The Controversy Surrounding the Death Penalty

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The Controversy Surrounding the Death Penalty

Is the death penalty fair? Is it humane? Does it deter crime? The answers to these questions vary depending on who answers them. The issue of capital punishment raises many debates. These same questions troubled Americans just as much in the day of the Salem witch trials as now in the say of Timothy McVeigh. During the time of the Salem witchcraft trials they had the same problem as present society faces. Twenty innocent people had been sentenced to death. It was too late to reverse the decision and the jurors admitted to their mistake. The execution of innocent people is still a major concern for American citizens today.

Capital punishment barely made its way into American society. In Britain, public executions were festive and frequent in the 15th century. At the same time a movement to abolish the death penalty gained support throughout Europe. In 1753, Russia became the first important nation to ban the death penalty. The English instilled the death penalty upon America when it was just a colony. Ben Franklin opposed the death penalty as he helped write the Bill of Rights and the well alluded to 8th Amendment. In 1846 Michigan was the first to repeal capital punishment. By 1917, ten states had repealed capital punishment.

By the mid 1960s, the death penalty seemed fated for extinction. Only seven executions were conducted in 1965 and only one in 1966. For about ten years supporters and opposers of capital punishment looked to the Supreme Court for a final ruling on the constitutionality of the death penalty. The word came out in 1976 in the case of Gregg v. Georgia. The court ruled that, " the punishment of death does not violate the Constitution."

Many call capital punishment unconstitutional and point to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution for support. The amendment states that, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines be imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment be inflicted." Those who oppose the death penalty target the 'cruel and unusual' phrase as an explanation of why it is unconstitutional. Since the Framers of the Constitution are no longer with us and we base our nation on the words in which that document contains, the legality of the death penalty is subject to interpretation. Since there is some ambiguity or lack of preciseness in the Constitution, heated debate surrounding this issue has risen in the last ten years.

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