Crime in America is something that has been around for many decades. While a large number of crimes are considered minor, many more result in the serious injury or death of another human being. “When we think about crimes, we … normally focus on inherently wrongful acts that harm or threaten to harm persons or property” (Bibas 22). The death penalty, also called capital punishment, has been used as a means of punishing the most violent of criminals in an attempt to prevent others from committing similar crimes. Over the centuries, the methods used to conduct these executions have evolved and changed due to effectiveness and public opinion.
In America, there have been five different execution methods used. These five methods consist of hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, electrocution, and lethal injection. The next five sections of this paper will cover each of these methods in greater detail.
According to an article by the Death Penalty Information Center, “[u]ntil the 1890s, hanging was the primary method of execution used in the United States.” While it has been replaced by most states, it is still used as an option in Delaware and Washington (“Descriptions”), but has only been elected three times since 1976 (Kellaway 149). Hangings were usually conducted out in the open and in front of anyone that decided to watch. This public display was used to help send the message that there was a high price to pay for committing crimes, yet the hangings sometimes conveyed a different message. Often the executions induced sympathy and disapproval from the crowds (Dieter 791).
Most often platforms, known as Gallows, were constructed with a trap door just for the purpose of hangings; however, just about any rope and tree would suffice (Dieter 790). Normally the prisoner would have their hands and feet bound and a hood or blindfold would cover their eyes. If everything was done correctly, the execution would be finished in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, that was not usually the case, and the deaths were slow and painful. The end results of a hanging consisted of the eyes popping out of their sockets, protruding tongue, bloated face, defecation, and severe jerking of the body and appendages (Descriptions”).
Death by firing squad is still a method used in Utah, but must be at the prisoner’s request. There have only been two executions performed this way over the past 37 years (“Descriptions”; Kellaway 146). The convicted inmate is strapped to a chair with a hood over their head and a target pinned to their chest. The marksmen aim for the target from several feet away and death is caused by blood loss and can be a slow process (“Descriptions”). This method of execution has been found to be inefficient due to the fact that there is no certainty of instant death (Kellaway 147).
The first use of the gas chamber was in 1924 in Nevada. In 1973 there were 13 states using the gas chamber as a means of execution (Kellaway...