There has always been a debate around the morality and legality of capital punishment. The conversation has only intensified, however, in the wake of seemingly botched executions in Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma. TheBlaze TV’s Will Cain takes a look at the history of capital punishment and the question of what constitutes 'cruel and unusual' in a new digital exclusive.
In the United States, 32 states have the death penalty, while 18 states have passed legislation to abolish the punishment. Michigan was among the first to outlaw capital punishment in 1846. Maryland, on the other hand, stopped the practice in 2013.
Of the states where the death penalty is legal, lethal injection is the method of choice. There are certain states, however, in which electrocution, gas chambers, hanging, and firing squads are also permitted.
So what does the Constitution say? The Eighth Amendment reads, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
As Will explained, the Supreme Court has been asked to outlaw certain types of capital punishment over the years. In 1878, it failed to find death by firing squad to be a form of cruel and unusual punishment. In 1890, it similarly ruled electrocution was not cruel and unusual either. In 2008, the court ruled lethal injection is also constitutional.
“For many justices on the Supreme Court, the definition of cruel and unusual punishment is the infliction of pain for the sake of pain,” Will said.
Court decisions outline examples of pain for the sake of pain to include public dissection, disembowelment, drawing and quartering, and burning alive among others. According to the court, if it is not a deliberate infliction of pain, it is not cruel and unusual.
“There may be moral questions, religious questions, ethical questions regarding capital punishment, regarding lethal injection,” Will concluded. “But in the eyes of the Supreme Court, capital punishment – and specifically, lethal injection – does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”