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The Death Penalty: Literature Review
Briana Gallardo
RWS 1302



Crime has existed since the beginning of time. Since there has been crime punishments
have also been made. The highest punishment a person may receive is the capital punishment.
Although capital punishment was viewed as the right thing to do in old times, people of today’s
society have changed their opinions about it. While some Americans believe the death penalty is
wrong there are still some people who believe it has been used before and has worked and
believe it should continue to be used. In this literary review different views of the death penalty
will be discussed as while as the different sources and facts behind them.


The Death Penalty: Literature Review
The death penalty is something that is dated all the way back to the beginning of
humanity. Mostly influenced by Great Brittan, that is how capital punishment came to America.
Since the beginning of human civilization crime has existed and to go right along with was
punishment. In the early time of civilization the death penalty was something that was not
frowned upon but was actually very common. In the old days dating back to the 1700’s the death
penalty was used for all sorts of crimes even small crimes such as theft. Back then if a person
was found guilty of something they were beheaded and that was the end for that person and that
was normal then no one really questioned it.
Throughout time the death penalty has changed in the way it is done. The electric chair
was used however taken away due to the fact that people was felt it was inhumane. Today’s
society the death penalty is a very emotional subject the emotions of course depend on the person
you are talking to. The emotions range from sadness and sympathy to anger and revenge. In
today’s society capital punishment is done through lethal injection. Although the death penalty
was changed it is still not very commonly used mainly because of the simple fact of why it has
changed over many years, people still feel it is inhumane. It is used very rarely because of all the
different views society has. To some the death penalty is wrong and inhumane. Others believe
that it is the right thing to do because of what the person has done. The death penalty is not legal
in every state and many are trying to get rid of it all together because many believe it is still
inhumane to willingly kill another human being. Not only do people feel it is inhumane, studies
have found that the death the penalty can actually be costly (Bedau). Others disagree with the
fact that it is costly and do not mind the cost because studies have shown that for every person
that has gone through the death penalty lives have been saved (DeSanctis). This is a debate that


has be talked about for years and still continues to this day. The solution is still unclear on
whether the death penalty is a good or bad idea. To find the right solution observations will be
made with the following questions:

What is the death penalty?
What is the purpose of the death penalty?
Where is the death penalty legal and where is it illegal?
What are the pros and cons of the death penalty?

These questions will help this literature review by providing background information and the
information needed to know about the death penalty. It will go in depth by providing the pros and
cons on the death penalty and whether it should be legal for more states or become illegal in all
states while also sharing the states that are for the death penalty currently and the ones that are
currently against it.
What is the death penalty?
The death penalty is the execution of a person because a crime he or she has committed.
The death penalty become a punishment for a number of crimes such as genocide, treason and
many cases of murder. The death penalty can also be very complex and different in many states.
While it is very common for states to use the lethal injection there are others methods of
execution. Before the lethal injection the most commonly used was the electrocution or also
known as the electric chair. The electric chair was mainly used throughout the 1900’s.Although it
is not as commonly used today it is none the less still used. From 1977 to 2009 the gas chamber,
hanging and firing squads were also used as a way of death although the gas chamber and firing
squads were least used.The most common form of the death penalty around the time of the
1700’s was hanging things have changed and become less complex with the use of the lethal
injection. The lethal injection is most commonly used because many states have outlawed other


methods due to the fact that they are unconstitutional. In the graphic labeled picture one, you can
see all the different methods used for the death penalty from the 1700’s to the 2000’s. These
unconstitutional methods are related to the eighth amendment which calls for no cruel and
unusual punishment. Although many people are against the death penalty people seem to have a
change of mind when there is an outrageous offense and many lives are taken (VonDrehle). That
is a problem with the death penalty. Many people feel it should have an in-between and only
should be used when convenient, however that is not the case of common day it is either for or
against this form of punishment.


Pictrure 1

What is the purpose of the death penalty?


Many people that are against the death penalty would say it has no purpose, in fact that is why
many people are against it because they believe it serves no purpose. People who believe or are
for the death penalty believe otherwise. The purpose of the death penalty in reality serves as a
punishment for a person who has committed a crime that is extremely cruel or ranked very high
such as capital murder or cases with multiple murders. While that is the main purpose of the
death penalty many people believe people are for the death penalty believe the death penalty is
important and provides a sense of justice for the victim or victims and there families. Another
purpose of the death penalty is stop more death and crimes from occurring. James Gray a
retired judge stated “A common concern is the possibility of offenders returning to society”

(James Gray). This helps explain another main reason for the death penalty. The death penalty is
supposed to serve a purpose and saving lives is a big deal. Many believe it is better to ruin one
life a save many others which can in fact be true depending on the person and what they believe.
Although this may seem like a pro for the death penalty there is still an opposing view. Some
believe the death penalty is way too extreme and has a simpler and more humane solution. An
opposing solution to the death penalty is life in prison. Life in prison is one of the biggest
contenders for the death penalty. People feel it is not cruel or unusual and the victim still receives
there punishment. There are still others who believe prison just is not enough punishment. In my
interview with law enforcement agent Scott Hernandez he stated “jail is not even a punishment
now in days, I feel they have it way to easy it is like a day care” (Scott Hernandez). That is
another reason that may just justify the death penalty. Jail may not be enough of a punishment for
criminals who go above and beyond in the kind of murders or crimes that they commit.
Where is the death penalty legal and where is it illegal?


