Death Penalty in the US Essay

The US military, the US federal government, and 37 states in the US authorized the death penalty on 1 April 2008. Jurisdictions that did not authorize the death penalty included the District of Columbia and 13 other states in the US. In the year 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court emphasized that the execution method involving the use of electric chair was a violation of the Nebraska Constitution. Nebraska does not have a death penalty as there is no alternative execution method on the books. In the year 2004, the New York Supreme Court also ruled that the prevailing methods of death penalty were in conflict with the Constitution of the New York. The death penalty in New York was effectively eliminated since the legislature did not attempt to alter the procedures of death penalty.

Significance of Death Penalty

The theoretical significance of implementing the laws of death penalty comprises three fundamental themes, namely incapacitation, retribution, and deterrence. Incapacitation is the containment of the criminals that keeps them from causing harm to the public as they are in the correctional monitoring. Execution of the criminals in the death penalty is the proper way to ensure incapacitation. Deterrence comprises the direct as well as the indirect advantages of executing the criminals. Retribution includes the philosophical and theoretical tenets of the reason and the way of execution (Grimes, 2010, p. 181). Retribution is a complicated punishment psychology (Bohm, 1992) and asserts that criminals must be punished for their crime and the severity of punishment must accord with the gravity of the crime committed. It means the payback or requital for the criminal’s action. “The death penalty has been and continues to be defended on the grounds in which society has the ethical responsibility to protect the welfare and security of its citizens from the heinous crimes which justify such a sentence” (Weatherby et al., 2012). Death penalty derives its significance from the fact that the criminal needs to be punished for the heinous crime that he/she has committed.

Methods of Execution

Death penalty in the US is offered in a whole range of ways that include but are not limited to electrocution, lethal injection, gas chamber, firing squad, and hanging. Some of these methods are described below:


New York built the electric chair for the first time in the year 1888 in an attempt to use a more human method of death penalty as compared to hanging (Death Penalty Information Center, 2012). Today, many states in the US use electrocution to give the death penalty to the criminals. To cause the criminal’s death through electrocution, the criminal is shaved and tied to a chair with the help of belts all across the body including the chest, arms, and legs. An electrode in the shape of a skull is attached with the forehead and the scalp upon a sponge that is made sprayed with saline. Conductive jelly is used to moisten another electrode that is attached to the leg of the prisoner. After this, the prisoner is blindfolded. “After the execution team has withdrawn to the observation room, the warden signals the executioner, who pulls a handle to connect the power supply. A jolt of between 500 and 2000 volts, which lasts for about 30 seconds, is given” (Death Penalty Information Center, 2012). After it has been confirmed that the inmate’s heart has stopped beating, the current is turned off.

Lethal Injection

Lethal injection is used by 36 states of the US today as the method of execution. In this method, the criminal is bound to a gurney. The execution team places a number of heart monitors upon the individual’s skin. They inset two needles into usable veins in the arms of the inmate. One of the needles is a back-up. The needle is connected with long tubes to numerous intravenous drips. The first drip consists of a saline solution that is harmless and starts immediately. When the warden signals, the inmate is exposed to the witnesses who have gathered in the adjoining room with the raising of a curtain. The inmate is put to sleep by giving him/her an injection of sodium thiopental. The inmate’s muscular system is paralyzed by giving him/her an injection of pancuronium bromide or pavulon. With the paralysis of the body, the inmate’s breath stops. Finally, an injection of potassium chloride is given to the inmate which stops the inmate’s heart-beat. Death happens as a result of the overdose of anesthesia as well as the cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Gas Chamber

In this method of execution, the inmate is strapped to a chair that is placed inside an airtight chamber. A pail of sulfuric acid is placed beneath the chair. A stethoscope is affixed to the inmate that enables the doctor sitting out of the gas chamber to pronounce the death. Upon the signal of the warden, the executioner fills the pail with the crystals of sodium cyanide by pulling a lever. As a result of this, hydrogen cyanide gas is released by a chemical reaction. The inmate experiences pain, horror, and strangles. The skin of the inmate becomes purple and he/she starts drooling. The inmate experiences a pain similar to the heart attack in which the heart is deprived of oxygen. Death of the inmate happens because of hypoxia in which the supply of oxygen is stopped to the brain. “At postmortem, an exhaust fan sucks the poison air out of the chamber, and the corpse is sprayed with ammonia to neutralize any remaining traces of cyanide” (Death Penalty Information Center, 2012).

