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Capital Punishment in United States


This study investigates the history, contemporary situation, and ethical implications of capital punishment in the United States. It begins by tracing the origins of capital punishment before delving into the numerous forms of it in use today, as well as the range of opinions on its use. The paper then looks at the ethical considerations surrounding capital punishment, such as the role of deterrence, the fairness of the process, and the potential of wrongful execution. Lastly, the research study draws on academic research to examine the prospects for reforms in applying capital punishment in the United States.


Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is often among the most contentious issues in contemporary criminal justice and public policy. The use of the death penalty is a time-honoured tradition that dates back to ancient times and has taken many different shapes throughout human history. In today’s modern nations, the death penalty is almost often reserved for the most heinous crimes, such as murder, treason, and rape. As opined by (Goel & Mazhar, 2018), this sentencing level is set aside for the most atrocious offenders and offences. In certain countries, the death penalty is still used. Several reasons may be made in support of and in opposition to the practice of the death penalty, and these arguments are often the topic of serious discussion. The study seeks to understand the history of the death penalty, its present use in the United States and other countries, and the ethical and philosophical reasons for and against the practice. In addition, it will investigate the possible repercussions of doing away with the procedure and determine whether or not it should continue to be a part of the judicial and legal system.

Literature Review

This review aims to critically assess the state of knowledge about the outcomes of death punishment. The earliest canonical writings on the death penalty primarily concern the phenomenon’s origins and evolution. This body of work investigates how this custom first came to be, how it has spread to many cultures, and how it has changed through time. Both religious and secular justifications for the ritual are explored. It also looks at the development of legal systems worldwide and how they deal with capital punishment.

History of Capital Punishment

The death penalty has been employed as a form of justice since ancient times. Some of the first known occurrences of the death penalty may be found in the Code of Hammurabi, written around 1750. Executing criminals via the death penalty was not abolished in the United States until the early 20th century. However, it had been used in the country’s early colonies as early as 1608. 1608 was the year the first person was legally executed in America as Captain George Kendall was executed in Virginia in 1608 for spying, making his death the earliest known incident. At present, just a few states in the United States make use of it, making it a very uncommon practice throughout the country.

The death sentence is legal in several countries worldwide, including the United States of America, China, India, and Saudi Arabia. Japan, Bangladesh, and Singapore all have constitutions that allow the death penalty to be used. Due to the seriousness of the crime, many countries, such as the United States of America, only apply the death penalty to particular acts, such as murder. However, in certain nations, such as China, the death sentence applies to a broader range of offences. The death penalty is seldom carried out in most countries, and strict restrictions limit when and how it may occur. Despite its infrequent use, the concept of the death penalty has been the focus of heated discussion for many years. Opponents of the practice hold that it is a brutal punishment that often ends in the execution of innocent individuals. In contrast, proponents of the approach argue that it is a vital deterrence for the most heinous of offences in the current society. As a result, there is much discussion on whether the death penalty is a humane and effective punishment. The moral rationale for the death penalty and its efficacy in preventing crime remain significant contested topics (Dezhbakhsh & Rubin, 2019)

Capital Punishment Effectiveness as a Deterrent to Crime

It is safe to say that “deterrence” is the justification for the death sentence heard most often. The primary tenet of this idea is that the mere possibility of being put to death in the not-too-distant future will be enough to dissuade a sizeable number of individuals from carrying out a particularly horrible act that they had been about to carry out. To prevent a person who has been convicted of a crime punishable by death from committing other murders is not the main aim of deterrence. It is relevant to the discussion of being unable to.

It is important to avoid thinking about deterrence in a vacuum. Indeed, Hoag (n.d) asserts that if the death penalty successfully incapacitates or discourages future criminals, then a utilitarian approach to capital punishment hinges on the practice’s causal consequences. Therefore, the most critical issue is not whether or not those considering committing a crime would be deterred if they know they will be punished with death rather than receiving no punishment. It is possible that other penalties, like life in prison without the possibility of release, may deliver the same level of a deterrent at a fraction of the expense and without the inherent danger of murdering an innocent person. Throughout many decades and numerous research, the question of whether or not the death penalty is an effective technique for reducing the number of murders committed has been investigated.

It is not sufficient to compare jurisdictions with the death penalty to those that do not have it if the research does not adjust for the numerous other factors that might affect the murder rate. For instance, there is a correlation between lower unemployment and crime rates. A crime reduction may result from increased police participation in the community. Even among those who commit murder, the death sentence only applies to a small fraction of offenders. It is highly challenging to identify its impact, and the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that previous investigations have neither shown nor disproved the existence of a deterrent effect.

