The death penalty refers to a form of sentence or punishment imposed by law courts which involves execution of a criminal for engagement in certain criminal activities. The death penalty involves putting an individual to death as a punishment for a particular criminal activity. Death penalties are usually ordered by law courts but executed by the state. The death penalty is also known as capital punishment or a death sentence.
The death penalty is currently being practiced in various countries all over the world. According to Berns, the death penalty is actively practiced in nearly fifty-five nations worldwide, while some countries which used to practice it have abolished it due to its cruelty (159). Countries such as China, Indonesia and the United State of America are some of the countries which practice capital punishment to date.
Criminal activities that lead to capital punishments are called capital offences or capital crimes. Examples of capital crimes include murder, adultery, treason, and mutiny. It is worth noting that various nations or societies have various offences that they consider capital offences. For example, China considers human trafficking as a capital offence, whereas in Islamic countries such as Pakistan and Arabia, apostasy may lead to the punishment by death.
According to Bessler, the history of the death penalty dates back to the beginning of traditional societies (510). In traditional societies, most offences that could not be punished through compensation, shunning or any other lesser penalty were often punished through death punishment either by stoning to death or hanging by a rope. Various forms of punishments were used as penalties to death. For example, offenders were usually put in boiling waters until they die, stoned to death, crucified or executed through burning. In certain societies, offenders were shot by guns. The first death penalty was executed in the eighteenth century Before Christ in Babylon under the rule of King Hammaurabi. In the fourteenth century Before Christ, the Hittie Code also allowed punishment of offenders through death penalties.
History of the Death Penalty in the United States of America. According to Banks, the first death penalty to be executed in the United States of America took place in 1608 (301). In this punishment, the offender, Mr. George Kendall, was hanged to death for allegedly spying for the government of Spain. It is believed that George Kendall was a resident of James colony, which is currently the state of Virginia.
The death penalty in the United States of America is deeply rooted in the British laws. In ancient America, especially during the British colonial period, members of society were allowed by British laws to kill their offenders as a way of retribution. Various crimes which could be punished through death penalties were then listed to serve as a guideline for those who sought retribution. These ancient colonial rules and regulations on capital punishment set the foundation for the present-day laws on capital punishments. For example, in 1700 B.C., sale of beer was made a crime punishable by the death penalty. Similarly, any individual who revealed locations of sacred cemeteries was punished through the death penalty (Banner 109). In 1975, political leaders and other government officers devised new ways of punishing criminal activities. Henderson (58) suggests that these government leaders should learn that capital punishments were harming society. Consequently, they came up with a new list of various forms of punishments that could be used to punish criminal offenders based on the nature and severity of their offences. The new laws were meant to create peace in society. A good example of such a rule was the Justinian Code which was passed by government leaders in 530 A.D..
In early American society, most punishments were very harsh. Minor criminal activities were considered capital crimes by most American settlers. For example, in the early 1960s, an individual would be punished through the death penalty if they were found stealing grapes, trading with Indians or killing a chicken. However, as the legal system of America revolutionized, the laws that had been previously defined by British colonies also changed. In 1791, the government leaders amended the Bill of Rights to control and regulate the use of death sentences. In the eightieth amendments to the Bill of Rights, the death penalty was described as cruel and usual, and thus it needed control. In ancient America, some colonial rules allowed capital punishment even for petty crimes while certain colonial rules, especially in North America, did not allow death penalties within their justice systems.
In 1992, Dr. William Schulz of Amnesty International, the United State of America, criticized the USA for being the only industrialized country that still maintained administration of death penalties in its justice systems. Dr. Schulz further advised the United States of America to eliminate or abolish capital punishment. He further argued that death sentences only symbolized the undemocratic nature of some states of America, including New York City.
According to Hood, the decline in death penalties in America is due to the fact that the USA realized that capital punishment was no longer needed to provide social protection to the citizens (51). It was abolished due to increasing calls by the public for the state to abandon death sentences. Michigan State abolished the use of the death penalty as a form of punishment in 1846. A few years later, Wisconsin and Rhode Island also abolished the death penalty in their justice systems. Consequently, more prisons were built where criminal offenders could be kept.
