Capital punishment, also dubbed the “death penalty,” is the pre-meditated and planned taking of a human life by a government in response to a crime committed by that legally convicted person.
Passions in the US are sharply divided, and equally strong among both supporters and protesters of the death penalty.
Arguing against capital punishment, Amnesty International believes that “The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice. It violates the right to life…It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. There can never be any justification for torture or for cruel treatment.”
Arguing for capital punishment, the Clark County, Indiana Prosecuting Attorney writes that “…there are some defendants who have earned the ultimate punishment our society has to offer by committing murder with aggravating circumstances present. I believe life is sacred. It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self defense to protect the innocent.”
And Catholic Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, writes “…the death penalty diminishes all of us, increases disrespect for human life, and offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing.”
Death Penalty in the U.S.
The death penalty has not always been practiced in the U.S. although ReligiousTolerance.org states that in the U.S., “about 13,000 people have been legally executed since colonial times.”
The Depression era 1930s, which saw a historic peak in executions, was followed by a dramatic decrease in the 1950s and 1960s. No executions occurred in the US between 1967 to 1976.
In 1972, the Supreme Court effectively nullified the death penalty, and converted the death sentences of hundreds of death row inmates to life in prison.
In 1976, another Supreme Court ruling found capital punishment to be Constitutional. From 1976 through June 3, 2009, 1,167 people have been executed in the U.S.
The vast majority of democratic countries in Europe and Latin America have abolished capital punishment over the last fifty years, but United States, most democracies in Asia, and almost all totalitarian governments retain it.
Crimes that carry the death penalty vary greatly worldwide from treason and murder to theft. In militaries around the world, courts-martial have sentenced capital punishments also for cowardice, desertion, insubordination and mutiny.
Per Amnesty International’s 2008 death penalty annual report, “at least 2,390 people were known to have been executed in 25 countries and at least 8,864 people were sentenced to death in 52 countries around the world:”