Death Penalty in the United States of America

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At the beginning of my work, I was most curious about how the death penalty effects the citizens in the USA, and the rate of crime, comparing to how many death sentences there are in each state. After a while I realized that I didnt really know how the death penalty works in practice, so i started to read a about it, and after a while, the crime rate becomed less interesting, mostly because I realized that it´s so obvious that the states who has got most death penaltys, allso have the highest crime rate. Which one who is a effect of the other is not clear. Another thing that came to my mind was that certainly no one, in the moment of the crime, thinks that they will be arrested and punished.

So now I am going to tell you the basics about the State punishment in the USA, Its not funny reading, but for me it made me dig deep in myself, to find out what I really think about the death penalty and human values.

I hope it will affect you in the same way….

Facts about the death penalty

In the past hundred years, USA has been using the death-penalty frequently. Average number of executions is about 100 persons every year. The years 1967-1977 were an exception. In those years there was a huge political debate about the death penaltys ”be, or not to be”, that all executions were stopped.

In the 80´s, the rate of executions increased, and the United States also have started to execute people who were under 18 years old when they committed the crime, or people with a mental disorder.

*- At this moment, about 3500 prisoners are locked up in the death cell.

* – 38 American States practise the death-penalty. As well, federal death-penalty can be adjudged for about 60 different crimes.

* – 606 American People have been executed since 1977, 98 of them in 1999
* - Since USA reintroduced the death-penalty, 15 People has been executed for crimes they committed before age of 18.

* - Since 1608, about 19 200 Americans have been executed. 360 of them were under age of 18 when they committed the crime.
In 1972 the death penalty was stopped, because USA: s Supreme Court established that the death-penalty was against the laws in the Constitution, and because it was handled in a cruel way. In 1976 the laws about death-penalty been adjusted quite much, and Supreme Court decided that the punishment could be allowed again. In 1977, the penalty was re-introduced.

*- The number of executions every year was low in the beginning, but have increased every year. In the 70´s and the 80´s there were only 120 executions. 98 executions were accomplished, and that’s the highest rate since 1951. In April 2000 Tennessee became the 31´st state in USA to execute any prisoner since 1977.

*- In 2001, 66 prisoners were executed in USA.

*- Since the re-introduction of the death penalty, USA has executed 749 people.

*- In 1989, The Supreme Court in USA decided that it is not against the constitution to execute persons with mental disorders. 30 persons with eventual mental disorders have been executed since.

*-1998, Nebraska became the 12:th State which approved a law that make it illegal to execute persons with mental disorders. Totally 18 of 52 States approved that law.


The United States supply five different methods to execute prisoners: Lethal injection, execution by firing squad, hanging, gas-chamber and the electric chair .It differs from state to state whish methods is being used, most common is the lethal injection, and the gas-chamber, because these methods are known to be most human. The electric chair is almost never used, and hanging and execution by firing squad haven’t been practised in a long time, but a few States have still got them in the state-laws.

Lethal injection

An execution with a lethal injection involves that the death-sentenced person being given an injection with an instant poison, in combination with a muscle paralysing injection. In Texas, one of the 19 States who prescribe lethal injection as the best execution method, they use a combination of three different poisons. The first one makes the prisoner lose conscious, the second paralyses the muscles, so that the solar plexus muscle gets paralysed and the muscles that helps the prisoner to breath stops working, and the third causes that the heart to stop. The person who prescribes lethal injection as the best way to execute someone asserts that it´s a more human method then the others. But medics have testified about problems, like difficulties to find a vein, or that the injection goes into a artery or muscle and causes a lot of pain. If the injection isn’t correctly mixed, it can be too thick, and stop up the needle or the vein and make death slow and painful.

The two states Oklahoma and Texas were the first states in USA that in1977 introduced lethal injection as an execution method. The person who is going to be executed in the United States with a lethal injection, usually knows when his last moment has come when the guards unlocks the door to the death cell. The prisoners clothes is taken out, a ECG-instrument, usually constructed to save life, and not to take them, is connected to the prisoners chest. After that he can put on special clothes, and after that he is taken to the death-chamber by the guards. His friends and family can not meet him; they are instead standing in a room, close to the death-chamber. The prisoner is laid down on a bunk with a strap over his chest, arms and legs so he can’t move. Behind a screen stand medics who control the ECG-equipment is working properly. They also put one or two needles into the prisoners arm. A few minutes before the execution starts, all people leave the room, and the prisoner is left alone to die.

Execution by a firing squad

The execution is done by a single executioner or a firing squad. The prisoner is putted in front of the executor with his face covered to wait for the guns to go off. The cause of death depends on for example, damaged lungs, heart, the central intersystem or inner bleedings. A pistol shot through the head kills the prisoner immediately, but a execution by a squad can take more time, because of the distance and less precision.

