Complete 8 page APA formatted essay: Death Penalty in New York State.
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George Kendall is documented as being the first man to be officially put to death in colonized America by the state in 1608. Since then over 20,000 accused criminals have been executed in America for a variety of offenses ranging from murder to property crimes. The inclination of jurists to award the death penalty almost at will in the early part of American history was partly influenced by the lack of penitentiaries and an organized prison system. Execution was seen as the primary method to protect society from subversive and anti-social elements. Capital punishment was also employed as a means to control the slave population and many disproportionate capital sentences were imposed on slaves of African descent when the same would not have applied to Caucasians. In New York attempted murder or rape were capital crimes only when committed by slaves (Acker, 2003). The colony of New York was originally under the control of the Dutch albeit without any formal legal system. The death penalty was practiced and administered in an arbitrary and reckless manner in those early days. It was often the case that when the culprit could not be identified, the accused would have to “draw lots” in order to determine who would be executed. The arrival of the British to New York saw the implementation of a penal code, where the death penalty was still a frequently awarded punishment. In 1741, 18 white colonials and 13 slaves were sentenced to death by burning at the stake. However, the new British legal system also contained a clemency clause. An individual on death row was eligible for a pardon if they agreed to leave the colony or chose to enlist in the armed forces. As a result of this provision during the 18th century 51% of individuals sentenced to death in New York were eventually pardoned (Heller, 2008). The death penalty statute continued to evolve after the formation of the United States of America and the subsequent imposition of its new legal system. In 1888, The New York State Assembly passed a statute which would see it become the first state to directly administer the death penalty. According to the statute the death penalty was mandatory for extremely grave and depraved offences. The law also called for a new method of execution, which was “death by electricity”. William Kemmler became the first man to be executed by means of electric chair, in 1890. Up until the 1930’s the State of New York was responsible for more executions than any other state. During this period state statutes were amended in order to encompass a wider array of crimes that could be punishable by death. The most significant of these was kidnapping, influenced greatly by the “Lindbergh baby’ saga which dominated headlines during this period. Due to these amendments juries were also instructed to give sentencing recommendations in trials where the convicted were eligible for capital punishment (Heller, 2008). Rise of Abolitionist Movement Throughout the colonial era and up until the mid 20th century voices that were opposed to the death penalty slowly began to grow in strength. By the 18th century many American’s had begun to question the application of the death penalty for crimes that were petty and trivial in nature.
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