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  Capital Punishment
    United States Capital Punishment Statistics
    Advocates, Opponents and Morality of Capital Punishment
    The Constitutionality of Capital Punishment
    Candidates' Positions on Capital Punishment
 




United States Capital Punishment Statistics
Method of Executions
(1976-2015)
Lethal Injection1,239
Electrocution158
Gas Chamber11
Hanging 3
Firing Squad 3
For the 36-year period between 1976 and 2013, 1,331 defendants have been executed in the United States.

For the 39-year period between 1973 and 2012, 142 defendants were either exonerated or pardoned after emergence of new evidence supporting their innocence (including 18 DNA-based evidences).

As of January 1st, 2013, an additional 3,125 inmates (including 63 females) are sitting on the death row awaiting their appeals (all death sentences are given an automatic appeal, and the appellate process could stretch to a decade or more).

31 states currently have death penalty statutes (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming).

Texas has the highest number of executions between 1976 and 2012 with 492 defendants, or 37.27% of the total.

• Between 2007 and 2012, the United States sentenced 504 people to death, the sixth highest behind China (24,172), Pakistan (1,497), Iraq (1420), Algeria (752) and Egypt (704). During the same period, the United States executed 220 defendants, the fifth highest behind China (6,221), Iran (1,663), Saudi Arabia (423) and Iraq (256).



Candidates' Positions on Capital Punishment

Advocates, Opponents and Morality of Capital Punishment
Advocates argue that capital punishment reduces the risk of future deaths by taking perpetrators out of the society, as well as creating a deterrent effect for future murderers. They also hold to the position that without the threat of an ‘eye for an eye’, the fabric of society itself will fall apart. While there is an element of risk of punishing the innocent, the benefits far outweigh the very rare incidents of wrongful prosecution.

Opponents, meanwhile, contend that there are no empiric data supporting the argument that capital punishment is a deterrent against possible future capital crimes. In addition, they argue that rehabilitation is a more humane method of punishment, a reflection on a society’s higher sense of morals. But most of all, there is a tendency to prosecute and convict under-privileged minorities, as demonstrated from the disproportionate ratio of convicted minorities in comparison to the national demographics.

The Constitutionality of Capital Punishment
The constitutionality of capital punishment is being increasingly questioned by a segment of the populace. While capital punishment is not specifically written into the United States Constitution, the founders clearly envisioned the possibility by including a safeguard against it in the Fifth Amendment (ratified on December 15, 1791).

5th Amendment

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The ratification of the 14th Amendment on July 9, 1868 further strengthened the safeguard.

14th Amendment, Section 1

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Critics, however, argue that the Eight Amendment (ratified on December 15, 1791) prohibits against any "cruel and unusual" punishments, which they believe capital punishment falls under.

8th Amendment

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Their reasoning received a measure of support from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 when the Justices overturned the execution of William Henry Furman owing to the nature of his crime (Furman tripped during a home robbery and accidentally shot and killed the victim). The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the punishment was indeed, cruel and unusual in this particular instance, and thus, goes against the spirit and letter of the 8th Amendment. The Justices also called for uniformity in sentencing, and spoke about fair application of the laws with regard to the crimes committed, social status, wealth and personal beliefs of defendants. Two of the nine Justices, Justices William J. Brennan, Jr., and Justice Thurgood Marshall, even went as far as calling for the outlawing of capital punishment. Justice Potter Stewart delivered a particularly poignant opinion on the case.

“The penalty of death differs from all other forms of criminal punishment, not in degree, but in kind. It is unique in its total irrevocability. It is unique in its rejection of rehabilitation of the convict as a basic purpose of criminal justice. And it is unique, finally, in its absolute renunciation of all that is embodied in our concept of humanity. For these and other reasons, at least two of my Brothers have concluded that the infliction of the death penalty is constitutionally impermissible in all circumstances under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

On that score I would say only that I cannot agree that retribution is a constitutionally impermissible ingredient in the imposition of punishment. The instinct for retribution is part of the nature of man, and channeling that instinct in the administration of criminal justice serves an important purpose in promoting the stability of a society governed by law. When people begin to believe that organized society is unwilling or unable to impose upon criminal offenders the punishment they "deserve," then there are sown the seeds of anarchy -- of self-help, vigilante justice, and lynch law.”

In an immediate reaction, most states modified their respective capital punishment laws to address the concerns of the court. However, the new laws only came up for scrutiny in 1976 in the case of Gregg v. Georgia, which saw the Supreme Court siding with the state. However, the intervening four years between the two cases saw to an unofficial pause in capital punishment prosecutions, and led to the commutation of sentence for over 600 defendants from death to life imprisonment.

However, the issue appears to have been settled with the passing of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Federal Death Penalty Act) by the federal government. The Act eliminates the constitutional frailties associated with capital punishment by establishing procedures in the U.S. Code for the imposition of capital punishment for 60 offenses under 41 Federal capital statutes.

Nonetheless, opponents continue in their fight to outlaw capital punishment. The American Civil Liberties Union contends that capital punishment is an ”intolerable denial of civil liberties”, and the states should not be given the right to “kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony.”

Candidates' Positions on Capital Punishment


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