The Impact of Race on the Application of Capital Punishment

In the United States, the application of the death penalty has historically been influenced by race-related factors. Several studies have repeated their findings that race is a significant component in decision-making regarding using the death sentence. The number of people from minority groups on death row is disproportionately high relative to the percentage of people who belong to such groups in the general population. This has been consistent throughout the execution of capital punishment in the United States. Black Americans are more likely to be sentenced to death than people of any other racial group in the United States. Even when other aspects, such as the gravity of the crime, are considered, Black Americans, in particular, have a higher risk of receiving a death sentence when a victim is a white person. It is the case regardless of whether or not the defendant committed particularly heinous conduct. In addition, Black Americans are more likely to be sentenced to death for comparable offences than are non-African American Citizens. It has been well-documented for decades that there are racial disparities in applying the death penalty. Numerous studies have shown that African Americans are more likely to be put to death than whites, even when other factors are considered. It is the case regardless of whether or not the death penalty is applied. The fact that Black Americans are more likely to be charged with capital charges and to receive harsher penalties than white defendants has been suggested as a possible explanation for this phenomenon. It is impossible to ignore the role that race plays in the administration of the death penalty. Even when other considerations, like the gravity of the offence, are considered, Black Americans and members of other minority groups have a disproportionately high risk of being sentenced to death. Because of this, there have been many requests for the death penalty to be reformed and appeals for more people to be aware of the problem.

Juvenile Offenders and Capital Punishment

Most importantly, it is crucial to acknowledge the exception to this practice as the possibility of the death sentence being considered for juvenile offenders is rare. For instance, the United States Constitution’s Eighth Amendment forbids the use of the death sentence because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, especially for highly young offenders. This provision of the Constitution came into effect in 1976 as the Supreme Court also concluded that juvenile offenders are not as culpable as their adult counterparts and should not be subjected to the same punishments as adults. Even though the death penalty is constitutional in some states and jurisdictions within the United States, it is seldom carried out. According to the standards that govern international law, the imposition of the death sentence on juvenile offenders is never a possibility. Those who commit crimes under 18, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, are exempt from the possibility of receiving the death sentence. In line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the death penalty may not be imposed on a person who was less than eighteen years old at the time of the commission of the crime. Even though it has been outlawed in many nations today, there are a few countries left in the world that still uphold the death penalty for non-violent offenders, including Saudi, Yemen Iran, and Arabia.

The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Capital Punishment

A cost-benefit analysis is a method for evaluating the financial viability of potential investments or courses of action. A cost-benefit analysis should be performed on the subject of capital punishment because it is a serious issue that comes with a high price tag. The following analysis looks at the costs and benefits of the death penalty. The primary benefit of the death penalty is that it acts as a deterrent. It is widely assumed that the prospect of prospective offenders facing the death penalty acts as a powerful deterrent, resulting in a reduction in the amount of violent crime committed. This suggests that the death penalty has the potential to save lives by reducing the number of people who commit violent acts. Furthermore, the death penalty may be used as punishment for individuals who have committed particularly heinous crimes, providing victims with the sense that their cases have been resolved and providing them with a sense of justice. The most significant disadvantage of the death penalty is the financial cost. Death penalty cases involve protracted legal battles that are costly for the taxpaying public. Another factor that contributes to the high cost of carrying out execution is the significant resources required for the operation, such as transportation and medical personnel. Other costs associated with the use of the death penalty include increased stress for prison employees and the possibility of innocent people being wrongfully convicted.


Effectiveness as a Crime Deterrent

One of the most prevalent supports for capital punishment is the assumption that it would deter criminal behavior. Criminals are supposed to be discouraged by the prospect of an eternal prison term. Proponents of the death penalty claim that murderers be executed because they no longer deserve to live after killing another human being’s life. Furthermore, they believe that a capital sentence is a fair approach to revenge that successfully reflects and strengthens the ethical concern of all law-abiding citizens, not only the victim’s loved ones. The death penalty is a just punishment. Justifiable retribution safeguards society’s moral fiber by reestablishing the status quo and making the offender pay for the harm they caused. When someone violates the law, they undermine the social order and endanger the lives, safety, and freedom of others. The death sentence is a straightforward and effective method of restoring social order and punishing criminals for their acts. Ten believes that the death sentence is the most effective and humane form of punishment, unlike any other alternative that deters but seems less harsh. Victims’ relatives have a right to retribution as well. While it may appear to some as retribution, the true motivator here is a desire for justice. Retribution is a legitimate, state-sanctioned retaliation to crimes, and it is justifiable because the state is the victim when a crime is committed. When justice has been skewed too far in the offender’s favor, the death penalty may help level the playing field.

Minority communities and Race on the Application of Capital Punishment

Some populations are overrepresented in the death penalty system due to socioeconomic level or race. People of race and the poor have been demonstrated to be overrepresented in the capital punishment system. The underlying cause is the higher crime rate among these populations, not prejudice. Lower-income populations are more highly predisposed to a death sentence than higher-income people, which makes sense if the assumption that poverty breeds crime is right. According to statistics, individuals of color have a disproportionately low income, which means the death penalty disproportionately targets them. Based on just retribution for murder, capital punishment is acceptable. It is also widely thought that the sentence is not applicable to some crimes, particularly political ones because doing so would result in political repression and the physical murder of political opponents, as occurred under Stalin’s leadership in the Soviet Union. Murderers, on the other hand, deserve the ultimate punishment of death. It is analogous to the punishment for crimes such as robbery or theft, in which the perpetrator is normally obliged to return any material goods taken. Along the same line, a person who purposefully takes another’s life must undergo the outcome.

