It seemslogical that a person is less likely to commit a given act if by doing so hewill suffer swift and certain punishment of a horrible kind. As most Americansagree, death is the only appropriate punishment for such crimes. In ancient times’ executions were not uncommon. Even the Bible teachescapital punishment. It states, “Who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall hisblood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Bible).
In ancient times aset of laws were written which specified many crimes punishable by capitalpunishment. These laws were the Code of Hammurabi. Some of the punishablecrimes mentioned included adultery, robbery witchcraft, and murder. During theMiddle Ages, the Church assumed the responsibility of administering punishments.
During the late 1700’s the death penalty steadily grew in acceptance. Over200 crimes were punishable by death at the beginning of the 1800’s. There werejust as many methods used to execute wrong-doers as there were crimes. Some ofthe techniques used included beheading, stoning, drowning, hanging, crucifying,and burying people alive. Also used were many nontraditional forms ofexecution. One type of execution utilized elephants to crush the criminal’shead on a stone block.
As times changed, so did the death penalty. Laws aimed at abolishingthe death penalty began to evolve at the turn of the century. Even with thechanges made, the effectiveness of capital punishment stayed right on track. The crimes punishable by death became more specific, while some were eradicatedcompletely. For example, there are different types of capital murder that havebeen specifically defined, but vary from one jurisdiction to another. Theseinclude murder carried out during the commission of another felony, murder of apeace officer, corrections employee, or firefighter engaged in the performanceof official duties, murder by an inmate serving a life sentence, and murder forhire (Contract Murder).
Other crimes worthy of death include espionage by amember of the Armed Forces (communication of information to a foreigngovernment), tampering where death results by a witness, and death resultingfrom aircraft hijacking. While hangings and firing squads remained in use,many forms of execution were done away with. Methods such as electrocution,lethal gas, and lethal injection soon replaced the annulled ones. As withalmost everything, there were exceptions made.
Some states the prohibited theexecution of anyone mentally retarded. In 1901, Colorado made it a law thatcapital punishment would not be used if the accused was convicted only oncircumstantial evidence. The American public has long been favorably disposed toward capitalpunishment for convicted murderers, and that support continues to grow. In a1981 Gallup Poll, two-thirds of Americans voiced general approval of the deathpenalty.
That support rose to 72 percent in 1985, to 76 percent in 1991, andto 80 percent in 1994 (Moore, 1994:5). Although these poll results need to beinterpreted with extreme caution, it is clear that there are few issues onwhich more Americans agree: in at least some circumstances, death is seen as ajustifiable punishment for the worst sorts of criminal homicides. On the other hand, much of the public and political support for capitalpunishment rests on its presumed value as a general deterrent: we need thedeath penalty to encourage potential murderers to avoid engaging in criminalhomicide. Unlike the issue of retribution, empirical studies can answerquestions about the death penalty’s general deterrent effects.
To supporters of capital punishment, the statistics are pleasing. In thepast seventy years there have been 4,002 executions carried out in the UnitedStates. Approximately three-fifths of the executions were in the South. A tenyear interim began in 1967.
The states as well as many advocates waitedanxiously as the Supreme Court resolved the issue of the constitution versuscapital punishment. There have been 143 executions since its end in Utah. Statistics show that criminals convicted of murder make up 87% of the thoseexecuted. After the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building, a poll was takenwhich asked the question, “Do you think the persons responsible for the bombingshould receive the death penalty if caught?” The CNN USA Today Poll reportedthat 86% of the people replied YES (CNN USA Today Poll, 1994). These findingshave stayed constant with previous polls. The statistics for Texas are quiteinteresting.