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Death Penalty

Essay by   •  March 1, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,409 Words (10 Pages)  •  3,439 Views

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In the United States of America, a world superpower, a democratic nation, there is one criminal punishment that divides and separates many opinions of our criminal justice system. The United States practices the use of capital punishment on its most extreme criminals. The United States is one of only three democratic, industrial nations that still uses capital punishment today in its criminal justice system; the other countries are Japan and South Korea (religious n.d.). Interestingly, "the capital in capital punishment refers a person's head because in the past most people were executed by severing of the head"(religious n.d.). Capital Punisment, also referred to as the death penalty, is looked at by many people as barbaric, and they feel that our "advanced" society should be above using such a dark age act. Neither the death penalty or the argument of its usage are new topics. It can be traced back to the eighteenth century B.C. in the Code Hammaurabi of Babylon; moreover it is estimated that during the reign of Henry VIII in England there were as many as 72,000 executions (deathpenaltyinfo n.d.).They have been around for centuries. In the United States, according to the "Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research" there are statistics on the use of the death penalty that go back as far as 1608 (deathpenaltyinfo n.d.). The English only arrived in Virginia in 1607 and most were killed by disease and lack of nourishment so for someone to receive capital punishment shows a real disregard for the law because at this time the English government was paying for people to come to the New World and still having a hard time convincing its citizens to go. Virginia and the places of the other first settlements in the South were not and continue to not be easy living.

Today most of the executions that are carried out by our government occur in the South, below at the Mason-Dixon and as far West as Texas. Texas is notorious for being the leader in executions every year. "California, Ohio and Missouri were the only states outside the South to use the death penalty in 2002; they accounted for a mere 10 of the total 71 executions" (religious n.d.). However, executions have been in the decline in the last couple of years with only '65 in 2003 and 59 in 2004" (statistics n.d.). The declined use of capital punishment is a positive showing however the United States still receives a lot of ridicule in the United Nations for continued use of the death penalty. One reason is because the United States of America often criticizes the Communist Republic of China for its policies and inhumane treatment of its people, but the United States is the most hypocritical in that regard when it boasts of being civilized, advanced western culture. However, capital punishent does continue within the United States' borders without a lot heated debate.

Cesare Beccaria made a strong influence on the world in 1767 with his essay On Crimes and Punishment in which he said there not a single justification for the government's taking of an individual's life; subsequently Austria and Tuscany abolished the death penalty in the respective countries(deathpenaltyinfo n.d.). This essay also influenced or would come to influence some of the minds' of America's constitutional pioneers. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, first made opposition to capital punishment by requesting that it only be used for crimes such as treason and murder, but it was defeated but one vote, yet the attempt established a precedent (deathpenaltyinfo n.d.). Later Dr. Benjamin Rush, who was a founder of the Pennsylvania prison society, with the backing of Benjamin Franklin and Philadelphia and later U.S. Attorney General William Bradford, questioned the belief that capital punishment was even a deterrent; he incited that it had a brutalization effect that increased criminal activity (deathpenaltyinfo n.d.). Consequently Pennsylvania abolished capital punishment for crimes except first degree murder by 1794 and by the mid-nineteenth century Wisconsin and Rhode Island would abolish the death penalty all together being the first American states to do so (deathpenaltyinfo n.d.). Many people wish all states would follow in their liking especially for racial discrepancy reasons.

In the nineteenth century, especially the first half of the century, America was in the heart of its slave operation days. Slaves already had no rights and barely any means of defending themselves in courts of law, but on top of that many states in the South, who continue to be the most vicious today, created more capital offenses which slaves could potentially violate in an attempt to try and dissuade slaves from running away and abolitioners from helping them (deathpenaltyinfo n.d.). In all reality it was unlikely for a huge number of slaves to be executed because plantation owners wanted them for their work not to be community attractions, and slaves were expensive, but a few would possibly be executed with the most inhumane means possible probably with the other slaves watching such as to act as a deterrent. At this time hanging was one of the more popular death sentences in addition to the many illegal lynchings that occurred in the South. Even today the South is not necessarily clean of all of its racial bias in its usage of the death penalty.

The death penalty in the South is always subject to a lot of scrutiny because of its racial percentages. In a fashion similar to that of those who are incarcerated, the number of minorites on death row is less than that of Whites, the majority in the United States, but the number of African Americans is extremely high. None of the executions in 2004 were females. In 2004, African Americans represented 19 of the total 59 executions, which accounts for about one-third of all executions; however, African American do not account for the United States's population (statistics n.d.). It is not even close. Hispanics and Latinos have passed African Americans as the leading minority in the United States. There were only 3 Hispanics/Latinos executed in 2004. According to these numbers this should be an admired culture in American society, and one that the others strive to be like.

These numbers hint that the African American culture is unproportionally violent and the government is using the ultimate punishment as a last ditch deterrent. In contrast, many people would say that African American culture is not more violent than any other culture, however the court system is more strict and less forgiving towards African Americans where as leniecy is sometimes shown to people of other races. A look at the numbers of death row inmates even strenghens the argument. 1,390 are African American of the total 3,369 inmates; in other words, African Americans account for slightly

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