Department of affiliation This paper analyses the death penalty in the United States of America

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Date Abstract

This paper analyses the death penalty in the United States of America. The main focus is history, the principles and guidelines followed in the implementation and the whole process of the death penalty for capital offenses like rape and murder. This research has its basis on the fact that many institutions and groups are against murder as a penalty for offenses because most of them have religious and philosophical claims that it is not right to take away human life. This research also compares the positive side as well as the negative side of the death penalty as well as the effectiveness of deterrence theory and rational choice theory to reduce the level of crime in the society and here specifically focusing on the United States of America. This is important for demystifying the concerns raised by different people and to inform the public as well as the academicians about the whole process of deterrence, the death sentence, and how the rational choice theory can help to reduce crime in any society.

Research questions

The research questions employed in this research paper include:

What were the reasons that led to the suspension of capital punishment in the whole of the United States of America in the year 172?

What health effects does the death penalty have on the family and close friends of the convict?

What is the common factor that has contributed to the ban on the death penalty by 28 states in the USA?

What reasons make the federal government use the death penalty?

What were the reasons behind the reinstatement of the death penalty and were they valid?

What other possible options exist apart from the death penalty but can be used for the same degree of offenses?

Theoretical Framework

This research paper will discuss the issue of the death penalty in the light of rational choice theory and deterrence theory. The rational choice theory developed by Cornish and Clarke asserts that human beings are rational. Therefore when a human being thinks before acting they compare “means and ends costs and benefits, to make a rational choice” (Clarke, 1997). Clarke and Cornish developed this theory to help in thinking about how to prevent situational crime which was prevalent during that time.

Therefore this theory explains why some criminals commit crimes. This is because in line with this theory if a criminal weighs the benefits of the crime and the negative consequences of the crime and the benefits of the crime outweigh the negative consequences then there is a high likelihood that the criminal will engage in the crime. This theory makes assumptions that every person who commits a crime must have been in a good state of mind and must have made the decisions and planned everything out before engaging in the crime.

This research also employs another theory which is the theory of deterrence. This theory advocates for a change in the society by making crime deterrent through punishing it and making the people see it or punishing the criminal to the point they are not willing to repeat such a crime any other time soon or later in their lifetime. It is a theory that has been used before and it has been successful in several instances.

Methods of data collection

Data collection methods that will be used for this research paper are mainly qualitative. This is because a greater depth of understanding of the different situations involved in crime and law enforcement is needed. The nature of this research paper will also necessitate the use of secondary sources which include books and other publications produced concerning this area of study.

Qualitative methods will include; questionnaires, interviews, and observation. Questionnaires will be designed mainly for the family members who have had a person convicted and sentenced for the death penalty; they will also be addressed to the judicial officers, lawyers, and other observers who have ever had an experience with a person sentenced for the death penalty. They will also be addressed to the person who has had to be punished in public and what they think about the deterrent method of reducing crime and if it is effective.

The interviews will be for selected individuals who may have had been sentenced to death but were exonerated but since it might be difficult to get such kind of people it will also give room for the people who might have interacted with such people before they were executed. This will also include those individuals who may have been punished publicly or privately as a deterrent measure.

Data analysis

Descriptive data analysis will be used for this research paper. This is because descriptive analysis it is very easy to arrive at quality results of research work. Measures of central tendency, measures of dispersion, and measures of the position will be used to analyze the data.


These are the predictions of the results to be obtained by this research;

The common reason for banning the death penalty in the 28 states is that they value human life and there is pressure from religious groups as well as humanistic groups to ban the penalty.

The reason why the death penalty was suspended from 1972 to 1976 was because of the ruling of Judge Furman.

The death penalty sentence has a wide range of negative mental health effects on the convict as well as on the family members like schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, etc.


The issue of the death penalty is a sensitive part of American justice even though it is not applicable in some of the states. Those who oppose the decision to have the death penalty enacted give religious, philosophical, or moral arguments as to why the death penalty should not exist. “The proponents of the law often legitimize the use of the death penalty by referring to the expected coercive effect of the death penalty or the victims “right to revenge” (Carsten Anckar, 2004)

It is important to look at the two sides of the issue and give an informed opinion as well as delve deep into the effects of the death penalty on families and friends of the convict. The theory adopted for this research also supports that a person must make a rational choice about his/her actions and therefore the convicts of death penalty sentence already had made a decision based on their thinking about if they can get caught or face trials but rather based on their strategy that they are not going to be able to be caught. However, if caught and trials begin another round of issues begins. This brings in the deterrent theory whereby if a person is caught and punished in public or private there is a high likelihood they will not repeat the mistake. Therefore if a person had seen another person being executed or punished then they might be hesitant to make the decision and engage in criminal activities.

The main area of discussion will be about the death penalty, the decision making before doing a crime as well as the effectiveness of deterrent theory and rational choice theory in the reduction of crime.

