(1) Capital punishment is а legal infliction of the death penalty; in modern law, corporal punishment in its most severe form. The usual. alternative to the death penalty is long-term or life imprisonment.
The earliest historical records contain evidence of capital punishment:
It was mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi. The Bible prescribed death as the penalty for more than 30 different crimes, ranging from murder· fornication. The Draconian Code of ancient Greece imposed capital punishment for every offence.
In England, during the reign of William the Conqueror, the death penalty was not used, although the results of interrogation and torture were oft fatal. Ву the end of the 15th century, English law recognized six major crimes: treason, murder, larceny, burglary, rape, and arson. By 1800, m than 200 capital crimes were recognized; and as а result, 1000 or m persons were sentenced to death each year (although most sentences were commuted by royal pardon). In early American colonies the death penalty was commonly authorized for а wide variety of crimes. Blacks, whether slave or free, were threatened with death for many crimes that were punished less severely when committed by whites.
Efforts to abolish the death penalty did not gather momentum until the end of the 18th century. In Europe, а short treatise, Оп Crimes and Punishтents, bу the Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria, inspired inf1uential thinkers such as the French philosopher Voltaire to oppose torture, f1ogging, and the death penalty.
The abolition of capital punishment in England in November 1965 was welcomed by most people with humane and progressive ideas. To them it seemed a departure from feudalism, from the cruel pre-Christian spirit of revenge: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Many of these people think differently now. Since the abolition of capital punishment crime - and especially murder - has been on increase throughout Britain. Today, therefore, public opinion in Britain has changed. People who before, also in Parliament, stated that capital punishment was not a deterrent to murder - for there have always been murders in all countries with or without the law of execution - now feel that killing the assassin is the lesser of two evils. Capital punishment, they think, may not be the ideal answer, but it is better than nothing, especially when, as in England, a sentence of life imprisonment only lasts eight or nine years.
(2) The fundamental questions raised by the death penalty are whether it is an effective deterrent to violent crime, and whether it is more effective than the alternative of long-term imprisonment.