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Evolution of Capital PunishmentEver since there has been crime, there has been punishment. One form of punishment that has existed since the beginning of society is capital punishment. As crime and societies have evolved over time, so have capital punishment, its forms, and its reasons for use. Capital punishment is defined as the execution or death for a capital offense. (Hill & Hill 1995: 75) A capital offense is defined as being any criminal charge that is punishable by the death penalty. (Hill & Hill 1995: 75) A capital offense usually means that no bail will be allowed.Capital punishment has existed since the earliest civilizations such as the ancient Greeks, Romans, and even the English have existed. Death sentences were not only carried out centuries ago, but they were also given out as sentences in formal courts.
In ancient Greece, the death penalty was ordered for what are known as minor crimes in modern day living. The rules of Rome were not much more merciful to say the least. Starting a fire or even disturbing the peace after dark could fuel such a verdict as death by fire or worse. And finally in England, there were over 200 offenses that could be punishable by death. (Landon 1992: 9)The English, were in fact, the main reasons as to why the death penalty exists in America. Capital punishment became a very important part of the written rules at the time of the first wave of colonists that arrived in America.
The rules varied from colony to colony although the rules remained quite similar all the same. (Landon 1992: 10) The death penalty in very early America was the end result of a murderous conviction the majority of the time although it was put to use for many other crimes. Due to the fact that there was no separation of power between the church and the American government and the fact that a simple accusation could cost somebody their life, the 8th and then later on, the 14th amendments were created. The 8th amendment states that "Excessive bail or fines and cruel punishment are prohibited. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." The 14th amendment then states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." (Hill & Hill 1995: 16)Capital punishment protestors have interpreted these amendments as being a prohibition for the death penalty. They have seen every instance of capital punishment since these were created as violations of the constitution.
The United States Supreme Court has had split decisions in the past about whether or not to keep the use of capital punishment in the books or not. They took it away for a few years and then reinstated it saying that it was not a violation of the constitution.The key phrase in the 14th amendment is "under due process of law". Due process is defined as being a fair and formal way of deliberating and reviewing a situation in order to come to an accurate decision and punishment. However, even with the protections of due process, abolitionists of the death penalty still believe strongly that capital punishment is highly immoral for several reasons. The standards for using the death penalty are now stricter and the bar is not always even set at the standards one hundred percent of the time. Such crimes as first-degree murder, murder with special circumstances, rape with additional bodily harm, and the federal crime of treason. The ways in which the capital punishment is executed have also evolved over time and become much more humane.
The use of burning, crucifixion, whipping shooting, strangling, stoning, and boiling in hot oil are no longer used today. The methods of lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad were later adopted and some of those are still used to this very day. (Herda 1994: 18)Even though the deservedness of the capital punishment is stricter and more difficult to achieve today and the ways in which a person is put to death is more humane, the groups that are most active against the death penalty have not backed down. Political, civil rights, and biblical groups have all come together. The political groups are fueled with the interpretations of the 8th and 14th amendments and that it is just simply goes against the constitution because of the "cruel and unusual punishment" that capital punishment seems to bring upon these victims. Civil rights groups on the other hand are opposed to capital punishment because of the seemingly overwhelming disproportionate amount of minorities receiving the death penalty compared to the amount of whites. Last but not least are the religious groups.
I find it ironic how in the beginning of American society there were so many instances of putting people to death due to crime while claiming to follow the good book and how now the good book says it is against the word of God to utilize capital punishment methods. "Thou shall not kill," says the Bible. The Bible also says however, "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed". (Berns 1979: 13) This is not to say that God gave us the power or even the authority to kill, but it is awfully convenient to be able to go both ways on such a subject.It is fascinating to be able to notice the evolution of such an important subject in our history and how it is still changing. It is worth noting that the death penalty is not simply the most serious criminal punishment there is to offer, but is has and is still a social, moral, and legal problem in society. It was a problem 200 years ago and still is today.
It is a subject that all people most likely will not be able to come to an agreement on, but it is one that will continue to evolve so all we can do for now is watch and see. Bibliography1. Hill, Gerald N., and Kathleen Thompson Hill. Real Life Dictionary of the Law. Los Angeles, General Publishing Group, Inc., 19952. Zimering, Franklin E., and Gordon Hawkins. Capital Punishment and the American Agenda. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 19863. Berns, Walter. For Capital Punishment: Crime and the Morality of the Death Penalty. New York, Basic Books Inc., 19794.
Landon, Elaine. Teens and the Death Penalty. Hillside, Enslow Publishers, 19925. Herda, D.J. Furman v. Georgia. Springfield, Enslow Publishers, 1994.
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