The Death Penalty in the United States
Pal D. Patel
Applied Ethics (PHL 125)
Date: – June 27, 2018
The death penalty is described as a punishment of execution that is administered to a person who is legally convicted of a capital crime. Such punishments result in death, and most religious denominations view it as against human dignity. The death penalty in America is a legalized capital punishment that is currently in use in 31 states, military, and the federal government. The existence of the death penalty can be dated back to the start of the American colonies many years ago. America is the only western nation that practices this method of punishment. It is however common in other 54 countries across the globe where the death penalty is used in some instance of crime committed by either citizens or foreigners. America was the first country out of the 54 countries to develop the method of lethal injection and has been adopted by five other nations across the world. The United States had no executions between 1967 and 1977. The United States Supreme Court in 1972 struck down the death penalty statutes. Several states have however passed the new penalty statutes, and the courts have been affirming the act as legal for capital punishment to persons committing capital crimes such as terrorism (Bedau, 2018).
Over the years, the death penalty or execution has been evolving and currently spread to over 30 states. Looking at the definition of this act, the phrase capital crime clearly shows that the type of crime leading to such punishment is tremendous and a threat to the entire country. Committing capital crime means that the action of criminal led to death and the only way to deal with the culprit is to receive the death penalty as the price. Courts, however, are mandated to decide on when a criminal is to be given a death sentence or not. This paper will, however, outlined different methods of executions, history of the death penalty, and how it impacts the United States of America.
Methods of execution in the United States
The United States has various ways of executing those that commit a capital crime depending on the state that has legalized the death penalty. The methods include a gas chamber, hanging, electrocution, the firing squad, and lethal injection. I managed to watch all of the methods on TV being carried in different states, and it was enough to bring me nightmares.
Oklahoma became the first state in America to use this method of execution in 1977, but it took almost five years before the execution of the first person. Currently, all the 32 states where lethal injection is legal to have adopted this method. When the lethal injection method is used, the person is bound, and the team positions the screen heart monitors on the skin surface and the two needles are then inserted into the blood veins through the arms. It is said that one of the needles serves as back up. The prisoner is then injected with sodium thiopental that puts him to sleep and then another drug that stops breathing, and the heart follows. The death results from the anesthetic overdose while the inmate loses his consciousness. The process is usually carried out by professional doctors who later clarify that the inmate is dead (Ecenbarger, 2014).
New York was the first American state to set up an electric chair to be used for execution purposes. The first person was executed in 1890 using the chair. Several states followed suit and adopted the method, but currently, the method is not used after the Supreme Court in 2008 ruled the method as unconstitutional. Using the method, the person is shaved and tied on the wooden chair, and a metal skull-like cap covers his skull which already has a sponge moistened with saline. Another moistened electrode is attached to the shaved legs, and the inmate is blindfolded. The execution team connects the power supply, and the accuser is electrocuted and dies. The doctors’ waits for few minutes before they confirm if the prisoner is still alive (Hillman, 2012).
This is where cyanide ages are used to polarize the respiratory system of the inmate. This method was introduced and used in Nevada in the year 1924. Currently, five states have adopted this method, but lethal injection is also in place as an alternative. The California federal court found that the method is too cruel and considered it not fit to be sued according to ethics. For this method, the condemned person is strapped to a chair in an airtight chamber. Sulfuric acid in a pail is placed in the room, and a long stethoscope is affixed to the condemned person. The team then leaves the chamber, and the doctor is signaled to release the cyanide into the sulfuric acid which produces hydrogen cyanide gas which is harmful to human health. The gas makes the inmate unconscious and his death is confirmed by the doctors. According to Weisberg, the process causes extreme pain and strangling as they try to hold their breath (Weisberg, 2011).
Hanging was the main method of execution across all the states until the 1980s when other methods were invented. Hanging is still in use in the state of Washington, but the lethal injection method is in place as an alternative. For execution by hanging, the prisoner is weighed before the day of execution to swerve as a rehearsal which helps the team in determining the length that is necessary for a quick death. The length of the rope is thus determined and lubricated with soap to reduce friction. Before hanging is done, the prisoner’s legs and hands are tied and is blindfolded. The rope is tied around his neck, and the process takes place when a trap door is opened.
This method was reauthorized in 2015 in Utah if the state was not able to obtain the required drugs for carrying out lethal injection. This method was only used in Utah if the inmate agrees before the lethal injection was adopted. For this execution, the prisoner is tied to the chair with sandbags to absorb the blood of the inmate. A doctor then locates the heart of the inmate and notes it by pinning it with a circular white cloth. Five shooters are then authorized to shoot the inmate using their loaded rifles. The condemned person dies as a result of heavy bleeding caused by the rupture of the heart (Hillman, 2012 and Weisberg, 2011).
