The Death Penalty

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The Death Penalty


Robin Schwartz

Criminal Justice Systems

Professor Hale

April 23, 2011

The death penalty, otherwise known as capital punishment or execution, is a term used to describe the act of putting a person to death, after judgment by a legal system, either as an act of retribution, or to ensure the person convicted cannot commit future crimes (McGuigan). The methods of capital punishment are lethal injection, electrocution, gassing, hanging, and firing squad. Until the 21st century, electrocution and gassing were the most prevalent methods of execution in the United States. Currently, lethal injection is most used and allowed in all states in which sanction the death penalty (Facts). There are currently 41 federal laws that provide for the death penalty. Just to name a few, these statutes include first-degree murder, destruction of an aircraft, motor vehicles, or related facilities resulting in death, espionage, murder during a kidnapping or hostage taking, murder related to rape, molestation, or sexual exploitation of children, and treason (Federal). Although New Jersey does not practice the death penalty, currently there are 35 states in the U.S. that do. Since 1976 to 2010, there have been a total of 1,246 executions. Death row exonerations weigh in at 138 people since 1973. The race of the defendants executed were 56% white, 35% black, and 7% Hispanic, while the race of the victim in death penalty cases are 76% white, 15% black, and 6% Hispanic. According to the former and present top academic criminologists in the country, 88% of them rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder (Facts). The death penalty debate of whether it is right or wrong is one of efficacy, legality, religion, and most importantly morality. It is still considered one of the most controversial debates that have been ongoing in American society over its history. Whether one is for abolishing this form of punishment or on the side of using it as a fair and just outcome for a criminal, there is no question that the subject itself is a tough one to decide.

The death penalty is a significant part of what we have learned throughout this semester. With the amount of legislation and court actions to do with the continuous debate of capital punishment, it is difficult to not see the relevance of such a provocative topic to that of our courts and U.S. Constitution. As we have learned in class, beginning in 1972 with the case of Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court has been defining and establishing what is and is not suitable under the U.S. Constitution (Baird). With that case, the court found the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment and abolished it until being reinstated in 1976 with the cases of Gregg v. Georgia and Woodson v. North Carolina. The court majority has generally interpreted the death penalty as worthy of additional attention because of the gravity of the consequences, but most certainly acceptable punishment for abhorrent crimes such as first-degree murder. Although the Supreme Court is looked at to judge capital punishment in the eyes of what is fair according to the Constitution, by 1987 the High Court had become increasingly exasperated with the issue. Many observers viewed the ruling of McCleskey v. Kemp, in 1987, as the last efficient challenge to the death penalty on the grounds of the federal Constitution (Baird). It was ruled that the death penalty was a violation of the prisoner’s constitutional rights of either equal protection or the issue of cruel and unusual punishment. This condition has required lawyers who are representing the condemned prisoners to stress procedural grounds, and currently it takes about seven years from the ruling of the death sentence to the actual execution, in which most of that time is filled with appeals. Since then the most noted case was that of Roper v. Simmons in 2005 (Latzer). This court...
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