The Death Penalty Debate Essay

1768 words - 7 pages

"The death penalty issue is obviously a divisive one. But whether one is for or against, you can not deny the basic illogic - if we know the system is flawed, if we know there are innocent people on Death Row, then until the system is reformed, should we not abandon the death penalty to protect those who are innocent?"
--Richard LaGravenese


In the United States the death penalty is used as a punishment for capital offenses. These specifically can vary from state to state, but commonly include first-degree murder, murder with special circumstances, rape with additional bodily harm, and the federal crime of treason. (Facts) The goal of the death penalty then, is to deter these crimes from even taking place, to be so feared that offenders think twice about committing such horrible crimes. But does it?

In the following paper, the above question will attempt to be answered by looking at the background of capital punishment and the death penalty, the ideas behind it, viable alternatives, and finally, the effectiveness of the death penalty at deterring crime.

Early death penalty laws date back to the Eighteenth Century B.C.. The death penalty also had a heavy presence in the Fourteenth Century Hittite Code, the Seventh Century Draconian Code of Athens, and the Fifth Century Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets. (History, 1) Today, thirty-four states in the United States of America still practice the death penalty as a means of punishment for capital offenses and heinous crimes. The death penalty debate is one that Americans are no strangers to; it has been abolished and repealed numerous times throughout our history.

Two of the first influential cases dates back to 1968, US v. Jackson and Witherspoon v. Illinois. In each of these cases, the Supreme Court began changing the way the death penalty was administered. It was decided that the death penalty no longer was a mandated punishment for certain crimes and could be imposed only by recommendation of the jury. (History, 3) Then, on 9 June 1972, the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty across the United States, commuting the sentences of some 630 prisoners on death row. (History,3) This moratorium lasted until 1977 when a prisoner was executed by firing squad in Utah. Today, states are able to write their own death penalty statutes. However, the U.S. Government and the U.S. Military have mandatory statutes in place for capital offenses. These were just a few out of dozens of cases involving the death penalty and its legality. It can be said that some of the controversy surrounding the death penalty deals with the fundamental ideas behind it.

The ideas behind the death penalty can be as broad as providing just punishment for crimes, and as detailed as the various methods one can choose to be executed. The goal of the modern day death penalty is to punish people for specific, horrible crimes, and in turn, deter members of society from committing these acts in the first place....

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