Capital Punishment in the USA


Capital punishment or the death penalty has been described as the harshest form of punishment for certain crimes such as murder, treason, and violence. The issue of capital punishment elicits heated debates among religious, political, and theological scholars. Proponents argue that capital punishment deters crime by discouraging individuals from participating in criminal activities. In addition, they argue that it is the best form of punishment for crimes such as murder and treason because it matches their severity (Fridell 33). On the other hand, opponents argue that capital punishment is unethical, violates the human right to life, does not deter crime, and can lead to unfair punishment in cases where wrong judgment is passed (Fridell 36). In the United States, 37 states allow capital punishment. Such states include Alabama, Arizona, Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Georgia, California, Montana, Texas, Utah, and Louisiana among others (Mandery 44). States without capital punishment include Alaska, Iowa, Rhode Island, West Virginia, New Jersey, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota among others.

Arguments in support of capital punishment

Proponents of capital punishment argue that it matches the severity of crimes such as rape, murder, and violence. When a criminal is sentenced to death, other criminals learn from such a ruling and avoid crime for fear of a similar sentence (Fridell 33). The fear of losing their lives discourages them from committing a crime. Another argument is that, in case criminals are awarded jail sentences, they might commit similar crimes after release from prison because of inefficient or partial reformation (Mandery 45). Capital punishment also protects prison staff from harm. People who commit severe crimes have violent personalities that endanger the lives of prison staff (Fridell 35). For that reason, it is safer for such criminals to be sentenced to death. Capital punishment improves the safety and security of people in society.

Arguments against capital punishment

Opponents of capital punishment argue that it does not deter crime. A study conducted in 2009 to find out the reactions of criminologists towards death sentences revealed that 88% of them believed that capital sentence does not deter crime (Mandery 46). These findings were augmented by studies conducted to establish the effect of capital punishment in reducing crime. Reasons for committing crime include revenge and survival. In their urge to fulfill their goals, criminals ignore the severe ramifications of their actions. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), capital punishment does not deter crime because states that allow capital punishment record higher rates of crime compared to states without capital punishment (Fridell 36). Capital punishment is unfair in cases where courts sentence innocent prisoners to death. According to a report released by the Death Penalty Information Center, capital punishment does not deter crime. In 2012, the average rate of murder crimes in states with the death penalty was 4.7 and 3.7 in states without capital punishment (Death Penalty Information Center par4).

In 2011, the rate was 4.7 for states with capital punishment and 3.1 for states without capital punishment (Death Penalty Information Center par5). In 2010, the rate was 4.6 in states with capital punishment and 2.9 in states without punishment (Death Penalty Information Center par6). The aforementioned average rates of murder reveal that states with capital punishment experience higher rates of murder than states without capital punishment. Proponents of capital punishment argue that capital punishment promotes injustice in cases where individuals are sentenced to death but later proven innocent (Mandery 47). According to the Death Penalty Information Centre (par2), 144 individuals have been released from death row after the dismissal of their cases since 1973. For instance, in 2014, Glen Ford was released after the dismissal of charges against him. Many individuals are lucky to be proven innocent before execution. In the Keaton v. State of Florida case of 1971, David Keaton was released after charges against him were dropped. He had been sentenced to death for allegedly murdering a deputy sheriff. However, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the ruling after the real killer was identified. Finally, capital punishment promotes social injustice because people who cannot afford good lawyers to defend them always receive death penalties. In contrast, people who can afford good lawyers escape capital punishment easily.

