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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.
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.
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.
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.