The Issue of Capital Punishment in America


In a study by Jones, America is currently recording reduced cases of the death penalty whereby the number of those who supported this practice had gone down by more than 20% in the period between 1990 and 2016 (224). Various reasons have been cited to explain this decline, including the cruelty of the practice, the unreliability of methods deployed, and its arbitrary and irrevocable nature. As this paper reveals, it is crucial to examine whether American citizens need to be subjected to capital punishment. An investigation of the stipulations presented in the 8th Amendment indicates that the death penalty contravenes this part of the U.S. Constitution.

The United States Citizens and the Death Penalty

Any method that is regarded as a measure for ending capital offenses should be fair and justified, as opposed to being administered to some people based on their race or financial capabilities. In an article published in the New York Times, the death penalty is presented as a practice that primarily seeks to eliminate people of color who are viewed as a threat to the future of the American nation (Race and the Death Penalty in Texas). With the current population of the U.S. consisting of diverse cultures, it suffices to conclude that sentencing innocent and legal American citizens to death is a counterproductive practice that may end up ruining the country’s deep-rooted unity and diversity. In addition, such a measure should be proven effective in addressing the issue of crimes in America. However, as Jones reveals, capital punishment has never contributed to alleviating crimes in America (225). As a result, investing huge financial resources in this method may be interpreted to mean a waste of revenue collected from taxpayers.

Hence, it sounds inappropriate to continue subjecting American citizens to such an effective crime prevention mechanism. In addition, the international community seems to have realized various inefficiencies linked to capital punishment. In Glossip v. Gross case proceedings conducted in 2014, the presiding official, Justice Stephen Breyer, revealed that less than 30 counties in the U.S. were associated with more than 50% of all cases of capital punishment recorded in the entire nation (Garrett et al. 561). In particular, while 51 instances of capital punishment were recorded in 2015, only 31 American citizens faced the death penalty in 2016 (Garrett et al. 564). This finding indicates the extent to which this crime deterrence approach is losing significance not only in America but also globally due to its incapacity to address issues related to crime, racial discrimination, and corruption (Garrett et al. 566).

From another perspective, the existence of other measures for managing crimes that were earlier punishable through the death penalty indicates that killing is not the preferred way of dealing with lawbreakers in America. Today, despite the rising cases of crimes perpetrated by both young and adult American citizens, the study by Garrett et al. confirms that only 5% of counties in the U.S. have recorded capital punishment instances (581). Consequently, it is crucial to analyze the above findings in relation to the U.S. Constitution, specifically, the 8th Amendment.

The Death Penalty and the 8th Amendment

The 8th Amendment discourages the American government from subjecting lawbreakers to stern penalties, unwarranted bail, and brutal or bizarre sentences. The article by Jones regards the death penalty as a cruel measure that contravenes the American Constitution, particularly the directives stipulated in the 8th Amendment (223). Killing people as a way of retribution violates the United States’ citizens’ civil liberties. According to the 8th Amendment, lawbreakers should be allowed to face death through unavoidable means such as old age, sickness, accidents, and natural calamities. Nonetheless, the death penalty assumes the right to take away an individual’s life, especially when such a person is found guilty of murder, treachery, and espionage as earlier stated.

The article by Baude presents views of renowned legal advocates who regard the death penalty as an infringement of the 8th Amendment due to its untrustworthiness, subjectivity, rarity, and delayed the execution. While lawbreakers expect to be tried and judged within the minimum time possible, Jones reveals a worrying trend whereby American citizens who are placed on death row end up spending decades without being accorded the punishment they deserve (223). This situation depicts capital punishment as violating wrongdoers’ right to serve a permanent jail sentence. According to Jones, “the failure of death penalty policy to live up to key conservative principles, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and promoting a culture of life, have complicated the view that Republicans should automatically support the death penalty” (226). It is crucial to point out that the specified principles are enshrined in the 8th Amendment of the American Constitution.

