Capital Punishment and Individual States Decisions

Capital punishment is defined as a form of punishment that involves “the deliberate killing of a supposed or actual offender for an offense” (Fieser, 2001, Para 29). Most of the people who face capital punishment are murderers. As a way of justifying the execution of such offenders, both retributive and utilitarian considerations are cited. Basing on the retributive considerations, it is argued that those people who kill innocent people also deserve to be killed. On the other hand, the utilitarian considerations involve the argument that, by subjecting murderers to capital punishment, this serves to deter the potential offenders from committing a similar crime. The death penalty has been a part of the U.S. justice system since the birth of this nation. It has been debated off and on throughout the history of the U.S. Proponents of capital punishment in the U.S say that it deters murders while people against capital punishment say there is no deterrent affect. There are other reasons for and against cited by both sides of the issue such as: cost, innocence, and immorality. In the United States of America, individual states have been making their own decisions in regard to capital punishment. Leaving capital punishment decisions up to the individual states is fair since each state faces its own challenges in regard to crimes that may call for capital punishment.

Steiker and Steiker point out that the US now “houses three sorts of jurisdictions: states without the death penalty by law (abolitionist states), states with the death penalty but insignificant numbers of executions (symbolic states) and states with both the death penalty in law and in practice, (executing states)” (Steiker &Steiker, 2006, pg. 1859). There is a large “execution gap” in the U.S; between the south and the remaining parts of the nation. This gap has received much attention and the focus is directed to the issue of “Southern exceptionalism”. A number of explanations have been provided. Among these explanations, there are those which focus on the link that exists between racial discrimination and oppression and death penalty. More so, some of the explanations focus on the intense violence, in general, that occur in the region. In addition, other explanations are in regard to, as pointed out by Steiker and Steiker, “those that highlight the prevalence of the fundamentalist religious beliefs and those that focus on longstanding inadequacies of criminal defense representation in Southern jurisdiction” (Steiker &Steiker, 2006, pg. 1862).

Beginning from the year 1977, a time when there was resuming of executions, up to the year 2006 (March), a total number of one thousand and thirteen executions were carried in the U.S. Among these executions, 85 percent of them were carried out in “eleven southern and border states” (Steiker &Steiker, 2006, pg 1863). The actual figures were as follows “Texas (362), Virginia (94), Oklahoma (79), Missouri (66), Florida (60), North Carolina (41), Georgia (39), South Carolina (35), Alabama (34), Arkansas (27), and Louisiana (27)” (Capital Punishment Statistics, 2008).

Texas is considered by a large number of people as the hub of the “American death penalty” (Steiker & Steiker, 2006). This state carried out more than 30 percent of the total number of executions countrywide from the time of resumption (1977). In the course of more than one and a half decades, this state has been in the lead in terms of total number of executions carried out all over the country. They were not in the lead only in two years, which were 2001 and 1996 (Fleischaker, 2007).

Steiker and Steiker, point out that even if several states carry out a larger number of executions relative to the states’ “death row populations”, such as Missouri as well as Virginia, “the sheer size of the Texas death penalty system, reflected both in the number of executions and the size of its death row naturally invites speculation about the causes underlying Texas’s high execution rates” (Steiker & Steiker, 2006, pg.1864).

Contrary to Texas, California is a unique “outlier in the other direction” (Steiker & Steiker, 2006, pg.1864). The size of the death row in California is over fifty percent bigger than that of Texas, but California has had an annual average of less than one beginning from the time of resumption. The death row for California is 649 and that of Texas is 409. It is pointed out that, “Whereas Texas has executed almost one inmate for every current offender on death row, California has executed one inmate for every fifty current offenders on death row” (Steiker & Steiker, 2006, pg. 1864).

As it has been considered, as much as capital punishment has been accepted by a large number of states in the United States of America as a form of punishment, there exist large regional divide nationwide, with some states carrying out more executions than others. The individual states have been making decisions in regard to capital punishment. This can be seen as a fair practice since the level of crimes that deserve capital punishment may vary from one state to the other. More so, this may depend upon the cultural inputs in the states,. For instance, in comparing Texas and California, Steiker and Steiker, points out that “a broad brush account might contrast the mix of southern, frontier, religious, and populist values in Texas culture and politics with the liberal, more secular values of California” (Steiker & Steiker, 2006, pg 1864).


Capital Punishment Statistics, (2008). U.S. Department of Justice. Web.

Fieser, J. (2001). Capital Punishment. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.

Fleischaker, D. (2007). ABA State death penalty assessment: facts (Un)discovered, progress (to be) made, and lesson learned. American Bar Association, 34 (2), 4- 10.

Steiker, C. S. & Steiker, J. M. (2006). A Tale of Two Nations: Implementation of the Death Penalty in “Executing” Versus “Symbolic” States in the United States. Texas Law Review, 84(7), 1859.

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