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Death Penalty as Cruel and Unusual Punishment

One of the most important problems of law is the attitude towards the death penalty. There are many debates concerning the permission of one person, even if endowed with power and acting on behalf of the state, to deprive another’s life. The issues such as the moral or scientific ones cannot be resolved in referendums. The question of death penalty is too complex and acute; thus, it cannot be resolved without a serious factual basis. In this regard, the discussion of this topic should be completely freed from emotions and provided to the specialists. Debates over the constitutionality of the death penalty continue in the United States for a long time. On the one hand, the basic law permits this measure of punishment. Nonetheless, the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits some penalties, in particular cruel and unusual punishment. The supreme measure is cruel and unusual; therefore, the states should ban it.

The Death Penalty Is Cruel and Unusual

Nowadays, the majority of the world states abolish the death penalty. Nonetheless, the most populated countries, including China, India, Indonesia, and the United States, retain the capital punishment (Meltsner, 2011). This fact means that the majority of the world’s population lives in the states, which continue to use the death penalty as a punishment. During the pre-election campaigns in the US, this topic is banned, and even the most progressive candidates avoid raising it fearing negative consequences (Meltsner, 2011). In other countries, politicians also face the problems related to a public opinion on this issue. Therefore, the death penalty is a question that causes numerous discussions and debates all over the world.

A great number of arguments stand against the death penalty. The most important claim consists in the fact that it is a cruel measure of punishment. The World Declaration states that no one should be subjected to torture or degrading, inhuman, or cruel punishment or treatment. There were attempts to discover the ways of execution that would cause less pain in order to make the process more “humane.” However, all the efforts failed, including the very act of murder. There are recent examples of practicing the long torment in the electric chair or with the injection of poison. Nevertheless, the avoidance of these kinds of punishment will not in any way reduce the psychological sufferings from the expectation of execution. The death penalty is a degrading, inhuman, and cruel act, which contradicts the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Bessler, 2013). The main argument against the death penalty is that it violates the right to life.

State murders are an extreme denial of human rights (Bessler, 2013). In addition, convicts spend too much time awaiting execution of the verdict; therefore, it can be regarded as a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court when considering the appeal of a criminal, who was sentenced to death for killing an officer and spent 33 years waiting for the enforcement of a sentence, took this position (Mathias, 2013). Consequently, it is necessary for people to continue acting in support of the abolition of the capital punishment.

The death penalty is an inhumane measure of punishment. The moral qualities such as humanism, kindness, and compassion distinguish people from animals. The full execution as an institution contradicts these moralities and exerts a dehumanizing effect on people (Mathias, 2013). The death penalty is a severe method to punish the criminals. A severe punishment is a demonstration of power in the hands of a weak state government that cannot prevent crime by other means. It is not even an argument but an explanation of the reason for the existence of the firing articles in the criminal legislation. It is assumed that with the strengthening of the state and with the expansion of its ability to prevent crimes, it will be possible to mitigate the punishment.

There is an opinion that the death penalty reflects the political and cultural backwardness of the society. The overwhelming majority of countries in the world that use the death penalty are totalitarian, authoritarian, or economically backward states that are accompanied by corruption, high crime rates, and other negative phenomena (Mathias, 2013). The most advanced and democratic countries were the first that rejected the death penalty as the most barbarous and immoral type of punishment. There is a strong and close relationship between the high level of civilization and the absence of particularly brutal and cruel punishments such as the death penalty, torture, quartering, and others (Mathias, 2013). Nonetheless, the United States being a democratic and economically developed country went the other way and joined the nations where unusual and cruel punishment is a norm.

Currently, there are several types of death penalty in the United States. Among them, the lethal injection and the notorious electric chair occupy a leading position. In 1977, the state of Oklahoma was the first to move to the practice of execution of the prisoners with the help of an injection (Hurwitz, 2008). The state authorities proceeded from the fact that the electric chair was rather expensive to operate (Hurwitz, 2008). An injection has three components, which have a negative effect on the human’s body. In particular, sodium pentothal immerses the condemned in a deep sleep, pancuronium bromide affects the muscles, and potassium chloride influences the heart (Hurwitz, 2008).

