Background information on the death penalty

In earlier times, the death penalty was used for a variety of reasons that today would seem barbaric.

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Some cultures used it as punishment for magic, violation of the Sabbath, blasphemy, a variety of sexual crimes including sodomy and murder. Today, execution in the US is used primarily for murder, espionage and treason. In China, human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are punishable by death, and several militaries around the world impose the death penalty for desertion, mutiny and even insubordination.

In middle-eastern countries, rape, adultery, incest and sodomy carry the death penalty as does apostasy the act of renouncing the state religion. While most industrialized countries utilize lethal injection or the electric chair for capital punishment, many others still use hanging, beheading or stoning. In some states in the US, death by firing squad is also still used. The Death Debate The fight between those who support capital punishment and those who oppose it is rather simple compared to many other debates.

Those who oppose capital punishment believe, first and foremost, that any person, including the government, has no right to take a life for any reason.

The death penalty–then and now

They also believe that the risk of executing an innocent person is too high. Death sentences were carried out by such means as beheading, boiling in oil, burying alive, burning, crucifixion, disembowelment, drowning, flaying alive, hanging, impalement, stoning, strangling, being thrown to wild animals, and quartering being torn apart.

In Britain, hanging became the usual method of execution in the 10th century A. In the 11th century, William the Conqueror would not allow persons to be hanged or otherwise executed for any crime, except in times of war. However, this trend didn't last long. Common execution methods used during this time included boiling, burning at the stake, hanging, beheading, and drawing and quartering. Various capital offenses included marrying a Jew, not confessing to a crime, and treason.

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The number of capital crimes in Britain increased throughout the next two centuries. By the s, over crimes were punishable by death in Britain, including theft, cutting down a tree, and robbing a rabbit warren. However, due to the severity of the death penalty, many juries would not convict defendants if offenses weren't serious.

Such practices led to early reform of Britain's death penalty laws.

Exploring the complicated history of the death penalty

From to , the death sentence was eliminated for over half of the crimes previously punishable by death. The early history of death penalty laws in the United States begins during colonial times, where criminal punishments varied quite a bit. The first known execution in the "New World" was in the Jamestown colony in present-day Virginia in the early 17th century. Offenses such as stealing grapes, trading with Native Americans, or striking one's mother or father were punishable by death in some colonies.

Pennsylvania ended the death penalty for all offenses but first degree murder in , while Michigan abolished capital punishment for all crimes but treason in However, most states maintained the death penalty until public support sharply declined in the s. The U.

Supreme Court banned the death penalty nationwide in , ruling that it was arbitrary and discriminatory as applied at the time. But just four years later, the Court reversed this decision , thereby allowing states to reinstate capital punishment as long as they corrected the problems cited by the Court in the earlier decision. This led to some reforms, including automatic appeals of death sentences and efforts to reduce sentencing disparities. But in the 21st century, a growing number of states began to implement moratoriums or statutory bans on the death penalty, including New York , Maryland , and Illinois.

Furthermore, exoneration of death row inmates through DNA evidence has continued to shift public opinion away from support of the death penalty.

While the history of death penalty laws has its share of twists and turns in history, the value of a good attorney is timeless. Whether you're facing a possible prison sentence, loss of your professional license, or other potential penalties, it's probably in your best interests to seek professional help.

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