Capital Punishment

Essay by Steve1College, Undergraduate January 1996

download word file, 7 pages 3.8




Since our nation's founding, the government -- colonial, federal and state

-- has punished murder and, until recent years, rape with the ultimate

sanction: death. More than 13,000 people have been legally executed since

colonial times, most of them in the early 20th Century. By the 1930s, as

many as 150 people were executed each year. However, public outrage and

legal challenges caused the practice to wane. By 1967, capital punishment

had virtually halted in the United States, pending the outcome of several

court challenges.

In 1972, in _Furman v. Georgia_, the Supreme Court invalidated hundreds of

scheduled executions, declaring that then existing state laws were applied

in an 'arbitrary and capricious' manner and, thus, violated the Eighth

Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and the

Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees of equal protection of the laws and due

process. But in 1976, in _Gregg v.

Georgia_, the Court resuscitated the

death penalty: It ruled that the penalty 'does not invariably violate the

Constitution' if administered in a manner designed to guard against

arbitrariness and discrimination. Several states promptly passed or

reenacted capital punishment laws.

Thirty-seven states now have laws authorizing the death penalty, as does

the military. A dozen states in the Middle West and Northeast have

abolished capital punishment, two in the last century (Michigan in 1847,

Minnesota in 1853). Alaska and Hawaii have never had the death penalty.

Most executions have taken place in the states of the Deep South.

More than 2,000 people are on 'death row' today. Virtually all are poor,

a significant number are mentally retarded or otherwise mentally disabled,

more than 40 percent are African American, and a disproportionate number

are Native American, Latino and Asian.

The ACLU believes that, in all circumstances, the death penalty is

unconstitutional under...