The Death Penalty in New York City. The use of the death penalty in New York City dates back to 1775 when the book of Beccaria was published. The book of Beccaria was punished as a result of the emergence of some Americans who opposed the use of death penalties to punish criminals. For example, hanging as a form of capital punishment received much criticism, which led to its abolishment. Hanging was seen as brutal and barbaric. However, the abolishment of hanging led to the invention of the electric chair for executing criminals. The first electric chair was built in New York City in 1889. The first person to be executed by the electric chair was William Kemmler. According to Robert Wolf, the existence of capital punishment in New York City can be traced back to the colonial period (256). During the colonial period, most crimes were punishable by death penalties. However, between 1700 B.C. and 1800 B.C., the types of offences that were punishable by the death penalty were greatly reduced to murder and treason.
In 1940, an amendment to the Death Penalty Legislation made capital punishment mandatory only to first degree murder cases. Additionally, in late 1963, the state ruled that the death penalty could not be executed on offenders, thus it was replaced with life imprisonment. Under the new provisions, various repeated trials had to be conducted to determine the legality of punishing an offender through life imprisonment.
Although New York City removed the death penalty from its justice system, it was reinstated in 1995. According to the 1995 Death Penalty Legislation, offenders were to be convicted of murder through life sentence or lethal injection. Life sentence was seen as an alternative to the death penalty. However, on June 24, 2004, New York City declared the death penalty unconstitutional after the hearing of the case of People v. LaValle, in which the court struck down various provisions and instructions of the 1995 Death Penalty Law. The ruling of the court formally abolished the death penalty in New York City. Even though death penalty legislations in New York City required the Court of Appeal to review court rulings and sentences to determine whether such sentences were ordered appropriately and according to legal requirements without prejudice or any form of discrimination, it was revealed that most appeals filed by black Americans were rarely reviewed. Most poor black Americans were also not able to obtain legal counsels and other expert assistances due to economic and financial incapability.
The debate on whether or not the administration of the death penalty should be continued has received contrasting views and opinions. Proponents of the death penalty argue that capital punishments often protect members of society from those offenders who intentionally commit crimes such as murder and treason. However, the opponents of the death penalty suggested that the sentence of life imprisonment would provide adequate protection for society from offenders. The opponents of capital punishments suggested that life imprisonment without parole would be a more humane way of punishing offenders. A large number of proponents of the death penalty further argue that the administration of capital punishment is much cheaper as compared to life imprisonment because the state does not have to incur additional costs for keeping criminals in jails and prisons. However, Professor James Liebman of Columbia Law School challenged this argument by asserting that the costs of executing criminals in New York City would be approximately five hundred million U.S. dollars within a period of twenty years. Professor James’s argument was seconded by Mr. Jonathan Grades who estimated that death penalties in New York City cost more than one hundred and eighty thousand between 1992 and 2002. Thus, the duo argued that it would be illogical and unreasonable for New York City to continue incurring such unnecessary costs in death penalties.
In 1972, the United States Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty which was made as a law in the Furman v. Georgia ruling. This invalidation was made by Justices Brennan and Marshal who ruled that death penalties were not in line with constitutional requirements. Brennan and Marshal argued that capital punishment was imposed with great racial bias towards black Americans, and thus lacked constitutionality in treatment of citizens of the states.
Since the court ruling in Furman v. Georgia, the use of the death penalty to punish criminal offenders in the United States justice systems has sparked hot debates between legal scholars and human rights organizations. Whereas many legal scholars and state officers argue that death punishment is essential and necessary for society as a way of reducing criminal activities, human rights organizations argue that the death penalty is not a humane way of punishing criminals. Moreover, since the beginning of the practice of the death penalty, numerous reformists in various countries have been pushing their governments to remove capital punishment from their justice systems. For example, in New York City, various demonstrations have been held by human rights activists and reformists to push the government to change the methods used by the state in executing death penalties as well as eliminating certain crimes that the government considered would deserve capital punishment. Similarly, there have been calls for the government to completely remove the death penalty as a form of punishment for criminal offences.
However, between 1920 and 1940, the United States of America observed an incredible increase in the number of people who were supporting the use of capital punishment. Most people fought for reduction of the number of offences which could be punished through death penalties, as well for complete removal of capital punishment in the administration of justice.
A survey which was carried out by legal experts in 1990 revealed that capital punishment was being administered disproportionately, mainly on black criminal offenders. Attorney George Kendall found out that most criminal cases which involved black Americans were likely to result in death sentences as compared to those cases involving white Americans. It was further revealed that more than eighty-five percent of death sentences were based on the race of the victims, and blacks were the most affected (Bowers 245). Additionally, death penalties have also been used disproportionately towards poor people. Most legal scholars argued that capital punishments were imposed on poor people or individuals from the lower working class because they were economically incapacitated and disadvantaged and thus could not afford to hire highly qualified legal counsels and lawyers to help them in defending their court cases.
