Capital Punishment in America - Issues Surrounding The Use Of The Death Penalty

The Sixth Commandment States, "Thou shall not kill." However, in our society this value is not always followed. There are times when killing is validated. War is a classic example of this. However, in our society, killing is also validated when we kill a criminal convicted of a capital offense.

Historical Roots of Capital Punishment

This history of the death penalty is as old as the history of mankind. Ancient Chinese drawings show pictures of death sentences being handed out and executed. In the Code of Hammurabie, there were twenty five different laws that if broken were punishable by death. The Ancient Greeks poisoned those condemned to death with Hemlock.

History of Capital Punishment in America

Capital Punishment has existed in America since it was settled by Europeans. The early settlers preffered hangings. In fact, hanging was the preferred method of choice in America until the late nineteenth centrury when America moved to electrocution. Americans have also used the firing squad, gas chamber and lethal injection.

From 1608 through 1998, 18,800 legal executions have been reported in the United States. In 1972, in Furman v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. It was only a five to four votes, and three of the majority votes noted taht it wasn't so much the death penalty that was the problem, but rather the system was not working under the current law.

The Furman decision left open the right of the states to bring back the death penalty after changes had been made and by 1977 the death penalty was reinstated into American Law.

 Socio-Economic Inconsistencies

The big question is who gets the death sentence imposed upon them? One notable inconsistency is that those with money do not generally have the death sentence imposed. Geneally, those without money are assigned a public defender who is either inexperienced or is overburdened with high caseloads that they cannot give each defendant a high level defense. Given that most death row inmates are poor and a great many are transients gives this theory credence.

The lack of funds to mount a defense also plays a role in the appeals process. Without the funds to hire a good appellate attorney during the appeals process, many death row inmates have no chance of reversing a death sentence, even when it is warranted.

Gender Gap

Another fact about the death penatly is the major differece in the gender gap of death row inmates. There are simply more men than women on death row. Granted, more men commit capital offenses than woman, the percentage gap is substantial. Generally, it is believed, that juries are less inclined to sentence a woman to death than a man.

Racial Inconsistencies

Race also plays a major role in who is sentenced to death. Generally, it is perceived that African Americans are sentenced to death more than any other racial group. But more important, is that the race of the offender is not the issue. More often, it is the race of the victim that decides the offense. If the victim is black, eleven percent of the offenders go to death row. If the victim is white, eighty five percent of the offenders go to death row. (Lewin, 1995) Race is a major factor is death sentences, but not how everyone thinks.


Perhaps now the time has come to have a serious debate about capital punishment. More importantly, it is time to have a serious debate about capial punishment that uses facts and history, rather than raw emotion.

Do you think the death penalty works?

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Comments 21 comments

troylaplante profile image

troylaplante 8 years ago from Selma, NC

Capital punishment has existed since Noah got off the ark. Your use of the Sixth Commandment refers to murder, not capital punishment. Capital punishment was instituted before that commandment was ever written. The Law of Moses is full of instances that require the death penalty. The implementation of capital punishment did not and never has violated the Sixth Commandment. God places such a high value on human life that the penalty shall be high for its extinguishment.

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Valid point.

tony0724 profile image

tony0724 8 years ago from san diego calif

Regardless of financial stature I for one think that the death penalty Is not used nearly enough ! And letting people sit on deathrow for 20 years Is not the answer. I agree the rich seem to get the better lawyers which Is wrong . But with the prison overcrowding like here In Socal and with an average cost of $36,000 a year to house an Inmate why not get rid of the riffraff ? I realize this Is a hard stance but as an old Irishman I know says you cannot make a bad thing good ! By the way Socrates drank hemlock I wonder what his crime was ?

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Your point is certainly well taken and the prison system is certainly a drag on the economy, especially here in California. But I believe inherent fairness in the system is a must. I am ok with the dealth penalty as long as it is equitably given.

By the way, Socrates Athenians accused Socrates of "refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state" and "of corrupting the youth." He was found guilty by a juror of peers and allowed to choose his own sentence. He chose to drink Hemlock.

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

I think the death penalty is immoral; but also, it doesn't work.

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Certainly a valid point of view. Thanks for your input.

