The death penalty is something that is used for only the most atrocious of crimes. When emotions are high and outrage is felt throughout the country, the argument over the death penalty grows heated.
If you want to know more about the death penalty pros and cons as well as some facts and history about capital punishment before making a decision, this article has you covered.
American History of Capital Punishment
The death penalty has been accepted as a form of punishment since colonials first came to America. In fact, the earliest record of the death penalty was in 1608, which was just a year after Jamestown was established.
As time went on, each established colony had different crimes that warranted the death penalty. Some common ones are:
No anti-death penalty movement really came into being until the early 1800s. This movement ended up making the death penalty private, instead of doing public executions like have been done throughout history.
Though the movement started to grow shortly after this, the Civil War focused many people’s attention on slavery instead of the death penalty. Right after the war, some states started to abolish death penalty, but quickly changed their minds.
Real differences didn’t start until 1887, when Maine abolished the death penalty, also known as capital punishment, and has stayed that way ever since. Colorado followed behind about ten years later but changed its mind after a series of lynchings.
As for the federal government, while the death penalty was never abolished, fewer and fewer crimes were acceptable to be qualified for it. It was reduced to just three things, which were: treason, murder, and rape. In none of these is it necessary to give the death penalty, but it is an option.
Forms of the death penalty have included:
• Firing Squad
• Gas chamber
• Drawing and Quartering
• Burned at the Stake
• Crushed by Animals
• Lethal Injection
Today in the United States, the most common form of the death penalty islethal injection, but electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, and firing squad are still permissible in certain states.
Global History of the Death Penalty
The first recorded use of the death penalty was in the 16th century BC in Egypt when someone was accused of using magic and told to take his own life. However, it was happening well before that. In the 18th century BC and as far back as ancient China, there were codified death penalties for certain crimes. Strangely enough, though, murder wasn’t one of them.
For the Draconian Code of Athens, the death penalty was the punishment for any crime. One of the most notable and notorious executions, however, was in 399 BC, when Socrates was forced to drink poison to kill himself as punishment for corruption and heresy.
Originally, capital punishment was designed to not be quick. This is when things like stoning, burning, crushing, and crucifixion were really in play. However, at some point, they were thought to be too cruel a punishment, so things like hanging and beheading became more commonplace.
While capital punishment is a big deal and hotly debated in the United States, this isn’t the only place. The death penalty is argued about globally for various reasons, such as it being inhumane and unfair, versus a punishment that fits the crime.
Why Is There Debate about the Death Penalty?
There are many reasons the death penalty is debated. Some of it is about religion, some about fairness, and even finances come into the argument. No matter your reasoning for debating it, there are plenty of people on both sides that have various reasons.
Sometimes, people even switch sides. This is often done when someone experiences a heinous crime or has a loved one killed due to the death penalty.
19 Death Penalty Pros and Cons
1. People want to get revenge for heinous crimes, like the death or rape of a loved one, and this allows people to feel like some measure of justice and revenge has been served
2. It acts as a deterrent to prevent others from committing the same crime
3. Ensures that the person cannot re-offend by escaping or a clerical mixup
4. Gives them a sense of dread as they wait to know when they will be killed
5. Many believe that those in prison have a cushier and better life than they deserve
6. A life sentence isn’t a strong enough punishment for some crimes
7. The current methods are quick, painless, and humane
8. We have a higher certainty of guilt with modern DNA methods than ever before
9. It reduces the amount of money put towards people in jail to give them food and necessities
1. Can kill the wrong person if there isn’t 100% certainty or evidence was falsified
2. Some innocent people may have been wrongly put to death
3. People may be scared to issue a guilty verdict and sentence someone to death
4. Everyone deserves to be treated humanely, no matter the crime
5. Race comes into play often on who gets the death penalty and who doesn’t
6. There isn’t solid proof that the death penalty is actually a crime deterrent
7. It simply continues the cycle of violence
8. It is old-fashioned
9. Some say that life in prison is a worse and more dragged-out punishment than the death penalty
10. It goes against many religions
What’s the Public Opinion on the Death Penalty?
Based on surveys, it seems that most Americans favor the death penalty. These surveys show that about 60% of people either strongly or somewhat favor the death penalty, while 40% oppose it on some level.
However, despite a majority of people wanting the death penalty or saying they are for it, a large portion of people are worried that innocent people can be put to death (about 78%). More people also tend to be in favor of the death penalty for deeply disturbing or personal crimes like rape, torture, and drawn out murders.
Facts about the Death Penalty
• Capital punishment is still legal in 27 states
• The military and government alone still have 48 people awaiting execution since 2022
• As of the beginning of 2022, there are over 2,000 people currently on death row
• Since 1976, 295 people have been given clemency
• For federal death row inmates, only the president can grant a pardon
• In 2005, a court case ruled that the death penalty for children is unconstitutional
• About 85% of victims of those given capital punishment are white
• Texas has carried out the most executions since 1976 at 92
• Only one woman has been executed since 1976
• While capital punishment for children is unconstitutional, 39 people currently waiting for capital punishment were sentenced as a juvenile
• 12 people with severe mental retardation have been executed to date
• 10 states ban the execution of those that are mentally retarded