Punishment or otherwise known as the death penalty, has been
an effective deterrent of major crime. Capital Punishment is the
lawful infliction of death among criminals and has been used to
punish a wide variety of offenses for many years all over the
world (Bedau 16). When the death penalty is enforced, it shows
society that committing a capital crime has deadly consequences.
In early times, many methods of Capital Punishment were
used to deter a variety of crimes. For over a century, the uniform
method for executing persons in America was hanging, although
starvation was very common also. There were exceptions which
included spies, traitors, and deserters who would face a firing
squad. Then in 1888, New York directed the construction of an
“electric chair” (Flanders 11). It was believed that the new
harnessed power of electricity would prove to be a more scientific
and humane means of execution. The first electrocution took place
in New York in 1890.
In the past, capital crimes were much different than they are
now. Robbery and the selling of alcohol to underage customers
was a serious capital crime (McCuen and Baumgart 21). Rape was
also a crime where the criminal was sentenced to death.
In America, only thirty-seven states authorize the death
penalty. In most of those thirty-seven states, murder is the only
capital crime. The Supreme Court requires that two conditions
must be met in order for a specific murder to warrant the death
penalty (Nardo 32). The first condition is that it must be first
degree murder, which is the deliberate and premeditated taking of
life. The second is that one or more aggravating circumstances
must be present. Aggravating Circumstances refer to those aspects
of a crime that increase its severity. An example of an aggravating
circumstance would be torture in conjunction with a murder.
(“Capital Punishment” 32).
Every society has faced the problem of what to do with its
most troublesome criminals. Many people in the past have argued
whether or not Capital Punishment is justified and necessary.
Most societies now believe that a criminal should receive
punishment proportional to the crime committed. Most societies
believe that such a severe punishment was necessary to install fear
While more social structures developed, the crimes
developed into public and private offenses. Public offenses such
as witchcraft and blasphemy, were punished by the state; while
private offenses still were answered by acts of personal
The enforcement of Capital Punishment in the early
twentieth century declined drastically because of all of the
controversy. Today, many more states are taking the death penalty
Methods of Capital Punishment used today are somewhat
different than what was used in the past. The lethal injection
method, which is by far the most common, and the “electric chair”
are the most recently used. The gas chamber is still used but in
very rare cases.
In 1924, the gas chamber was introduced in Utah with a
hope to still find a more humane way to execute the convicted.
The gas chamber method proved itself to be a very inhumane
way of execution. There were many errors while using the gas
chamber. Using too little or too much of the gas was a huge
factor that was constantly argued.
The continuing desire for a less painful, error-free means of
execution led to the development of the lethal injection method in
the 1970’s. Initially it was approved in Oklahoma and Texas in
1977. This method involved injecting a combination of a sedative,
which is used to make the execution less painful, and a fatal
chemical agent into the condemned prisoners bloodstream. Lethal
injection was first used to carry out the death penalty in 1982.
In 1980, The American Medical Association AMA went
on record to oppose the participation of any physician in an
execution by lethal injection. A doctors involvment was seen as a
contradiction of the professional responsibility under the
Hippocratic Oath to save lives. As it now stands, no state that
uses lethal injection, requires a physician to be present. The
deadly solution is normally administered by medically trained
There is much evidence showing that Capital Punishment
is a deterrent of crime. The most persuasive research compared
the homicide rates of states that did and did not prescribe the
death penalty. For instance, Michigan, which abolished Capital
Punishment in 1847, was found to have had a rate higher to
adjacent states, Ohio and Indiana, that were executing. Similarly,
Minnesota and Rhode Island, states with no death penalty, had
many more killings then their respective neighbors Iowa and
Massachusetts, which had Capital Punishment. In 1939 South
Dakota adopted and used the death penalty, and its homicide
rate fell twenty percent over the next decade; North Dakota
went without Capital Punishment for the same ten years, and
homicide rates went up.
Similar before and after studies in Canada, England, and
other countries likewise found that the suggestion of Capital
Punishment had deterred murderers better than the prospect of
long prison terms. In Britain during the 1950’s, a typical
“lifer” actually served only seven years, compared with a much
tougher average, the United States life term today of twenty years.
Between 1930 and 1980 there have been 3,860 executions
in the United States. Of this number 3,380 had been executed
for murder. Rape, armed robbery, burglary, and aggravated assault
no longer are capital crimes.
Only thirty-two women have ever been executed. Since 1930
half of all persons executed were non white. Over 1,200 death row
inmates were awaiting execution by 1984.
In 1980, thirty-nine states had enacted death penalty laws.
From 1965 to 1983 favoritism of the death penalty has risen
thirty-two percent. Now, seventy percent of Americans favor
Washington D.C. had the highest murder rate in the country
with 35.1 murders per 100,000 population. Nevada is second
with twenty, Texas with 16.9, Florida at 14.5. South Dakota
has the lowest murder rate with .7 murders per 100,000
Since the Supreme Court rulings in the 1970’s up to 1984,
only sixteen death row inmates have been executed.
In America we have many criminals. Different societies have
different views on how these criminals should be punished. The
more harsh we are on the criminals and the more death penalties
we hand out, there will be a drastic drop in capital crime. Capital
Punishment is necessary in any imperfect society.