Today, Nebraska does not use injections preferring an electric chair. Other states that practice the death penalty apply the method of the injection. In ten states, convicts are offered to choose between injection and other methods of penalty such as shooting or hanging (Mathias, 2013). Despite various methods, the death penalty is unnatural and is considered an extremely cruel method to punish a criminal.

Other Arguments against the Death Penalty

There are other arguments stating that the death penalty is an unacceptable punishment. It does not contribute to combating the social causes of grave crimes. The main factors provoking criminality are poverty, ignorance, inequality, and mental deviations of a particular criminal. Therefore, the death penalty by no means can influence these reasons and only creates new prerequisites and favorable conditions for even more violent and terrible crimes (Radelet & Lacock, 2009). There is also an opinion that the death penalty generates crimes. A person who has committed a crime punishable by the death penalty and persecuted by justice may reveal him or her in a situation when there is nothing to lose. Consequently, it may result in that a person will commit new crimes avoiding responsibility (Radelet & Lacock, 2009). Moreover, there is a great number of cases when the death penalty has even affected the growth of crime (Radelet & Lacock, 2009). For example, to reduce the possibility of prosecution, criminals kill not only victims but also witnesses of their deeds. Another example is that the death penalty for rape with aggravating circumstances dose not lead to the reduction in the number of rapes; on the contrary, the number of murders associated with rape increases (Radelet & Lacock, 2009). It is connected with the fact that criminals seek to kill their victims in order for the latter no to testify against their offenders. Therefore, the death penalty does not affect as a restraining factor for other criminals.

Some people assume that the perpetrator needs to be executed because the cost of capital punishment is lower than for life imprisonment. In case of life imprisonment, the society will have to spend money on the maintenance of the criminals (Flanders, 2013). Thus, an economic feasibility should not influence a decision about someone’s life and death, and moral issues should not be resolved based on mercantile, monetary, or material considerations. In addition, one can consider the issue of transferring convicts to security at the expense of their labor activity. It is necessary to give criminals the opportunity to work, as a person develops through labor (Flanders, 2013). A convincing argument consists in the fact that the death penalty does not have a deterrent effect. The assertion about the redoubtable impact of the risk of being subjected to executions is based on the notion of a rational criminal. Nevertheless, only 10-15% of murders are premeditated, and if they are prepared in advance, people that are mentally unhealthy and under the influence of certain internal factors not connected with thoughts of retribution commit them (Flanders, 2013). Thus, the death penalty does not perform a necessary role.


Nowadays, a process of abolishing the death penalty takes place in the entire globe. The majority of states of the world have stopped inflict this cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. However, the United States continues to apply this method of punishment considering it highly effective in combating the social causes of crime. Despite this fact, the death penalty is an inhuman act that contradicts the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. It is necessary to mention that a criminal can be punished without applying the death penalty replacing it with life imprisonment. The latter is considered the highest form of social exclusion, though it is more sparing as compared to the death penalty. Punishment should not be used for the sake of punishment but for the correction of a person; therefore, the death penalty is not an effective option for achieving this goal.


Bessler, J. D. (2013). Cruel & unusual: The American death penalty and the founders’ eighth Amendment. Boston, MA: Northeastern University press.

Flanders, C. (2013). The case against the death penalty. New Criminal Law Review16(4), 595-620.

Hurwitz, M. S. (2008). Given him a fair trial, then hang him: The Supreme Court’s modern death penalty jurisprudence. The Justice System Journal29(3), 243-56.

Mathias, M. D. (2013). The sacralization of the individual: Human rights and the abolition of the death penalty. American Journal of Sociology118(5), 1246-83.

Meltsner. M. (2011). Cruel and unusual: The Supreme Court and capital punishment. Los Gatos, CA: Smashwords.

Radelet, M. L., & Lacock, T. L. (2009). Do executions lower homicide rates: The views of leading criminologists. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology99(2), 489-508.