The death penalty is actually more common in America than people may believe. Over
has the states the in American are pro death penalty. Texas is also included in the number of
states that is for the death penalty. Texas was at one point one of the states with the most
executions with seventeen executions in 2010 (ProCon). Although Texas is a state that is for the
death penalty not everyone that lives in Texas is for it in fact there is a an organization that exist
for these individuals. The main purpose of Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center
is it “works to facilitate joint efforts among organizations working to repeal the death penalty in
Texas” (Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource center). Texas is not the only state with

the death penalty Texas along with Arizona, California, Colorado and the other thirty-one states
are for the death penalty. This is an extremely high number considering the fact that many people
believe it goes against a states right to take a citizens life. That is a reason people may be against
the death penalty in the first place. People all over the United States believe a state should not
have too much power over their citizens. With a very tragic law such as the death penalty many
believe the state should not hold that amount of power against any citizen. This could be the
reason that nineteen states have decided to make the death penalty illegal such as Alaska,
Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and the other nineteen states. Many of these states
have abolished the death penalty because of the simple fact that it goes against the constitution as
mentioned earlier. The graphic below labeled graphic 2 show a more in depth description of the
states with the death penalty and states without it.
Graphic 2


South Carolina
South Dakota



New Hampshire
North Carolina


- U.S. Gov't
- U.S. Military
Alaska (1957)
Michigan (1846)
Vermont (1964)
Connecticut (2012)
Minnesota (1911)
West Virginia (1965)
Hawaii (1957)
Nebraska** (2015)
Wisconsin (1853)
Illinois (2011)
New Jersey (2007)
Iowa (1965)
New Mexico* (2009)
Maine (1887)
New York (2007)#
Dist. of Columbia (1981)
Maryland (2013)
North Dakota (1973)
Massachusetts (1984)
Rhode Island (1984)^

What are the pros and cons of the death penalty?
With a topic such as the death penalty many people will agree to disagree. With so many
sides to the death penalty there are some pros followed by some cons as well. As much as people
who are against the death penalty believe that there are no pros, there have been studies
conducted that may just go against this theory. In the interview “The Death Penalty Debate”
Chris DeSanctis(2011) a professor explained “for every one person executed there are between
three and eighteen innocent lives saved”. This can be a major pro because of the simple fact that
lives are being saved. The whole point of the of putting someone behind bars is to ensure the fact
that no more murders or innocent lives are taken. However people who disagree with the death
penalty would also disagree with the killing the person. Many believe that a person who commits
a capital crime should have punishment but not a punishment as severe or harsh as the death


penalty. Many believe the death penalty gives the state more power than it should have over its
citizens. In the interview “The Death Penalty Debate” Norm Patis a criminal defense attorney
states “killing them gives the state a power” (Chris DeSanctis 2011) the power being killing its
own citizens. A pro of the death penalty for some is simply the fact of justice. Many believe the
death penalty is implied for people who commit harsh and inhumane acts. Many people fight to
live that is why people when criminals go to trial they always want life sentence rather than the
death penalty (DeSanctis 2011). The correctional officer I spoke to Scott Hernandez also agreed
that the death penalty is has some pros. Correctional officer Scott Hernandez Stated “the death
should be legal everywhere, I work with criminals all day and most of the time they commit one
crime they are likely to do it again” (Scott Hernandez 2016). One of the most discussed about the
death penalty is the cost. Some feel it is an expense while others see it as cheaper or efficient
way to go. Courts are major expense and that is what makes the death penalty so costly.
Although courts are expensive some believe supporting a criminal for the rest of their lives cost a
lot of money as well. The costly part of the death penalty can either be a pro or con depending on
the views of the person you ask.
The death penalty has been around for hundreds of years and is still part of society today.
It is important because it effects people all over the world. Many will agree to disagree
depending on what they know or who they know. The death penalty may have some benefits but
also comes with cons as well. The death penalty needs awareness because it such an important
decision not only in one individuals life but can affect many other people related to that
individual. The death penalty seems to be a debate that will be ongoing for the rest of time unless
enough awareness and knowledge is taught about this topic to find the proper solution. If one


person could talk to at least one other individual about the death penalty everyone may not agree
but they would definitely be informed and that is the most important thing.


[Chris DeSanctis]. (2011, Oct 26). Death Penalty Debate Part 1 -- CT Fox News.m4v. [Video
File]. Retrieved from
Did You Know? - Death Penalty - (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2016, from
s Angeles Law Review, 44(3), S255-S264.
Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center – A statewide coalition working to repeal
the death penalty. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2016, from
Von Drehle, D. (2015, June 08). The Death of the Death Penalty. Retrieved February, 2016, from
Scott Hernandez Interview (March 27, 2016)