The Evolution of Capital Punishment

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The Evolution of Capital Punishment

Ever since there has been crime, there has been punishment. One form of punishment that has existed since the beginning of society is capital punishment. As crime and societies have evolved over time, so have capital punishment, its forms, and its reasons for use. Capital punishment is defined as the execution or death for a capital offense. (Hill & Hill 1995: 75) A capital offense is defined as being any criminal charge that is punishable by the death penalty. (Hill & Hill 1995: 75) A capital offense usually means that no bail will be allowed.

Capital punishment has existed since the earliest civilizations such as the ancient Greeks, Romans, and even the English have existed. Death sentences were not only carried out centuries ago, but they were also given out as sentences in formal courts. In ancient Greece, the death penalty was ordered for what are known as minor crimes in modern day living. The rules of Rome were not much more merciful to say the least. Starting a fire or even disturbing the peace after dark could fuel such a verdict as death by fire or worse. And finally in England, there were over 200 offenses that could be punishable by death. (Landon 1992: 9)

The English, were in fact, the main reasons as to why the death penalty exists in America. Capital punishment became a very important part of the written rules at the time of the first wave of colonists that arrived in America. The rules varied from colony to colony although the rules remained quite similar all the same. (Landon 1992: 10) The death penalty in very early America was the end result of a murderous conviction the majority of the time although it was put to use for many other crimes.

Due to the fact that there was no separation of power between the church and the American government and the fact that a simple accusation could cost somebody their life, the 8th and then later on, the 14th amendments were created. The 8th amendment states that “Excessive bail or fines and cruel punishment are prohibited. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The 14th amendment then states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or...

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...t is awfully convenient to be able to go both ways on such a subject.

It is fascinating to be able to notice the evolution of such an important subject in our history and how it is still changing. It is worth noting that the death penalty is not simply the most serious criminal punishment there is to offer, but is has and is still a social, moral, and legal problem in society. It was a problem 200 years ago and still is today. It is a subject that all people most likely will not be able to come to an agreement on, but it is one that will continue to evolve so all we can do for now is watch and see.


1. Hill, Gerald N., and Kathleen Thompson Hill. Real Life Dictionary of the Law. Los Angeles, General Publishing Group, Inc., 1995

2. Zimering, Franklin E., and Gordon Hawkins. Capital Punishment and the American Agenda. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986

3. Berns, Walter. For Capital Punishment: Crime and the Morality of the Death Penalty. New York, Basic Books Inc., 1979

4. Landon, Elaine. Teens and the Death Penalty. Hillside, Enslow Publishers, 1992

5. Herda, D.J. Furman v. Georgia. Springfield, Enslow Publishers, 1994