Assessing the Death Penalty
The topic of death is taboo at best and death is not a topic comfortably displayed at the water cooler. Is an eye for an eye the way we live? The death penalty is surrounded by controversy in every country on planet earth. The death penalty is responsible for stories to be sensationalized by our media. The question is whether or not we kill in response to crimes we consider to be unacceptable within our societies. To kill or not to kill?
A Brief History of the Death Penalty in the United States
The United States is known for the use of the death penalty since early colonial days. The use of the death penalty has been controversial for many centuries. The ultimate punishment is the taking of a life. Life is considered valuable by every human. The loss of life is considered a tragedy. The death penalty is tragic for some families and bitter sweet to other families. We will take a look at where the death penalty began and where the death penalty is going in the near future.
History of the Death Penalty
The United States was made up of colonies. One such colony was Jamestown. The earliest known execution in the United States was in Jamestown. The exact year is debated to be 1607 or 1608. The recipient of the execution is not debated. Captain George Kendall faced a firing squad and received the death penalty. The charge against Captain Kendall was sowing discord and mutiny. There were sources that claimed he spied against the British for Spain. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
The death penalty becomes easier to follow after 1930. Prior to 1930 the death penalty statistics were not collected and organized on a regular basis. The Bureau of Justice lists 3, 859 executions were carried out from 1930 until 1967. The executions included 54% black, 45% white and the others executed were of different races. The majority of the executions took place in the southern states. The state of Georgia had the highest number of executions from 1930 until 1967. Texas, New York and California followed with the next highest numbers of executions. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
The crime of murders was the cause of the most executions. The crime of rape was the cause for the next highest number of executions. The statistics do not include the military executions that took place between 1930 and 1967. The military executed 160 people during the given period of time. The highest number of people executed in the military was for the charge of murder. The military executed one person for desertion. The execution created controversy and launched a movie about the incident. The military has not executed for desertion since that time. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
The Death Penalty versus the Constitution
During the 1960’s there were only 10 states that did not have laws authorizing the use of the death penalty as a penalty for crimes. The 1960’s brought the peace movement. There were many groups that opposed the death penalty and they allowed their voices to be heard. The Supreme Court of the United States was charged with making a decision on the death penalty. A turning point was the Supreme Court case known as Furman v. Georgia in 1972. The Supreme Court struck down federal and state capital punishment laws that allowed a wide discretion use of the death penalty. The death penalty was defined as cruel and unusual punishment. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
The Supreme Court decision placed a hold on the executions of many death row inmates. The state government acted quickly to better define their state statutes. The states created laws that provided guided discretion. The two stages consisted of the accused being found guilty of the charge and the crime containing aggravating or mitigating circumstances in determining the sentence. The addition to state laws proved worthy of the Supreme Court standards. The number of executions began to rise once again after the guided discretion was in place. The Supreme Court was involved in the death penalty again by 1972. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
In 1972 the Supreme Court heard the case known as Coker v. Georgia. Coker v. Georgia created a decision by the Supreme Court to remove the crime of rape as a death penalty case. The Supreme Court ruled that execution was disproportionate to the crime of rape. The ruling by the Supreme Court removed 20 people from death row. The fight between life and death is a strong argument. There will always be people fighting for their lives when they have been ruled against in a death penalty case. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
The death penalty has been challenged by people who believe the death penalty violates their constitutional rights. The Supreme Court has made decisions that forced the states to revise their laws in reference to the death penalty. The crimes which can be considered punishable by the death penalty have been revised. The age of a child that can be executed has been changed. The manner by which a person can be executed has been changed. The death penalty has withstood many challenges. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
Types of Capital Punishment
In 1607 the death penalty was carried out using the method of firing squads. The firing squad was a military type death penalty and was used for some years. The hanging was popular in the western days. We have all heard the stories and seen the movies of the horse thieves being hung. There are many countries that still use hanging as a means to carry out the death penalty. Americans saw an example play out on television when Saddam Hussein was put to death in Iraq. The electric chair became a part of American history. The gas chamber was a means by which some states had carried out the death penalty. The mean by which the death penalty is carried out has become a topic of controversy. There are many people that believe a person must not suffer during the death penalty or the punishment is cruel and unusual. The argument of cruel becomes more of an argument for the unusual. (Stolyarov, 2008)
A New Way to Die
The State of Oklahoma paved the way for other states to improve their methods of capital punishment. Oklahoma became the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means to carry out the death penalty. Oklahoma was not the first state to use lethal injection. Texas was the first state to use lethal injection in 1982. The debate continues to grow. Is their a more humane way to kill someone? The most humane way to kill someone is virtually unknown. It is believed that no pain is felt during lethal injection. There are many people who believe the body goes in to a state of sleep and never revives. (Stolyarov, 2008)
The means by which death takes over the body can be delivered humanly. The shooting or hanging of an individual is a violent end to a life. Electrocution has never been labeled as a pleasant experience. The United States is known for caring and treating animals in a more than humane and gentle manner. The animals we love and consider part of the family are put to death by our hands. We consider this an act of kindness when the pets are injured or old. The pets are given a lethal injection of drugs which causes them to drift off to sleep and be at peace. This is the description we all want to hear. (Stolyarov, 2008)
The truth is that dying is a natural part of life cycles. People will not live forever and will sooner or later die. The same would be said true for our pets and animals. The body has certain mechanisms which naturally fight off injuries and illnesses. The body will naturally have what may appear to be unpleasant reactions to the dying process. Life does not leave without a fight. The involuntary movement of muscles during the death process does not mean the death was cruel. The animals we love have the same involuntary muscle reactions to their humane deaths. The argument could be made that there is nothing pleasant about dying or the death process. The question remains if the death penalty is a valuable tool in deterring crime? (Stolyarov, 2008)
The Future of the Death Penalty
The United States will continue to see crimes which are deserving of the death penalty. The death penalty is effective 50% of the time as a deterrent. There are offenders who do not want take the extra step to commit the crimes that may cost them their lives. There are other offenders who do not value their lives or the lives of other people. They will commit the death penalty offenses without a second thought. Thought has to be given to the reason and age groups that we issue a death sentence. The age of a child has to be considered when applying the death penalty. There has been documentation showing the reasoning part of the child’s brain is not fully functional. The death penalty should not be a stepping stone for the local district attorney. The death penalty is serious and should not be considered a resume entry. (Stolyarov, 2008)
The death penalty is a tool to punish deserving criminals. The Supreme Court has been faced with issue after issue concerning the death penalty. Laws exist to be used by criminal justice professionals to prevent chaos. The misuses of laws create obstacles that all criminal justice professionals must hurdle to complete their job. Criminal Justice professionals have to work together to preserve the tools we have acquired. The challenges will continue to rise from death penalty cases. Criminal justice professionals have to make sure they are not the cause of the challenges. (Stolyarov, 2008)
The death penalty was alive and well in early colonial America. The use of capital punishment has elevated every year since statistics have been collected. The death penalty has been challenged by those who were imposed with the sentence. The Supreme Court has asked criminal justice professionals to be more responsible when taking away the life of a criminal. The death penalty has been carried out by means such as firing squads, hangings, electrocutions, gas chambers and lethal injections. The types of deaths have been challenged. (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org)
The bottom line is death is an unpleasant experience for any human. The means by which a person is killed can be humane. The death penalty must be maintained to prevent criminals from acting in certain ways without penalty. The death penalty can be a deterrent for some criminals. If we can keep half of all criminals from committing certain crimes then the death penalty is valuable. The death penalty has been in existence for centuries and will continue to be in existence for many more centuries.