Capital Punishment

Essay by Nudge83College, UndergraduateA+, March 2006

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I

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted," thus reads the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The term "cruel and unusual" first appeared in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The American draftsman who adopted the English phrasing for the Eighth Amendment were primarily concerned with proscribing tortures and other barbarous methods of punishment. For example, the medieval punishment of cutting off the hands of thieves seems to qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. While the practice of capital punishment has long been a part of our civilization, in the 1970's it came under close scrutiny by the Supreme Court of the United States and it has somewhat remained an issue ever since.

The landmark decision in 1976 in the case of Gregg v. Georgia the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment, provided that there are safeguards against any arbitrary or capricious imposition by juries.

The majority opinion reads, "the requirement of the Eighth Amendment must be applied with an awareness of the limited role played by the courts...while we have an obligation to ensure that constitutional bounds are not over-reached, we may not act as judges as we might as legislators...therefore, in assessing a punishment selected by a democratically elected legislature against the constitutional measure, we presume its validity."

While I appreciate that the Justices know their place in our system of government, I cannot help but rejoice in the freedom that I, along with the rest of humanity, possess, that we may decide whether or not capital punishment is a just form of punishment without being hamstrung by the formalities that are evident in our government. Furthermore, I intend to show that given...