We’re in the home stretch here at The Liberal Conservative’s look at the United States Bill of Rights. Welcome to Part 8! Just joining us? Then click here to play catch up and check all things Liberal Conservative courtesy of Liberal America. Now, on with the show!
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
We finally return to the hot-button issues! In this case; “Is the death penalty cruel and unusual and thus a violation of the 8th Amendment?” Let’s take a look…
…but, let’s get those first two provisions out of the way. Excessive bail. Excessive fines. Pretty self-explanatory: you can’t be charged $1 million bail for littering and you can’t be fined $14k for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. Seems reasonable enough to me; albeit, there are some whacky things you can be fined for in this country. In the end, though, they’re really more comedic than intrusive or unconstitutional.
On to the juicy bits! Is the death penalty unconstitutional? Well, it comes down to the one question alluded to earlier: “Is the death penalty cruel and unusual?” The ACLU certainly thinks so and there are eighteen states, plus the District of Columbia, that have outright abolished the death penalty; the most recent being Maryland just this past May. That should make it clear just how divisive this issue truly is throughout this country.
The polls would seem to match the divide among the States. The 18-against-32 against/for ratio of the states comes in at 64% for the death penalty and 36% against. According to a Gallup poll published in January of this year 63% of Americans support the death penalty; down from 64% in 2010, but up from 61% in 2011; and that’s pretty much where the capital punishment approval rating been hanging out for the past few years after a steady decline in the decade prior. That same piece also goes on to explain that most support does, in fact, come from the Conservatives and Moderates while the majority of Liberals – just barely – oppose. Also, 67% of men stand in favor of capital punishment while 59% of women are in favor.
So with almost two-thirds of the nation supporting the death penalty where does the opposition come from? What triggers it?
It probably has to do with the old, archaic methods which were used to off the offenders. While three states – Delaware, New Hampshire, and Washington – still have death by hanging, and eight states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia – still have death by electrocution, they all use lethal injection as their primary method of execution; as do twenty-one other states – plus Connecticut, Maryland, and New Mexico whose bans on the death penalty weren’t retroactive. Now lethal injection isn’t the coziest of methods, but at least the offenders aren’t being fried like breaded chicken or hanged like deer cuts.
Still, one could understand that the idea of taking a person’s life in response to a crime may be a little…heinous. So maybe those who support the death penalty are heinous.
Wanna’ know who else was heinous? John Wayne Gacy killed 33 boys and buried most of them under his very own house. He was executed on May 10, 1994 via lethal injection. Wanna’ know another heinous serial killer? David Alan Gore raped and killed a 17-year-old girl on top of five other murders – all female. He was executed in April, 2012 via lethal injection.
Many pro-death penalty folks will explain to you that they are proponents of Hammurabi’s Code. For those of you who may not know, Hammurbi’s Code is widely regarded as the first set of written laws in human history. Even if you’ve never heard it referred to as “Hammurabi’s Code” before, you’ve definitely heard of the concept; “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. You kill, you get killed. Pretty even trade.
So, How Does This Amendment Apply To Modern America?
Now Hammurabi’s Code doesn’t translate 100% picture perfectly into 21st Century America; but, then again, the only absolute is that there are no other absolutes. Shades of gray run roughshod in modern law, but this is one case where black & white would seem to apply. Murder is heinous and maybe – just maybe – it deserves heinous punishment.
Once more, the death penalty is one of those issues that is highly divisive; drawing sharp opinions from people both for and against it. Whether or not this – the 8th Amendment – can possibly fit with a pro-death penalty America depends entirely on who you’re talking to and what their opinion on it is.
At the end of the day, though, the death penalty is legal and utilized by almost two-thirds of the States; and, even those who do abolish it don’t do so retroactively,?it leaves those who received death sentences to remain on death row awaiting their inevitable doom. Therefore, it’s hard to argue that this amendment doesn’t apply to modern America. It does. Very well, in fact; whether you love it or hate it.
Edited by SS