The Supreme Court has on several occasions dealt with judging the merits of the death penalty and whether or not it is interpreted by the Constitution as punishment which is cruel and unusual. The Court has always ruled the terminology of the Eighth Amendment does not exclude the implementation of death as punishment. The Constitution is a malleable document, however. The interpretation of the Eighth Amendment has evolved somewhat throughout the years and the Court could possibly reverse this point of view sometime in the future as a result of changing societal values.
For example, the whipping of offenders was commonplace until the late Eighteenth Century. This practice came to be considered inappropriate because society’ s opinion changed to include it as a ‘ cruel’ punishment. With respect to capital punishment, though, “ the Court has maintained that there remains broad public support for the death penalty as a remedy for the most serious of crimes” (Mott, 2004). Historically speaking, the rationale for punishing criminals has been to avenge the crime, to protect society by imprisoning the criminal, to deter that person and other potential offenders from the commission of crimes and to obtain reparations from the offender (Wolfgang, 1998).
Throughout the history of civilization, this rationale has not changed substantially. The four fundamental reasons society punishes can be classified into two areas. One is to obtain desired consequences which include protecting society, seeking compensation and deterrence. The other, retribution, or vengeance, involves punishment for a wrong perpetrated on society. Those that subscribe to retribution as a justification for the death penalty often invoke the Bible’ s reference to ‘ an eye for an eye. ’ Aggression must be met with aggressive punishment (Olen & Barry, 1996: 268).
“ This use of punishment is society’ s way of striking back at one who has disturbed the emotional and ethical senses of a people” (Lunden, 1967: 232).
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