Capital Punishment

Law&Justice Class Senior Year
Mr. Carlisle
Law and Justice
18 March 1995

Capital Punishment

The theory "a life for a life" is "as old as civilization itself" (McCiellan 9). The
development of civilizations established what we call justice today. Capital punishment, the
execution of a criminal convicted of a crime, or the legal taking of the life of a criminal,
can be divided into three categories: first, crimes against the person; second, crimes against
property; and third, crimes which endanger the security of the nation (Horwitz 13). Capital
punishment is still in use in the United States today, but has been abolished by many countries
(II 536). The countries that still have the death penalty on their books, rarely employ it .

The earliest writings on the subject dates as far back as 2000 B. C., but it is clear
that capital punishment more or less has existed since the birth of mankind (Szumski 25).
Throughout history, it has been exercised in almost all civilizations as a retribution for
severe crimes, but sometimes also for the thrill and excitement. The Romans put slaves and
prisoners in the Coliseum as lion food while spectators enjoyed the sight (Horwitz 13).

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In the early colonial states, the death penalty was applied for a vast number of crimes,
just like in England, the ruler of the states in this era (II 536). In England, in the 18th
century, there were approximately 220 offenses punishable by death. Some of them would today be
considered as misdemeanors and petty crimes (i. e. shooting of a rabbit, the theft of a pocket
handkerchief, and to cut down a cherry tree) (Horwitz 13). The majority of these were crimes
dealing with property. However, transportation became an alternative to execution in the 17th
century. A lot of these criminals were shipped to the U.S. (28).

In the early days of our Constitution, the only segments that showed that the death
penalty existed were two amendments in the Bill of Rights (Landau 11). These amendments deal with
protection and rights of the accused. The fifth amendment prohibits the state from depriving an
individual of life without due process of law. The eight amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual"
punishment. The Supreme Court has still not determined what this phrase means. In one case in
the 1890s, the question was if capital punishment violated the eight amendment. The court relied
on the matter that "a definition of cruel and unusual punishment must reflect the evolving
standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing

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society" (14). Surveys from this era show that a majority of the people favored the death

In the Middle Ages, capital punishment was also applied to animals (Horwitz 24). An
animal, guilty of having killed a human being, would be executed, sometimes after a trial with a
lawyer representing the animal. In one case, in Dijon, France, a horse kicked his master to death.
In court, a witness testified that the man had provoked the horse. In spite of this, the creature
was sentenced to death. Trials with animals was considered to be absolutely fair.

"Enlightment thinkers", or social reformers, such as Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Caesar
Beccaria fought to bring an end to the use of capital punishment (II 536). The Caesar Beccaria,
an Italian criminologist in the 1700s, influenced society and "stimulated penal reform" to
abolish the practice of this irrevocable penalty (Szumski 22). As an alternative, he recommends
retribution, that is making up for losses. In his essay An Essay On Crimes and Punishments,
approved by philosopher Voltaire, he admits that capital punishment is justified in only one
case; Beccaria argues that "when [a criminal], though deprived of liberty, he has such power and
connections as may endanger the security of the nation", he should be

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executed (Szumski 24). This relates to justify capital punishment in cases of spying, which
still is a controversial issue today.
Religious opposers argue that the death penalty "contradicts the teachings of love and
mercy" (Szumski 86). At the same time a religious supporter, Haven Bradford Gow, claims that the
Bible justifies "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" as stated in the Catholic Bible in
the Fifth commandment:

"Another kind of slaying belongs to the civil authorities to whom is entrusted the power
of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect
the innocent" (Bradford).

The Bible is constantly used as a defense for capital punishment and many references can
be found to