Free Essay on Death Penalty

A man sitting in a dark room is blindfolded. His legs and his hands are tied. 2,000 thousand volts of electricity rip through his body. It only takes five seconds for this man to be dead. He wasn’t a victim of a random crime nor is he sitting in a casino basement. This scene that I just described is perfectly legal in America. He just received the harshest penalty the American justice system can administer. Capital punishment continues to be a controversial topic in American culture.

In this paper I will analyze the economic and emotional costs associated with the death penalty both within the United States and throughout the world. This paper will also review the current statistics concerning this issue and develop reasonable arguments as to whether or not capital punishment is an effective and ethical solution to the problems of crime in America.

The earliest records indicate that the death penalty first became a common practice in the Eighteenth Century B.C. under the codified laws of King Hammaurabi of Babylon. Twenty five different crimes were formally punishable by death. The practice of death penalty was continued in the Seventh Century B.C under Draconian rule in Athens. Under this code, the death penalty was imposed for all crimes committed. By the 10th century A.D., capital punishment became the standard practice in England. Hanging became the accepted method of death, and by the 16th century, as many as 72,000 people were executed in England under Henry VIII (History of death penalty, 2000:2). England influenced America’s use of the death penalty through their colonization of the continent. The first recorded execution in America occurred in Virginia in 1608 when Captain George Kendall was executed for treason. In 1612 the divine, moral and martial laws were enacted, which allowed the death penalty to be issued for other minor offenses (History of death penalty, 2002:1). Thus, the stage was set for the issuance of the death penalty in America.

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Currently not all states practice capital punishment. As of 2002, only 38 of the fifty states legally permit the death penalty. From all the states that permit the death penalty, Texas leads the nation in the number of people executed per year. In 2002, Texas executed more people than any other state. Figure1 illustrates the states that permit the death penalty and the number of prisoners executed from each state. States such as Washington, New Mexico and New Jersey execute very few people, while states like Alabama, California and Texas have very high executions rates. As shown in figure1 a states geographical location influences its execution rate.

According to the death penalty year end report, 86% of the executions in 2002 occurred in the South, 13% and 1% in the Midwest. There were no executions recorded in the North East. A report released on September 12, 2000, found that of the 682 cases sent to the justice department for review 40% were scene by five jurisdictions (The Federal death penalty, 2003:4). I

As a whole, there has been a change in both the number of people sentenced to death and those that are actually executed. The complex bureaucratic structure of the justice system, and the slow process involved in actually carrying out an execution has influenced the disparity between those sentenced to death and those that are actually executed. Figure 2 illustrates that 159 inmates had received a sentence of death in 2002. This chart also demonstrates the number of people sentenced to death in America since 1994. As the data show the number of persons sentenced to death has decreased steadily since 1994, with the exception of a slight increase in 1998. The figure also illustrates the profound drop in inmates under the sentence of death since the year 2001.

A possible reason for such drop was the response to the terrorist attacks on September 11. It is my opinion that this drop can be attributed to America shifting its focus from a domestic perspective to an international one. However, in examining this topic on a broader scale the disparity is even more pronounced. Figure 3 clearly explains the sharp divide between the number of people sentenced to the death penalty and the number of people executed. This study is interesting because it tracks the data as far back as 1980 until the present and allows us to analyze the information over a much broader span of time.

Many opponents of the death penalty contend that a number of the sentences are racially motivated. In fact, the U.S. general accounting office found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty” (Racial Prejudices, 2003:1). This is especially highlighted in a recent study conducted in the city of Philadelphia, which found that the odds of receiving a death sentence is nearly four times higher in the city if the defendant is black (Racial Prejudices, 2003:1). Many critics also contend that the majority of the studies show that the most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.

Table 1 Race of defendants executed
Race/ Ethnicity Percent of defendants executed
Black 34
Hispanic 6
White 57
Other 2
Source: Death Penalty Information Center (

Table 2 Race of Victims in death penalty cases
Race/ Ethnicity Percent of victims in death penalty cases
White 81%
Black 14%
Hispanic 4%
Other 2%

*Over 80% of capital cases involve white victims, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims are white.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center (

Since 1997, 290 blacks have been put to death since America begun resuming judicial killing in 1977 (Amnesty International, 2003:2) While blacks make up 12% of the national population, they account for more than 40% of the current death row inmates (Amnesty International, 2003:2). According to figure 3, 1,554 African Americans were sentenced to death in 2003.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics: table 2 , Persons of death by race, 1992-2002

In 1994, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice wrote: “Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die”.

Other issues concerning this topic include gender discrimination. Women currently account for nearly 10% of all murder arrests. But the proportion between women and man on death row remains very large. Women account for only 1.9% of all death sentences imposed in trial and on…

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