Capital Punishment

Introduction

Capital punishment is punishment by death for committing a crime. Since
the early 1800\'s most executions have resulted from convictions for murder. The
death penalty has also been imposed for such serious crimes as armed robbery,
kidnapping, rape, and treason. There is a lot of conflict between people about
whether or not capital punishment is effective in discouraging crime.
In the early 1990\'s, 36 states of the United States had laws that permitted
the death penalty. These laws were greatly influenced by a 1972 decision of the
Supreme Court of the United States which had banned the death penalty as it was
then imposed, describing the carrying out of the death penalty as cruel and
unusual punishment. But the court left open the possibility that the death
penalty might be imposed for certain crimes and if it was applied according to
clear standards.
After this decision was made, new capital punishment laws were made to
satisfy the Supreme Court\'s requirements. These laws limit the death penalty to
murder and to other specified crimes that result in a person\'s death. These
crimes include armed robbery, hijacking, and kidnapping.
Many countries, including most European and Latin-American nations, have
abolished the death penalty since 1900 - including Canada, which did so in 1976.
In the early 1990\'s, the United States was the only Western industrialized
nation where executions still took place.

History

Capital punishment was common among all ancient civilizations. It was used
for a variety of offenses that today aren\'t crimes at all, like stealing the
keys to someone\'s wine cellar.
There were many different methods of executions, and they all had a
barbaric quality. Some of the more vicious methods were stoning, impaling,
boiling in oil, burned alive, and being stretched on the rack.
One of the most notorious ways of executions was being beheaded by a
guillotine. This machine, invented by Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814),
became the official instrument of execution in France during the French
Revolution. It dropped a huge knife that cut off the victim\'s head. It was
regarded as quick and merciful. The guillotine was used until 1981, when
capital punishment was abolished in France.
The death penalty was a popular method of punishment in England.
Imprisonment was hardly ever used. In the 15th century there were eight capital
crimes: treason , petty treason, murder, larceny, robbery, burglary, rape, and
arson. Other crimes were soon added to the list, so that by the year 1780 there
were 350.
Executions were common enough to require gallows in every district of
London. Bodies were sometimes left hanging as a warning to other would-be
criminals. If the hangman were so inclined, he might give the convicted brandy
to dull his senses or pull on his legs so he would die quicker.
It was estimated that between the years 1805 and 1810, 3,000 death
sentences were handed out. At this time, however, the laws were not strictly
enforced. A large number of criminals were never executed because of royal
pardon or the "benefit of clergy".
The benefit of clergy was originally designed to give lighter sentences to
clergymen. Gradually this benefit was extended to all who could read, since the
only proof that a person was ordained was literacy. All that was required was
the ability to read one particular verse from Psalm 51 of the bible, known as
the "neck verse". This name was given to it because it had the ability to save
one\'s neck. Most offenders learned this verse by heart. It wasn\'t long before
this benefit became meaningless.
As a result, executions in this century averaged only 70 per year.
In the year 1819, the number of capital crimes was reduced to 220,
including shoplifting items above five shillings, cutting down trees in a park,
or shooting a rabbit.
Many capital crime offenders were pardoned on the condition that they
agreed to be transported to the american colonies in North America. American
colonies at that time also used capital punishment. The number of capital
crimes varied from one jurisdiction to another. The Massachusetts colony was
noted for executing people for the suspicion of witchcraft.
All executions in England were public until the mid-1800s. Great crowds
came to view them. It was believed that pickpockets were busy among the
spectators. In 1868, public opinion turned against the idea of executions as
spectacles, and it was decided that they should be carried out in private. At
this time the number of capital crimes were reduced drastically. By 1861, there
were only four: murder, treason, arson,