The electric chair

Executions in the electric chair were introduced in the USA in 1888, with the motivation that it would be a more human way than hanging. An execution in the electric chair works like this: The prisoner is attached to a special chair with straps that keep him from moving; the guards attach wet electrodes made of copper to the prisoners head and one leg. Electricity with 500 to 2000 volts goes through the prisoner’s body a few times, until the heart stops beating and he is not breathing. When the inner organs in the prisoner’s body are burned you can see it because the prisoner is fighting the straps and throughing up blood. Eye-witnesses say one always can sense the smell of burnt meat. No matter if the prisoner becomes unconscious with the first chock; the vital organs can continue working, that’s why several shocks have to be given.

The Gas chamber

In an execution with gas, the prisoner sits fixed with straps in a chair, in a non-ventilated room. A stethoscope is attached to the prisoner’s chest, to a medical assistant/doctor in the room next door. Cyanide gas is injected into the gas chamber and the prisoner is poisoned to death by his own breathing. The prisoner can lose conscionsness quickly, but the process can take far more time if the prisoner is trying to hold his breath, or breathes slowly. Just like any other execution method, the vital organs can continue working for several minutes.


The prisoner is hanged with a rope around his neck, and gets killed when the body falls down. Unconsciousness and death arise because of damaged backbone and neck, or choking when the windpipe is tightened. The older variant of hanging means that the prisoner dies as a result of slow choking. This method is still used in countries like Iran and Libya. The modern variant was developed by a British committee year 1888, and contents that the prisoner is placed over a trapdoor. The length of the rope is adjusted to the prisoner’s weight and length, and when the trapdoor opens, the body falls down, and the neck breaks. The method is depending on if the executioner has knowledge enough to account the ropes exact length. If he doesn’t, the neck won’t break, and the prisoner will be slowly choked to death.

U.S.A. Executions by Year and State, 1977-2001
(In alphabetical order)

 Alabama 23
 Arizona 22
 Arkansas 24
 California 9
 Colorado 1
 Delaware 13
 Florida 51
 Georgia 27
 Idaho 1
 Illinois 12
 Indiana 9
 Kentucky 2
 Louisiana 26
 Maryland 3
 Mississippi 4
 Missouri 53
 Montana 2
 Nebraska 3
 Nevada 9
 New Mexico 1
 North Carolina 21
 Ohio 2
 Oklahoma 48
 Oregon 2
 Pennsylvania 3
 South Carolina 25
 Tennessee 1
 Texas 256
 Utah 6
 Virginia 83
 Washington 4
 Wyoming 1

Said about the death penalty……

”Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice. It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”


An execution is not simply death. It is just as different from the privation of life as a concentration camp is from prison. It adds to death a rule, a public premeditation known to the future victim, an organization which is itself a source of moral suffering more terrible than death. Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal´s deed, however calculated can be compared. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life."

Albert Camus "Reflections on the Guillotine, Resistance, Rebellion & Death" (1966).

My thoughts:

I have tried to inform you in an objective and impartial way, what the death penalty really is about. In the end of this project, it was time to think, and declare my own attitude.
I have spent a lot of time reading, both internetpages and books. I have been thinking a lot, I have been questioning everything, even my own thoughts and have putted arguments against each other.
Now, I feel that I am ready to take a position.

The respect for all life, is a differential sign of the civilized community. The Goverment of The United States call attention to that, by the death penalty in a stronger and clearer way then any other penalty.
The meaning of the death penalty is: If you use violence against, or kills a human being, you allso show total disrespect for life, and the goverment of USA condemns that disrespect through the death penalty. To lock up a murderer in prison for a few years means no respect for the victims life. It gives the human being less value.
If the murderer is allowed to live, we are forced to contemplate him/her being more valuable than the dead victim. That is immoraly and uncivilizated, because that means that a criminal is worth more than a innocent person, a dishonest more then a honest and honourable citizen.
Every citizen should have the right to think: If someone kills me, that person will also lose his life.

All discussions around and about the death penalty contents about the human beings uninsultable value and respect for human life. Both the people who are against the death penalty, and their opponents, use this arguments to justify their oppinion.

When the opponents to the death penalty talk about human rights and values, they have only the criminal in mind. He is also a human being, with a uninsultable right to life. No exceptions exist, all people have the same value. The opponents are ,according to me, in the first place to take position for the criminal.

The spokesman for the death penalty, on the other hand, chooses to take a stand , and to show his solidarity for the victim. When a spokesman for the death penalty speaks about the human uninsultable value, he/she is in the first place talking about the victim, and the victim´s family and friends, then the other citizens. The perpetrator of violence, and the murderer on the other hand, have lost his uninsultable value in front of the goverment.

When the murderer killed another person, he showed totaly disrespect not only to the value of the victim, but also to himself. In one point of view, both of them still have the same value, as the most honourable men on earth, but in the goverment it should not be uninsultable any more, because if that was the case, it would stop the mening of total justice. That would also mean that the goverment despizes the victim´s uninsultable value as a person and human being. The goverment would kind of take the criminals hand, and choose to support him.
I mean that it´s the weak, befallen and exposed who have to be protected and prioritized. I put my solidarity to the victim, its the victims uninsultable value that has to be upheld.
A perpetrator of violence, or a murder should never be allowed to escape from the highest justice, by refering to his own ”uninsultable human value”. He have brutaly and with no mercy tried to destroy the life ...

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