Moreover, death penalties were also ordered on the basis of geographical location of offenders. For instance, an offender in one state of New York would be punished through capital punishment, while another offender with a similar criminal offence case from a different state would be given a milder punishment. The administration of capital punishment based on geographical disparities led to increased uproar of threats for New York City to abolish the death penalty within its states.
Negative Effects of Death Penalty. The administration of death penalties is believed to be very costly. It is estimated that death penalties often cost more than life imprisonment without parole. For example, in California, the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice estimated that approximately one hundred and forty million U.S. dollars could be saved if life imprisonment would be implied in administration of justice. In New York City, after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1995, more than twenty million dollars were incurred as the cost of executing each death sentence. A single death penalty is also estimated to be four times more expensive than a non-death sentence. In my opinion, the death penalty costs countries a lot of money which could be channeled towards more productive sectors of the economy such as education, agriculture and provision of healthcare and security services to the citizens, hence improving their living standards.
Moreover, death penalties often lead to merciless killing of individuals. This is a violation of an individual’s right to life. I would suggest that offenders should be placed in jails and prisons as inmates where they can work for the nation under strict supervision and security. For example, they may help in clearing bushes along public roads. Thus, they shall be put into more productive work.
The Death Penalty in New York Today. Today, New York City has various forms of punishments that can be used by law courts to incapacitate or rehabilitate criminals. The legislature has to deal with numerous factors, as it considers the forms of punishments and sentences to be used within its justice and court systems. Courts are mandated by the law to consider the most appropriate sentences after hearing arguments and evidence that are provided with respect to the offences in concern. Today, the legislature of New York City has established various forms of punishments that may be imposed on offenders. The type of punishment that a court may order for a particular offence is based on the severity of the offence or criminal activity performed by the offender. Additionally, certain punishments have been specifically imposed for certain offences. For example, offenders who suffer from mental illnesses may be punished less severely as compared to those offenders with clear thoughts and minds. The types of punishment that are currently available in New York City include imprisonment, payment of fines, probation of offenders, restitution, and in some cases, lethal injection.
Banks argues that New York City has had numerous problems in its attempts to administer the death penalty law (198). Millions of dollars have been spent by the state as well as local governments in their attempts to administer capital punishments. However, no person has ever been punished through the death penalty since its formal abolition in 2004. After the court ruling in the case of People v. LaValle in 2004, the death penalty was turned into life imprisonment without parole. However, the decision that was made in People v. LaValle has received many criticisms. Most people who were against the death penalty have continued to strongly oppose its application as a form of punishment. On the other hand, those who support capital punishment also argue that it is necessary for the best interests of society. Legal scholars and professionals have been debating the legal beliefs and values over the death penalty. They have been questioning the legality of capital punishment and its legal breadth. Additionally, legal practitioners have also been interrogating the constitutionality of the death penalty and its fundamental fairness to humanity.
On the other hand, religious leaders have also been engaged in critical discussions over the morality of the death penalty. Most religious leaders consider capital punishment immoral. For example, Christians argue that only God has the sole power and right to take away the life of a human being. According to most religions, death penalties are against their religious beliefs and values with respect to the gift of life that is believed to have come from God. Some legal experts have also argued that the administration of the death penalty in New York City was majorly based on racial disparities between communities. For example, most black Americans were often punished through death penalties as compared to white American counterparts (Berns 274). Additionally, international communities have also changed their views on the use of the death penalty in punishing criminals. Various nations all over the world perceive capital punishment as a wrongful conviction.
Today, many countries are involved in hot debates about whether or not they should include death penalties in their justice systems. Most opponents of the death penalty argue that capital punishment is against moral principles, values, and ethical beliefs of humanity.
In my opinion, I would suggest that the government of New York City should fully understand and comprehend various dimensions and impacts of the death penalty, as it considers death sentence as a form of punishment before its administration. Some of these dimensions include fairness of the punishment process, morality of the death penalty, the mode of execution, as well as the functional purpose for which the punishment is intended. The major impacts of the death penalty that should be given crucial consideration is loss of lives, morality of the execution through death, and its effects on social beliefs and values.
Finally, I would agree that the death penalty should be abolished in all countries all over the world because of its barbaric nature. The death penalty should not be allowed in New York City, in the United States of America, as well as in all other countries across the globe. Death sentences are brutal and immoral. Nations that have constitutions which allow the administration of death penalties should amend their constitutions and remove such clauses that allow death penalties. There are more effective ways of punishing a criminal other than killing them.