In the United States Constitution, the 8th Amendment prohibits the use and practices of cruel and unusual punishment. What exactly is considered to be cruel and unusual punishment? This question is a hot topic among America’s many different current controversies. Many people are saying that the use of capital punishment (to be sentenced to death as a penalty in the eyes of the law [a capital crime]. An execution [capital punishment]) is a direct violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (Capital Punishment).
They say there should be another way to deal with these criminals other than having them executed. The purpose of this paper is to give a brief history of the death penalty and state some alternative forms of punishment along with opposing viewpoints. As t which one is right, that’s up to you to decide. Capital punishment has been a part of our government since the seventeenth century (The Death Penalty in America). The criminal law that we had here was just a variation colony by colony, on the law of England.
Although the capital law of the thirteen colonies differed from one another, many interesting and important details concerning the death penalty and various other things occurred during the century and a half of the colonial period. All of the colonies authorized public executions by hanging as the mandatory punishment for various crimes against the state, the person, and the property (The Death Penalty in America). In the early nineteenth century, English criminal law imposed the death penalty for a wide range of crimes from murder, treason, rape, to such stupid things as petty theft.
Of all of the nonhomocidal crimes particularly by death, rape was by far the most numerous. Some ten percent of all executions carried out between 1930 and 1977 were for rape. Those who opted to keep the death penalty did so because they thought that it would act as a discouragement for would be criminals and to keep the community safe. In theory it seemed clear-cut, but does it work? America has had more violent crimes this century than in any other time in its history. The only real point that both sides can agree upon is that the death penalty stops the convicted murder from ever killing again.
Some say that this reason is enough to keep the death penalty. There are currently five different ways to carry out the death penalty in the United States. The first is death by firing squad. Death occurs because of massive damage to the body’s vital organs, heart, central nervous system, or by a combination of these different effects with hemorrhage (The Execution Protocol). Probably the quickest way to execute a human being with a gun is to fire a single bullet from a piston at point blank range into the head. Yet in Idaho and Utah, the law specifies a five-man rifle squad. Execution by firing squad has a long history in America.
The first recorded execution by firing squad was in 1608, when George Kendall, one of the original councilors in the colony of Virginia was put to death (The Execution Protocol). People opposed to the death penalty say that being shot to death if a form of cruel and unusual punishment. There have been cases where the marksmen have missed the shot and it has taken a man over an hour to die from his wounds. Another problem with this form of execution is that some members of the firing squad have been known to aim away from the man’s heart, shooting him where it would take longer to die.
This happened on September 10, 1951, in the execution of Elisio Mares. During his execution, all five of the marksmen aimed away from the target over Mares heart and shot him on the right side of his chest. The firing squad and witnesses watched in horror as Mares slowly bled to death (The Execution Protocol). When Gary Gilmore was shot to death in Utah in 1973, all four bullets pierced his heart. However, heart death was not immediate, and the doctor had to check twice before pronouncing him dead, two minutes after the firing squad had let go its lethal volley (The Execution Protocol).
The second is hanging until dead. Prior to the British refinements of the hanging procedure in the nineteenth century, the punishment consisted of looping the rope around the condemned man’s neck and dropping him from a height so that the rope tightened, causing a slow death–in some cases of up to ten minutes have been reported to pass by before death comes– by asphyxiation. Activist opposes this form of execution because of its apparent cruelty. The condemned person does not die immediately and suffers greatly. Before losing consciousness, the strangled victim face turns purple as he struggles for air.
His eyes bulge, his tongue hangs out, and he loses control of his sphincter (The Death Protocol). Later in 1888, the British government reports details of a method of hanging designed to cause instant death through the dislocation of the vertebrae. Yet this too had its down side. Miscalculations about the length of rope to the weight of the victim caused decapitation in most cases (The Death Protocol). Another idea for the death penalty was the gas chamber. D. A. Turner, a major in the United States Medical Corps, invented the gas chamber in 1924. Turner began studying the effects of gas warfare during World War I.
The lethal gas shells had a variety of names, but the result was always the same. Breathing in cyanide gas paralyzes the heart and lungs. The victim becomes giddy. Opposes to the death penalty dislike this form of execution because of the apparent distress of the victim. After the victim has passes his initial state of panic, he begins to have severe headaches, followed by chest pains. Respiration becomes impossible, so that as the victim struggles for breath, their eyes pop, and their tongues hang thick and swollen from their drooling mouths. His face turns purple from lack of oxygen and then he finally dies (The Execution Protocol).
After the 1983 execution of Jimmy Lee Gary of Mississippi, several witnesses reported that he had convulsions for eight minutes; that he gasped eleven times during that period; and that he repeatedly struck his head on a pole behind him while struggling in the gas chamber. Anxious prison officials at Parchman Farm finally ordered the witnesses to leave the observation area. As they left, Gray was still banging his head on the pole in his death struggle (The Death Protocol). In the late 1970’s and early1980’s, lethal injection was the up and coming method.
Lethal injection, which was supposed to be neat and clean, also had its savage aspects. In May of 1992, it took forty-seven minutes for the execution team to insert the IV into Billy Wayne White. Once White helped them locate a vein, it took nine minutes for him to die. In May of 1989, an incorrect mix of the lethal drug caused Stephen McCoy to choke and heave throughout his execution (The Death Protocol). Another mishap followed the one above in December when an IV line carrying a lethal injection into the arm of Raymond Landry sprang a leak, spraying technicians and witnesses with the fatal drug.
The tube had to be reinserted while Landry was half-dead. It took another twenty-four minutes for him to die (The Death Protocol). The final and probably most liked form of execution is the electric chair. Since the 1980’s, botched electrocutions have made sensational headlines. In Virginia’s execution of Albert Clozza on July 24, 1991, faulty electrodes and improperly applied voltage led to a slow and agonizing death. Steam pressure in Clozza’s head caused his eyeballs to pop so that blood ran down his chest from the sockets. Florida State Prison had perhaps the most gruesome execution in America’s history.
Flames, smoke, and sparks shot six inches out of the head of Jessie Tafera as three 2000-volt shocks were administered (The Death Protocol). The case that really opened the door for capital punishment was Furman vs. Georgia. On August 11, 1963, William Henry Furman prepared to force his way into the back door of a house at 508 West 63rd street in Savannah Georgia (Furman vs. Georgia: The Constitution and the Death Penalty). All that he had planned on doing was robbing a supposedly empty house and selling his goods. If he had known what he was going to get into, he would have never tried it.
Furman believed that no one was home in the dark house, but William Micke, his wife, and their five children were home asleep. Micke heard noises in the house, thinking it was his sleepwalking son; he went to check it out only to find Furman in his home. Furman panicked and tried to fun but Micke closed the door behind him. Furman fired once then exited the house. Unknown to Furman, he had hit Micke in the chest and he had died from his wounds. Lanell, wife of the victim called the police and they found Furman lying under his house. Furman was arrested and formally charged with murder.
From this case, the Supreme Court stated that the use of capital punishment was not unconstitutional (Furman vs. Georgia: Constitution and the Death Penalty). Many opposers of the death penalty say that life in prison is just as good as the death penalty. They also say that a person can change. They would allow a convicted murder the chance for probation and a chance to kill again. They would also allow the convicted person to be on a work release program. Is the death penalty fair and just? That depends on the person and the circumstance, so who is right and who is wrong? That’s up to the courts to decide.