Capital Punishment


Criminal offenses call for different punishments. In some cases, an offender is sentenced for a few years, released on a cash bail, or jailed for life. However, in extreme criminal cases such as murder or treason, the judicial system may impose a death penalty upon an offender. Such a legal action is termed as capital punishment. The following discussion focuses on the constitutional issues relative to the death penalty. Further, the researcher presents a discussion on current debates on the issues within the U.S context. Later, the focus shifts to an analysis of two death penalty cases. The aim is to analyze how the cases reflect competing arguments regarding capital punishment. Primarily, some people support the legal action while others oppose the judicial execution. Therefore, the research reviews the two sides of the coin in the two cases.

Constitutional Issues Relative to the Death Penalty

The determination of an offense as a capital crime in the U.S does not always call for a death penalty. Under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S Constitution, the federal government is limited from imposing cruel and unusual punishments upon an offender. However, existing literature notes that there is no consensus on whether imposing a death sentence is an inhumane act. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has termed some past cases as unconstitutional whereby State governments imposed mandatory death penalties upon criminals (U.S Legal, 2016). The Supreme Court arrived at the conclusion by basing the legal actions on the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, it can be concluded that death penalty in the U.S is unconstitutional.

Another country that does support capital punishment in its constitution is the U.K. according to The Guardian (2015),the Great Britain has not imposed a death penalty upon an offender for the last 53 years. The historical record sets a remarkable position for the U.K. Despite the seriousness of some of the crimes that, in some countries, are punishable by death, the country’s constitution respects the right to life. The country’s judicial system has no power to restore the death penalty so as long as the UK is a party to the Convention (Harris et al., 2014).

Other countries, however, allow capital punishment in their constitutions. For example, Zambia is one of the African countries that impose death sentences on offenders for three different crimes. The offenses are murder, aggravated robbery, and treason under Sections 201, 294, and 43 respectively of the Penal Code (Mwaba, 2015). However, the constitutional action creates special provisions for pregnant or minor offenders. Such individuals are sentenced to life rather than being executed, usually through hanging by the neck. Scholars express concern that the country does not seem to review the sanction in the near future.

Another country that tops the list of world executioners is China. According to recent statistics, the country executed more than one thousand death penalties in 2015. In 2014, China recorded at least 2,400 executions (Death Penalty Worldwide, 2014; Griffiths, 2016). The alarming statistics indicate that China had the most cases of capital punishments as compared to all other countries combined. Other countries that follow China’s death penalties record are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan respectively.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have come forward to condemn the legal practice of executions. The group describes the legal action as insensitive and demoralizing to the human being (Amnesty International, 2016).  According to the organization, its campaigns against the death penalty have yielded positive results. Today, more than a hundred countries across the world have abolished capital punishment (Amnesty International, 2017). However, some countries such as China and Iran are still adamant to amend their respective constitutions. The human rights group expresses concerns over the justification of executioners. Primarily, the organization evaluates the fact of death penalties that the action is irreversible. Therefore, if an innocent person is hanged and later exonerated, the case is irreversible. In essence, a person’s innocence may be determined long after they have been sentenced to death thus discrediting capital punishments.

Current Debates on Capital Punishment

The U.S is gradually shifting to more restrained and progressive approaches to punishment. As per the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), the shift from relatively harsh sanctions such as capital punishment rehabilitation of offenders is attributed to a new generation of prosecutors who oppose the death penalty. The prosecutors have even gone ahead to forgive offenders of minor crimes. However, the organization (DPIC) does not highlight some of the crimes that are termed as “minor.” Nevertheless, the prosecutors’ proposed reform measures have seen the election of several District Attorneys who object to the death penalty (DPIC, 2017).

The members of the public are also voting against the death penalty. The U.S has recorded a lower number of executions in the recent years following the decreasing support from the public (Masci, 2017). The research further highlighted a significant aspect of the issue. Democrats have shown the least support for the legal practice with only 34% of the lot voting for the death penalty in 2016. However, Republicans tend to support capital punishment with the statistics showing that 72% of the lot favors the death penalty. Before the 2016 U.S elections, Donald Trump made it clear in his campaigns that the death penalty would be enforced on persons who kill law enforcement officers (Storey, 2017). The growing concern is whether the Republican administration has any plans to revoke the practice across all its States.

            Despite the legal fight against capital punishment in the U.S, some States such as Utah still impose death penalties. The controversy in Utah is that there is insufficient public funding for the lawyers representing prisoners on a death row. The underfunding phenomenon may lead to a constitutional requirement that the justice system overturns death sentences to life imprisonment of the offender (DPIC, 2017). The lawyers’ fraternity demands for more pay or a reconsideration of the capital punishment by the courts. The bottom line is that the State of Utah supports death penalty despite the lawyers’ financial constraints.

