February 25, 2010
The death penalty has been in our history since the colonial times and ever since then it has become an issue of debate between those who support it and those who do not. Since the 1960’s lawyers and activists have been protesting and attacking the constitutionality of the death penalty. They questioned if the issue of the death penalty violated the right to “due process” or “equal protection under the law,” or is it “cruel and unusual punishment”, which is stated in the 8th amendment of the constitution prohibiting any “cruel and unusual punishment.” During the years of 1967-1976 the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty would be suspended until all states rewrote their death penalty laws due to constitutional problems that needed to be resolved. During that time 600 death row inmates had their death sentences reduced to life in prison. Recently, in 2002 the Atkins vs. Virginia court case ruled that states can no longer sentence the mentally retarded to the death penalty. Then in 2003, the Illinois governor placed a moratorium on the death penalty and a year later New York abolished the death penalty by finding it unconstitutional. Throughout the many years of debate and court cases about the death penalty, there are two main sides: one side may say deterrence, while the other side may say, but you may execute an innocent man. Which side is correct?
Overall, those who oppose the death penalty feel that by condemning someone to death for murdering makes them sink to the level of that criminal by doing so, when we as a country should rise above these crimes. Many death penalty opponents consider capital punishment to be cruel and unusual punishment, which violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Specific methods of execution like the electric chair, hanging, lethal gas, and a firing squad is consistently under attack as violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Some defenders of the death penalty believe some methods of execution, such as lethal injection, are more humane than others.
In order to determine whether the death penalty is to be considered cruel and unusual punishment, it is necessary to first define each word in order to get full understanding of the issue being assessed. According to the Merriam-Webster collegiate dictionary, cruel is defined as: disposed to inflict pain or suffering devoid of humane feelings. Unusual is defined as: not usual, uncommon, or rare. ...