Chapter 2: Literature Review There have been many debates over capital punishment in the United States in the last century. The methods used to carry it out have ranged from firing squads to lethal injections. The first reported case in American History is that of Daniel Frank. He was executed in the colonial days for stealing. Though there was a short moratorium the death penalty has been used widely, but not without some cost.
The death penalty has become one of the most debated topics in criminology and abroad. Two of the basic issues surrounding the death penalty debate are whether the death penalty is a deterrent and whether or not discrimination plays a factor in sentencing. Is the death penalty a deterrent? While the general public may think that the death penalty deter crime, research indicates no absolute findings that the death penalty works as a deterrence (Sellin, T, 1959).
The only study that came close to proving the death penalty as a deterrent was that of Issac Elrich. The research compared the rates of murders and the death penalty rate and came to the conclusion that it does deter between 8 and 20 murders a execution. The problem with this research comes in the methodology and if the research is really valid (Elrich, I, 1975). Which leaves us with the question: Do people fear the death penalty? That question has yet to be answered. Does discrimination play a role in death penalty sentencing?
This has been the heated topic of the debate on the death penalty. This debate has been taken all the way to the Supreme Court. The first study to address discrimination in death penalty sentencing was in 1970's when Wolfgang and Riedel looked at the rate of execution of black males in the southern states. Their results were astounding: "Of the 3,859 persons executed for all crimes since 1930, 54.6 percent have been black or members of other racial minority groups.
Of the 455 executed for rape alone, 89.5 percent have been non-white (Black, 1984). Baldus later found that, in Georgia, a black defendant is 11 times more likely to be sentenced to death than a white defendant (Baldus, 1983). They took this case all the way to Supreme Court in McKlesky vs. Kemp (1985). The basis of this case was that McKlesky wanted the Supreme Court to validate the Georgia Capital Punishment Statute because of the finding of Baldus. The court said that because there was no direct proof of discrimination again McKlesky that they could not invalidate it. They went on to say that if there was any discrimination it is at a tolerable level (Baldus, 1983).
Conclusion Irregardless to the debate currently going on, the trend in America is beginning to show an increase in the number of executions. This is in part due to the Antiterrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This act has helped to reduce the number of appeals allowed including the Writ of Habeas Corpus (Flango, 1994). The problem that is occurring now is that the public seems to be becoming less supportive of the death penalty and more in favor of life without parole. Thus, putting pressure on the nations law makers to reevaluate there decision of sentencing.
On the other hand, there is still the Supreme Court philosophy that a killer must be killed (Haas, 1994). In conclusion, the death penalty is a highly debated topic. The debate leaves many unanswered questions...
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