Another area of discussion on the issue of capital punishment is the effectiveness of the practice. According to the Pew Research Center 2015 survey, 60% of the members of the public do not think that capital punishment prevents people from committing capital offenses. The research also established that both opponents and supporters of death penalty agree that there is a high likelihood of taking the life of an innocent person. The opponents were more at 71% while the supporters scored 63% in the survey (Masci, 2017). This data imply that executions do not necessarily translate to behavioral change among offenders. Further, the high risk of incriminating an innocent person raises the question of justice in the judicial system.

Moreover, scholars review the aspects of race and gender in the U.S justice system regarding the death penalty. The underlying data shows that Whites (57%) favor capital punishment more than the Blacks (29%) and Hispanics (36%). Similarly, more men support death penalty than women at 55% and 43% respectively (Masci, 2017). However, the research does not expound on the data to explain the foundation of the support or opposition of the death penalty among the groups. Nevertheless, other studies have established that the U.S judicial system has a particular bias against some racial groups such as African Americans as compared to the Whites. Washington Jurors have a high likelihood of imposing capital punishment on people of color than on the White Americans (DPIC, 2017).

Death Penalty Case 1

In 2016, CNN published information regarding a death penalty imposed upon an African-American man by the name Duane Buck. The court relied on the defendant’s lawyer’s incriminating evidence which was purely based on race. Buck’s attorney argued that his client was “more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black” (de Vogue & Kopan, 2016). However, the defendant’s attorneys critiqued the judicial system for imposing capital punishment on Buck based on racial discrimination. The lawyers cited that the Supreme Court should not rely on “false, inflammatory, and deeply prejudicial evidence” to project future threat of the client owing to his race. The defendant’s team sought for a new sentencing for Mr. Buck free of racial bias and stereotyping.

Death Penalty Case 2

In the second case, the criminal on death row goes by the name Bobby Moore. Mr. Moore has been placed under the capital offenders list for 36 years on the charge of robbery with violence in Houston. The offender has a health condition that has rendered him as “intellectually disabled.” According to the U.S Constitution, such an individual is ineligible for the death penalty. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals bypassed the constitutional obligation arguing that the law offers liberty to States to execute the order independently (de Vogue & Kopan, 2016). Later that year, 2016, Moore and his lawyers sighed with relief after the State judge was convinced that the defendant had an intellectual disability. The judge, therefore, ruled that executing Mr. Moore would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Primarily, imposing a death penalty on a person with an intellectual disability would be termed as a cruel and unusual punishment (Liptak, 2016).

Competing Arguments in the Cases Regarding Capital Punishment

The two cases present competing arguments regarding the death penalty. In the first case, the point of controversy is the defendant’s race. The jury seems to be unfair in condemning the offender to a death penalty based on a weak argument of the race. Essentially, the witnesses, the lawyer, and judicial system are convinced that the defendant will be a threat to the society in future because he is Black. In the second case, the issue is about the constitutional position regarding intellectual disability and capital punishment. In the early proceedings of the case, the judicial system in Texas seeks to refute the legal requirement that an intellectually disabled person should be spared from execution. However, a later review of the case works in favor of the defendant. The jury buys the defendant’s attorneys’ evidence that the offender has a proven record of intellectual disability. In this case, the judicial system abides by the law and exempts the offender from execution. The judge argues that imposing capital punishment on the defendant would violate the Eight Amendment.

The difference between the two cases is that in the latter, justice is administered. Fundamentally, the offender’s defense team wins the case thus saving the client from the death penalty. Unfortunately, in the first case, the defendant’s team loses the case unfairly. The dominant racial prejudice clouds the judgment of the jury. Worse yet, the offender’s lawyer seems to be unreliable and untrustworthy as he presents evidence against his client.


Capital Punishment is opposed in most countries’ constitutions. However, some countries support the legal action for crimes such as murder, treason, and aggravated robbery. The U.S considers the death penalty as unconstitutional under the Eight Amendment. Regardless, some States such as Utah still enact capital punishment against offenders. Other countries that support capital punishment include Zambia, China, and Iran. The UK is one of the countries that do not allow the death penalty. All in all, human rights groups such as Amnesty International discourage countries from executing the “inhumane” act especially against individuals who could be innocent. Such campaigns have yielded positive results as the U.S records fewer executions as compared to recent years. Unfortunately, racial bias places certain groups at an unfair position regarding the death penalty, especially African-Americans.


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