Evaluation of the Pros and Cons of Death Penalty

“Understanding why people support or oppose capital punishment is important for abolitionists, proponents, politicians, and social scientists” (Lambert, Clarke, and Lambert, 2004, p. 3). Generally, death penalty is favored by the citizens who are afraid of crime (Arthur, 1998). Some of the most important and widely considered pros and cons of death penalty are discussed as follows:

Pros of Death Penalty

Lack of Need of Supervision

Death penalty leads the criminals to their destination once and for all. Death penalty reduces the number of criminals in the prison to be looked after, administered and supervised. This not only reduces the load on the shoulders of the police, but also makes more room in the prison available to accommodate the criminals.

The morality of death penalty

Death penalty has been criticized because of the controversy surrounding the fact that it is essentially a forced end of human life. However, death penalty is justified since the criminals are executed because of their own actions. Death penalty of the criminals is how their victims gain justice.

The crimes of rape, torture, treason, kidnapping, murder, larceny, and perjury pivot on a moral code that escapes apodictic [indisputably true] proof by expert testimony or otherwise. But communities would plunge into anarchy if they could not act on moral assumptions less certain than that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. Abolitionists may contend that the death penalty is inherently immoral because governments should never take human life, no matter what the provocation. But that is an article of faith, not of fact. The death penalty honors human dignity by treating the defendant as a free moral actor able to control his own destiny for good or for ill; it does not treat him as an animal with no moral sense. (Fein cited in, n.d.).

Eradication of the Risk of Parole

When the criminals are not executed, they essentially get an opportunity of parole using which they can again commit crimes. Death penalty ensures that this risk is eradicated so that the same criminal does not get another chance of committing the crime. “[S]ome proponents of the death penalty perceive crime rates as rising and see crime as a serious social problem that requires the death penalty in order to maintain law and order” (Lambert, Clarke, and Lambert, p. 8).

Cons of Death Penalty

Cost of Death Penalty

There is a lot of debate about whether death penalty is costlier than life sentencing or life sentencing incurs the government more cost as compared to death penalty. While some people think that death penalty saves the government all the cost incurred in administering and supervising the criminals in the prison, the most comprehensive study to date has found contradictory results to this perception. In the study conducted by the Duke University, it was found that the costs of death penalty in the US state of North Carolina per execution exceeds the cost incurred in the non-death penalty murder case with life sentencing by $2.16 million (Duke University cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2012). According to another research conducted by the Urban Institute, a case of death penalty in the US state of Maryland costs as much as three times more as compared to another case in which the death penalty is not sought. Total cost incurred if the death sentence is not sought is $1,103,000, cost when the death sentence is unsuccessfully sought is $1,793,000, whereas the cost incurred when the death sentence is successfully sought is $3,017,000 (, n.d.). At least 47 states in the US do not have the possibility of parole with the life sentences. 18 out of these 47 states do not have the possibility of parole. Death penalty has been criticized frequently because of its high cost. According to the Chief State Attorney of Connecticut, John M. Bailey, “Every dollar we spend on a capital case is a dollar we can’t spend anywhere else… We have to let the public know what it costs [to pursue a capital case]” (Bailey cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2012). The former Montana Court administrator, Jim Oppedahl, also expresses his distaste for the death penalty in these words, “There is simply no place for such an enormously expensive government program that accomplishes nothing. And on that criterion alone, the death penalty ought to die” (Oppedahl cited in, n.d.).

Ineffectiveness of Death Penalty in the Reduction of Crime Rate

Death penalty is commonly thought to be a deterrent to the homicide, that justifies the death penalty. Particularly, politicians believe in the deterrent effect of death penalty (Zeisel and Gallup, 1989). Many Americans would be against the death penalty if they did not believe it to be a deterrent to the homicide. The reality is that no credible evidence that finds death penalty effective in reducing the crime rate in the long run has been identified to date (, n.d.). States in the US that have enforced the laws that allow the death penalty have almost the same crime rates as the states denying these laws have. This essentially leads to the conclusion that there is no deterrent effect of the death penalty. The social science research has discredited the notion that murders are deterred by death penalty.


Death penalty in the US is one of the most controversial and debatable topics. Death penalty is given in different ways that include but are not limited to electrocution, gas chamber, lethal injection, and hanging. Death penalty has both pros and cons. One pro of death penalty is that it is a one-time decision. The criminals are executed, which reduces the load of the prison administrators. Another pro of death penalty is that it gives justice to the victims. In addition to that, death penalty eliminates the risk of the criminals getting a chance of parole. A potential con of the death penalty is its high cost. Cost of the death penalty has been found to be three times as much as that incurred when death penalty is not sought. Besides, death penalty has not been found to lower the crime rates in the states in which it is enforced. There is negligible, if any, relation between death penalty and crime rate. Death penalty does not produce a deterrent effect on the homicides. Death penalty in the US is justified because this reduces risk for the citizens of the release of citizens by parole.


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