The death penalty has been a punishment of crimes for a long period, dating back from as far as the ancient laws of China. However, in the United States, the death penalty was a product of the colonists. When the English first landed in the present United States, they brought with them the British penal system. As such, all the crimes that were punishable by death in Britain, which were well over two hundred, were also punishable by death in the United States. However, the first recorded case of the death penalty in effect in the United States was the execution of captain George Kendall for the capital crime of treason by planning to betray the British to the Spanish.
However, the laws regarding which crimes were punishable by the death penalty varied from state to state. Overall, crimes that were punishable by the death in the early United States included heresy, murder, rape, witchcraft, stealing, trading with Indians and killing chickens (CTU Faculty, 2012). According to the majority of people at this time, the death penalty was viewed as a necessary deterrent measure to crime.
With the passage of time, this view has come under heavy scrutiny and criticism over the years, with the present position that is fast gaining popularity claiming that capital punishment is not an effective way of deterring crime leave alone murder. Such claims are growing stronger by the day as various studies are proving that the death penalty does nothing to reduce the number of murder cases in the society. For instance, a recent study involving the leading criminologist in the United States revealed that according to their understanding of the empirical research on capital punishment, they did not believe that the death penalty was an effective deterrent to murder. Similarly, they stated that the abolishment of the death penalty would also not have any significant effect on the murder rates in the country (Lacock & Radelet, 2009). Hence, from the studies and interpretations from top leading experts in the field, it is evident that the death penalty is not efficient in preventing murder.
Such results on the efficacy of the death penalty have also fueled the arguments on the constitutionality of the ending ones life as a form of punishment. Several concerns arise from the fact that the death penalty may, in fact, be violating some of the amendments in the constitution. First, it violates the due process of the 5th amendment as it cuts off the possibility of exoneration which may result in the murder of innocents. Secondly, it violates the 8th amendment as it is a form of a cruel and unusual punishment, especially if applied to a mentally retarded criminal or a juvenile and as such it serves no efficient penal purpose. Finally, it runs the risk of violating the 14th amendment as a jury can reach a guilty verdict for a crime punishable by death that is heavily influenced by factors not relevant to the case such as emotions, discrimination of race, social class, and gender (CTU Faculty, 2012).
However, such concerns have not discouraged proponents from promoting the use of the death penalty. Such advocates of the death penalty have various reasons that support the necessity of the death penalty, chief among which is deterrence. Proponents argue that the death penalty prevents future murders. Their reasoning is that the highest priority in the society is to prevent murder, as such the strongest possible punishment should be available to deter murder that is the death penalty. Hence, if murderers are executed, future potential murderers will think twice as they risk losing their lives if they kill. They also argue that the death penalty also deters the murderer who has been executed as he/she will not have any opportunity to ever commit murder (Lacock & Radelet, 2009).
Other arguments for the death penalty include retribution in that it is only fair, for the balance of justice, to take the life of one who has taken a life. Retribution, as argued by the advocates, ensures that the society does not succumb to the rule of violence as it shows that murder is an intolerable crime that will be penalized in kind. Arguments have been made that it is an absolute punishment in that it is irreversible, as such, mistakes that lead to the execution of innocent people cannot be amended in future thus the death penalty should be abolished. However, proponents offer a counter argument that execution of innocents is very rare but an acceptable risk. They contend that the true crime is the imprisonment of the innocents and as such the systems of representation should be improved to avoid such mistakes (Lacock & Radelet, 2009).
However, even in light of such arguments by advocates of capital punishment, it should be abolished from the current legal system. First, it is a form of a cruel and unusual punishment. Although the supreme court ruled that capital punishment is not intrinsically a violation of the eighth amendment, further eighth amendment analysis necessitates that judges consider the evolving decency standards to determine if a punishment is cruel and unusual. In the current society, killing a person for killing is tantamount to revenge which is illogical and has no benefit to the society (Legal Information Institute). As such, capital punishment serves no purpose other than to inflict pain and death.
Furthermore, the supreme court also ruled that the punishment must be proportional to the crime. As such, to a certain degree, only the crime of murder should be punishable by death. However, as stated earlier, taking ones life for murder is unnecessary as it has marginal and minimal contributions to the society. furthermore, the life imprisonment, as opposed to the death penalty, is more humane as it preserves the sanctity of life while providing befitting punishment for the crime (Legal Information Institute). As such, as stated, it is clear that capital punishment should neo be a part of the justice system.
CTU Faculty. (2012, September 12). The History of Capital Punishment in America. Retrieved from Colorado Technical University: http://www.coloradotech.edu/resources/blogs/september-2012/capital-punishment-in-america
Lacock, T. L., & Radelet, M. L. (2009). Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Death Penalty: An Overview. Retrieved from Cornell University Law School: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/death_penalty
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