The theory A LIFE FOR A LIFE is as old as civilization itself. The development of civilizations established what we call justice today. Capital punishment, the execution of a criminal convicted of a crime or the legal taking of the life of a criminal can be divided into three categories: first, crimes against the person. Second is….crimes against property and third crimes which endanger the security of the nation. Capital punishment is still in use in the United States today, but has been abolished by many countries. The countries that still have the death penalty on their books rarely employ it. The earliest writings on the subject dates as far back as 2000 B.C. but it is clear that capital punishment more or less has existed since the birth of mankind. Throughout history, it has been exercised in almost all civilizations as a retribution for severe crimes, but sometimes also for the thrill and excitement. The Romans put slaves and prisoners in the Coliseum as lion food while spectators enjoyed the sight.
In the early colonial states, the death penalty was applied for a vast number of crimes, just like in England, the ruler of the states in this era. In England, in the 18th century, there were approximately 220 offenses punishable by death. Some of them would today be considered as misdemeanors and petty crimes. The majority of these were crimes dealing with property. However, transportation became an alternative to execution in the 17th century. A lot of these criminals were shipped to the U.S. In the early days of our Constitution, the only segments that showed that the death penalty existed were two amendments in the Bill of Rights. These amendments deal with protection and rights of the accused. The Fifth Amendment prohibits the state from depriving an individual of life without due process of law. The eight amendments prohibit cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has still not determined what this phrase means. In one case in the 1890s, the question was if capital punishment violated the eight amendments. The court relied on the matter that a definition of cruel and unusual punishment must reflect the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing. Surveys from this era show that a majority of the people favored the death penalty.
In the Middle Ages, capital punishment was also applied to animals. An animal, guilty of having killed a human being, would be executed, sometimes after a trial with a lawyer representing the animal. In one case, in Dijon, France, a horse kicked his master to death. In court, a witness testified that the man had provoked the horse. In spite of this, the creature was sentenced to death. Trials with animals were considered to be absolutely fair. Elightment thinkers or social reformers, such as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Caesar Beccaria fought to bring an end to the use of capital punishment. The Caesar Beccaria, an Italian criminologist in the 1700s, influenced society and stimulated penal reform to abolish the practice of this irrevocable penalty. As an alternative, he recommends retribution that is making up for losses. In his essay An Essay On Crimes and Punishments approved by philosopher Voltaire, he admits that capital punishment is justified in only one case. Beccaria argues that when [a criminal], though deprived of liberty, he has such power and connections as may endanger the security of the nation….he should be executed. This relates to justify capital punishment in cases of spying which still is a controversial issue today. Religious opposes argue that the death penalty contradicts the teachings of love and mercy. At the same time a religious supporter, Haven Bradford Gow, claims that the Bible justifies an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth as stated in the Catholic Bible in the Fifth commandment…..
Another kind of slaying belongs to the civil authorities to whom is entrusted the power of life and death by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The Bible is constantly used as a defense for capital punishment and many references can be found to such a penalty. Another religious supporter judge that religious teachings prove that the death penalty upholds the dignity of human life as ordered by scripture. There are two famous cases in American history, dealing with capital punishment that has evoked much controversy. They are Sacco and Vanzetti v. U.S. and the case of the Rosenbergs.
During the 1920s, fears of communism led to the dislike of immigrants. The Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti were victims of this Red Scare. They were accused of having killed two guards. Since they were both anarchists, it has been speculated if they had a fair trial and if the death sentence was justified. None of the four witnesses could for sure tell if Sacco and Vanzetti were the men they had seen. Another case, that degrades the U.S., is the case of the Rosenbergs. Since they were members of the Communist Party which was considered un-American especially in the 1950s with the fear of the Soviet Union which had just developed their own nuclear weapons. The Rosenbergs were accused of having planned and participated in a Russian spy-ring, giving out top secret information to the Soviets. The Rosenbergs denied, but were sentenced to death. Today their punishment is considered to have been unjust and cruel. The case outraged many Americans and even Europeans. It became a world-wide affair. Arthur Garfield Hays, General for the Civil Liberties Union, exclaimed: "The death penalty for the Rosenbergs was not justified. Mr. Hays did not argue for the innocence of the Rosenbergs but claims that this horrible killing by the state is not merited.
Throughout history, there have been several different methods of execution. The old brutal methods, such as drowning, stoning and burning, were common. In the Middle Ages, amputations of body parts which often led to death were popular. The public executions drew large crowds. In the 1900s, attempts were made to make executions more humane, the electrocution and the gas chamber were invented. Earlier attempts in the 1700s, in France, replaced the old execution methods with the Guillotine. It soon became famous and toy stores even started selling toy Guillotines that came with a little cage filled with live mice or sparrows. This toy became a bestseller. The reformers in Europe reached their goal eventually; the death penalty has been abolished in many European nations such as the Scandinavian, West Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland. The U.S.A. is one of the few countries that have retained the death penalty. Lawyer Clarence Darrow, famous for his criminal cases, believes this is an effect of the high homicide rate, which is higher in the United States compared to most countries in the world. Darrow believes that the high homicide rate is caused by the fact that the population is crowded into cities whose slums are natural breeding places of crime.
Another reason for the high homicide rate of the U.S. is that people have gathered from all over the world; racial differences are known to intensify problems. As solution, Clarence Darrow suggests that the government focus on the causes of crimes because criminals will breed faster than hangman can spring his trap. Certainly, there are quite a few people on death row. Opposers, today and in the past, repeatedly declares that the death penalty is unapplied unequally. Most criminals on death row are poor. Thus, they cannot afford good lawyers. The Supreme Court agreed with this argument and forced the states to rewrite their laws on capital punishment on the basis of what crimes are punishable by death and if minimum age requirements are to be set. Many state legislatures have set a minimum age at which such punishment is legal. In other states there is no age limits because the general public opinion opposed it. Currently, there are 34 capital crimes, that is crimes deserving the death penalty, under federal law (i. e. treason, espionage, the assassination of the President, etc.) while there are some 30 under state laws. In some states the jury determines if the death penalty will be imposed, and in other the jury recommends the judge who is not bound follow to the jury's advice. In some states, the death penalty is required. Fewer offenses are punishable by death than formerly; the courts increasingly chose alternative punishments, and many death sentences are not carried out. Opposers and reteutionists, those in favor of the death penalty, cannot be characterized by any aspect such as wealth, religion or political views. More and more Americans seem to view the death penalty as just retribution. Abolitionists' attempts to overturn the death penalty have been denied by the Supreme Court. Instead, the court argues that In part, capital punishment is an expression of society's moral outrage at particularly offensive conduct. The issue of abolishing the death penalty has caused much controversy.