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Constitution, US Politics

Individual rights – capital punishment

Capital Punishment and the US Constitution

Key points:

  • Firing squads and hangings are still used in some states to dispense capital punishment.
  • Americans as young as 16 can be subject to execution.
  • Until 2000, 25 out of 38 death penalty states allowed execution of mentally retarded criminals. This was deemed unconstitutional in 2002 (Atkins vsVirginia).
  • Morality is not an issue in theUSessentially – the Constitution clearly allows for the death penalty:
    • The 5th Amendment – no person shall be deprived of life ‘without due process of law’
    • 14th Amendment – No state shall deprive any person of life… ‘without due process of law’. i.e. the only condition that affected the constitutionality of the death penalty was that it could not infringe the ‘due process of law’.
    • 8th Amendment – no ‘cruel and unusual punishment inflicted’ : this referred to the methods used!
  • Furman vsGeorgia1972 deemed the way in which the death penalty was being meted out was unconstitutional and this seemed to end the death penalty in theUS.
  • However states whose laws were invalidated passed new legislation to amend the legal flaws. 35 state laws were passed in 4 years and public reaction was such that the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was not unconstitutional in Gregg vsGeorgia1976.

Questions to consider for class discussion:

  1. With so many states supporting the death penalty is capital punishment anachronistic/out of date?
  2. Do you agree that the Constitution does seem to allow for the death penalty in spite of the 8th Amendment?
  3. Consider the view that – although it doesn’t prevent the death penalty, the Constitution doesn’t necessitate it either…?
  4. Is the Constitution to blame or is it simply the fact thatUSsociety doesn’t oppose capital punishment strongly enough?
  5. What can be done to change the Constitution? Is it likely? Why or why not?
  6. What does all this mean for the ‘rights of the individual’?

 

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