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Evolution of Death Penalty in America - Essay Example

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The major weaknesses of this study are concentrated on the evaluation of death penalty in America. The researcher states that while evaluating American death penalty history, Britain’s influence on America is more evident than any other factors…
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Evolution of Death Penalty in America
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Download file to see previous pages This paper illustrates that in American death penalty history, the first execution was recorded in 1608, and the victim was Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3,859 persons were executed under civil jurisdiction in the United States from 1930 to 1967. During this period, nearly 54% black and 45% white were executed whereas the remaining one percent was members of other racial groups including American Indians, Chinese, and Japanese. In this period, the number of executions in the state of Georgia represented more than nine percent of the national total. As Melissa points out, the number of executions in other US cities including Texas, California, and New York were 297, 292, and 329 respectively between 1930 and 1967. In addition, the US Army executed 160 persons during the same period. In the 1960s, the fundamental legality of the death penalty was widely questioned throughout the United States. Much legal personnel suggested that the capital punishment was “cruel and unusual” and hence it was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.  In the late 1960s, the Supreme Court restructured the way the capital punishment was administered. In 1971, the Court held that dealing with capital sentencing discretion was “beyond present human ability”; and later on the legality of the death penalty was again discussed before the Supreme Court in 1972 in landmark case Furman v. Georgia. (408 U.S. 238) (DPIC). The Court stated that since the jury had the power of complete sentencing discretion, it might result in arbitrary sentencing. On 29th June 1972, the Court held that existing death penalty statues were no longer valid and therefore, the Court voided 40 death penalty statutes, and suspended the death penalty practice in the US.
The overall holding in Furman reflected that particular capital sentencing statues were only unconstitutional and it influenced the Court to rethink about the legal validity of death penalty. As a result, the Court allowed states to rewrite their death penalty statutes to abolish the issues cited in Furman. Although some stats eliminated all unguided jury discretion by mandating death penalty for those convicted capital crimes, the Supreme Court held that this practice was unconstitutional. Some other states provided sentencing guidelines for the judge, and this practice allowed the “introduction of aggravating and migrating factors in determining sentencing” (DPIC). The Supreme Court approved these guided discretion statues in 1976. The ten-year moratorium on death penalty was ended on 17th January 1977 with the execution of Gary Gilmore. Finally, the state of New York also enacted death penalty law in 1995.
In response to the increasing objections against capital punishment, the US Supreme Court has framed some strict regulations on death penalty. As Johnson (2001) points out, one of the recent developments in the state of Texas is that it passed a bill of banning the execution of mentally retarded persons. The recent death penalty cases add to the earliest Supreme Court cases addressing capital punishment. While analyzing US death penalty data, it is evident that the highest number of executions was occurred between the period 1999 and 2005. However, the recent data show that the number of executions have significantly declined during the last five years. In 2009, only 37 persons were executed and this figure represents the least number for the last decade (DPIC 2). The current Court practices show that it rarely sentences death penalty. The recent cases including Penry v. Johnson, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, Atkins v. Virginia, and Roper, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center v. Simmons are some of the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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