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Amy G 8 years ago

I think the death penalty should be amendend to encompass the "eye for an eye" philosophy. I also think the overcrowding problem is due to the fact that prison is no longer a scary place to be. Why would anyone be afraid to commit a crime based solely on our prison system? They're fed, housed, educated, excersized, and immunized in there. There's a vast American populace that doesn't have those luxuries, and they're not criminals.

Nice read.

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Interesting points. Thanks for reading

tony0724 profile image

tony0724 8 years ago from san diego calif

London Girl the reason the death penalty does,nt work Is because criminals are not scared ,because of all the endless appeals and the liberals who keep portraying the perpetrators as the victims ! And I am sad to say we are going to be seeing alot more crime now because people are getting desperate . And as a result we out here In California are going to see even more of a strain on an already overcrowded prison system ! As It Is 57,000 are going to be let loose on the streets of California again .

So why not commit crimes ? Obviously there are no consequences ! Oh and by the way Amy G I am with you . Today I was reading about a child molester who could end up In a halfway house near a school . Great Idea ? Oh and by the way 70% of all child molesters will reoffend . So give me one good reason why we should keep paying for their maintainence ! I say remove them !

A stern lecture and a timeout are not gonna work ! Compassion for a criminal Is what they count on .

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

The economy of death row is a very complex question in California. Many argue that the prisons are overcrowded due to the three strikes your out law. Others just say it is a criminal culture. But what about the Governator's refusal to abide by the Federal Court ruling relating to the status of California prisons? Shouldn't the prison system at the very least provide clean medical facilities? Just a thought.

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issues veritas 7 years ago

What is your definition of the goal of the death penalty?

If it is to deter crime or murderous acts by people, then NO it doesn't work.

Neither do jail or prisons slow criminals or crimes.


bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

I don't think the death penalty deters crime outside the prison. I don't think murderers and drug dealers think that far ahead. The only thing it deters is crimes against prison guards inside prison, in my humble opinion.

jxb7076 profile image

jxb7076 7 years ago from United States of America

I think any law is as effective as it is implemented, according to its design. I am not a strong proponent of capital punishment mainly for the statistical data you presented. However, if we implement the law, according to the crime - and in all fairness we may see significant reductions in crime.......perhaps this is wishfull thinking on my part!

Great information - thanks for sharing!

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

If we want to go to the Bible, notice one of the first stories is a murder story. God did not kill Cain or have him killed for murdering his brother.

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

Fair point. Thanks for reading.

Envoy profile image

Envoy 7 years ago from USA

I think prisons should be work camps that work the prisoners sun up to sun down. I think if they had to earn their keep so to speak no one would want to go there. Thus cutting down the need altogether. Having said that I am sure there would be so many people who would argue the prisoner's should not be treated so badly blah blah blah never mind their victims & so it goes on deterring no one from committing heinous crimes & people sitting on death row for 30+ years on the tax payer dime. But just imagine for a moment how many project could be paid for by prison labor earning their own stay. My bet is they wouldn't want to go back. Just my 2 cents though :)

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

And your two cents are worth much more. I lived near a very large California prison. The prisoners here do work around town. The paint city buildings and clean up garbage. The also keeps the parks fixed up. So it is a little of what you are saying, but not as far.

But I agree, Prison should not be fun.

RK Sangha profile image

RK Sangha 7 years ago from USA

There is a need for a clear cut law for awarding Death penalty to a confirmed criminal and there should be a time limit for the courts to give verdicts. In view of legal wranglings going on for years, the criminals know how to be safe and so they treat JAILS as resting places.

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

I agree that the law needs to be clear,

Thanks for reading

Springboard profile image

Springboard 7 years ago from Wisconsin

My stance on capital punishment is fairly straightforward.

1) It is not intended to be a deterrent, it is a punishment; the fact is I think that statistics will show that people have murdered in the past, they murder in the present and they will murder tomorrow whether or not the state in which they commit their crime has a death penalty.

2) Any person sentenced to die must be proven absolutely, without any doubt whatsoever, with DNA evidence to support it, that they were the one in charge of the murder. We have had too many instances of wrongful convictions and so this is a very important qualifying factor IMO for the death penalty to be administered.

bgpappa profile image

bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California Author

I agree with you that it should be used but steps taken to ensure that only guilty are executed.

Thanks for the comment.

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