The implication of the above claim is that capital punishment breaches this part of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Moreover, the arbitrary nature of capital punishment denies victims the chance to take advantage of new details regarding the case at hand, a situation that may trigger the need for overturning the judgment, especially if fresh evidence presents the defendant as innocent. The 8th Amendment recognizes the possibility of new facts or policies, which may arise in the course of an individual’s trial process to warrant the turnaround of a verdict or the abandonment of capital punishment. However, the death penalty does not allow victims to benefit from these potential developments and hence the reason why scholars such as Garrett et al. (562) and Jones (223) have termed it as a contravention of the American Constitution. However, freeing victims from the death penalty attracts further discussions regarding whether the crimes they engage in the matter in a court of law.

Is the Crime Committed a Matter of Concern?

As earlier mentioned, the death penalty is subjected to criminals who engage in capital offenses such as murder, treachery, spying, and participation in illegal war among others (Shannon et al. 1797). Although the above sections have argued against the deployment of capital punishment as a measure for dealing with these crimes, it is imperative to point out that victims caught transgressing the law still remain accountable for their offenses. The U.S. has a diverse pool of crime deterrence mechanisms, including the deployment of additional police officers, giving criminals a protracted punishment, and fighting the excessive ownership of guns. In a study by Shannon et al., subjecting people who are found guilty of a felony to permanent imprisonment is brutal enough to achieve the goal intended by capital punishment (1797). Hence, for the U.S., the crimes committed matter a lot in influencing the crime deterrence approach to be adopted. The availability of other equally severe punishment approaches reminds lawbreakers that the crimes they perpetrate may pave the way for stern sentences whose weight is similar to that of the death penalty.

The Individual State and the U.S. Justice Department

The issue of who should be given the mandate to decide when capital punishment needs to be given has been debated for several years. While a section of scholars gives this power to the individual American states, others believe that the U.S. Justice Department should implement this decision. The Justice Department is a national administrative unit of the American government that has been accorded the power to enforce the law while at the same time ensuring that justice prevails in all criminal cases (McCarthy 22). In addition, each individual state in America has departments that carry out law implementation roles.

However, the U.S. Justice Department reviews the verdict given at the state level to determine whether it matches the crime committed. Following the extensive number of cases set for review, the American Justice Department has not been effective in giving prompt responses or certifications. Such delays contravene the victims’ privilege of getting timely hearing and judgment. According to McCarthy, the American Justice Department has been in crisis for the last three decades (20). Hence, allowing it to decide or even implement decisions regarding capital offenses may not be successful. In this case, it suffices to allow individual states to decide when capital punishment is necessary for addition to implementing it after confirming beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed high-caliber offenses.


The issue of subjecting wrongdoers to capital punishment, which is also referred to as the death penalty, continues to attract heated debates in many countries, including America. This paper has focused on capital punishment within the context of the U.S. This practice involves killing a criminal who is confirmed to have engaged in capital misdemeanors that range from treason, involvement in illegal hostilities, unauthorized spying, and genocide among others. It has been confirmed that the death penalty breaches the American Constitution, specifically the 8th Amendment. Following the ineffectiveness of the U.S. Justice Department, this paper recommends individual states be authorized to handle death penalty matters independently.

Works Cited

Baude, William. “Is the Death Penalty Unconstitutional?” The New York Times. 2015, Web.

Garrett, Brandon, et al. “The American Death Penalty Decline.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, vol. 107, no. 4, 2017, pp. 561-642.

Jones, Ben. “The Republican Party, Conservatives, and the Future of Capital Punishment.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, vol. 108, no. 2, 2018, pp. 223-252.

McCarthy, Andrew. “Attorney General Sessions.” National Review, vol. 68, no. 23, 2016, pp. 20-22.

“Race and the Death Penalty in Texas.” The New York Time. 2016, Web.

Shannon, Sarah, et al. “The Growth, Scope, and Spatial Distribution of People with Felony Records in the United States, 1948-2010.” Demography, vol. 54, no. 5, 2017, pp. 1795-1818.

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