishment?

There are several types of capital punishment, each with different methods and consequences.

  • Lethal Injection – This method of capital punishment involves injecting the condemned person with a lethal dose of a chemical. This is currently the most common method of execution in the United States.
  • Hanging – This is a method of execution that involves putting a person on a gallows and using a noose to slowly choke them to death. This method of capital punishment is no longer used to execute criminals in any country except most notably Iran
  • Electrocution – This method of capital punishment involves putting a person into an electric chair and then administering a high voltage current. This method of execution has been used in the United States since the 1880s, but is now rarely used.
  • Firing Squad – This method of capital punishment involves a group of five soldiers shooting the condemned person in the back. This method of execution is still used in a few countries.
  • Gassing – This method of capital punishment involves putting the condemned person in a sealed room and releasing cyanide gas. This method of execution is no longer used anywhere in the world.
  • Beheading – This method of capital punishment involves chopping off the condemned person’s head with a sword or other type of blade. This method of execution is still used in a few countries, notably Saudi Arabia.

Where is Capital Punishment Still Used?

The death penalty is still used in over 60 countries around the world. The following countries are considered the most likely to use capital punishment in the future. China is ranked No. 1 on the list, with India, Iran and Saudi Arabia close behind. China – China is the world leader in executions and uses the death penalty for a wide range of crimes. Murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and terrorism are all punishable by death in China. China’s system of capital punishment is notoriously opaque, and it is unclear how many executions are actually carried out each year. Amnesty International estimates that China executes more people than the rest of the world combined. India – India is one of the world’s largest democracies and also one of the largest executioners. India treats capital punishment as a normal part of its justice system and executes people for a wide range of crimes. Murder, rape, kidnapping and espionage are all punishable by death in India. India primarily uses the hanging method of execution. Iran – Like China, Iran is a world leader in executions. The death penalty is part of Iran’s Islamic justice system, which has a heavy focus on retribution. Murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping, adultery, and homosexuality are all punishable by death in Iran. Iran primarily uses the hanging method of execution. Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia is one of the few remaining countries that uses beheading as a method of execution. Saudi Arabia is a very conservative Islamic country and has a heavy focus on protecting the rights of its citizens. Saudi Arabia is also very strict about its drug laws. Drug trafficking is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Is the Use of Capital Punishment Going Up or Down?

The modern capital punishment is perplexing: law and norms heavily restrict how American jurisdictions enforce death penalties, but not how they pick death-sentenced prisoners for executions. Death sentences around the world are on the decline, but there are still many countries that use capital punishment regularly. Most state laws authorize for life sentences without parole eligibility for murder. In addition to the death penalty, 37 states in the US now allow juries to penalize defendants to life in prison. A majority of Americans support alternatives to criminal law, according to several published findings of public attitudes toward crime and punishment. Although the number of death sentences has been steadily decreasing, the number of executions has not. Death Sentences and Executions around the World between 1990 to 2018 Criminologists have noted that the number of death sentences around the world is decreasing because of changing attitudes towards the death penalty. This includes a greater emphasis on human rights and the rights of the accused.

Other reasons why someone might support capital punishment is that it is a deterrent to crime. Studies have shown that countries with the death penalty have lower crime rates than countries without it. Another reason is that it offers closure to the victims and their families. For some, knowing that the person who committed the crime will be put to death can provide a sense of justice and peace. Finally, some believe that capital punishment is the only way to ensure that dangerous criminals are kept off the streets. However, someone might oppose capital punishment with a reason that it is often applied unfairly, and that it is cruel and unusual, racially-biased, and not an effective deterrent.. Therefore, there are a number of arguments for and against capital punishment. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that the use of capital punishment in the United States is on the decline.

The Bottom Line

Capital punishment has been a controversial topic since it was first used thousands of years ago. There are people on both sides of the argument who believe it is necessary to keep the public safe from violent offenders, while others believe that killing another human being is never an acceptable response to any crime. The death penalty is reserved only for the most serious crimes. The number of death sentences and executions is on the decline and is slowly decreasing in many countries around the world. Jurisdictions should distinguish between the authority to decide execution priority and the authority to routine execution dates. Therefore, states can reduce the injustice that plagues the current system by shifting to a centralized process based on transparent rulemaking and sensible decision-making criteria.


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Description of each execution method. Death Penalty Information Center. (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2022, from


Nikpour, G. (2018). Drugs and drug policy in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Crown Center for Middle East Studies.

team, R. C. (2020, December 11). Death penalty: How many countries still have it? BBC News. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from


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