Death Penalty Literature Review




Since time immemorial the debate on whether death penalty is right or not has always existed. Various scholars have often tried taking a stand on why or why not capital punishment is wrong. Pro death penalty scholars have often argued that death [penalty is needed in a society so that law and order may exist. According to Mona Lynch (2002), she looks into the topic and as to why capital punishment should not be banned. According to Lynch, capital punishment despite the cost it bears serves a role of punishing offenders. In examining the effectiveness of this punishment Lynch look at innocent victims as well as the evil (capital murderers). Often murders are likely to be put on death row and according to Lynch there is nothing wrong about punishing someone who killed another ruthlessly using the capital punishment. Most victims who have experienced the evil of crime such as their family member being killed are likely to support death penalty as compared to people who may not really understand what it feels.

According to Sethuraju R. and Sole J. in their journal titled “Understanding Death Penalty Support” they look at the debates taken by both sides. From the journal, death penalty is the most intense form of sentence one can get. With a death penalty then one is likely to have committed a very heinous crime. Those in support of the punishment have argued that death penalty helps in deterring certain crimes from happening. When a person knows the risk of committing a certain crime then they are likely to avoid it. For the abolitionist, most have argued that death penalty does not serve the role of prisons which is helping people become better. The chances of also putting an innocent man on death row are also high and once this is done, nothing much can be done. The research closely looks at the arguments that seems to arise on both sides including the fact that death penalty is an expensive mode of punishment and that money being used to punish these offenders may be channeled into something else (Sethuraju, 2016).

According to Gross et al (20014) the Death penalty was introduced in the United States as a legal practice used a tool of delivering justice to those who have committed is regarded as necessary to those who have committed a crime in the united states. Thus, the judicial systems developed such as the death penalty that is in contemporary society referred to as capital punishment. Although on the decline death penalty continues to arouse controversy in the justice department especially on how it is being used, its legality and how it is effective in reducing recidivism and prevent people from committing capital offenses (Gross et al 2014). The development of this review in order to be complete highlights the history of the death penalty, the reduced number of deaths penalties and the likelihood of its reducing further and further. It shows the minimal contribution of the death penalty to their main aim that is reducing the committing of capital offenses. It shows the effectiveness of the death penalty as a way to reduce the chances of one recommitting an offense. And showing how the Americans are against the constitutional provision of the death penalty as the majority of these people call for its abolishment’s. The death penalty is regarded as a practice that has come of age and that it should be banned by the federal government. The review develops a gap in the review of the death penalty as there is an impact on the families of the victims who are executed convicts, thus the need to asses psychological and mental effects.

There have been arguments that have been presented on how effective death penalty is especially in deterring crimes. According to a research conducted by John Lamperti (1994), he examines the role of Capital punishment in deterring murder. In his research he concluded that capital punishment had a little deterrence to homicides and murder. He gives example of people who have killed in order to invite execution as a form of execution. A good example is where he cites how Clinton Duffy who was a warden in San Quentin prison stated that several homicide cases were as a result of the death penalty and the punishment did not deter the crime.

Since the first use of the death penalty in 1608, there has been a number of documentaries developed to focus, analyses and discuss the practice. The first execution was experienced in the British North American colonies where they executed Captain George Kendall at Jamestown colony through the firing squad. Captain George was convicted for trying to spy on the Spanish government. The execution was shown often carried out by either the firing at the convict or hanging of the convict (Shirley & Gelman,2015). By the year 1991, in the view of Gross et al (2014), there had been over 15,200 cases of people executed after being sentenced to death. Cruel and unusual punishment was prohibited by the American constitution upon the 8th amendments of the bill of rights adopted in 1789, (Shirley & Gelman,2015). It is from the historical period in which death sentences attracted controversies with Barkan and Cohan (1994) extensively studying resistance movements against the implementation and use of the death penalty. According to Barkan and Cohan (1994), death sentences and resistance to these practices begun as early as 1846 in the United States. The case of Gregg vs Georgia saw the height of abolition of the death penalty although the authors through a number of states had abolished the practice before this case (Barkan & Cohan,1994).

