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THE DEATH PENALTY : HISTORY, FACTS AND COMMENT
Concerning the execution of the murderer Timothy McVeigh last week, an enormous discussion about death penalty has restarted all over the world. I researched in the world-wide web and read several articles and comments on this topic.
So, at first I will give a brief overview of the history of the death sentence and the death penalty in the United States of America (below: US) (I did not find any interesting statistics from other countries.). Then I will present the current status and I will name the most important countries which are actually carrying out executions. This paper will be finished with a short presentation of my opinion about the senselessness of the death penalty. The first known execution in the territory of the US was of Daniel Frank in 1622. He was put to death in Virginia for the crime of theft. Since then the death penalty has almost always been part of the criminal justice system. The collection of death penalty statistics on a regular basis began in 1930. The following facts are mainly based on the annual capital punishment bulletins of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which are published by the US Department of Justice.
A first important period lasted from 1930 to 1967:
During this time 3,859 people were executed under civil jurisdiction and 160 people were executed under military jurisdiction in the US.
54% of the civil-executed people were black, 45% were white and the remaining people were members of other racial groups (e.g. American Indians).More than 99%(!!) of these people were men, i.e. that only 32 women were sent to death from 1930 to 1967. 87% of the people were executed for murder, 12% for rape, and 1% for other acts. It is astonishing that 90% of the people, executed for rape, were black.
The 160 people who were killed under military jurisdiction were mainly sent to death for murder (66%) and rape (33%). The remaining person was executed for desertion. I found out, that a film called “The Execution of Private Slovik” tells the story of this man. These 160 executions were by the way exclusively carried out by the US Army and the Air Force because the US Navy did not execute any death sentences since 1849. In the end of the 1960s, it came to an unofficial moratorium on executions for several years because there was strong pressure by forces opposed to the death penalty. As a result of that, there was no execution between 1967 and 1977 in the US. But on January 17,1977 Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in Utah. From 1977 to 1983 only 11 people were sent to death in the US, but from 1984 on executions increased dramatically so that altogether 672 people were executed from 1984 to 2000. More than 27% of these people were sent to death in the years 1999 and 2000, so that there is an obvious strong upward tendency for executing more people in the US.
Today, i.e. in 2000, 38 states of the US and the federal government have capital punishment laws (i.e. death penalty) in effect. There are mainly Northern states which do not have a death penalty, e.g. Alaska and Michigan.
Statistics also show that most of the executions took and take place in the Southern states. Especially Georgia and California have high rates of executions. But also Texas executed many people especially under president Bush. I am not sure, but as I can remember about 115 people died by execution or were at least sentenced to death under his term of office. If you talk about death penalty and execution, there are five main methods authorized in the US: lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas, hanging and firing squad.
Although every state decides itself, which methods of execution are allowed, the method of execution of Federal prisoners (as Timothy McVeigh) is lethal injection. Most states allow only one of the methods I presented above. Death by lethal injection is practiced in 34 states, while e.g. firing squad in only allowed in Idaho, Oklahoma and Utah. I think this is amazing and I would claim that there is still a historical connection to the American Indians who lived especially in these areas in high rates. In some states, condemned prisoners who received their death sentence before a special date are able to choose between two different methods- mainly between lethal injection and electrocution or lethal gas.
Until now, a focused my view on the US, but below I will present some general facts which will lead me to the presentation of my own opinion on this topic.
The famous organization Amnesty International, which is fighting against death penalty, published an interesting statistic about “death sentences and executions in 2000”. Regarding that, more than 3,000 people were sentenced to death in 65 countries and at least 1,457 people were executed in 27 countries in 2000. These are only the cases that are known to Amnesty International so that the real number could be much higher. Furthermore, Amnesty International found out that 88% of all known executions took place in China(69%), Saudi Arabia(8%), the USA(6%) and Iran(5%).
If you take a look on the list of the countries which are still carrying out executions, you discover that there are mainly Asian and African states. The only European countries imposing death sentences are the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Turkey. It is astonishing that the US and Japan are the only real industrialized countries on the list. So it seems quite curious that in the powerful US such uncivilized and old-fashioned procedures are still practized and furthermore increasing at the moment as I pointed out above. Most powerful nations already abolished the death penalty decades ago: Germany in 1949, Great Britain in 1971 (except for treason), Canada in 1976 and France in 1981. Because of the abolishment of the death penalty for all crimes since 1990 in more than 30 countries and territories, areas, in which the death penalty is not allowed, are in the narrow majority.
The major aims of the death penalty are obviously on the one hand to find an appropriate punishment for the criminals and on the other hand to deter people for the future from such evil crimes.
But I think there is for example no relation concerning the suffering between a young girl that is brutally raped and murdered and the culprit who “is allowed to” have a quiet death by lethal injection. I am of the opinion that such a punishment , in fact, does help nobody. The murderer would probably be more suffering if he had to stay in a wretched prison for the rest of his life. This could perhaps be combined with social work he has to do. Doing this, he could, at least partly, balance out the costs he causes.
Furthermore, it is proved by researches that the death penalty does not help to reduce the crime rate of the country. I think another danger is that the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated. The were cases in which people were probably executed innocently. In order to keep this number small, the investigations into the crime are immediately stopped in the US, when the “murder” is sent to death.
Finally, I would claim that the death penalty is a rather useless procedure: On the one hand the culprit does not suffer hard enough for his cruel offence and is allowed to die a “soft” death in contrast to his victim(s) and on the other hand such punishments are not able to prevent or at least to reduce murder.
But I also claim that German’s prisons are much too comfortable and that our criminal laws are too soft. I am of the opinion that a person who gets life must be behind bars for life and must not be able to leave prison after e.g. 25 years. Furthermore a cannot understand that prison’s inmates are also allowed to study or to do bodybuilding exercises!!!
References/ Data Sources:
- “Congressional Quarterly Researcher”, March 10, 1995 Volume 5, No.9; “Is the death penalty unjust?”
- www.web.amnesty.org ; Amnesty International Website
- US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, bulletins: “Capital Punishment 1930-99”
- Quote paper
- André Saborowski (Author), 2001, The Death Penalty, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/103745