The Death Penalty
Research Paper-Week 08
July 22, 2018
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The death penalty was introduced in the 18th Century B.C. in Babylon by King
Hammurabi in which they used the death penalty for 25 different crimes. The death penalty also
was used in the 14th and 7th Centuries but they were a bit harsher because they used the death
penalty for all crimes committed by individuals. In those centuries, death sentences included
crucifixion, burning alive, drowning and beating someone to death. Hanging became part of the
death penalty in the 10th Century A.D.. rulers allowed any forms of death sentences except for
William the Conqueror who did not allow hanging except in times of war and for treason.
Treason until present day can receive the death penalty. Henry VIII highest the rate of death
sentences in which totaled tom about 72,000 people under his reign and his methods of the death
penalty consistented of hanging, boiling, beheading, and even burning at the stake. By the 1700s,
the death penalty included offenses which in present day we call misdemeanors like stealing.
Juries would not convict many defendants if the offense was not too serious because the death
penalty was given for almost any petty crime committed. (Randa, 1977)
The death penalty came about in America by the British. When America was discovered
by Europeans they brought along the death penalty as means of capital punishment. The first
execution recorded in the colonies was Captain Goerge Kendall in Jamestown Colony in
Virginia in 1608. The Divine, Moral, and Marital Laws were enacted in 1612 by Governor Sir
Thomas Dale which allowed the death penalty to be used for minor offenses which we consider
misdemeanors in our time. The misdemeanors in our day and age receive a fine and/or 1-year
county jail time. In their time, petty theft would cost you your life. Other colonies like
Massachusetts created their own laws in which a defendant could get the death penalty and many
of their offenses were breaking the Ten Commandments. Dr. Benjamin Rush believed that the
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death penalty was being used as a deterrent but instead it increased criminal conduct of
decreasing crime. (Schabas, 1997)
In America, Philadelphia was the first state to consider the death penalty by the degree of
crimes. In 1794, the state was using the death penalty only for first-degree murder. By this time,
many states started making penitentiaries to house criminals instead of just using the death
penalty. In the 1800s, the states started executing inmate inside the penitentiaries instead of
making them public. The last public execution was in 1936, where a Kentucky man was hung
and people from all the over that states came just to witness the executions. Some states even
charged an admission to watch the executions. Executions now can have relatives of victims and
prisoner, spiritual advisor, warden, and correctional officers but it also varies from state-state
policies. Michigan in 1846 was the first state to abolish the death penalty except of course the
death penalty in cases of treason. Rhode Island and Wisconsin followed Michigan in abolishing
the death penalty. (Bohm, 1999 and Schabas, 1997) Capital punishment was allowed for slaves
who committed just about any crime. In 1888, the first electric chair was created in New York
and in 1890, William Kemmler was the first inmate executed by the electric chair which we no
longer use because it was considered inhumane.
In the early 1900s, six more states had abolished the death penalty and three states were
using the death penalty for cases of treason or first-degree murder of a law enforcement official
but then as WWI progressed 5 out of the 6 states reinstated the death penalty. (Bedau, 1997 and
Bohm, 1999) Nevada was the first to try using cyanide gas as a method for the death penalty and
the first person executed with the cyanide gas was Gee John in which the penitentiary tried
pumping the gas into the cell which did not work out very well. During the Great Depression, it
saw its highest rate of executions than in any other decade. Texas currently has the highest rate
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of executions since 1976 followed by Virginia but it doesn’t even come close to Texas. By the
70s, the inmates being executed had declined drastically.
By the 60s, the death penalty was being challenged as a cruel and unusual punishment. I
believe if you take someone’s life why should we spare you your life? There are crimes which
someone should be given the death penalty as their sentence especially in cases of children,
elderly, and handicapped because they obviously cannot defend themselves. The first case was
U.S. v. Jackson (390 U.S. 570), where the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding a provision
of the federal kidnapping statute requiring that the death penalty be imposed only upon
recommendation of a jury. The Court held that this practice was unconstitutional because it
encouraged defendants to waive their right to a jury trial to ensure they would not receive a death
sentence. The other 1968 case was Witherspoon v. Illinois (391 U.S. 510). In this case, the
Supreme Court held that a potential juror’s mere reservations about the death penalty were
insufficient grounds to prevent that person from serving on the jury in a death penalty case.
Jurors could be disqualified only if prosecutors could show that the juror’s attitude toward capital
punishment would prevent him or her from making an impartial decision about the punishment.
In 1971, the Supreme Court again addressed the problems associated with the role of jurors and
their discretion in capital cases. The Court decided Crampton v. Ohio and McGautha v.