History of the death penalty
Capital punishment has been the subject of most debates in America for long. The criminal justice has strongly supported the execution, but the public opposes and condemns it citing that some cases should not be punishable by death. Heinous crimes such as terrorism and massacres are the main cases which attract capital punishment in most states across America. Lighter cases such as robbery, drunk driving, raping, and serial killings are punishable through jail terms. California is one of the first states to punish such crimes through the death penalty, an action that has been condemned by both religious leaders and members of the society.
The first law on capital punishment was established in the 18th B.C by the king of Babylon, King Hammurabi. The main aim of the law was to punish about 25 crimes through execution. By the 17th century, Americans and other countries had adopted, and over 220 crimes were approved for execution. Americans learned about the death penalty from the British in the course of European movements across the country. The states of Texas and Missouri carried out about ten executions in 2014 and since 1976 over 1,427 death penalties have been warrant across the country (Peffley, 2007).
The table below shows the number of executions that have been performed across the since 2014.
Source: © Statista 2018.
Personal Opinion on the death penalty
The death penalty is a type of justice that should be abolished across the world. The government through the courts should be investigating the crime before sentencing a criminal to such kind of punishment. Most of the victims have been executed but in the real sense they are innocent, or their cases are too petty to be warranted such punishment. The court should ask themselves the following questions before making their final decisions: should the victim be given another chance by putting him in jail? Are there any other alternatives since the death sentence is irreversible? Is the accused innocent? Are the accuser’s claims only allegations? These are some of the issues that should be addressed while dealing with such capital punishment CITATION Ham17 l 1033 (Spectator, 2017).
I was once an advocate of t6his death penalty until the day I realized most victims are innocent and some courts sentence criminals by factoring their race and color and not the facts of the cases. I came to realize that our justice system is never 100% and thus changed my mind from advocating for the legalization of the execution. The death penalty is a polarizing issue in the society. It is also difficult to separate death penalty and from an act of revenge which is the substitute of justice.
The death penalty should be abolished, and other forms of justice implemented to cover the gap left by the death penalty. Capital punishment also goes against the 8th amendment of the unusual punishment of the criminals. The law states that capital cases are formulated and implemented in an objective and standards to eliminate discrimination in the judicial system. However, the choices of capital punishment are made, but judges should weigh first if the cases can be punishable by jail terms. Some judges are too lenient in dealing with cases concerning popular persons such as politicians and government officials while making unfair judgments. On the other hand, the poor will continue moving from one court to another seeking justice. In America, people with the voice such as government officials have their way to justice more than the normal poor persons.
The death penalty is also not allowed by most religious activities due to the damages that cause to the family members and the community of the person being sentenced to death (Sellin, 2016). The government should not legalize it but instead formulate other punishments that would serve in place of execution. The penalty being irreversible plays a major role in demoralizing the families of those who are executed. America uses different methods in performing executions. Some methods are not good and subject the prisoner into pain and torture before he succumbs. Such practices and the death penalty should be abolished, and the members of the society should be educated on how criminal behaviors should be avoided. The government should also provide job opportunities to the youths to reduce these criminal acts that are committed on a daily basis.
Despite death penalty being opposed by most of the Americans, it sometimes serves as a warning to those committing capital crimes such as terrorism, massacres, large-scale drug trafficking, treason, and or attempting to kill a witness or court officer in certain cases. Such criminal acts need to be handled by professionals in the judicial system, and the government should attempt to formulate other sentences that will be warranted to those who commit such capital punishments. The death penalty in my view should only be done in one court across the country to minimize the cases of sentencing innocent Americans and blacks to death.
Bedau, H. A. (Ed.). (2018). The death penalty in America: Current controversies. Oxford University Press.
“Executions – Preparing Staff for the Hard Task Ahead,” The Corrections Professional, Vol. 1, February 16, 2016.
H. Hillman, “The Possible Pain Experienced During Executions by Different Methods,” 22 Perception 745 (2012).
R. Bohm, “Death quest: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Capital Punishment in the United States,” Anderson Publishing, 2009.
Peffley, M., ; Hurwitz, J. (2007). Persuasion and Resistance: Race and the death penalty in America. American Journal of Political Science, 51(4), 996-1012.
Sellin, T. (2016). The penalty of death (pp. 103-20). Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications.
Spectator, H. (2017). An Opinionated Article. The Death Penalty.
W. Ecenbarger, “Perfecting Death: When the state kills it must do so humanely. Is that possible?” The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, January 23, 2014.
J. Weisberg, “This is Your Death,” The New Republic, July 1, 2011.