Capital Punishment in the USA Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1594 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Capital Punishment in the U.S.A.

History of Capital Punishment

The capital punishment, or death penalty, has been in the U.S. law even before the American Revolution. Since then up to these days, the death penalty had undergone numerous changes in the American history. Following is a list of historical events on death penalty.

In the nineteenth century, death penalty is imposed as punishment to major crimes where the execution of the penalty is made public.

In 1840s, death penalty was proposed to be eliminated in the American law.

In 1846, Michigan became the first state to remove death penalty.

The execution of death penalty was transferred from the responsibility of local towns and counties into the responsibility of the state government during the Civil War.

Developments and technology have influenced the way death penalties are executed.

Nine states, during the twentieth century and before the World War I, eliminated death penalty. However, after the World War I, only 1 state remained still with its stand of eliminating death penalty, the state of Minnesota. The rest imposed the capital punishment again.

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Not all death sentences during the late nineteenth century up to the early twentieth century are justifiable. Sometimes, racial discrimination became a factor to sentence death, especially to the African-Americans.

The incident in 1945 wherein millions of Jews were killed in Germany had changed the view of the American government regarding death penalty. The idea of death penalty suddenly became unacceptable even for worse crimes.

Term Paper on Capital Punishment in the USA Assignment

The Civil Rights Movements, particularly seeking for equality for African-Americans had lessen the number of death executions.

The decision for sentencing death penalty became the responsibility of the Supreme Court. This happened after the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement. This was the start of justice in capital punishment between different racial groups.

In the Supreme Court's ruling, the first to be sentenced of death penalty using an electric chair was a white American. This happened in 1979.

In general, since death penalty sentence had been under the authority of the Supreme Court, it means that many local states can basically utilize death penalty.

In March of 2004, death penalty by firing squad had been eliminated.

Currently, death penalty still exists in the American law. In March of 2005, the Supreme Court announced that death penalty should not be imposed to juvenile delinquents.

Evolution of Death Penalty

Death penalty has evolved in different methods of execution since the early times. Before, death penalty is done by hanging. Cruel as it can be to our imagination, it was even imposed to be executed in public where people can see and witness the death of a person. As McFeely indicates in his article Trial and Error: Capital Punishment in U.S. History, death penalty had "once entertained large crowds of curious onlookers."

In the advent of developments and technology, the way that death penalty is done had changed in the United States. McFeely indicates how death penalty in the U.S. had changed with time.

Other reforms have influenced the methods of putting prisoners to death. With the advent of electricity at the close of the nineteenth century, the electric chair was introduced as a more humane alternative to hanging. Recently, with similar motivation, many states have adopted the practice of lethal injection, where a deadly chemical is delivered intravenously. Lethal injection is seen as less stressful to the prisoner and the witnesses than the electric chair.

It is not only the way capital punishment is executed that changed. Also, how the American government stands on death penalty had changed as well. As we have listed in the brief history of death penalty, the punishment used to be under the jurisdiction of the local counties and towns. After some time, it was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state government, then to the Supreme Court. Moreover, the imposition of death penalty as a punishment to those who defied the law had been on and off. One time death penalty is abolished, then after some time it will be imposed again. It only seemed that there had been no enough reasons and justifications why death penalty should either be continued or not.

Several incidents or events had been special factors in the evolution of death penalty. This includes the Civil War, where the jurisdiction to death penalty had been transferred to the local state's government; the World War I which caused those states that had eliminated death penalty to impose the punishment again; the Civil Rights Movements which fought for equality and cause some level of equality for the African-American people; the World War II that changed the views and perceptions of the Americans regarding death penalty due to the brutal and massive death sentence to millions of Jews; and, the Vietnam War.

When death penalty was still a "trend" in the justice system of the United States before the Civil Rights Movement, social pressure had also affected the evolution of death penalty. For instance, due to a high rate of racial discrimination, most of the recipients of death penalty were African-Americans. Due to the society's indifference to a race of different color, death penalty was usually sentenced to African-Americans. Worse, death sentences were given even to slight cases of crime and even to those who are falsely accused of a crime.

Another important information regarding death penalty in the U.S. is that the nation used to sentence death even to the mentally disabled and ill persons. It was only in 2001 when the death sentence practice to the mentally disabled had been abolished.

U.S. Statistics on Death Penalty

There is no available statistics of death penalty during the early times because death during those times was easily sentenced to a criminal without having the justice system to carefully think of the eligibility of the punishment. However, Religious Tolerance Online provides the following count of U.S. executions in the recent years.

Number of U.S. executions


Year 1999

Year 2000

Year 2001

Year 2002

Average per year since 1976

Total executions since 1976

Also, the following list was shown to contain the leading states in the U.S. that is vulnerable to death penalty.


Percentage of executions







South Carolian



North Carolina




DC & 38 states

Death penalty is used to be decided by local state's government. However, the jurisdiction to decide on whether a case deserves a death penalty or not is currently in the position of the Supreme Court.

Pros and Cons on Death Penalty

Death penalty has the both sides of an argument on whether it should be reinstated or not. Oftentimes the argument between the two sides relate to ethical and moral standards. This is due to the reason that most still believes in the teachings of God. However, ironically, the bible is also used as a reference to why death penalty should continue. For instance, one may stand that death penalty is inhumane and should not continue because of their belief in Christ's teachings as written in the 10 commandments. That is, "Thou Shall Not Kill." However, an opposition to the argument may also say that even in the bible, there are writings that impose death penalty to crimes and sins committed. Religious Tolerance Online indicates the following for this opposing vies.

The Bible requires the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes, including sex before marriage, adultery, homosexual behavior, doing work on Saturday and murder. It even calls for some criminals (e.g. prostitutes who are the daughters of priests) to be tortured to death by being burned alive.

The second two sides that show the pros and cons of death penalty is that people say that death penalty should be fine because it can serve as a threat for people to commit crime.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Capital Punishment in the USA.  (2005, April 21).  Retrieved May 8, 2021, from

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"Capital Punishment in the USA."  21 April 2005.  Web.  8 May 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Capital Punishment in the USA."  April 21, 2005.  Accessed May 8, 2021.