Early Death Penalty

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Early days of capital punishment
George Kendall’s 1608 death by firing squad is the first court-ordered execution known to have been recorded. Because prisons were not in existence until the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, societies dealt with repeat offenders and those who posed a threat to public safety and social order by administering various forms of capital punishment. While early colonial laws did not mimic those of the extreme English laws where some 200 crimes qualified for the death penalty, the colonies believed that crimes such as murder, rape, sodomy, adultery, and some property crimes were worthy of death (Acker, 2003). In colonial times, racial discrimination was extremely prevalent. Black slaves were subject to execution for attempted murder and attempted rape, whereas a white individual might only be sentenced to three years in prison. The abolition of racial discrimination at sentencing first began with the northern states with the country’s preoccupation with the American Civil War, but the southern states would not follow suit for quite some time. Still, the execution of black defendants was severely disproportioned to their population. According to Banner (2002, p. 230), “The death penalty was a means of racial control”.
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No longer could offenders be tortured or subjected to otherwise barbaric treatments as punishment for their crime. Such unnecessary cruelties included “being disemboweled alive, burned alive, beheaded, or drawn and quartered” (Fleming, 1999, p. 720). However, the Eighth Amendment does not consider the administration of the death penalty for capital crimes to be a violation of an individual’s

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