Friday, 7 March 2014

Death Penalty in New York

7th March 1995

This day in history...New York becomes the 38th state to have the death penalty by lethal injection 

As of Jan 2014, 32 U.S. States currently have the death penalty legalised. The use of capital punishment is a highly controversial topic and has always been at the forefront of various elections and constitutional issues. On this day in 1995, New York reinstated the use of the death penalty which had previously been removed and reinstated several times before. As the death penalty is such an important aspect of the American courts and criminal history it warrants quite a lengthy blog. So lets get started...

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
History of New York's Death Penalty: The use of capital punishment in NY goes all the way back to colonial times with the second most executions of any state from 1608 to 1972, after Virginia. Most executions were carried out by hanging, mostly due to the fact that the electric chair had not been invented yet. Other methods of execution included; burning at the stake, death by firing squad, and the breaking wheel. In 1860 the death penalty was accidentally abolished in NY when Governor Edwin D. Morgan repealed the method of hanging without offering another type of execution method. A year later however, the mistake was rectified and the death penalty was restored. 

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
The most notable execution that took place in the State of New York was that of William Kemmler in 1890 who had murdered his wife with a hatchet. What makes Kemmler's case famous is that he was the first man to be executed by the newly developed electric chair. After a dentist witnessed a drunk man quickly and painlessly die after walking into exposed power lines, the state of New York adopted the electric chair as a more humane way of execution. Kemmler was strapped to the chair in front of a small group of witnesses and had 1000 volt current passed through his body for 17 seconds, after which he was declared dead. Some witnesses said they saw him still breathing and groaning and so a high voltage was applied. Witnesses then said they smelt burning flesh, singeing hair and saw blood vessels beneath Kemmler's skin burst and bleed.

Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
William Kemmler's execution by electric chair.
The death penalty has been abolished and reinstated several times in NY and in 1967 a compromise law was passed allowing for limited death penalty; this meant the death sentence only applied to any one who murdered a police officer, a correctional officer or murdered an inmate whilst serving a life sentence in prison. This however was struck down in 1977 and 1984, effectively abolishing New York's death penalty. In 1995, however, newly-elected Governor George Pataki fulfilled a campaign promise and allowed legislation to reinstate the death penalty with lethal injection. In 2004, this was declared unconstitutional by the New York Court of Appeals and in 2007 the last remaining death sentence was reduced to life sentence. This leaves NY as it is today: a vacant death row, no viable death penalty laws and no execution equipment. 

"No, I don't think a chocolate on the pillow makes it any more humane."
Image Retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
There is of course a bigger picture to look at instead of just focusing on NY. As it has already been said: 32 states in America currently have the death penalty legalised. Around 3,108 inmates in 35 states are awaiting execution. This is due to the fact that whilst some states have recently abolished capital punishment, the inmates in these states who were on death row will still be executed. Here are some more facts that will probably shock everyone:

  • 61 women are currently on death row
  • Between 1976 and 2005, 22 juveniles aged 16-17 were executed. This was ruled unconstitutional only in 2005
  • Federal death row inmates can only have clemency by a pardon granted by the President of the U.S
  • The Death Penalty Information Centre has published a list of 10 inmates that were 'Executed But Possibly Innocent' - though in fact many believe that figure is closer to at least 39 
  • During the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48% to 101% higher than in states without the death penalty
  • Around 71 countries around the world have the death penalty
Image retrieved from Google. Will remove at owner's request.
What are you thoughts on the death penalty? Should it be abolished completely? 
Don't forget to follow @Ydaysnews for more historical events every day!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting subject! I guess first of all you have to consider the purpose of the death penalty; is it about deterring other potential offenders or is it about retribution and punishment. Whilst the figures you have quoted would imply that it does not act as a deterrent, I guess you can't quantify the number of crimes that have not occurred. I wonder if there is data available on the offenders detailing, age(are they at an age where they can't conceptualise their own mortality and consequences of actions) underlying mental health issues etc. Also there needs to be thought for those carrying out the executions. How does it effect them? There was a really interesting piece on Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 talking to an ex executioner earlier this week(check out the website) Is there something odd about saying that killing people is wrong and to punish you we will kill you??