Capital Punishment in U. History by William S. McFeely Americans engaged in the debate over the morality and effectiveness of the death penalty, as well as issues of discrimination in its application, often mistakenly assume its unquestioned presence throughout American history. Posted January The death penalty has not been a constant in American history.
Inflicting the death penalty on the mentally retarded ruled unconstitutional Roper v. Simmons 5 to 4 Death sentences imposed against minors i.
Goldberg —joined by Justices William O. Douglas — and William J. Brennan —dissenting from a rape case in which the defendant had been sentenced to death Rudolph v. The filing of many lawsuits in the late s led to an implied moratorium a temporary suspension on executions until the Court could decide whether the death penalty was constitutional.
In the high court finally handed down a landmark decision in Furman v. Before the late s U.
Few national standards existed on how a murder trial should be conducted or which types of crimes deserved the death penalty. Specifically, Furman brought into question the laws of Georgia and a number of other states that allowed juries complete discretion in delivering a sentence.
In these states, juries could declare a person guilty of a capital crime and then assign any punishment ranging from less than a month in jail to the penalty of death.
Even though verdicts were swift, the punishments such juries meted out were frequently arbitrary and at times discriminatory against minorities. Many of these new statutes were brought before the high court in the mids. By issuing rulings on the constitutionality of these state statutes, the Court created a uniform death penalty system for the United States.
States amended their laws once again after the Supreme Court issued the new rulings. Generally, only those convicted of first-degree murder were eligible for the death penalty.
Most states also required the jury or judge in the sentencing phase of the trial to identify one or more aggravating factors circumstances that may increase responsibility for a crime beyond a reasonable doubt before they could sentence a person to death.
State legislatures drafted lists of aggravating factors that could result in a penalty of death. Typical aggravating factors included murders committed during robberies, the murder of a pregnant woman, murder committed after a rape, and the murder of an on-duty firefighter or police officer.
In the mids the long appeals process for capital cases was also established. In January the nationwide moratorium ended when the state of Utah executed Gary Gilmore.
Gilmore had been convicted of killing Ben Bushnell, a motel manager in ProvoUtah, on July 20, Authorities had also charged him with the July 19 murder of Max Jensen, a gas station attendant, in Orem, Utah.
Gilmore received the death penalty for the Bushnell murder. He refused to appeal his case, demanding that his sentence be carried out swiftly. Gilmore requested the state supreme court to grant his wish because he did not want to spend his life on death row. After several suicide attempts, Gilmore was finally executed by firing squad on January 17, Several other states reinstated the death penalty after the Supreme Court declared it constitutional.
Oregon brought back the death penalty in Mar 11, · Six states abolished capital punishment between But in , in search of a more humane way to kill its death row inmates, Nevada tried to pump cyanide gas into the cell of inmate Gee Jon. At present, there are twelve states that do not permit capital punishment under any circumstances.
Some states have laws permitting capital punishment, but have not charged anyone under them. Not all executions of prisoners in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were ordered by the state.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN THE UNITED STATES This webpage is dedicated to the innocent victims of murder, may they always be remembered. Each execution deters an average of 18 murders according to a nationwide study. Capital punishment debate in the United States existed as early as the colonial period.
As of it remains a legal penalty in 31 states, the federal government, and military criminal justice systems. Although some U.S.
states began abolishing the death penalty, most states held onto capital punishment. Some states made more crimes capital offenses, especially for offenses committed by slaves. In , in an effort to make the death penalty more palatable to the public, some states began passing laws against mandatory death sentencing.
Although some states abolished the death penalty in the mid-Nineteenth Century, it was actually the first half of the Twentieth Century that marked the beginning of the "Progressive Period" of reform in the United States.