Criminal Justice and Capital Punishment Essay

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¶ … Capital Punishment

Criminal Justice and Capital Punishment

Capital punishment has provoked heated discussion since biblical times. The debate remains as divisive as ever because it sits at the intersection of life, death and the very definition of the word justice. Whether justice requires the death penalty is strictly a matter of how one defines justice. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977 there have been over 600,000 murders in the United States and just over 1,000 executions.

The first known execution in the territory now known as the United States of America was of Captain George Kendall, who, accused of sowing discord and mutiny was shot by a firing squad in Jamestown in December 1607. In 1622 the next known execution, also in the Colony of Virginia, was of Daniel Frank, for the crime of theft. Since then the death penalty has almost always been a part of the criminal justice system ("History of the Death Penalty & Recent Developments," 2000).

Proponents of capital punishment argue five purposes for its use, to remove from society someone who would cause more harm, someone who is incapable of rehabilitation, to deter others from committing murder, to punish the criminal, and to take retribution on behalf of the victim (White, 2011).Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Criminal Justice and Capital Punishment Assignment

Opponents of capital punishment argue that death constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited by the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, they contend that the various means used by the state kill a criminal are cruel. Another of their concerns is that the death penalty is invoked disproportionally against the poor, who cannot afford expensive legal counsel, as well as against racial, ethnic and religious minorities. Opponents also argue that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily and inconsistently, and wrongly convicted, innocent people have received death sentences and been executed. Additionally, a rehabilitated criminal can make a morally valuable contribution to society. Finally, many believe that killing human life under any circumstances is morally wrong (White, 2011).

Global Perspective

According to Sangmin Bae (2008) over the past three decades, a remarkable number of countries have joined the international human rights movement to abolish capital punishment. As recently as 1970, only 12 countries in the world had completely abolished the death penalty, while another 11 had abolished it for ordinary crimes in peacetime. Since then, about a hundred countries have eliminated the death penalty in national judicial systems, whereas only four countries that had abolished it have reintroduced it. As of May 2006 123 countries have ended capital punishment in law or practice while 73 have retain it. Furthermore, most of these remaining 73 nations have moratoriums on executions. Among these 73 countries, only 22 actually carried out executions in 2005. Most countries that continue to carry out executions today do so only for murder, although they may retain the death penalty in law for other crimes. The rate of executions in most such countries has declined to a point where it represents only a tiny fraction in relation to the number of reported murders.

Capital punishment in the United States is founded within several broader contexts, cultural, political, and historical. A cultural variable has a strong potential to explain the historical pattern of current behavior surrounding capital punishment. The gross disproportions in executions across American states have no parallel in the distribution of death penalty statutes, rates of murder, or even death sentences.

The sentiments and values associated with a vigilante past are linked to current regional differences in the practice of capital punishment. The Southern inclination toward the death penalty and American political institutions high rates of execution are closely linked to the vigilante tradition in many minds. Although there are many other nations where vigilante behaviors and attitudes were once pervasive, it is peculiar to the United States that such values and sentiments are much stronger and still influential in the twenty-first century.

Countries that share an extensive frontier tradition with the United States, such as Australia, Canada, or Mexico, got rid of capital punishment a long time ago, suggesting that the continued practice of the death penalty in the United States cannot be merely explained as a legacy of the country's frontier past.

The American public strongly supports the death penalty. According to the Gallup polls, beginning 1976 when the United States Supreme Count reintroduced capital punishment, the number of supporters increased steadily over the next 20 years: 66% in 1976, 70% in 1986, and 80% in 1994, which is the highest record of capital punishment support in the United States. More recently, public opinion on capital punishment has been more stable with upward of two in three Americans supporting it. In 2001, the data show that 67% of Americans supported capital punishment, 71% in 2002, 67% in 2003, 67% in 2004, and 64% in 2005.

One may argue that the continued practice of capital punishment in the United States is due to the strong public support for it. However, this belief is undermined by the fact that an American populace greatly in favor of capital punishment does not distinguish this country from other nations that have abolished the death penalty. People from across the world, including Europe and other advanced industrial abolitionist nations, view the death penalty positively, suggesting that the general poll support for the death penalty does not seem closely linked to the likelihood of governmental action.

The level of public support for the death penalty in France, Germany, and United Kingdom just prior to abolition was in the same range as is currently found in the United States. An English poll found 82% in favor of reintroducing the death penalty in 1975, a larger majority than any American poll of the modern era.

It was not until the last decade of the twentieth century that the majority of the population in at least some European countries became abolitionist. Even at present, a significant portion of the population in England, France, and elsewhere would prefer that executions resume in their nations (Bae, 2008).

The Application of the Death Penalty

During the period from 1930 to 1967, 3,859 persons were executed in the United States under civil jurisdiction. Of these 54% were black, 45% were white, and the remaining one percent were American Indian (19), Filipino (13), Chinese (8), and Japanese (2). Only 32 were woman. Three out of five executions took place in the southern United States. Of these 3,334 were for the crime of murder, while 455, ninety percent of these black, were executed for rape, and 70 for other offences ("History of the Death Penalty & Recent Developments," 2000).

From 1967 to 1977 a moratorium prohibiting the use of capital punishment was created when the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down federal and state capital punishment laws permitting wide discretion in the application of the death penalty (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 153, 1972). Ruling these laws arbitrary and capricious the court ruled they constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and the due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. The nine Supreme Court justices wrote nine separate opinions on what constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Quickly states begin to enact legislation tailored to satisfy the Supreme Court's objection to arbitrary imposition of death sentences, and on January 17. 1977, convicted murderer Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in Utah ("History of the Death Penalty & Recent Developments," 2000).

According to the Death Penalty Information Center ("Arbitrariness," 2010) the death penalty is still being applied unpredictably. Data indicates that factors such as geography, race, gender and access to adequate counsel appear to affect death sentences.

While it might be expected to see some variation from state to state given differences in population, crime rates and laws, it is also reasonable to expect uniformity of application within that state. However whether a person receives the death penalty depends heavily on where the crime was committed. For instance about one quarter of Ohio's death row inmates come from Hamilton County, but only 9% of the states murders occur there. In Indiana two counties produce almost as many death sentences as the rest of the state combined. Investigators contributed this fact to the views of individual prosecutors and financial resources. In New York three counties out of 62 accounted for one-third of all cases in which a death notice was filed. A just system ought not to have death sentences concentrated in one region. Harris County, Texas has executed 115 individuals, but the vast majority of U.S. counties have not executed a single individual. In fact, only 454 counties out of 3,146 have carried out any executions. Just 14 counties have executed more than 10 individuals, but together these counties constitute 30% of the national total (Baumgartner & Richardson, 2010).

Racial disparities in sentencing and executions suggest that race still plays a role in the application of the death penalty. Modern studies of the subject continue to find a correlation between sentencing and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Criminal Justice and Capital Punishment.  (2012, March 21).  Retrieved August 2, 2021, from

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"Criminal Justice and Capital Punishment."  March 21, 2012.  Accessed August 2, 2021.