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Posted on August 20th, 2012, by

Speaking about capital punishment, this is necessary to note first of all that in this case the word “capital”¯ means the person’s head, in the past people were executed by taking off their head from their body. Capital punishment used to be a rather widespread practice all over the world during various historical periods, the attitude towards this kind of punishment was also ambivalent. On the one hand people committed numerous serious crimes. On the other hand capital punishment can not and should not be considered as effective means for reducing the criminality rate as well as it can not be considered human and equitable and thus should be abolished.

The history of capital punishment is rather long; one of the first laws concerning it was met in the eighteenth century B.C. in the Code of King of Hammaurabi of Babylon. There were about 25 crimes, for which the death penalty was used. In the Fourteenth Century B.C.’s Hittite Code one could also meet the death penalty; in the Draconian Code of Athens, by that law death was made the only punishment for all crimes; the ways of fulfillment were different: crucifixion, drowning, burning alive, and impalement. The start of the reforms of the death penalty in the U.S. occurred when Thomas Jefferson produced a bill, concerning the death penalty. The two cases for death penalty were the crimes of murder and treason.

Later on Dr. Benjamin Rush, “a signer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the Pennsylvania Prison Society”¯, showed his hesitation about the fact, that the death penalty serves as deterrence (Keys, 2001). On the contrary he supported the theory, that death penalty only increased criminal cases. He was supported by Benjamin Franklin as well as by Philadelphia Attorney General – William Bradford.

In the nineteenth century the abolitionist movement played a great role for the matter of death punishment. Many states considered and reduced the number of their capital crimes and presented state penitentiaries. In 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state to stop making executions in front of all public and carried them out at some special places. In 1846, Michigan was the first state that abolished the death penalty for all crimes, but for treason. By the end of the century such countries as Venezuela, Portugal, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Brazil and Ecuador followed the example. Some states of the USA eliminated the death punishment, but some didn’t. Some states even worsened the situation by applying some special laws towards slaves. In 1838 the tendency to use some special places for execution instead of making it in public developed. The Twentieth Century is known for the “Progressive Period”¯ of the reforms in the USA. The atmosphere was rather intense as people in the USA were afraid of the influence of the Russian Revolution. Later the USA took part in the World War 1, which resulted in the social conflicts between socialists and capitalists. Finally, “five of the six abolitionist states reinstated their death penalty by 1920”¯ (Keys, 2001). Between years 1920s and 1940s this issue was again discussed as criminologists were proving, that the death penalty was a kind of necessary social measure. Americans at those times were suffering because of Prohibition and the Great Depression. There was a great number of executions in the 1930s, namely about 167 per year.

The problem of death penalty is certainly vital not only for government or juridical system, this an important social issue, and there are certainly a lot of presentations of it from different sides and points of view. There are certainly a lot of arguments for and against death penalty, but here we are going to stop at the most weighty and convincing ones. The first thesis to discuss in this relation will be “whether death is more human than life imprisonment”¯ (Carrington, 1988). People, supporting this point of view, state that the Eighth Amendment, prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishment”¯, was wrong. They are sure, that murder for example is the same cruel, inhumane and degrading and not less barbarous than punishment. Moreover they think that making a person suffer in a jail for the rest of his life is even crueler than releasing him rather quickly through this type of execution. Besides imprisonment can not be a sufficient guarantee that the murderer in the past would not find the way to return to society, either having escaped or having been released on parole and that he would not start doing the same he already did. But on the other hand the statistic researches made in the countries like Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, and Belgium, where death executions were not carried out for a long period of time already, showed that there was no increase in the number of murders after that.

Some people are against death penalty as they consider the chance of the wrong convicted person to be executed. The problem of bringing the innocent people to Death Row is the most sophisticated and delicate. There are really few chances for the convicted person to be released, some unusual situations do take place, there was one famous case when a person was supposed to be executed as all the evidences were against him, but suddenly the real murderer was caught as he killed another person and the case was reconsidered and the man was able to avoid death penalty, but this was a rare case and even after he was set free he could not go on living as he did before, it certainly influenced him and his attitude to the society (Carrington, 1988).

In order to support the inhumanity of the death punishment, we should underline the length of stay on death row. Usually, a convicted person is not punished quickly, there are a lot of delays, appeals and so on. Very often a criminal has to wait for several years for capital punishment. There is an important question then ”“ do other people have the right to judge him and are they competent enough to draw the correct conclusion? A person is often rather harsh in judgments of others and can remain blind to the mitigating circumstances for those, who committed crimes. Whereas most of them in reality “suffered from neglect, emotional trauma, violence, cruelty, abandonment, lack of love, and a host of destructive social conditions”¯ (Schabas, 2005).

Overall, the problem of death penalty is rather old and controversial, it is hard to judge it only from one point of view, there are a lot of arguments for and against, there are a lot of different points of view and a lot of details and specifications. Nevertheless, the major arguments, we pointed out above, are already worth abolishment of capital punishment, as inhumane means of punishment, at the same time bringing less positive results, than negative.

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