Is Capital Punishment Here To Stay?
Is Capital Punishment in the US Here To Stay?
Capital punishment is one of those issues about which a world wide consensus will never be reached. Many a government and family dining table has been divided on the subject; how best to punish someone who kills a fellow human? Is the old adage “an eye for an eye”, as maintained by 32 US States, a humane and effective deterrent to serious crime? Is there one method of lethal punishment preferable to another?
Hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, lethal injection and electrocution are the five methods officially used by the US to carry out the death penalty, though lethal injection is always the preferred primary method to be used. This is, however, becoming problematic as European suppliers of these lethal concoctions are refusing to sell them, due to their moral opposition to capital punishment. For this reason, Utah lawmakers passed a bill in March 2015 which make it the only US State to allow death by firing squad as a primary method of execution, when these lethal injection drugs are unavailable.
This rather draconian move of Utah, reinstating firing squad practice over a decade after it abandoned it, has sparked worldwide debate. Civil rights groups are denouncing it as ethically barbaric whereas its sponsor, Republican Rep. Paul Ray, believes it to be a more benevolent form of execution, due to its rapidity, when compared with the botched lethal injections that increasingly take place, causing long and drawn out deaths; last year, for example, condemned Arizonian Joseph Wood was subjected to one hour and 58 minutes of slow struggle before the injection finally worked.
Utah isn’t the only State to be reviving methods of execution which many thought we would never see again. Tennessee has reinstated the electric chair to fill the void left by dwindling supplies of lethal injection drugs. Missouri has publicly discussed the idea of rebuilding its gas chamber and Oklahoma are considering the use of nitrogen gas as an execution method. The moral questions associated with this sort of ‘death penalty nostalgia’ are what make it such a hotly debated topic. We must ask ourselves why States are bringing back methods which most of them previously declared as inhumane. According to Amherst professor Austin Sarat, “after a century promising that a new technology could be found that would be truly humane, we are now taking a step taking backwards”. But maybe the common denominator isn’t the development of technology, but the fact that a “humane” way of execution is impossible to find.
Of course, abolishing the death penalty completely would be the answer to this controversy. And let’s not forget that many States have, in practice, abolished it even if, in theory, their law still permits it. But the fact remains that even as recently as 2013, public support for capital punishment was at 60%. For now therefore, it seems the death penalty, even in its most brutal forms, is not going anywhere fast. So it’s important to decide where we, as individuals, stand on an issue whose future has never been more in the balance.
Anna is currently spending the fourth year of her Law degree in France, studying for a Masters in French Law at the University of Rennes. She is slightly obsessed with learning languages, having knowledge of French, Spanish, Portuguese and a little Russian under her belt so far. Alongside her studies, Anna tutors English to foreign students. Fascinated by different cultures and how they interlink, Anna recently took herself off to live in Morocco for a month. In her minimal spare time, Anna likes to read, run, eat, go to church, travel, discover beautiful countryside and improve her classical singing. She also believes that, in the words of Newton Faulkner, people should smile more.