Capital Punishment


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

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).

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

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 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 such a penalty. Another religious supporter judge
that "religious teachings prove that