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Death Penalty: Issues in the Debate

NCJ Number
E Strouse
Date Published
30 pages
This pamphlet reviews the history and current status of capital punishment in the United States and examines arguments for and against its abolition.
The history of the death penalty goes back nearly 4,000 years, and it is only relatively recently that its use has been curtailed. Changes in the law, research on sentencing patterns, monitoring by civil rights groups, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions have produced a system whose goal is justice tempered by mercy. In 1967, all executions were suspended by Federal courts until constitutional issues relating to capital punishment could be resolved. By 1976, most states had revised their statutes to conform to Supreme Court guidelines, and capital punishment was reinstated in 37 States. Despite reforms, ensuring impartiality in the imposition of the death penalty remains difficult, and the costs of capital trial and appeal procedures are great. Major arguments against the death penalty focus on its inhumaneness, lack of deterrent effect, continuing racial and economic biases, and irreversibility. Proponents argue that it represents a just retribution for certain crimes, deters crime, protects society, and preserves the moral order.