Literature review

The literature review is always one of the most important tenets of research. This is because it helps to identify the gaps which exist in that area of interest so that a person can put in more effort and research about it. It is also a very important basis for getting information about that particular topic and analyzing everything before beginning typing the work. This helps a great deal to know what a person is dealing with and therefore through this, the ease of doing the work is very high. The quality of the work is also likely to be high. This literature review looks at both the history of the death penalty as well as the current and the main tenets within the American system for carrying out executions concerned with a person being guilty of a crime which can only be dealt with through the death penalty. It also looks at the effectiveness of the theories employed herein as well as that of the death penalty as a way of reducing crime.

According to (Robert Longley, 2019) capital crimes are punished with capital punishment which is a death sentence. Some of the common capital crimes include; child rape, drug trafficking, and drug dealing, child sexual abuse, terrorism, murder, treason, war crimes, espionage, aggravated rape, sedition, piracy, aircraft hijacking, crimes against humanity, and genocide. These crimes are according to American law. These crimes can be punished by the death sentence in some of the states which have allowed the continuation of the death penalty up-to-now in the United States of America.

Looking at the history of justice, the death sentence existed even before civilization and it was imposed on anyone who did very great harm and went completely against the norms of a society.

In medieval Europe and modern Europe, during the period when prisons did not exist, the death penalty was generalized and was used as a form of punishment for all types of crimes. For example during the reign of King Henry VII, an estimated 72,000 people were put to death in England. During this time there was a widespread execution of those believed to be witches in most places in Europe and later this practice got its way to the Americans. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, a lot of women who had been believed to be witches were executed (Banner, S., & Banner, S. (2009)). Before the 19th century the consensus on who is supposed to be executed and for what crime was very unclear and very opposite when compared to today’s ways and manner punishments and death executions.

Religious and political tradition in the 17th and 18th centuries influenced so many people negatively such that the death sentence was the best thing ever for the smallest crimes a person did. But with time and as the society got free from the forces of religion and bad politics most people got open-minded and they realized that the death penalty could be imposed but not for every crime. They came to the acknowledgment that the death penalty can only be imposed on the gravest crimes which a person can do.

According to (James J. Megivern, 1997) even the Catholic Church supports the death penalty however in rare cases when that must happen. Therefore those who give religious reasons as to why the death penalty should not exist should always think of what could happen if some people who were very dangerous to the world could not have been killed.

Therefore with the introduction of the death penalty into America by the Europeans many things changed in the criminal justice system that existed at that time in America. Capital punishment was brought to America by the settlers who were from Europe and this influenced its use in a widespread manner.

In America, the first death penalty was for a spy for Spain known as Captain George Kendal which happened in the year 1608 in Virginia. The Governor of Virginia at that time, who was Sir Thomas Dale, enacted even stricter measures and guidelines concerning the death penalty and he called the laws “Divine, Moral and Martial Laws” (L. Randa, 1997). These were the laws responsible for making a person die for small offenses like stealing grapes from another person’s tree or bag. The laws were not the same in every colony and this was Virginia. In 1630 the Massachusetts Bay colony had its first death penalty convict executed. Offenses like denying the true God according to Christianity or fighting a person’s mother were being punished by the death penalty.

In the American past, the death penalty not only served as a punishment for evil-doing but also served as a warning to the other people who would have wanted to do a similar offense that if they do it they were to go through the same process. This made so many people scare away and stick to the norms established at that particular time by the leaders who existed.

Executions in the past were done in different ways and some places, it was done publicly to serve as a lesson to the other members of that society not to do such a crime again.

As the country developed and become more civilized there were different types of development and therefore through this the death penalty also developed and it was time to change how it was being done. In 1789 and contained in the bill of rights the death penalty was included in the 8th amendment which “prohibited cruel and unusual punishment” (“Baze V. Rees, 2018). The bill of rights implied that the death penalty could be used but with the proper following of the law as well as the proper steps into questioning the guilty of a person for the crime.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maine abolished the use of the death penalty in their states between the years 1847 to 1887 and this tells us clearly that the death penalty was not to last for every state. After the abolition in the two states, the other states followed with abolitions. The other states which abolished the use of the death penalty as capital punishment were; Minnesota, Vermont, Lowa, etc. Some states also recalled the death penalty after they had abolished it and an example of this kind of state is Arizona and Oregon.

There has been a heated debate concerning the death penalty clause in the constitution and this has brought very many viewpoints to the table. In 1932 the supreme court of the United States of America made a pronouncement that every defendant must have a state court-appointed attorney for every capital case being listened to. This right was made available as well for non-defendants in the year 1963.

From 1972 to 1976 the death penalty had been suspended. This was because of several cases which were already in the court of law and they had to be looked into very keenly because their weight was a lot.

The cases which were presented had genuine concerns and through the Supreme Court, the states were requested to write new laws for the death penalty which were in line with the United States constitution 8th and 14th amendments of the American constitution.

