Capital punishment is a very cruel and unusual punishment used to be justified as humane. When speaking of cruel and unusual punishment the death penalty ties within this saying as far as how these actions are carried out. The death penalty is a very cruel type of punishment in its self. The definition of cruel is anything which inflicts pain, or suffering, or causes injury to another. Along with this type of punishment and cruel actions are the obvious mental pain and psychological problems the guilty or accused face on death row while waiting for their death sentence to be carried out and completed. Physical pain is also actually being inflicted during these procedures as well. Lethal injections, which are seen as being the most effective and humane way to complete these sentences has their flaws when it comes to being humane to the convicted. If the needle is being penetrated inside the muscle instead of the vein, or it becomes clogged, extreme pain can be inflicted and will result. Since doctors cannot become involved in executions, problems like this do occur from inexperienced staff or technicians following through with these orders and committing these in inhumane actions toward individuals.
The Death penalty has been employed from the earliest of times by the British, and there has now been more than roughly 15,000 invested execution style murders and perhaps as many as 22,500 authorized executions-in America. These figures do not include the approximately 5,000 people lynched, many of them in the late 19th and 20th centuries (Vila, Morris, & Bedau, 1998). Throughout history, death has been the ultimate weapon of disorder. Many different countries imposed the death penalty and the main offense was murder. Executions were often gruesome. Flaying alive, boiling in oil, hurling from a tower, sawing asunder, crucifying, drawing, and questioning. Burnings at the stake, dismembering on the wheel, and decapitating are only some of the modes of execution used around the world (Laurence, 1950). There were eight capital crimes in the English common law: treason, petty treason, murder, larceny, robberies, burglaries, and arsons. The number increase dramatically between the 17th and 19th centuries. In 1688, there were 50 capital crimes. By 1820, there were more than 200 capital crimes. More of them were property crimes, which included minor offenses such as forgery of a note and theft of a handkerchief. In the last quarter of the 18th century the death penalty was exclusively for economic crimes (Radzinowicz, 1948). In the middle of the 18 century, more than two-thirds of those sentenced to death was executed, yet in the last decade of the century the proportion dropped to less than one-third. In the 19th century there were dramatic changes in English criminal law. By 1833, they had limited capital punishment to relatively serious offenses. After 1863, murder was the only crime that people would have been executed for. Treason and piracy remained capital crimes until 1965. Then England abolished the death penalty (Radzinowicz, 1948).
In the early colonies, the English settlers carried the death penalty to America. The crime that was punished by death varied among the colonies. The first capital laws of Massachusetts had twelve crimes, obtained from the Bible. They were doings such as witchcraft, killings, manslaughter, poisoning, sodomy, adultery, stealing, false statements by a witness in a capital jury and rebellion (including attempts and conspiracies) (Radzinowicz, 1948). In the time period of 1692, the hanging of convicted witches in Salem, Massachusetts graphically illustrated the use of capital punishment (Vila, Morris, & Bedau, 1998). In 1700, rape, arson, treason and third offense of theft of goods over a certain value were added. By 1780 the list of capital crimes were reduced to seven secular crimes: murder, sodomy, burglary, buggery, arson, rape and treason. Other colonies were more lenient in the beginning with their criminal codes. Pennsylvania’s act limited the death penalty to murder and treason, while in South Jersey original act did not authorize capital punishment (Id.). In the 18th century population of the colonies grew rapidly with the continuing immigration (Vila & Morris, 1998). One way to maintain public order in the middle of an increasing social and cultural diversity, this was to imply an expanded capital punishment laws. England required several colonies to adopt harsher codes in its attempt to retain political control. While the War of Independence, northern colonies imposed the death penalty for murdering, treason, rape, piracy, burglary, robbery, and even sodomy. In other places, committing counterfeiting and horse theft were capital crimes (Bedau, 1982).
Because of the European Enlightenment of the 18th century inspired calls for legal and penal reforms. Theories of crime prevention through education, rehabilitation of criminals, and proportionality between crimes and punishments entered public discussion. The ideas of Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria, who argued that capital punishment was extremely cruel and did not discourage crime. Also it should be replaced with life imprisonment and servitude as the penalty for murder, gained currency in the United States after the War of Independence (Bowers, 1984). Thomas Jefferson was not in favor of total abolishing the death penalty, but repeatedly introduced legislation in Virginia to substitute more proportionate sentences for capital offenses. In 1787, a man named Benjamin Rush, a physician and also a cosigner on the Declaration of Independence launched the first movement to ban the death penalty throughout the United States and transform prisons into reform penitentiaries where solitary remorse was to lead to rehabilitation. In the early 19th century, the penal reform movement lost momentum without having realized its goals (Bowers, 1984).
