The paper 'Death Penalty in the USA' is a perfect example of a research paper on politics.
The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, refers to a court order to execute a convicted offender of the capital offenses. Some of the capital offenses that result in a death penalty include murder, treason, rape, drug trafficking and robbery with violence. For a very long time, the death penalty has been practiced by many countries. However, not all countries include it in their judicial system because of its constitutionality. Although depending on the authority, once an offender is convicted of a capital offense and sentenced to a death penalty, a wide range of methods can be used to execute them. These include the use of firing squad, hanging, electrocution, lethal gas, and lethal injection.
Death Penalty in the USA
As a nation, the USA has been involved in the practice of the death penalty for centuries. Although not all states include it in their legal system, it is established that its origin dates back to the colonial period when it had been enforced in all the colonial states by the imperial European administrators who had seized control over the country. Several cases of death penalty were evidenced before the Declaration of US Independence. Some of the major executions during this period were carried out in 1608 on Captain Georg Kendal who was cleared by the firing squad. Later, Major John Langal was executed in 1780 during the Revolution War for spying for the Spanish government.
This notwithstanding, the death penalty did not stop after independence because its practice continued thereafter. In fact, between the years 1906 and 1991, a total of 15,269 capital offenders were executed across the country. However, between 1950 and 2002, 4,661 convicts were also subjected to a death sentence. The military alone felled 135 soldiers between 1916 and 1955. This is a clear indication of the magnitude of the death penalty in the country. However, this would not remain the same because of the constitutional changes that were introduced in different parts of the country. For instance, the Supreme Court, in 1972, abolished it, before it was eventually repealed and reintroduced in 1976 during the landmark Furman v Georgia ruling (Sidlow and Henschen 82).
Although the death penalty has been abolished in many states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Vermont, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Maine, West Virginia, New Jersey, Minnesota, Iowa, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, Maryland, North Dakota, New Mexico, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Illinois, it has been declared constitutional in the rest of the states: Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, Oregon, Kansas, Missouri, California, Mississippi, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Tennessee, Delaware, Montana, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Idaho, Washington, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Utah. As semi-autonomous governments, the states have a mandate to choose whether to determine the constitutionality of the death penalty within their respective jurisdictions without any unnecessary influence from the federal government.
Controversies Surrounding the Death Penalty in the USA
The fact that the death penalty is not uniformly enforced by all the states clearly demonstrates that it is a very contentious issue in the country. With the intensifying human rights activism, many people have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the death penalty. To its proponents, it is a good action because it benefits society in many ways. First, it helps in minimizing the costs of managing prisons because the killing of convicts can enable the government not to incur further expenses keeping them in prisons. Besides, it is a just punishment that suits the kind of offenses committed since many people feel that executing a murderer is fair (Banner 72). Moreover, death sentences help in preventing offenders from repeating their actions, breaking prisons to revenge or cause more havoc to society. Lastly, it should be upheld because it helps in reducing congestion in prisons.
On the other hand, the critics of the death penalty condemn it because, to them, it s an unconstitutional act that should not be subjected to any human being. They argue that the death penalty is immoral because it encourages the killing of human beings whose right to life is provided for and protected by the constitution. Besides, it is their opinion that death sentence can not be effectively done as a result of the flaws in the constitution (Sidlow and Henschen 37). This simply means that it is not up to standard and can be done to innocent prisoners who do not actually deserve to be executed. At the same time, the sentence has not been properly done because it is targeted to a certain section of the society such as blacks because they are more vulnerable to such punitive acts.
All these have been confirmed by Pew Research Center, the death penalty has of course been a very controversial issue in the country. Its support has not only been dwindling with years but has been receiving different receptions from diverse sections of the society. According to the research, the support and opposition of the death penalty have been greatly influenced by the people’s race, gender, party, and religious affiliations. As already highlighted, this research established that the support given to the penalty by the general population has been so inconsistent. Initially, in 1966, it was supported by 59% of the population. This later changed to 78%, 66%, 62% and 58% in 1996, 2001, 2005 and 2011 respectively. Those who support the penalty argue that it is appropriate for capital offenses and can be of great contribution towards the eradication of such offenders from traumatizing the society (Bakken 86).
When it comes to racial affiliation, the research found out that the support and opposition of the sentence are greatly influenced by race. It receives majority support from the whites who support it by 68%. This is followed by Hispanics and African-Americans who support it by 52% and 40% respectively. Evidently, race plays a significant role in determining support for the punishment because of the different positions occupied by the ‘superior’ whites and the ‘inferior’ Hispanics and even ‘more inferior’ blacks. A small number of African-Americans support the punishment because they feel that it is discriminatively enforced (Sidlow and Henschen 29).
The other factor that determines the people’s reaction to the death sentence is political affiliation. As the research found out, many people have been influenced to support or oppose the death sentences because of the political parties in which they belong. Actually, the penalty received much support from the Republicans than Democrats. It receives 84% support from the Conservative Republicans, 73% from the Liberals and Moderates and 64% from the Independents. However, its support by the Democrats has been quite dismal at only 40%. This number reduced from the 49% support it was receiving in 2001.
A similar trend has been identified amongst the religious community who also support or oppose the penalty base on their religious affiliation. The Pew Research Center reports that the death penalty receives much support from all the religious groups apart from the black Protestants who are skeptical about it. However, in terms of percentage, the penalty is supported by the White Evangelical Protestants, White Mainline Protestants, White Catholics, Hispanic Catholics and Religiously non-affiliated groups at the rate of 77%, 73%, 61%, 67% and 57% respectively (Sidlow and Henschen 55).
The constitutionality of the death penalty in the USA is a matter still subject to debate. Whereas its supporters argue that it is a better way of punishing capital offenders and ultimately eradicating capital offense from the society, its critics assert that it is not only constitutional but an immoral action that inflicts pain to the offenders, causes loss of life and can be done to innocent prisoners who do not really deserve to be executed. This justifies why it is abolished and legalized by different states and supported by people based on their racial religious and political affiliations.
Bakken, Morris, ed. Invitation to an Execution: A History of the Death Penalty in the United States. University of New Mexico Press, 2010. Print.
Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: An American History. Harvard University Press, 2002. Print.
Sidlow, Edward, Henschen, Beth. GOVT 6 6th Edition. Farington Hills: Cengage Learning Publishers, 2014. Print.