Introduction: The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is the practice of executing individuals who have been convicted of certain serious crimes, typically murder. The United States has a complex and controversial history with the death penalty, involving legal, ethical, and societal considerations. This posting provides an overview of the death penalty in the United States, including its history, current status, arguments for and against its use, recent trends. and a selection of death penalty, criminal sentencing Supreme Court cases compiled by Justia, and a list of references for the benefit of those who would like to pursue this subject in greater depth and detail.
Historical Context: The death penalty has been a part of the U.S. legal system since colonial times. The first recorded execution in the new colonies was believed to be that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. Over the years, the application of the death penalty has evolved with changes in methods of execution and legal standards. Use of the death penalty in the United States rose gradually during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries with a sharp rise in the twentieth century until 1972 when a moratorium was established by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Furman v. Georgia.
Modern Era and Legal Framework: In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty, as it was being applied at the time, was unconstitutional due to its arbitrary nature. Subsequently, many states revised their laws to address concerns of arbitrariness and excessive severity. In 1976 the Court reinstated the death penalty with the Gregg v. Georgia decision, in which it as held that death penalty for murder was not, in and of itself, a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.