Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is defined as the legal infliction of the death penalty. Today, in modern law, the death penalty is corporal punishment in its most severe form. It is irrevocable: it ends the existence of those punished, instead of temporarily imprisoning them. Although capital punishment is not intended to inflict physical pain, execution is the only corporal punishment still applied to adults. The usual alternative to the death penalty is life-long imprisonment.

The earliest historical records contain written evidence of capital punishment. Applied from ancient times in most societies, it has been used as punishment for crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. The bible called for the penalty of death for more than thirty different crimes. In England, during the reigns of King Canute and William the Conqueror, the death penalty was not used, although the results of interrogation and torture were often fatal. In the years to follow, the death penalty in the American colonies before the Revolution, was commonly authorized for a wide variety of crimes. Blacks were threatened with death for many crimes that were punished less severely when committed by whites.

Not until the end of the 18th century were efforts made to abolish the death penalty. Quakers led this movement in England and America. Encouraged by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, England repealed all but a few of its capital statutes during the 19th century. Many states in the United States, led by Michigan in 1847, abolished the death penalty entirely. However, since complete abolition could never be achieved, reformers concentrated on limiting the scope of capital punishment. 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.

The methods of execution have changed over the ages. The death penalty he been inflicted in many ways now regarded today as barbaric and forbidden by law almost everywhere. Some ways it was inflicted in the past was crucifixion, boiling in oil, drawing and quartering, impalement, beheading, burning alive, crushing, tearing, stoning, and drowning. These types of punishment today are considered cruel and unusual punishment. In the United States, the death penalty is currently authorized in one of five ways: hanging, electrocution, the gas chamber, firing squad, or lethal injection. These methods of execution compared to those of the past are not meant for torture, they are meant for punishment for heinous crime.

Some questions that arise in the controversial issue of capital punishment is if it is a deterrent for crime or is it more effective than life imprisonment? Defenders of the death penalty insist that since taking an offender\'s life is a more severe punishment than any prison term, it must be a better deterrent. Public opinion in America supports the death penalty by a more than two to one margin and this view rest largely on the deterrence of crime from this severe punishment. An example of these statistics comes from the state of Florida. Support for death penalty changes when alternatives are added. When asked simply whether they favor the death penalty, 80 percent of Floridians said they did. When asked whether they favor death penalty or life without parole, the figure drops to 70 percent, and then to 60 percent when restitution is added to the equation. The cost is also an issue that critics of the death penalty attack. In Florida, it costs $3.2 million on each death row inmate, compared to about $535,000 for an average of 40 years for each prisoner sentenced to life. This is a huge amount of tax payers money but the public looks at it as an investment in safety since these murders will never kill again.

<Picture>Those who argue against the death penalty as a deterrent to crime say the following statements. Adjacent states, in which one has a death penalty and the other does not, show no long term differences in the number of murders that occur in that state. States that use the death penalty seem to