Essay on Death Penalty

Published: 2021/11/09
Number of words: 1357

Capital punishment has been used in various cultures since the commencement of documented history. Long before humanitarian capital punishment used in today’s civilization was enacted, offenders faced some severe penalties. We see that those who were boiled to death were sliced slowly, crucified, crushed, stoned, burned, and decapitated. These capital punishments were ruthless and very painful. In the past, capital punishment was used for various reasons and was considered to be barbaric. It was used as a punishment for magic, not observing the Sabbath, profanity, murder, and sexual criminalities such as sodomy in some cultures. Today, the United States is using capital punishment for murder, treason, and espionage. Therefore, it is clear that capital punishment is still considered and used by many countries. Some form of capital punishment still used by the United States includes lethal injection, electrocution, and death by firing squad. Capital punishment is indeed a severe way of punishing people, and it has had a significant impact in the United States.

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Part 1

Capital punishment was first introduced in the United States during colonial times. This occurred during the 1600s. European settlers are the ones that introduced capital punishment to their colonies (Costanzo & White, 1994). The first death sentence to be recorded was executed by a firing squad and carried out in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608. This was a British colony. Captain George Kendell was the first person to be executed for being a Spanish spy. From then henceforth, public hangings in the gallows became rampant in the 1600s and 1700s. Capital punishment was thus used to punish even the pettiest crimes like pickpocketing and stealing food. Later on, most people started boycotting the law, and they wanted it to be abolished. However, the movement for the abolishment of capital punishment was erratic and slow. In 1794, Pennsylvania restricted capital punishment to first-degree killings and became the first state to abolish executions out in the open (Costanzo & White, 1994). Michigan eliminated the use of this type of punishment on various crimes except for treason. The first states to abolish the use of capital punishment on all offends were Rhode Island and Wisconsin. However, all the states that eliminated the use of capital punishment, later on, reinstated them. Therefore, it is clear that most states in the United States adopted capital punishment and were used to execute numerous cases. Case laws constitute of collection of past legal decisions that courts wrote down (“Case Law”, n.d.). These decisions help to solve ambiguities that exist in current instances. They are based on judicial decisions rather than the law based on constitutions, regulations, or statutes.

Part 2

Cruel and Unusual punishment is a phrase in common law that describes the punishment that is considered to cause pain, suffering, and humiliating to the person subjected to it. The Eighth Amendment states that people should not be subjected to punishments that might instill pain and take away human dignity (A. Stevenson & F. Stinneford, n.d.). Therefore, it shows that the federal government is banned from striking harsh punishments on offenders. This protection was enacted when the United States Constitution was sanctioned. The new proposed constitution gave the federal government more powers. They would have the right to create federal crimes and come up with punishments to punish those who committed them. Abraham Holmes stated that, “They are nowhere restrained from inventing the cruelest and unheard-of punishments and annexing them to crimes, and there is no constitutional check on them, but that racks and gibbets may be amongst the mildest instruments of their discipline” (A. Stevenson & F. Stinneford, n.d.). Therefore, it showed that they could come up with punishments that would be harsh and could be considered as a form of oppression. Thus, these concerns led to the addition of the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment in the constitution. These changes prohibited the use of barbaric methods of punishment. Therefore, no harsh punishments could be subjected to the people because they would be going against the Eight Amendment. Four primary dimensions were determined by the court when dealing with cruel and unusual punishment. The first one is that the punishment given to the offenders should not be demeaning to human self-respect in case of torment (“All You Need To Know About Cruel and Unusual Punishment – US Constitution –”, 2020). This dimension indicates that any punishment that puts the dignity of an individual in jeopardy is cruel and unusual and should not be administered. The second one is a severe punishment that is administered arbitrarily. This dimension helped to determine the cruel and unusual punishments and see which ones fell in the category. Thirdly, the punishment is primarily not supported by many societies (“All You Need To Know About Cruel and Unusual Punishment – US Constitution –”, 2020). Some punishments are not supported by the majority of society. This means that they are pretty cruel, and thus, the court felt that they were not suitable to be inflicted. Lastly, severe punishments are considered patently unnecessary. Some punishments are not necessary, and thus, they should not be instilled in any criminal defendant.

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Part 3

A Case presented at Metropolitan Detention Center shows a scenario where inmates felt that their punishment was cruel and unusual. From the case, we see that on January 26th, 2019, Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), a federal facility operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the United States, experienced a massive power outage (Messina, 2019). There was a faulty generator that got fire, and this saw the inmates spend weeks without power. This condition coincided with the polar vortex that saw the temperatures drop to freezing points. The inmates were put on lockdown and were denied permission to contact their families (Messina, 2019). The situation at Metropolitan Detention Center reached the outside after footage was seen of more than one thousand inmates crying out for help. This clearly shows that MDC went against the inmate’s rights not to be subjected to harsh and barbaric treatment. Federal Bureau of Prisons had to answer to reasons as to why they failed to restore power in MDC. In this case, the length of the polar cortex led to the severity of the conditions (Messina, 2019). Some of the inmates complained that they went without blankets, warm clothes, and medical attention. The outcome was that the MDC and the Federal Bureau of Prisons had to answer to reasons as to why they failed to react to the condition. The public also came to learn of the issues that the inmates face in silence in correctional centers.

Capital punishment started a long time ago. Most societies used capital punishment for various reasons. The United States adopted capital punishment from the European settlers. Beheading was mostly used in many societies. Capital punishment was mainly used to punish murder, treason, and espionage in the United States. The constitution was later ratified, and the right of people not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment was implemented. This helped to eliminate all the punishments that were considered to be barbaric. The court initiated the four primary dimensions of cruel and unusual punishment to ensure constitutional prosecution of people.


Stevenson, B., & F. Stinneford, J. Interpretation: The Eighth Amendment | The National Constitution Center. Retrieved May 21st 2021, from

All You Need To Know About Cruel and Unusual Punishment – US Constitution – Constitution of United States of America 1789. (2020). Retrieved May 21st 2021, from

Case Law. LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved May 21st, 2021, from

Costanzo, M., & White, L. T. (1994). An overview of the death penalty and capital trials: History, current status, legal procedures, and cost. Journal of Social Issues50(2), 1-18.

Messina, T. (2019). Cruel And Unusual Punishment At A Major Federal Prison. Above the Law. Retrieved May 21st 2021, from

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