The Death Penalty in the United States of America

AuthorCatalina Miron Popa
PositionPolice Academy, Bucharest
Legal Sciences
The Death Penalty in the United States of America
Catalina Miron Popa
Police Academy, Bucharest
Abstract: The death penalty dr amatically signifies that society does not excuse or condone the taking of
innocent lives. It symbolizes the value of the innocent victim. Incapacity can be imposed by long terms of
imprisonment, particularly for habitual offenders; the policy of "keeping criminals off the streets" does indeed
protect the public for a period of time, although it is done at a considerable cost. The object of deterrence is to
make the certainty and severity of punishment so great as to inhibit potential criminals from committing
crimes. The best available estimates of the certainty of punishment for serious crime suggest that very few
crimes actually result in jail sentences for the perpetrators.
Keywords: death penalty; criminal justice; punishment
Perhaps the most heated debate in the United States of America in criminal justice t oday concems
capital punishment. Opponents of the death penalty argue that it is "cruel and unusual punishment" in
violation of the Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They also argue that the death penalty i s
applied unequally. A large proportion of those executed have been poor, uneducated, and nonwhite.
Recognizing that in the past many indigents facing the death penalty did not have the best lawyers,
Congress passed the Innocence Protection Act (formally the Justice for All Act of 2004, Public Law
No: 108-405). Besides creating a DNA testing program, the Act authorizes a grant program, to be
administered by the United States Attorney General, to improve the quality of prosecution and defense
representation in capital cases. Th e grants may not be used to pay for lawyers in specific cases, but
instead are to be used to establish, implement, or improve an effective system for providing competent
legal representation to indigents charged with capital offenses or sentenced to death and seeking
appellate review in state court (Death Penalty Information Center, "DPIC Summary: Innocence
Protection Act of 2004").
In contrast, there is a strong sense of justice among many Americans that demands retribution for
heinous crimes - a life for a life. The death penalty dramatically signifies that society does not excuse
or condone the taking of innocent lives. It symbolizes the value of the innocent victim. In most cases,
a life sentence means less than ten years in prison under the current parole and probation policies of
most states. Convicted murderers have been set free, and some have killed again. Moreover, prison
guards and other inmates are exposed to convicted murderers who have "a license to kill," because
they are already serving life sentences and have nothing to lose by killing again.
Furman v. Georgia and Unfair Application Prior to 1972, the death penalty was officially sanctioned
by about one-half of the states. Federal law also retained the death penalty. However, no one had
actually suffered the death penalty since 1967, because -of numerous legal tangles and direct
challenges to the constitutionality of capital punishment. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that capital

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