The death penalty was reinstated in most of the states but with a new face whereby the extremes did not exist and one extreme can be for example the fact that rape of a grown-up woman could not be punished by death any longer.

As of the beginning of the year 2015, 31 states in the USA had the death penalty as a legal practice. in the USA mostly the use of the death penalty is for murder cases.

Discussion and analysis

The USA covers a very large surface area and is diverse in culture, beliefs, political affiliations as well as the laws which govern the different states. The diversity of its population makes it interesting. There has been a decline in the cases of death sentences issued and this has been brought about by different factors that come into play. Looking at the effectiveness of the death sentence we can say that the death sentence is not the most effective manner of correcting the mistakes of people who are involved in crimes. However, this assertion does not tend to bring to the attention of the reader that the death sentence is completely undesirable. It is a way of administering justice but it can only be used when there is no other way in which the challenges prevailing can be solved.

The slowdown of the cases of murder can be linked to the different and various realizations that even though the death sentence works for some cases it is not possible for others rather it is just destroying life and causing people pain when the person can be corrected and they even become productive as they are in jail.

From the above historical background of the death sentence, it can be said that the death penalty causes a lot of pain and loss when there can be other means of administering justice unless that is the only way in which

According to (Cooper, n.d.), Some of the reasons given for perpetuating the death sentence are the congestion of American prisons with prisoners as well as the efforts to try and repay or please the person who was hurt by the criminal. These reasons even though valid do not provide proof that death is the only way to make the person who was hurt happier.

However, there is a valid reason in which case a death penalty would be just and there would be no need to keep on thinking if it’s just or not just. The situation whereby a person is a criminal and they are sentenced to life death then in the person continues with the behavior of killing fellow prisoners, in this case, a death penalty would be justified because it is not at all legal or even ethical to continue with a behavior that is ill even after being given a chance to change one’s ways and be a better person.

Employing the deterrence theory whereby it says that people fear what they see and at the same time employing the theory of rational choice it is possible to say that deterrence theory is very important in stopping crime. While rational choice theory determines what a person decides and the reasons as to why they decide to do it if deterrence theory was put into place and employed effectively formerly then it is possible to say that a person will not be able to make a quick decision to make an offense because if they make a decision to make an offense and they once saw a person being executed or being punished for the offense they did then definitely it is human to say that fear will engulf them.

These two theories once employed together at the same time can be very good deterrents to crime within any society. However, the main discussion comes in where we have to think of death. The main question here is if death can be used as a real deterrent to criminal activities. Most of the people in this situation would ask if death is not way too much harsh than normal ways of instilling discipline? Others may ask is death not too scary for people who are not yet able to stand a person being executed but still they commit other crimes like rape which is considered to be a capital offense?

With all these questions and employing the deterrent theory, it is important to think of the best deterrent punishment that can be viewed by the general public and it leads to the correction of behavior by instilling fear among the perpetrators of crime.

In general deterrence, it is more effective to punish the convicts in front of the other people for learning from the convict and being unable to do the same crimes. Specific deterrence may work for some people but it does not work for everyone. This is because some people as long as they are not exposed to the public they will bear the pain. Then afterward employing the theory of rational choice they will try to think of how they can engage in crime without getting caught so that they can escape being punished again because they can remember how painful it is to be punished.

On the death penalty, it becomes very difficult to judge if it is a good crime deterrent. In research carried out by professor Isaac Ehrlich, he indicates and brings to our attention that death is a good deterrent and by its use crime which involves capital crimes can reduce to a great extent.

On the other hand, it is not completely clear if the people who engage in these kinds of crimes are aware of its effects and what kind of punishment they might get into therefore if a person does not know what they are getting themselves into it is difficult to use deterrent on them. “Willie L. Williams, a Police Chief of Los Angeles commented that he is “not convinced that capital punishment, in and of itself, is a deterrent to crime because most people do not think about the death penalty before they commit a violent or capital crime”, (Clara Lynn, n.d.)

This is a clear sign that most people are ignorant and even if not ignorant they face issues which they are not in a position to control at that specific time thus end up doing things which are not in line with their values and what they could have done if they were in the right state of mind. The deterrent theory assumes that every person who commits a crime is rationally okay and that the crime is a rational decision but in the real sense we get to find out that most of the people do not make rational decisions when doing some things and therefore this becomes complicated as to whether it is the best kind of deterrence or it is just a waste of time.

Only a small group of criminal think of the consequences of their crimes because most of them already know what can happen to them and they always have a plan in mind of what to do therefore even if caught and there is a specific deterrence performed on them then that means its effects are very little since they expected that, and most of the times it gets difficult to get them.

Jeffrey Fagan of Colombia law school used California as an example to portray the effect of deterrence on criminals (Clara Lynn, n.d.). ANd from his research it is realized that homicide in new york has continued despite the many changes that have taken place, these changes include the abolishment of the death penalty in 2004 after it had been reinstated in the year 1955. The trend continues and therefore the deterrence theory might not be applicable in this case.


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