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UNITED STATES V. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

criminal record pardon
by SS&SS

Article by Ben Kuhl

Society has erected the gallows at the end of the lane instead of guideposts and direction boards at the beginning. — Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, British novelist and poet (1803-1873).

Introduction: The practice of capital punishment is as old as the thought of government itself. The United States, since its founding, have continued the historical punishment. Founded in the time of a bloody Revolution, capital punishment on the grounds of treason or cowardice were key deterrents to Yankees intimidated by the large British military. Throughout the times, the punishment has evolved along with the culture of the United States by cases heard by the United State Supreme Court. The rulings of which revolve specifically around the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

Tradition and History: The questioning of the death penalty has continued since recorded history. As early as the Tang Dynasty, China experimented outlawing the practice for over a decade. The practice of capital punishment was anchored in the New World early in such examples as the Salem Witch Trials, making examples of unruly slaves, and the bloody examples set by the American Revolution. The United States Supreme Court has seen significant cases regarding capital punishment since 1878.

In the case Wilkerson v. Utah 99 U.S. 130 (1878), The US Supreme Court ruled death by firing squad was not cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. However, it did determine such methods as disembowelment was cruel and unusual. Six years later, the US Supreme Court saw the case Hurtado v. California 110 U.S. 516 (1884). California had not given Hurtado a grand jury hearing before the trail accusing him of the murder of his wife. The US Supreme Court ruled the Fourteenth Amendment did not specifically imply the right to a grand jury and individual states may have the right to create their own specific laws. They found the case has been performed fairly, and Hurtado was executed. In 1890, the Court saw the case In re Kemmler 136 U.S. 436 (1889). Lawyers of William Kemmler argued after his conviction of the murder of his wife that the new technology of the electric chair was considered cruel and unusual punishment. The appeal failed, and Kemmler was the first person executed by the electric chair on August 6 1890 in Buffalo New York.

Over a half century later, the next important Supreme Court case regarding capital punishment was seen, The State of Louisiana Ex Rel. Francis v. Resweber 329 U.S. 459 (1947). Willie Francis became the first victim of a botched execution in the electric chair due to an improper wiring of the electric chair. After not being executed in 1946, Francis petitioned it an infringement of his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments Rights to be executed a second time, specifically appealing to double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishment. The courts ruled it constitutional that a faulty execution is not an infringement of a person’s rights nor absolves them of being executed.”For we see no difference from a constitutional point of view between…an execution that follows a failure of equipment. When an accident, with no suggestion of malevolence, prevents the consummation of a sentence, the state’s subsequent course in the administration of its criminal law is not affected on that account by any requirement of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.” 329 U.S. 459

In 1972, the United States Supreme Court saw a landmark case, Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972). The ruling of which overturned 3 death penalty cases and called for a degree of uniformity when considering the criteria for capital punishment. Furman imposed a moratorium, stranding over six hundred death row inmates which states rewrote death penalty laws in order to be deemed constitutional.”These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed. My concurring Brothers have demonstrated that, if any basis can be discerned for the selection of these few to be sentenced to death, it is the constitutionally impermissible basis of race.” -Justice Potter StewartJustice Potter Stewart, on of the Supreme Court Associate Judges at the time of the case, argued there were discrepancies in the administration of the death penalty due to a prejudice regarding race and social status.”The arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.” Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238 (1972)Executions resumed on January 17, 1977, when Gary Gilmore was executed via firing squad in Utah.

In Coker v. Georgia 433 U.S 584 (1977) the Supreme Court ruled the Eighth Amendment barred the capital punishment penalty for rape, and other crimes other than murder was unconstitutional. An exception was included though to not include federal crimes, such as kidnapping, treason, espionage, and various others.

In 1993, federal law 18 U.S.A.

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