The History and Public Opinion of Capital Punishment Essay

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The History and Public Opinion of Capital Punishment

The history of the death penalty goes back to the earliest civilizations where it was used to punish all sorts of crimes from robbery, to murder, to different forms of heresy. In the United States it evolved to just punish murder, treason, and some cases of rape. It has been an issue that has sparked a never ending debate that goes back to colonial times. The general public traditionally supported the death penalty in a majority with only a few politicians speaking out against it (i.e., Benjamin Rush, Ben Franklin and later on Horace Greeley). Once the U.S. gained independence, each state went back and forth in abolishing and reinstating the death penalty and methods of
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Some dissenters claimed that people who were ethically opposed to the death penalty were biased because they would never vote to give the death penalty to people who deserved it. Some historians say that this marked the first time that the supreme court was persuaded by public opinion against capital punishment. The following statement was made by Justice Potter Stewart who spoke for the majority, “In a nation less than half of whose people believe in the death penalty, a jury composed exclusively of such people cannot speak for the community…In its quest for a jury capable of imposing the death penalty, the State produced a jury uncommonly willing to condemn a man to die” (Gottfried:60). Scholars and lawyers also thought this would be the end of capital punishment for good because the courts’ willingness to accept people who fundamentally opposed the death penalty, but this turned out not to be true because of details in the decision that allowed courts and legislatures to work around it.

The 1972 case of Furman v Georgia was seen as a complete victory for abolitionists at the time, but proved to be more complicated than it appeared. It said that the death penalty, as it was administered, violated the Eighth Amendments because it was cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it did not guarantee equal protection under the law (Costanzo:18). The
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