In Pennsylvania they divided murder into first and second degrees. First degree consisted of murdering by toxics, poisoning, or any other kind of willful, and premeditated murders. Any killing that is carried out or attempted to be carried out: arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, and all other murders were second degree. Capital punishment was still the mandatory penalty and was limited to first degree murders (Vila & Morris, 1998). Over the next 40 years, most states adopted the distinction between first and second degree murder. Without being affected by criticisms of the distinction was still uncertain and difficult to understand, and some states limited the death penalty to first degree murders. It gave the jury the authority to decide that a defendant, although guilty of murder, had not acted with sufficient calculation to warrant execution (Vila & Morris, 1998).
In the southern states capital punishment played a different part throughout history. It was a huge part in history dealing around slavery. In the south it was not limited to common law felonies. It was a powerful and unique approach for keeping the slave population in submission. Anything that deterred with the owning of slaves was punished and carried out by death. In 1837, North Carolina, which didn’t have a penitentiary, had about twenty-six capital punishment which included stealing of slaves, concealing slaves with intentions of freeing them, second conviction of encouraging slaves to have a violent uprising, and second conviction of giving slaves books to read (Paternoster, 1991). The death penalty was also imposed for taking a slave or mulatto that was freed to another state with the intent to sell him/her into slavery. In North Carolina the death penalty extended pass slavery. It also included stealing bank notes, crimes against nature (buggery, sodomy, bestiality); burning a public building, second offense of forgery and statutory rape (Bowers, 1984). In addition, the Black codes inside many south bound states where different between black slaves and Caucasian people. In the 1830s Virginia implied five capital crimes for white people, and seventy capital crimes for those of color. In the late1800’s Virginia passed several laws demanding the death penalty for black slaves for any offense broken, punishable by three or more year’s imprisonment for white folk. Discrimination racially codified the rape statues inside the state of Georgia (Bedau, 1982). In the year of 1816, the death penalty affected a slave or a “person of color” who has or attempted to rape a white female. At this time the state reduced the sentence from seven to a minimum two years and removed the hard labor requirement for a white man found guilty of rape. A white man convicted of raping slave women or free woman of color was punished only by a fine or imprisoned at the court’s discretion (Banner, 2002).
In the second quarter of the 19th century, the death penalty was used more than ever. They replaced public executions with executions inside prison walls. Anti-gallows societies were organized in the Northeast mostly. The first abolitionist activity occurred in the setting of the reform movements for abstinence of alcoholic drinks, women’s rights, the abolition movement of slavery, and better treatment of poor, imprisoned, and mentally ill people. Moral and religious arguments, rather than practical philosophy, often dominated the public debate (Haines, 1996). During this period, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island abolished the death penalty and there was in fact abolition in Maine. The campaign lost its momentum as slavery grew to have a commanding influence over the agenda, and the anti-gallows movement that was halted by the Civil War. The impact was clearly visible by the beginning of the Civil War. Crimes such as burglary and robberies been committed were no longer capital crimes in three-fourths of the states (Vila & Morris, 1996).
By the end of the 19th century, discretionary sentencing in capital cases came about as a somewhat established feature of the criminal justice system in America. Under the English and early American law, the death penalty was mandatory upon conviction of capital crime. Juries would free a guilty person or spare a sympathetic defendant from a death sentence. This problem of “jury nullification” led states to abolish mandatory death penalties in favor of discretionary sentencing statues that directly gave juries the option to impose the death penalty or lesser punishment (Bedau, 1982). As early as 1642, Massachusetts had an alternative penalty for some of the capital crimes but by 1780 had reverted to a mandatory death penalty. Tennessee, Maryland, Alabama, and Louisiana adopted discretionary capital punishment laws before the Civil War. Between 1860 and 1900, twenty other states and the federal government joined them and the trend continued into the 20th century (Vila & Morris, 1998).
After the Civil war the executions of convicted offenders was not important to most Americans. Abolitionist activities were happening in a few places in the first post-war decades. Maine and Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1870s and the reinstated in the 1880s (Bowers, 1984). Then Maine finally abandoned capital punishment in 1887. In the last years of the 19th century arguments against capital punishment was more focused on practical issues such as deterrence, religion, and morality (Vila & Morris, 1998). By World War I, Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin had abolished death penalties, except for murdering a police officer, murdering a prisoner, rape, and treason (Bowers, 1984).
The Black Codes were abolished in the south. All people would be punished accordingly to the laws of the free white man. Because of black peoples little involvement in the criminal justice system, the laws tended to be applied in a way that mimicked the old laws. In the 20th century lynching declined steadily each decade, particularly after the congress was going to enact an anti-lynching law (Bedau, 1982).