Lentis/Capital Punishment in the United States


Capital punishment, also called the death penalty, is the execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense [1]. Currently, in the US, there is a disagreement among people whether the death penalty should exist. Some believe that life is an inalienable right, while others believe that the punishment of a crime should be equal to the crime committed.

History of Capital PunishmentEdit

A major point for dispute is if the death penalty violates the eighth amendment, which states that no person should undergo cruel or unusual punishment [2]. Due to this amendment, capital punishment in the United States was limited by the United States supreme court in 1972. In Furman v. Georgia the supreme court ruled five to four that capital punishment violated the eighth amendment of the united states due to “arbitrary and capricious ways” [3]. In response to this ruling, 35 states changed their death penalty system to be constitutional. In 1976, during Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme court decided that the death penalty was justified because the system for determining it is “judicious” and “careful” [4]. As of 2020, there are 25 states in the US that allow the death penalty. These states are required to stand in accordance with the ruling made in 1972 that capital punishment must be delivered fairly and consistently.

Death Penalty StatisticsEdit

In 2004, the United States had an average murder rate of 5.71 per 100,000 people in states with the death penalty. While states without the death penalty had a murder rate of 4.02 out of 100,000. [5] The information suggests that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent of crime. Also, in Canada, 27 years after the death penalty was abolished, the murder rate has dropped by 44 percent. This evidence further supports that capital punishment has no notable effect on the reduction of crime. State sanctioned death also costs more than life in prison. In Kansas, defense costs for a death penalty case are, on average, 400,000 dollars. In contrast, the average cost for a non death penalty case is 100,000. Additionally, In Oklahoma, the average increase in cost is 3.2 times more when seeking the death penalty.[6]

Race and the Death PenaltyEdit

Unfair sentencing is a major problem in the United States, even after the Supreme Court's ruling in 1972. Specifically, people of color are disproportionately sentenced to death. For example, jurors in Washington are three times more likely to recommend the death sentence for a black person.[7] The U.S death penalty is a continuation of racially focused social control, according to Enduring justice. [8] Enduring Justice also found that the southern states, where most lynchings of black people occurred in the 1800s, is where many of the black executions are occurring. This is an injustice and a direct violation of the 1976 supreme court ruling that death penalty determination should be judicious and careful. As of October 2002, only 12 defendants sentenced to death were white. Whereas, 178 black defendants have been executed for murder.[9]

American Capital Punishment: A Comparative PerspectiveEdit

The death penalty remains strong in three main areas today. Countries in the Middle East where Islamic culture views the death penalty is a divine decreed [10]; Asia, where 90% of the world’s executions take place [11]; and the United States where 28 states still authorize capital punishment -- the majority coming from southern states [12];. To gain insight, there are comparisons to be drawn between the United States and Japan. Both countries exercise state power for capital punishment and implement “radically local” versions of democracy [13];. In Japan, their rate of violent crime is very low yet their fear of crime is high. One reason for this is because of the media’s portrayal of crime. Similar to the United States, Japanese media harshly criticizes crime -- this stirs public opinion and riles people up. America’s “commitment to vigilante values”, especially in southern states, is a concern [14]. These vigilante values praise capital punishment and they are viewed as a “local imperative” to serve victims. In the United States, law is administered locally -- thus, justice tends to be more expressive, personalistic, and emotional [15]. This commitment shuns alternative criticism of a violation of state power and human rights. The problem then arises for nations that administer the death penalty. “How does a country’s own executions differ from the criminal killing they aim to condemn.” The United States solution: what once had theatrical elements in the US where locally administered executions were held in open courtyards, is now concealed by way of lethal injection. The injection solved two problems -- it diminishes signs of violence and disguises the fact of death. This adjustment to administer a “kinder and gentler” death shifted the strategy of execution in the US [16]. These changes in execution strategy are a part of the reason why the death penalty still survives today.


The United States has long practiced capital punishment and many articles have been published on the matter. However, the redundancy of the fault in capital punishment has grown stale and not enough attention is drawn to contextual and comparative analysis. Drawing similarities and differences between the United States and other advanced democracies help bring new perspectives to light. Careful conclusions must be drawn as to what’s peculiar and what’s ordinary in capital punishment in order to understand why the death penalty is still applied. More consideration on how we determine the death penalty is required. The statistics suggest that there is racial discrimination in the justice system that needs to be dealt with.


  1. Definition of Capital Punishment https://www.britannica.com/topic/capital-punishment
  2. A History of Death Penalty in America https://www.crf-usa.org/images/pdf/HistoryoftheDeathPenaltyinAmerica.pdf
  3. https://www.crf-usa.org/images/pdf/HistoryoftheDeathPenaltyinAmerica.pdf
  4. C. (2012). A History of the Death Penalty in America. Retrieved from https://www.crf-usa.org/images/pdf/HistoryoftheDeathPenaltyinAmerica.pdf
  5. Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime? https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/48000/act500062008en.pdf
  6. What Criminal Sentence Costs More: Death or Life in Prison? https://www.thebalance.com/comparing-the-costs-of-death-penalty-vs-life-in-prison-4689874
  7. Beckett, K., & Evans, H. (2014). The Role of Race In Washington State Capital Sentencing. Retrieved from https://files.deathpenaltyinfo.org/legacy/documents/WashRaceUPDATE.pdf
  8. D. (2020). Enduring Injustice: The Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty. from https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/facts-and-research/dpic-reports/in-depth/enduring-injustice-the-persistence-of-racial-discrimination-in-the-u-s-death-penalty
  9. A. (2020). Race and the Death Penalty. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/other/race-and-death-penalty
  10. Hood, R. H. (2001). Capital Punishment: A Global Perspective. Punishment & Society, 54–331
  11. Johnson, D. (2011). American Capital Punishment in Comparative Perspective. Law & Social Inquiry, 36(4), 1033-1061.
  12. Johnson, D. (2011). American Capital Punishment in Comparative Perspective. Law & Social Inquiry, 36(4), 1033-1061.
  13. Garland, D. (2010). Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  14. Zimring, F. Z. (2003). The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment. Oxford University Press, 84–377.
  15. Garland, D. (2010). Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  16. Sarat, A. S. (2001). Capital Punishment and the American Condition. Princeton University Press, 1–10.