Hence, there is controversy over whether the death penalty is imposed equitably. Supporters of capital punishment say that it is possible to enact regulations and laws that would result in the execution of only the most deserving criminals. However, critics argue that the endurance of the death penalty throughout history indicates that attempts to identify specific offenses as worthy of capital punishment would be unreasonable and discriminatory. They contend that underserved minority communities rarely have access to effective legal representation. As a result, the racial bias encourages primarily white jurors presiding over capital cases to allow the disproportionate conviction of more black defendants. Because mistakes are unavoidable even in a properly managed criminal justice system, other individuals may be wrongfully convicted for underserved crimes. They further claim that a substantial section of those under the sentence is ruthlessly exposed to long periods of uncertainty about their fate due to the lengthy appeals procedure for death sentences. According to Bedau (2019), the death penalty is applied arbitrarily and discriminatorily in the United States, depending on circumstances such as the defendant’s socioeconomic standing, the strength of their legal representation, the victim’s race, and the location of the crime. He makes the important point that when the victim is white, colored populations are substantially likely to be sentenced to death (Bedau, 2019).

Supporters of the death penalty are concerned about the broader public’s safety. They maintain that removing criminals from society is a positive development and that using death sentencing for those guilty improves the quality of life. Some believe that death punishment is sanctioned murder, even though those executed through lethal injection are not brutalized. However, other critics argue that there is no proof that capital punishment keeps communities safer. That agrees with the findings of the great majority of other polling professionals in the field of law enforcement. Hence, abolishing capital punishment took precedence over strengthening law enforcement, decreasing drug usage, and improving economic circumstances so that more people might get productive work. According to FBI statistics, the death rate is higher in places where capital punishment is legal (Bedau 2019).

Ethical Considerations of Capital Punishment

The taking of a life is a violation of the right to life, which is a fundamental right that should not be taken away from anyone, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Capital punishment should be prohibited. As a result, the morality of such an act is called into question, raising ethical concerns. Moreover, the possibility of error since convictions in death penalty cases have been called into question, and it is possible that innocent people have been executed as a result. This has a significant impact on the ethical issues raised by the use of the death penalty. Concerns have been raised that the death penalty may be applied selectively, with certain populations more likely to be targeted than others. This raises the prospect of the death penalty being abused. It further raises ethical concerns about the fairness and equity of the system. This raises moral concerns about the extent of an individual’s suffering that the death penalty can inflict. The state’s ability to take a life in the name of justice raises ethical concerns about the state’s role in the process of carrying out the act of putting someone to death for a crime. The use of the death penalty, which can be interpreted as an affront to human dignity, raises ethical concerns about respect for human life and whether or not the end of a person’s life is an appropriate punishment for certain types of crimes.


The issue of whether or not to use the death penalty has been debated for a long time, and there are many people who hold opposing views. Discussions about capital punishment can be contentious due to the polarization of viewpoints. The death sentence is not immoral; it works as a deterrence to future criminals and justice for those who have committed heinous crimes. A closer examination indicates that many arguments against the death penalty are inadequate. Rather than certain states implementing the death penalty while others do not, the country must unite on this issue. The death sentence is a potent deterrence to those who commit the most terrible crimes and can be useful for a judge. To ensure that justice is served properly, it is crucial to enact laws to legalize capital punishment throughout America. Those who support the death penalty argue that it is a just and appropriate form of retribution for specific types of criminal behavior, as well as an effective deterrent to future criminal behavior.

Opponents of the practice, on the other hand, argue that it should be prohibited for a variety of reasons, including the financial burden of carrying out executions, the possibility of wrongful convictions, and the ethical quandaries that arise from terminating a human life. The study’s findings, as discussed in this article, show that there is a lack of evidence to support the assumption that the death penalty is an effective deterrent. According to research, the death penalty does not reduce overall crime rates, and its use results in inequitable application, with people of color, the poor, and the mentally ill being more likely to be sentenced to death. The cost of carrying out a death sentence is significantly higher than the cost of carrying out a life sentence, and there is a far greater risk of an innocent person being wrongfully convicted in these circumstances. Finally, the decision on whether or not to carry out the death penalty should be made after careful consideration of the facts and consideration of all implications, including ethical, moral, and economic implications. The study’s findings, as described in this article, make it abundantly clear that the death penalty’s effectiveness is, at best, debatable, and that the likelihood of erroneous convictions is high.


Hoag, R. (n.d.). Capital Punishment | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Bedau, Hugo. “The Case against the Death Penalty.” American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, 2019,

Goel, Rajeev, and Ummad Mazhar. “Shibboleth Authentication Request.” Ebscohost, 3 Oct. 2018, eds-s-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.


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