History of the Death Penalty in the US

Irrespective of the level of development, any society is preoccupied with justice in the first place. Since there are different kinds of crimes, the severity of punishment varies depending on how much damage was caused to the society or a person. Thus, capital crimes result in death penalty, or capital punishment, which serves “two principal social purposes: retribution and deterrence of capital crimes by prospective offenders” (Delfino & Day 1). Death penalty is a form of punishment for capital offenses which was introduced in the USA in the 17th century and which has been changing throughout the years; it will always remain a disputable issue due to its being both beneficial and destructive for the society.

To begin with, the death penalty has its own history. First death penalty laws were introduced already in the 18th century B.C. by “the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon” (Herrmann 5) which outlined 25 major crimes leading to capital punishment. Closer to the 10th century A.D. the execution of people through hanging was quite usual in the Great Britain. The laws of death penalty which existed in Great Britain back then had a considerable impact on the U.S. death penalty laws with the first execution in the latter country being registered in 1608 in Jamestown (Herrmann 6). In the United Stated the death penalty laws were unstable and differed from colony to colony. In most of the cases, they were imposed for treason and murder.

Starting from the 17th century, however, the death penalty laws underwent numerous changes and were even abolished in some states. First attempts to revise death penalty laws were made during the colonial times. Since the primary purpose of the death penalty was deterrence, numerous debates arose as for its effectiveness in fighting with criminality. According to the then statistics, capital punishment only increased criminal conduct, which is why considering the degrees of murders basing on culpability was necessary. This resulted in spreading of capital punishment on the first degree murders only with Pennsylvania being the first to adopt such a law in 1794 (Herrmann 6). During the 19th century, most of the states followed Pennsylvania’s example with executions starting to be carried out in correctional facilities, rather than in public. At present, capital punishment exists in 37 states of the USA with lethal injection being the most widely used method of execution.

Death penalty, like any issue of this kind, has its pros and cons. The main benefit consists in its reducing the level of criminality through eliminating the possibility of repeated commission. In addition, the issue of vengeance (on the part of the victim’s relatives) also makes a contribution in supporting the death penalty. However, since there is no perfect system of justice, the possibility of mistake in sentencing a person to death is also high. Thus, if a person is unfairly accused of a crime and then sentenced to death, there is no way cancelling the verdict, which results in the punishment of an innocent citizen.

Therefore, the death penalty emerged as a means of punishing people for capital offenses. It has been changing throughout the centuries with death penalty laws being adopted and amended in all the states of America. Capital punishment is still practiced at present, despite the fact that it has its cons in result of which innocent citizens may be sentenced to death.

Works Cited

Delfino, Michelangelo and Day, Mary E. Death Penalty USA 2003 – 2004. Los Altos, CA : MoBeta Publishing, 2008.

Herrman, Jacqueline. The History of the Death Penalty in the United States: Presented and Analyzed on the Basis of Selected U.S. Supreme Court Cases. Berlin: GRIN Verlag, 2008.

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