Dna Testing And Death Penalty

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DNA testing and death penalty


Capital punishment, or the use of death as the sentence to be carried out when someone has been convicted of a crime, is the harshest and most controversial sanction known to humankind. The use of the death penalty dates back to earliest civilizations, with the crucifixion of Christ being but one example. Amnesty International, an organization that opposes the use of capital punishment, reports that by 1999 over half of the countries in the world had abolished the death penalty. It reported that 85 percent of executions in 1999 took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the United States.

In the United States, the death sentence has been used since the colonial period. Currently, thirty-eight states and the federal government permit execution for capital offenses. As the United States entered the twenty-first century, there were 3,527 death-sentenced individuals housed on death rows in thirty-seven states and the federal prison system.

Who can receive a death sentence?

The most important U.S. Supreme Court case concerning the use of the death penalty is Furman v. Georgia (1972). Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Furman, individuals could be sentenced to death for a variety of offenses, including theft, rape, and murder. More important, juries and judges had wide discretion and little or no clear statutory guidance in deciding who would be sentenced to death. In Furman, the Supreme Court ruled that the arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty violated the U.S. Constitution. Because all those who had been sentenced to death before 1972 had their constitutional rights violated, their death sentences were commuted to life sentences. It is important to note that the Supreme Court did not rule that the death penalty itself was a violation of the Eighth Amendment, but rather that the way it was being implemented was unconstitutional.

Following the Furman decision, many states revised their statutes to give clear guidance on when and how the death sentence could be imposed. The revised death penalty statute of the state of Georgia was challenged in the 1976 case of Gregg v. Georgia. The Supreme Court decided that Georgia's revised capital sentencing statute was constitutional. In two other Supreme Court decisions, Woodson v. North Carolina (1976) and Coker v. Georgia (1977), statutes calling for mandatory death sentences (because they did not allow judges and juries to hear mitigating evidence), and the death sentence for rape were held to be unconstitutional. All states that allow the death sentence provide for its use for murder; however, eleven states also allow the death penalty for other crimes, including treason, train wrecking, perjury causing execution, drug trafficking, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated rape of a victim under age twelve, and aircraft piracy. Federal statutes that authorize the use of the death penalty all involve the murder or death of the victim, except for the mailing of injurious articles with intent to kill, espionage, and treason.

Nearly all those who receive the death sentence in the United States ...
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