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Death Sentencing and Its Various Statutes

Death sentencing has realized a shift and diversification over the years as new waves of crime arise. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, P.L. 103-322 provided for capital punishment for some of the existing federal offenses and added new capital offenses. The death penalty has also been spelled in a number of other regulations including the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, P.L. 100-690 where death punishment would be availed for certain controlled substances.

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The reach of the federal death penalty was further expanded by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, P.L. 108-458, and the Terrorist Bombings Convention Implementation Act of 2002, P.L. 107-197. The Terrorist Bombings Convention Implementation Act of 2002, P.L.107-197 and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, P.L. 104-132 brought changes and addition of the capital crime in the United States. The enactment of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, P.L. 108-458 resulted in the expansion, either directly or indirectly, of the existing death penalty provisions.

The decision-maker in the sentencing of capital offenses had unbridled discretion to determine whether to impose a death sentence on a given case, but this right was scrubbed off by the Supreme Court through the Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). Only two of the existing federal civilian death penalty provisions did not suffer from constitutional frailties until the passing of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, P.L. 103-322. Other offenses that were liable for the death penalty included the commission of air piracy offense, which was established through Congress’s enactment of the death penalty statute.

There has been a contention between adopting death penalty statutes or not in the United States. The division has arisen on whether the penalty should be implemented or not. The same case applies to other countries where there has been debate on whether to retain death penalties or abolish the formerly established practice. Both those against the abolishment of the death penalty and those for it have provided different arguments to support their cases. Many of the states of America have adopted death penalties, including California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Illinois among others. There are about 35 of them.

Others have however not adopted this penalty owing to different reasons. The states which have not adopted the death penalty (15) include New York, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Maine, and Rhode Island. The total number of those executed has reached 1177 already. Although it experienced an overall rise since 1976 where no person was executed to1999 where 98 people were executed, the number of execution has experienced an overall downturn since shooting highest in 1999 where the number of executions hit 98. About 41 people have been executed with the death penalty this year 2009, in comparison as compared to a total of 37 last year.

White people have fallen victims the most times for death penalty cases with 15% of the total, followed by the Black people forming 15% of the victims, then Hispanics (6%) and other race categories forming only 2% of the victims in the United States. The white people lead with 56% (661) of the defendants that have been executed in the United States, followed by Black with 35% (407), then 7% (85) of Hispanics, and 2% (24) of the other races.

Reviews of the death penalty and race in 96% of states reveal that a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination or both existed, according to Baldus report to the ABA, 1998 (cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2009). According to Pokorak (cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2009), only 1% of blacks act in the capacity of chief district attorneys in the states with death penalties as compared to 98% of the white in a similar capacity.

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A disparity has been found in the execution of victims of killing according to their races, with people who killed whites having a possibility of 3 times more likely to receive a death penalty than those who killed blacks and 4 times more likely for those who killed Latinos, according to a study in California State. About 130 people have proved to be innocent after facing death row since 1973. (Cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2009). Statistics reveal that the highest number of inmates released were from Florida State in 1973, as compared to only one person released in Washington.

Whites still formed the highest percentage of inmates facing death row in the United States with 45% of the total according to Death Penalty Information Center, (2009). Black people formed 42%, Hispanics 11%, and other race categories only 2%. Statistics reveal a decrease in the number of death sentences from 295 people in 1993 to about 111 in 2008 (Bureau of Justice Statistics; cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2009). Various categories of criminals or victims depending on their age have faced legal discrimination as pertains to death sentencing. The death penalty for juveniles was struck down in Roper v. Simimons in 2005 by the Supreme Court.

From 1976 to that time, only 22 defendants had received execution for crimes committed as Juveniles. Defendants with mental retardation received favor from execution in Atikins v. Virginia in 2002 from the Supreme Court. The resolutions exempting mentally ill individuals from executions have received a warm welcome by various organizations including the American Bar Association, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the American Psychological Association.

According to Streib (2009; cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2009), 11 women have received the favor of execution from the death penalty since 1976. As of June 30, 2009, women constituted 1.6% (53 women in number) of the total death row population. The notion of seeing the death penalty as a deterrent to murder has been rejected by experts according to a survey of presidents of the United States’ top academic criminological societies (Radelet & Lacock, 2009; cited in Death Penalty Information Center, 2009).

Public support for the death penalty fell to 65% in May 2006 as compared to 80% in 1994 according to Gallup Poll of public opinion. 48% of the respondents in this research would have preferred life without parole as compared to 47% in favor of the death penalty when the two options were provided. Research by Hart Research Poll revealed that the death penalty was placed as the last in reducing violent crime and chiefs did not consider it an effective law enforcement tool. Statutes established death sentences for offenses such as murder occurring from acts related to a robbery in a federally insured bank or savings and loan association or credit union.

