The death penalty, or capital punishment as it is commonly known, is one of the issues that have raised controversy not only in the United States, but all over the globe. Undoubted, this subject remains a thorny issue in the world entirely. The United States remains one of the few countries in the world, where the capital punishment is still executed. Whereas some individuals are of the view that this kind of punishment is barbaric in nature and contravenes moral values, others argue that it is a crucial instrument and deterrent in dealing with intended and often violent murder. From the legal perspective, death penalty is described as the killing of an individual through a judicial process for vengeance or incapacitation. Ideally, capital punishment is applicable on capital offenses. It is imperative to note that what is considered capital offenses differs from one country to another. Although it is still applied in the United States, the death penalty is losing support from both the legal and moral perspective, due to its failure to achieve the intended purpose, and limitations on the way it is implemented, as well as its impacts on the society in general.
Scope/History of death penalty and people who have been affected
The use of the death penalty as a mode of punishing the most heinous of crimes dates back to the Roman times. Beheading was common practice for punishing murderers and deserters at war. As several countries settled into the nations we know today, the death penalty was reviewed and abolished by most nations. Today, however, some nations still use the death penalty. Precisely, the death penalty has been used in different countries from the close of the year 1920. According to the report of Amnesty International in 2005, the United States was ranked in the fourth position worldwide for the number of executions carried out. The top three included Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia, countries that the United States argue to be the least democratic and worst abusers of human rights. There has been a decline in the number of death sentences and executions. For instance, in 2009, new death sentences were recorded in the past four decades, and it appears that it will continue to decline in the future. In addition, the number of people actually executed has considerably reduced, by almost half the recorded number in 1990s.
It is approximated that, in the past 25 years since the reintroduction of the death penalty, more than 700 people have been executed in the United States. These executions are accounted for by 32 states out of the 38 states that have legally allowed the death penalty. It has also been observed that about 80% of these executions have been carried out in the South. The highest number of executions was recorded in 1999, following the execution of 98 people. In the following year, 2000, 85 people were executed. The number decreased further in 2001, following the execution of only 58 people. Since then, the number of executions in the country has decreased even further. Based on these statistics, it is evident that the death penalty is losing support not only from the public, but also from the legal perspective. Perhaps, one of the reasons behind this decline is the decision of the United States Supreme Court to reconsider the implementation of this punishment for people considered mentally retarded.
The arguments put forth by the opponents of the death penalty, have played a pivotal role in the decline of both the number of death sentences as well as the number of people actually executed (affected by the death penalty). To begin with, opponents claim that the death penalty has failed to achieve its core purpose, of deterrence. The death penalty was intended to deter people from committing capital crimes, such as rape, robbery with violence, and murder. Following its re-introduction, capital crimes were on the increase in the United States. Although these crimes were reported to decline during this period, still such crimes were being committed. Studies have fairly time and again shown that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent. In a period during which a high number of death sentence and executions were recorded, the rates of capital crimes also increased.
Crimes that qualify for capital punishment
The first crime that is punished by the death penalty is murder. In addition the perpetrators of mass killings and those who help to facilitate for genocide should be punished using the death penalty. It is also justifiable to execute the entire group of terrorists since their actions are mainly aimed at instilling fear into humans through their activities. It is however very crucial to conduct a thorough investigation to establish firm and credible evidence in the fairest manner before execution is done, failure to which justice will not have prevailed. The act of raping a child or an elder adult should also be punishable using the death penalty. The reason behind this is that, the children and elderly people get overwhelmed by such acts to the extent that their lives become distorted. Many are the instances where rape results in the death of the victim or they acquire non-curable terminal diseases. Such criminals deserve to be executed as this is the only certain way to ensure that they never carry out such crimes again.
Why death penalty is an important topic in the United States
The topic on death penalty has and continues to remain a significant topic in the context of the United States. This can be accredited to the fact that the United States still allows the death penalty in its judicial system. Americans have always argued as to the effectiveness of the death penalty. Several issues have been brought the fold when it comes to discussion of possibly eliminating the entire capital punishments system. In the United States it is only those convicted of having committed murder or other capital offenses that received the death penalty. The Supreme Court reinstated that capital punishment cannot be regarded as unconstitutional, cruel or unusual. The punishment exists between the 8th and 14th amendments of the constitution. The capital punishment has also been extended to those who have been found guilty of raping, or sexually assaulting children.
The law is however supported by a few states and has limitations that influence the decision warranting death penalty for the crime. Some of the variables considered are the age of the minor, number of convictions of the perpetrator, and the state of injuries or bodily harm received by the victim. Crimes that earlier on received death penalties are arson, rape, robbery with violence, and counterfeiting. This has, however, changed over time because of the change in values and beliefs. Many of the states have prohibited the death penalty completely or have reserved it for a limited number of criminal activities. From the above analysis, death penalty revolves around various contexts in the United States; hence, has and continues to remain a comprehensive topic in this country.