The judiciary took a proactive approach in reduction of the number of death penalty cases reducing the death conviction cases drastically. A study by Shirley and Gelman in 2015 showed how differently the citizens of the United States perceived the legality of the death penalty. Majority of the Americans thought perceived the death penalty as a cruel and unusual punishment that the state and the federal government should abolish. These were developed as finding from the study whose focus was on the effectiveness of the death penalty practice. Although these findings suggested otherwise, the federal government and other state governments widely use the death penalty and are still recommended for federal cases (Shirley & Gelman,2015).

There was a major development in the death penalty practice in 1972 when the supreme court suspended the use of the death penalty against crimes of a capital offense. Although the suspension did not last for long, Welsh and Pfeffer (2013), viewed that this suspension came as a huge relief to the public who had mixed reactions. According to the authors, the use of the death penalty is was a violation of the fourth and eight amendments of the American constitution thus being unconstitutional (Welsh and Pfeffer,2013). This suspension did not remove the death penalty from the constitution as it was only the opinion of judges without a rationale. In a legal bombshell, the writers show how the death sentences were reduced from the pending death conviction to life imprisonment. Welsh and Pfeffer (2013) noted that the suspension was developed as a result of inconsistencies before the law thus it did not guarantee equality.

Although death sentences have been in effect since 1608, capital offences are still being reported every day showing the inefficiency of the death penalty. A study by Canes-Wrone, Clark and Kelly (2014), the finding showed that Americans thought of the death penalty as an ineffective measure to reducing or stopping people from committing capital offenses. The study shows that the united nations tend to enforce the death penalty not as a measure of deterring but as a way of showing those with intent to commit an offense to often think before committing. The study proves that Americans do not think twice before committing a capital offense as there are a number of murder cases being reported on a daily basis. Use of death sentence to deter capital offences is no longer an effective way (Cane-Wrone, Clark and Kelly, 2014). The study is supported findings from a study by Acker (2017) that recorded a 59% of Americans who acknowledged and viewed the death penalty as a cruel unusual punishment thus unconstitutional. Every person has a right to live hence as a democratic nation, the United States should lead in protecting the rights of its citizens (Acker,2017). The findings from Acker’s study show that the black community view the death sentence as a scheme to infringe on their rights by the dominant race (Barkan & Cohan,1994).

Although the application of the death sentence across 30 states and its recommendation by the federal government, the review findings show that it is on the decline. The review shows the development of the death penalty as a punishment of capital offences dating back to 1608. From the studies reviews, they confirm that the 30 counties still apply the death penalty as a punishment for capital offenders. The review findings indicate that the United States view the use of death sentence although not that effective as a way to deter people from committing capital crimes (Shirley & Gelman,2015). It shows various resistance for the application of the death sentence and how it is unconstitutional based on the American constitutional amendments that abolished the use of cruel and unusual punishments in its 8th amendment. It is believed that with the landmark ruling that suspended the use of death sentence by the supreme court in 1972, the cases of death sentences convictions are drastically reducing.


Acker, J. R. (2017). Scrutinizing the death penalty: State death penalty study commissions and their recommendations. The death penalty today (pp. 45-76). CRC Press.

Barkan, S. E., & Cohn, S. F. (1994). Racial prejudice and support for the death penalty by whites. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 31(2), 202-209.

Canes-Wrone, B., & Clark, T. S. Kelly., Jason P. 2014.“. Judicial Selection and Death Penalty Decisions.” American Political Science Review, 108(1), 23-39.

Lamperti, J., Marshall, J., & Nixon, R. M. (1994). Does Capital Punishment Deter Murder?. URL (consulted 17 May 2004) http://www. dartmouth. edu/~ chance/teaching_aids/books_articles/JLpaper. pdf.

Lynch, M. (2002). Capital punishment as moral imperative: Pro-death-penalty discourse on the Internet. Punishment & Society, 4(2), 213-236.

Sethuraju, R., Sole, J., & Oliver, B. E. (2016). Understanding death penalty support and opposition among criminal justice and law enforcement students. SAGE Open, 6(1), 2158244015624952.

Shirley, K. E., & Gelman, A. (2015). Hierarchical models for estimating state and demographic trends in US death penalty public opinion. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 178(1), 1-28.

Vito, A. G., & Vito, G. F. (2014). Capital punishment. The Encyclopedia of Theoretical Criminology, 1-4.

Welsh, B. C., & Pfeffer, R. D. (2013). Reclaiming crime prevention in an age of punishment: An American history. Punishment & Society, 15(5), 534-553.

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