The United States statutes establish the death penalty for the following offenses:

  • The first degree of the murder of any person executing his or her duties is meant to face the death penalty according to 7 U.S.C. § 2146 (b) statute. The execution of the duty covered here includes a sale, handling certain animals, and transportation.
  • A murder occurs when aliens are being smuggled into the United States. This is established by 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a).
  • Murder resulting from destruction of aircraft or its facilities, attack of people while on board of the aircraft among other things covered in 18 U.S.C. §§ 32 and 34
  • Murder resulting while willfully destroying motor vehicles engaged in interstate or foreign commerce or other facilities (18 U.S.C. §§ 33 and 34).
  • Murder resulting in the drive-by-shooting to escape drug detection or furtherance of (18 U.S.C. § 36).
  • (8 U.S.C. § 37) Murder resulting from failure to adhere to the direction not to use violence at the airport.
  • The law also stipulates the death penalty for anyone who murders (first-degree murder) certain immediate families of officials in the United States for example a Federal law enforcement officer, United States judge. Any murder executed with intent to interfere, impede or intimidate the official at the performance of his or her duty or retaliation.
  • The law is also strict on the direct or indirect connection of usage of, possession, threatening to use, receiving, producing, developing, acquiring, stockpiling of chemical weapons (18 U.S.C. §§ 229 and 229A(a)(2)
  • (18 U.S.C. § 241)-This statute covers murder that results from a conspiracy to violate civil rights and issues related to sexual abuse, kidnapping, and attempted killing or kidnapping. The death penalty may also be awarded when death results in deprivation of federally protected rights.
  • The death penalty may be awarded in respect to the statute 18 U.S.C. § 247 when death results from disruption of free exercise of religion and intentional damage of religious property.
  • Protection for the members who hold important positions in the government or to be are also protected by certain statutes which also provide for death penalties. According to 8 U.S.C. § 351, the death penalty may be awarded to a person who assassinates major presidential candidates, Vice Presidential candidates, Congress members, Cabinet, or the Supreme Court.

The above are only examples of statutes that provide for death sentencing in the United States. In addition to providing for death sentencing, the law stipulates procedures that are to be followed in capital sentencing. Before the trial begins, 18 U.S.C. § 3432, a copy of the indictment and a list of veniremen and prosecution witnesses is provided to the capital defendants in the United States. The statute provides that information on the place of abode of the aforementioned three days before the day of the beginning of trial must be provided.

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If evidence exists that provision of the aforementioned list may result in jeopardizing the life and safety of any person, it may be avoided altogether through provisions of P.L. 103-322 that amended the previous requirement of the statute. The provisions provide that a defendant in a capital case may request to be provided with two counsels, one of whom need be learned in matters touching the capital offense. In the states where the Federal Public Defender organization exists, the court is required to consider the latter’s recommendations while assigning counsel, but where they do not exist, the court is required to follow the recommendation of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

Before accepting a trial or guilty plea of the intention by the prosecution to seek a death sentence, the government must furnish a timely notice to the capital defendant, according to the procedures provided in 18 U.S.C. §§ 3591-3598. In addition, the aggravating factors or factors which will be relied upon in this prosecution must be provided. To determine whether the death sentence is warranted in a certain case, provisions of the statutory provisions the mitigating and aggravating factors. Other mitigating factors that may require consideration include the defendant’s background, record or character, or any other, and may also require consideration.

The jury or the court would also determine the existence of any other factors for which notice has been issued. The defendant is required to prove mitigating factors by a preponderance of the information, while the aggravating factors must be proven by the government beyond any doubt. The court or the jury hears separate sentencing in a capital case. The aggravating factors must be found unanimously where the hearing is before a jury, whereas the court must offer a sentence other than death if no aggravating factors are found. One or more members of the jury may make special findings as to mitigating factors.

It is provided that the decision to be made by the jury must not be influenced by the defendant’s or victim’s gender, national origin, religious beliefs, color, or race. Certification that consistency of each of the jurors in the making of the decision regardless of the victim’s or defendant’s race, sex, origin, color, religious beliefs, or national originality is required.

Each of the jurors must certify that the defendant’s or victim’s attributes did not affect or influence his or her decision. The commission of the offenses provided by the legal provisions exempts death sentencing for individuals who commit the offense in the Indian country or for federal jurisdiction based solely upon Indian country or a person upon criminal jurisdiction of an Indian tribal government unless the tribe’s government provides that the sentencing procedures provided in 18 U.S.C. ch. 228, §§ 3591-3598, apply to the land and persons subject to its criminal jurisdiction.

Death sentences may be reviewed upon a notice according to provisions of the law. Factors that may lead to the court of appeals reversing and remanding for resentencing are; if the court finds that a legal error occurred in the passing of the sentence, that the sentence was issued under prejudice or passion, and if the existence of the aggravating factors is not supported by the provided evidence.

The state laws dictate the execution of the sentence after the appeal is over, but if the state does not have these laws of death sentence, the court of appeal may assign the task to another state with these regulations. The implementation of the death sentence is supervised by the United States marshal who may use the service of a person, local or state officials as they require. However, the law bars the participation of federal or state employees in capital prosecution or execution (Elizabeth, 2005).

Reference List

Death Penalty Information Center, (2009) Facts about the death penalty. Web.

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Elizabeth B. (2005) Capital Punishment: An Overview of Federal Death Penalty Statutes. CRS Report for Congress. Web.

Streib V. (2009) Death Penalty For Female Offenders.

18 U.S.C. § 3593(a).

18 U.S.C. § 3592.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 3592(a),

18 U.S.C. § 3593(b).

18 U.S.C. § 3593(c).

18 U.S.C. § 3593(d).

18 U.S.C. § 3593(e).

18 U.S.C. § 3593(f).

18 U.S.C. § 3591(b).

18 U.S.C. § 3596(b).

18 U.S.C. § 3596(c).

18 U.S.C. § 3598.

18 U.S.C. § 3595.

18 U.S.C. § 3596(a).

18 U.S.C. § 3597.

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