Capital Punishment
There is one question that has always brought about controversy.
Should capital punishment be used as a way of disciplining criminals? Over
the past twenty years, there has been an enormous increase in violent crimes.
It seems logical that a person is less likely to commit a given act if by doing so
he will suffer swift and certain punishment of a horrible kind. As most
Americans agree, death is the only appropriate punishment for such crimes.
In ancient times\' executions were not uncommon. Even the Bible teaches
capital punishment. It states, “Who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his
blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Bible). In ancient times
a set of laws were written which specified many crimes punishable by capital
punishment. These laws were the Code of Hammurabi. Some of the
punishable crimes mentioned included adultery, robbery witchcraft, and
murder. During the Middle Ages, the Church assumed the responsibility of
administering punishments. During the late 1700’s the death penalty steadily
grew in acceptance. Over 200 crimes were punishable by death at the
beginning of the 1800’s. There were just as many methods used to execute
wrong-doers as there were crimes. Some of the techniques used included
beheading, stoning, drowning, hanging, crucifying, and burying people alive.
Also used were many nontraditional forms of execution. One type of execution
utilized elephants to crush the criminal\'s head on a stone block.
As times changed, so did the death penalty. Laws aimed at abolishing
the death penalty began to evolve at the turn of the century. Even with the
changes made, the effectiveness of capital punishment stayed right on track.
The crimes punishable by death became more specific, while some were
eradicated completely. For example, there are different types of capital
murder that have been specifically defined, but vary from one jurisdiction to
another. These include murder carried out during the commission of another
felony, murder of a peace officer, corrections employee, or firefighter engaged
in the performance of official duties, murder by an inmate serving a life
sentence, and murder for hire (Contract Murder). Other crimes worthy of
death include espionage by a member of the Armed Forces (communication of
information to a foreign government), tampering where death results by a
witness, and death resulting from aircraft hijacking. While hangings and
firing squads remained in use, many forms of execution were done away with.
Methods such as electrocution, lethal gas, and lethal injection soon replaced the
annulled ones. As with almost everything, there were exceptions made. Some
states the prohibited the execution of anyone mentally retarded.
In 1901, Colorado made it a law that capital punishment would not be used if
the accused was convicted only on circumstantial evidence.
The American public has long been favorably disposed toward capital
punishment for convicted murderers, and that support continues to grow. In a
1981 Gallup Poll, two-thirds of Americans voiced general approval of the
death penalty. That support rose to 72 percent in 1985, to 76 percent in 1991,
and to 80 percent in 1994 (Moore, 1994:5). Although these poll results need to
be interpreted with extreme caution, it is clear that there are few issues on
which more Americans agree: in at least some circumstances, death is seen as
a justifiable punishment for the worst sorts of criminal homicides.
On the other hand, much of the public and political support
for capital punishment rests on its presumed value as a general deterrent: we
need the death penalty to encourage potential murderers to avoid engaging in
criminal homicide. Unlike the issue of retribution, empirical studies can
answer questions about the death penalty’s general deterrent effects.
To supporters of capital punishment, the statistics are pleasing. In the
past seventy years there have been 4,002 executions carried out in the United
States. Approximately three-fifths of the executions were in the South. A ten
year interim began in 1967. The states as well as many advocates waited
anxiously as the Supreme Court resolved the issue of the constitution versus
capital punishment. There have been 143 executions since its end in Utah.
Statistics show that criminals convicted of murder make up 87% of the those
executed.
After the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building, a poll was taken which
asked the question,