The right against cruel and unusual punishment and the death penalty is a highly discussed matter, especially with the Supreme Court. The death penalty is a highly controversial topic being discussed all over the country. There are 32 out of the 50 states that consent to execution for first degree murder, treason, kidnapping, aggravated rape, the murder of a police or corrections officer, and murder while under a life sentence are punishable by the death sentence in some jurisdictions. Where states like Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland are of the states eradicating the death penalty.
Illinois abolished its capital punishment statute in 2011 and replaced it with life in prison without the opportunity of parole. In 2012 Connecticut also repealed capital punishment although the 11 men on death row at the time are still scheduled to be executed. Maryland is the latest state to eliminate the death penalty statute in 2013, making Maryland the 18th state to relinquish use of the death penalty. The death penalty has been in debate since 1976. In 1976 the Supreme Court dealt with the Woodson v.
North Carolina case where it was ruled that a state law was found unconstitutional to make mandatory the death penalty for all first-degree murders. The eighth amendment prohibiting the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment, including torture is a main topic brought up in many arguments for and against the right of capital punishment. Where many consider the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment some believe that long delays caused by the government in carrying out the execution may render the punishment unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.
In 1997 the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s year old child statute, which permits for the imposition (force) of capital sentence when a victim is less than twelve years old. The case involved an AIDS infected father who raped his three daughters, ages five, eight, and nine. In maintaining the father’s death sentence Louisiana ruled that child rape is “like no other crime. ” However eleven years later in 2008 the Supreme Court dealt with the Kennedy v.
Louisiana case where the Supreme Court ruled that the eighth amendment bars Louisiana (and other states) from imposing the death penalty for child rape where the crime did not end or was not intended to result in the victim’s death. Methods of carrying out the death penalty vary by state. The majority of states that entertain the death penalty permit execution through lethal injection. The second most common mean is electrocution. Hanging, the gas chamber, and firing squads have all survived at least as options available to the condemned in a few states.
In 2008 the Supreme Court dealt with the Baze v. Rees case where the capital punishment of lethal injection involving a three-drug “cocktail” used by Kentucky does not violate the eighth amendment because it does not create unnecessary infliction of pain, torture, or lingering death. In 1878 Wilkerson v. Utah was one of the earliest cases the Supreme Court had dealing with the death penalty. It raised concerns about the eighth amendment questioning shooting as a cruel and unusual technique to execute through the death penalty.
The court disagreed saying that using a firing squad was civil compared to what techniques were used around the time the Bill of Rights was written. In 1890 the Court supported electrocution as an acceptable way of execution in In re Kemmler. In Kemmler the Court defined the terms of cruel and unusual means of execution as: “Punishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death; but the punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the Constitution. It implies there is something inhuman and barbarous, something more than the mere extinguishing of life. ”
Members of the Supreme Court questioned the constitutionality of hanging, proposing that it too may be cruel and unusual punishment. In 1994 case, Campbell v. Wood, the defendant, Charles Campbell raped a woman and was released from prison at the completion of his sentence and then went back and murdered her. His request for a stay of execution was denied since the law of Washington State, where the murder occurred, offered Campbell a choice of various methods of execution and therefore an alternative to hanging. In 2006 questions were brought forth about lethal injections as constituting cruel and unusual punishment.
These questions were originated with eyewitness accounts, postmortem blood testing, and execution logs that seemed to show that some of those executed remained conscious but paralyzed and experienced excruciating amounts of pain and suffering before dying. These claims focused on the contents of the chemical cocktail being used, which contains one drug (sodium thiopental, a short-acting barbiturate) to induce sleep, another (pancuronium bromide) to paralyze the muscles (but which does not cause unconsciousness), and a third (potassium chloride) to stop the heart.
If the first chemical is incorrectly administered the condemned person remains conscious, and the procedure can cause severe pain and discomfort. In 2008 the Court had this issue in the Baze v. Rees case. The Court said that it does not violate the eighth amendment because it does not create substantial risk of wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain, torture, or lingering death. “Because some risk of pain is inherent in even the most humane execution method” wrote the justices, “the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain.
Questions about the constitutionality of electrocution as a means of execution again came to fore in 1997, when flames shot from the head and the leather mask covering the face of Pedro Medina during his Florida execution. Also in 1999, blood poured from behind the mask covering Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis’s face as he was put to death in Florida’s electric chair. The state officials claim that the three hundred and forty-four pound Davis suffered a nosebleed brought on by hypertension and the blood-thinning medication that he had been taking.
In 2001 the Georgia Supreme Court declared electrocution to be unconstitutional, ending its use in that state. Reason being that the court cited lower-court records portraying that electrocution may not result in a quick death or in an immediate cessation of consciousness. In 1972 Furman v. Georgia, was the case in which the Supreme Court acknowledged “evolving standards of decency. ” In a 5-4 ruling the Furman ruling invalidated Georgia’s death penalty statute on the grounds that it gave a jury unguided freedom in the imposition of a capital sentence.
Out of the Furman ruling evolved a two-step procedure used to this day in capital cases. The first stage is where guilt or innocence is decided and the second stage is the penalty phase where the introduction of new evidence is presented that would have had nothing to do with the deciding factors in phase one, such as drug use or childhood abuse. Most death penalty jurisdictions juries decide the punishment. Although in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Nebraska the trial judge sets the penance in the second stage of capital murder trials. In Alabama, Delaware, Florida, and Indiana juries are allowed to recommend a sentence to the judge.
In 1976 the Supreme Court legalized the two-step trial procedure in the Gregg v. Georgia case. In 2002 case Ring v. Arizona juries found Timothy Stuart Ring guilty of felony murder occurring in the course of an armed robbery for the killing of an armored car driver in 1994, but it deadlocked in the charge if premeditated murder. Arizona law did not allow Ring to be executed, the statutory maximum penalty for first-degree murder unless a judge made further findings in a separate sentence hearing. However the death penalty could be imposed if the judge found existence of at least one aggravating circumstance.
During a hearing the judge listened to an accomplice of the murder who said that Ring planned the robbery and shot the guard. The judge decided that Ring was the actual killer and that the killing was for financial gain (an aggravating factor). This resulted in Ring being sentenced to death. Ring’s attorney appealed claiming that Arizona’s sentencing scheme violated the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a jury trial because it entrusted a judge with fact-finding powers that allowed Ring’s sentence to be raised above what would have otherwise been the statutory maximum.
The Supreme Court agreed and overturned Ring’s sentence. The Ring v. Arizona ruled juries-not judges- must decide the facts, including those relating to aggravating circumstances that may lead to a death sentence. The Ring ruling called into question at least one hundred and fifty judge-imposed death sentences in at least five states; Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Nebraska.