California (consolidated under 402 U.S. 183). The defendants argued it was a violation of their
Fourteenth Amendment right to due process for jurors to have unrestricted discretion in deciding
whether the defendants should live or die, and such discretion resulted in arbitrary and capricious
sentencing. Crampton also argued that it was unconstitutional to have his guilt and sentence
determined in one set of deliberations, as the jurors in his case were instructed that a first-degree
murder conviction would result in a death sentence. The Court, however, rejected these claims,
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thereby approving of unfettered jury discretion and a single proceeding to determine guilt and
sentence. The Court stated that guiding capital sentencing discretion was “beyond present human
There have been debates over the death penalty since the beginning of the death penalty,
is it humane or justifiable? Some people even state that we are not God to judge and take
someone’s life into our hands. I live in Texas and here we believe in an eye for eye especially
when it comes to crimes committed against children, elderly, handicapped, and law officials. The
issue of arbitrariness of the death penalty was again be brought before the Supreme Court in
1972 in Furman v. Georgia, Jackson v. Georgia, and Branch v. Texas (known collectively as the
landmark case Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238)). Furman, like McGautha, argued that capital
cases resulted in arbitrary and capricious sentencing. Furman, however, was a challenge brought
under the Eighth Amendment, unlike McGautha, which was a Fourteenth Amendment due
process claim. With the Furman decision the Supreme Court set the standard that a punishment
would be “cruel and unusual” if it was too severe for the crime, if it was arbitrary, if it offended
society’s sense of justice, or it if was not more effective than a less severe penalty. After this
case, Florida and 34 other states proceeded to enact new death penalty statutes. These guided
discretion statutes were approved in 1976 by the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia (428 U.S.
153), Jurek v. Texas (428 U.S. 262), and Proffitt v. Florida (428 U.S. 242), collectively referred
to as the Gregg decision. This landmark decision held that the new death penalty statutes in
Florida, Georgia, and Texas were constitutional, thus reinstating the death penalty in those states.
The Court also held that the death penalty itself was constitutional under the Eighth Amendment.
On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed in Utah by a firing squad. That year,
Oklahoma became the first state to adopt the lethal injection as a means of execution. On
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December 7, 1982, Charles Brooks became the first person to be executed in Texas by the lethal
Like anything else in the legal field, there are some exceptions to the death penalty and
some I agree with and some I don’t for instance, if you brutally rape a woman but she survives
then the offender will not receive the death penalty. I believe in those cases, you try each case
differently depending on actual crime committed, how it was crime, what was used to rape or
sodomized the victim, and the lasting effects on the victim. If she was brutally raped and now is
confined to a wheelchair but the offender is still able to walk around the penitentiary, how is that
justice for the victim. The Supreme Court does not allow people are legally insane to be given
the death penalty which is understandable, but too may offenders try to use the insanity card in
their cases. Juvenile offenders are also an exception to the death penalty because of their age and
mental ability. Currently in the United States, 19 states with the death penalty will not execute
anyone under the age of 18.
Women are no exception to the death penalty, the first woman to be executed in the
United States was Jane Champion back in 1632 in Virginia, she was hung but her crime has been
never known. In 1633, a second woman in Virginia, Margaret Hatch, was hung for murder. The
first woman in Texas to be executed by hanging was Chipita Rodriguez in 1863 for murder.
Texas which has the rate of executions, also has the highest rate of women executions, since
1976, 16 women have been executed. Women are only about 3% of all executions in the United
In Texas, since 1976 to present time, 552 offenders have been executed. Texas which has
the rate of executions accounts for about one-third of all executions in the United States. In my
town of Lubbock, we have had about 25 executions from Lubbock or around our city. The crime
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of murder in Texas must be a capital offense which includes murdering a law official or public
safety official, commit murder while committing another crime like robberyor aggravated
kidnapping, commit murder while escaping from a penitentiary or murders an official of the
prison unit or other inmate, murders multiple victims at one time, or murders anyone under the
age of 10 years of age.
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Amnesty International, “List of Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries,” Report ACT 50/01/99,
Updated June 2004
Baker, D. “A Descriptive Profile and Socio-Historical Analysis of Female Executions in the
United States: 1632-1997”; 10(3) Women and Criminal Justice 57 (1999)
Bedau, H., editor, “The Death Penalty in America: Current Controversies,” Oxford University
Bohm, R. “Deathquest: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Capital Punishment in the
United States,” Anderson Publishing, 1999.
O’Shea, K., “Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998,” Praeger 1999.
Randa, L., editor, “Society’s Final Solution: A History and Discussion of the Death Penalty,”
University Press of America, 1997.
Schabas, W. “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law,” Cambridge University
Press, second edition, 1997.