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Capital Punishment

Anthony Diaz
Social Work 486
Professor Tillman
June 11, 2012

Capital Punishment is a very controversial topic. When discussing this subject we must include several topics in order to fully understand the matter. We must discuss the history, the religious aspect, the moral aspect, the types of capital punishment, the kind of people that receive capital punishment, including there childhood. We begin with the definition and a brief history. Capital punishment is a legal process whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime. The execution of criminals has been used for centuries in almost all societies. In most situations, capital punishment was reserved for treason, murder, and espionage. In other countries, crimes such as rape, incest or adultery were treated with the death penalty. Some historical styles of the death penalties were boiling to death, crucifixion, impalement, stoning, dismemberment, sawing, and slow slicing. In 1820 Britain, many crimes were punishable by death, including shoplifting, stealing cattle, cutting down trees, and petty theft. America was influenced by Britain’s use of the death penalty more than any other country. When European settlers came to the new world, they brought their practices, which included capital punishment. The first execution on record, took place in the new colonies of Jamestown. The victim was accused of being a spy for Spain in and sentenced to death in 1612. The laws regarding the death penalty changed from colony to colony. Some colonies sentenced people to death for simply stealing fruit, while others only sentence for more significant crimes. (Sandiford, F 2012).

During Colonial times people started to debate the death penalty. Does the state have the power to take someone’s life? Does anyone have that kind of power? Thomas Jefferson attempted to reduce capital punishment in Virginia by introducing a bill to revise death penalty laws. The Bill stated that Capital punishment should only be used for crimes such as murder and treason. Unfortunately, the crime was defeated by one vote. Another person determined to make a change was Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was one of the signer of the Declaration of Independence. He believed that having the death penalty only increased criminal behavior. Rush gained support from some important figures, including, Benjamin Franklin and was able to help Pennsylvania become the first stated to repeal the death penalty except for first degree murder.

We began to see more change during the Abolitionist Movement. After Pennsylvania adjusted their death penalty Michigan followed suit and banned the death penalty for all crimes except for treason. At the end of the century, the world started to do the same. Countries such as, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Brazil, Venezuela, Portugal, and Ecuador began to follow in the steps of Pennsylvania and Michigan. Although many U.S. states began abolishing capital punishment, many stated held onto the death penalty. The introduction of discretion for sentencing was perceived as victory for abolitionists. By the 1950s, the public began to turn away from the death penalty. The first case where discretion was give to the prosecutor was the case of U.S. v. Jackson. The case was regarding a provision of the federal kidnapping statue requiring that the death penalty be the sentence only if the jury sought it fit. However, the court stated that this act was unconstitutional because the defendants could waive their right to a jury trial, therefore cancelling out a death sentence. In 1971, the Supreme Court again addressed the issues with the role of jurors and their discretion. The defendants argued it was a violation of their 14th Amendment right to due process for jurors to have unrestricted discretion in deciding whether the defendants should live or die. It was also argued that it was unconstitutional to have a sentence determined in one set of...
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