Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment

There has been many controversies in the history of the United States,
ranging from abortion to gun control, but capital punishment has been one of the
most hotly contested issues in recent decades. Capital punishment is the legal
infliction of the death penalty on persons convicted of a crime. It is not
intended to inflict any physical pain or any torture; it is only another form of
punishment. It is irrevocable because it removes those punished from society
permanently, instead of temporarily imprisoning them. The usual alternative to
the death penalty is life-long imprisonment.

Capital punishment is a method of retributive punishment as old as
civilization itself. The death penalty has been imposed throughout history for
many crimes, ranging from blasphemy and treason to petty theft and murder. Many
ancient societies accepted the idea that certain crimes deserved capital
punishment. Ancient Roman and Mosaic Law endorsed the notion of retaliation;
they believed in the rule of "an eye for an eye." Similarly, the
ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, and Greeks all executed citizens for a variety of
crimes. The most famous people to be executed are Socrates and Jesus. Only in
England, during the reigns of King Canute (1016-1035) and William the Conqueror
(1066-1087) was the death penalty not used, although the results of
interrogation and torture were often fatal. Later, Britain reinstated the death
penalty and brought it to its American colonies.

Although the death was widely accepted throughout the early United States,
not everyone approved of it. In the late-eighteen century, opposition to the
death penalty gathered enough strength to lead to important restrictions on the
use of the death penalty in several northern states, while in the United States,
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island abandoned the practice altogether. In
1794, Pennsylvania adopted a law to distinguish the degrees of murder and only
used the death penalty for premeditated first-degree murder. Another reform took
place in 1846 in Louisiana. This state abolished the mandatory death penalty and
authorized the option of sentencing a capital offender to life imprisonment
rather than to death. After the 1830s, public executions ceased to be
demonstrated but did not completely stop until after 1936.

Throughout history, governments have been extremely inventive in devising
ways to execute people. Executions inflicted in the past are now regarded today
as ghastly, barbaric, and unthinkable and are forbidden by law almost
everywhere. Common historical methods of execution included: stoning,
crucifixion, burning, breaking on the wheel, drawing and quartering, peine forte
et dure, garroting, beheading or decapitation, shooting and hanging. These types
of punishments today are considered cruel and unusual. In the United States, the
death penalty is currently authorized in one of five ways: firing squad,
hanging, gas chamber, electrocution, and lethal injection. These methods of
execution compared to those of the past are not meant for torture, but meant for
punishment for the crime.

For the past decades capital punishment has been one of the most hotly
contested political issues in America. This debate is a complicated one. Capital
punishment is a legal, practical, philosophical, social, political, and moral
question. The notion of deterrence has been at the very center of the practical
debate over the question of capital punishment. Most of us assume that we
execute murderers primarily because we believe it will discourage others from
becoming murderers. Retentionists have long asserted the deterrent power of
capital punishment as an obvious fact. The fear of death deters people from
committing crimes. Still, abolitionists (people against capital punishment)
believe that deterrence is little more than an assumption-and a naive assumption
at that.

Abolitionists claim that capital punishment does not deter murderers from
killing or killing again. They base most of their argument against deterrence on
statistics. States that use it extensively show a higher murder rate than those
that have abolished the death penalty. Also, states that have abolished the
death penalty and then reinstituted it show no significant change in the murder
rate. They say adjacent states with the death penalty and those without show no
long term differences in the number of murders that occur in that state. And
finally, there has been no record of change in the rate of homicides in a given
city or state following a local execution. Any possibly of deterring a would-be
murderer from killing has little effect.

Most retentionists (people for capital punishment) argue that none of this
statistical evidence proves that capital punishment does not deter potential
criminals. There is absolutely no way prove, with any certainty, how many
would-be murderers were in fact deterred from killing. They point out that the
murder rate in any given state depends on many things besides