In 1972 the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, only to reinstate it in the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision. Since then the fiery debates over capital punishment have been as hot as ever.
In 2009, 52 people were executed in 11 states, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics. That number is 15 more than the previous year.
Advocates of the death penalty argue that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to potential criminals, and it provides justice to the victims' families. On the other hand, opponents claim that it violates the "cruel and unusual punishment" doctrine of the Constitution. They point to numerous examples of death row inmates who were later freed based on new evidence.
While opponents of capital punishment are vocal, a majority of Americans support the death penalty. A 2009 Gallup poll showed that 65 percent of Americans were in favor of the death penalty and 31 percent were against it. However, when asked to choose between the death penalty or life imprisonment for offenders, votes were split. 47 percent of people chose the death penalty, while 48 percent chose life imprisonment. Again, 5 percent had no opinion. These results show very little difference from statistics spanning the past six years.
For more information on the death penalty debate, visit the Web sites below.
Death Penalty Resources
Death Penalty Curriculum
Read pro and con arguments, access data on capital punishment for every state and learn about methods of execution.
Survey of the Federal Death Penalty System
Like some states, the federal government can sentence convicted criminals to death.
This report on the federal death penalty system from 1988 to 2000 provides
statistics on the racial, ethnic and geographical backgrounds of defendants and victims.
Opponents of Death Penalty
Amnesty International calls the death penalty "the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment." Read statistics
and information on their worldwide campaign to abolish the death penalty.
Center for Wrongful Convictions
Based at the Northwestern University Law School, the center works to rectify miscarriages of justice.
Investigations by law and journalism students at Northwestern have exonerated 21 death row inmates since its founding in 1988.