Evolution of capital punishment

Different states have different crimes that are punishable by capital punishment. States such as Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Vermont, and Washington punish treason with capital punishment. Mississippi and Georgia punish aircraft piracy with a death sentence. In Florida, it applies in drug trafficking while in New Mexico it applies in cases of espionage. Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida, and Georgia are states that have harsh capital punishment statutes. They have high cases of executions. States such as Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Maine practiced capital punishment in past years before abolishing it. In Maine, capital punishment was first abolished in 1876 and later reinstated in 1883. However, in 1887, it was abolished completely. Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984 after a ruling in the Commonwealth v. Colon-Cruz case (Prosecuting Attorney par6). On the other hand, Michigan abolished capital punishment selectively. It only applied to cases of treason. However, capital punishment was abolished completely in 1963. Certain states rank high in the execution of criminals. A report released by the office of the Prosecuting Attorney in 2008 revealed that Texas had the highest cases of criminal execution.

State Number of executions
Texas 405
Virginia 98
Oklahoma 86
Missouri 66
Florida 64
North Carolina 43
Georgia 40

Table 1: number of executions as of 2008 (Prosecuting Attorney par3).

Laws of different states and violations of the Eighth Amendment

Common crimes punishable by death sentence include treason, espionage, drug trafficking, and aircraft piracy (Mandery 57). According to the Eighth Amendment, it is against the constitution of the United States for courts to ask crime suspects to pay excessive bail, inflict cruel punishments, or impose hefty fines. This amendment was ratified in 1792 and aimed at protecting criminals from unfair sentences. Despite the existence of the amendment, many courts have violated certain clauses. The state of Georgia allows capital punishment. However, court rulings have been overturned in several instances because of violating the Eighth Amendment. For instance, in the Coker V. In the Georgia case of 1977, a death sentence awarded to Ehrlich Coker was overturned (Mandery 57). Before the landmark ruling, the state held that individuals involved in first-degree rape were liable to capital punishment. The Supreme Court maintained that rape was not a crime that justified capital punishment. Despite the ruling, other states did not abolish capital punishment in cases involving rape. Mississippi and Florida continued to issue death sentences to rapists. For instance, the state of Florida issued death sentences to William Shue and Daniel Coler. However, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the rulings.

The state of California allows capital punishment. Capital punishment was ratified through the amendment of the state’s constitution. In the 1972 case, The People of the State of California v. Robert Page Anderson, a junior court ruled that capital punishment was illegal (Mandery 51). However, the ruling was overturned by a constitutional amendment referred to as Proposition 17. The Eighth Amendment prohibits sentences that are cruel and unusual. However, some states do not consider capital punishment as cruel and unusual. In the Gregg v. Georgia case, the court sentenced Gregg to death for armed robbery and murder (Mandery 52). Gregg appealed the ruling on the basis that it was cruel and unusual. However, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence and ruled that capital punishment was not a violation of the Eight Amendment. Other states that do not consider capital punishment a violation of the Eight Amendment include Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina (Mandery 55). In the Jurek v. Texas, Profitt v. Florida, Woodson v. North Carolina, and Roberts v. Louisiana cases, courts of individual states held that imposition of capital punishment was fair and not a violation of the Eight Amendment (Mandery 55).


Capital punishment is the harshest form of punishment in the United States for crimes such as murder and violence. Proponents argue that it deters crime, improves the security and safety of communities, and matches the severity of crimes such as rape and murder. Opponents argue that it is unethical and a violation of the human right to life. In addition, they argue that it promotes injustice in cases where innocent individuals suffer due to lack of sufficient evidence to acquit them. In many states, Supreme Courts have overturned rulings by junior courts based on violation of the Eighth Amendment. According to the Eighth Amendment, it is against the constitution of the United States to award hefty fines, impose cruel and unusual sentences, and ask for disproportionate bail. States such as Texas, Virginia, and Georgia have harsh capital punishment statutes, hence the high number of execution cases. Other states such as West Virginia and New Jersey do not allow capital punishment.

Works Cited

Death Penalty Information Center: Murder rates Nationally and by State. n.d. Web.

Fridell, Ron. Capital Punishment. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2003. Print.

Mandery, Evan. Capital Punishment in America: A balanced Edition. New York: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2011. Print.

Prosecuting Attorney: The Death Penalty. n.d. Web.

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