ТОП 10:

III. Do you share the idea that “technique of death penalty depends on national mentality”? Back up you opinion.




Capital punishment,legal infliction of the death penalty; in modern law, corporal punishment in its most severe form. Lynching, in contrast to capital punishment, is the unauthorized, illegal use of death as a punishment. The usual alternative to the death penalty is long-term or life imprisonment.



The earliest historical records contain evidence of capital punishment. It was mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi (1750 BC). The Bible prescribed death as the penalty for more than 30 different crimes, ranging from murder (Exodus 21:12) to fornication (Deuteronomy 22:13). The Draconian Code of ancient Greece went further, imposing capital punishment for every offence.

In England, during the reins of King Canute and William the Conqueror, the death penalty was not used, although the results of interrogation and torture were often fatal. By the end of the 15th century, English law recognized seven major crimes: treason (grand and petty), murder, larceny, burglary, rape, and arson. By 1800, more than 200 capital crimes were recognized, and, as a result, 1,000 or more people were sentenced to death each year (although most sentences were commuted by royal pardon). In the American colonies before the War of Independence, the death penalty was commonly authorized for a wide variety of crimes. Blacks, whether slave of free, were threatened with death for many crimes that were punished less severely when committed by whites.


The Reform Movement

Efforts to abolish the death penalty did not gather momentum until the end of the 18th century; in Britain and the United States this reform was led by the Quakers (Society of Friends). In Europe, a short treatise, On Crimes and Punishments (1764), by the Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria, inspired influential thinkers such as the French philosopher Voltaire to oppose torture, flogging, and the death penalty. Encouraged by the writings of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, Britain repealed all but a few of its capital statutes during the 19th century. Several states in the United States (led by Michigan in 1847) and a few countries (beginning with Venezuela in 1853 and Portugal in 1867) abolished the death penalty entirely.

Where complete abolition could not be achieved, reformers concentrated on limiting the scope and mitigating the harshness of the death penalty. However, the reform movement succeeded in Britain in 1965 after a number of dubious and even manifestly wrong executions, carried out by hanging, in the previous two decades. In one case a posthumous pardon was issued. Since then there have been regular and determined attempts to restore the death penalty, but they have been rejected in Parliament. A series of miscarriages of justice in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s in what would have been capital crimes emphasized the dangers of executing the innocent and made the return of the death penalty unlikely. In remains the theoretical punishment for a very few offences such as piracy.


Methods of Execution

The death penalty has been inflicted in many ways now regarded as barbaric and forbidden by law almost everywhere: crucifixion, boiling in oil, drawing and quartering, impalement, beheading, burning alive, crushing, tearing asunder, stoning, and drowning are examples.

In the United States, the death penalty is currently authorized in one of five ways: hanging (the traditional method of execution throughout the English-speaking world), electrocution (introduced by New York State in 1890), the gas chamber (adopted in Nevada in 1923), firing squad (used only in Utah), or lethal injection (introduced in 1977 by Oklahoma). In most nations that still retain the death penalty for some crimes, hanging or the firing squad are the preferred methods of execution. In some countries that adhere strictly to the traditional principles of Islam, beheading or stoning are still occasionally employed as punishment.


Effectiveness of Capital Punishment

The fundamental questions raised by the death penalty are whether it is an effective deterrent to violent crime, and whether it is more effective than the alternative of long-term imprisonment.

Defenders of the death penalty insist that because taking an offender’s life is a more severe punishment than any prison term, it must be a better deterrent. Supporters also argue that without capital punishment there is no adequate deterrent for those already serving a life term who commit murder while incarcerated, or for those who have not yet been caught but who would be liable to a life term if arrested, as well as for revolutionaries, terrorists, traitors, and spies.

Those whop argue against the death penalty as a deterrent to crime in the United States cite the following: adjacent states, in which one has a death penalty and the other does not, show no significant long-term differences in the murder rate; states that use the death penalty seem to have a higher number of homicides than states that do not use it; states that abolish and then reintroduce the death penalty do not seem to show any significant change in the murder rate; no change in the rate of homicides in a given city or state seems to occur following a local execution.

In the early 1970s, some published reports purported to show that each execution in the United States deterred eight or more homicides, but subsequent research has discredited this finding. The current prevailing view among criminologists is that no conclusive evidence exists to show that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent to violent crime than long-term imprisonment.


Moral Concerns

The classic moral arguments in favour of the death penalty have been biblical and retributive. “Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6) has usually been interpreted as a divine warrant for putting the murderer to death. “Let the punishment fit the crime” is its secular counterpart. Both maxims imply that the murderer deserves to die. Proponents of capital punishment have also claimed that society has the right to kill in defence of its members, just as the individual may kill in self-defence. The analogy to self-defence, however, is somewhat doubtful, as long as the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to violent crimes has not been proved.

Critics of the death penalty have always pointed to the risk of executing the innocent, although definitely established cases of this sort in recent years are rare. They have also argued that one can accept a retributive theory of punishment without necessarily resorting to the death penalty; proportioning the severity of punishment to the gravity of the crime does not require the primitive rule of “a life for a life”.

In the United States, the chief objection to capital punishment has been that it was always used unfairly, in at least three major ways: that is, with regard to race, sex, and social status. Women, for example, are rarely sentenced to death and executed, even though 20 per cent of all homicides in the United States in recent years have been committed by women. Defenders of the death penalty, however, have insisted that, because nothing inherent in the laws of capital punishment causes sexist, racist, or class bias in its use, these kinds of discrimination are not a sufficient reason for abolishing the death penalty. Opponents have replied that the death penalty is inherently subject to caprice and mistake in practice and that it is impossible to administer fairly.


Current Status

In many countries the death penalty is inflicted for a range of crimes against people, property, public order, and the state, as, for example, in some African, Middle Eastern (Arab), and Asian nations. About a dozen European countries have carried out executions since the 1970s. By the late 1980s, some Western nations had no capital punishment, while others had abolished it except for military or national security offences.

Capital punishment was reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1970s, making it unconstitutional to impose the death penalty in certain circumstances, for example, for a crime that does not take or threaten life. However, many court decisions of the 1980s and early 1990shave lowered bars to executions. In addition, in the early 1990s the trend of Supreme Court rulings was to cut back on the appeals that death row inmates could make to the federal courts.

Jane Davillire

/“Capital Punishment, Microsoft ® Encarta ® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997/


Set Work

I. Practice the pronunciation of the words:

corporal piracy

fatal subsequent

treason gravity

to repeal inherently

a series


II. Explain what is meant by the following words and phrases:

legal infliction of the death penalty

to commute a sentence

to gather momentum

to mitigate the harshness of sth

a posthumous pardon

a retributive theory of punishment

to threaten life

class bias.


III. Define the following vocabulary units and use them in examples of your own:

to succeed in in certain circumstances

to adhere to proponents of sth

a deterrent to in self-defence

to be liable to to be subject to sth

to purport (to show)


IV. Scan the article for the equivalents of the following:

пожизненное заключение, королевское помилование, совершить преступление, нарушать (не вершить) правосудие, соседние штаты, предумышленное убийство, карательный, суровость наказания, отменить смертную казнь.


V. Cross-cultural background. Say what you know about:

the Quakers, William the Conqueror, Jeremy Bentham, the US federal courts, the US Supreme Court, Voltaire.


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