In order to determine whether the death penalty is to be considered cruel and unusual punishment, it is necessary to first define each word in order to get full understanding of the issue being assessed. According to the Merriam-Webster collegiate dictionary, cruel is defined as: disposed to inflict pain or suffering devoid of humane feelings. Unusual is defined as: not usual, uncommon, or rare. Punishment is defined as: suffering pain or loss that serves as retribution. Should capital punishment be viewed as retribution used to cause pain or suffering without humane feelings, and is it uncommon?
The message that is sent out by killing a murderer is If you kill, we kill. Punishment by death is the ultimate punishment and one that cannot be taken back. A jury is instructed to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but with a punishment as final as death, any doubt should be reason enough for a person to live. Forcing a jury to decide whether a person should live or die is wrong. If the jury decides the person should die, then they have just committed the same crime they just sentenced someone to die for, murder. The jury then has to live with the fact that they killed someone. Just this stress put on the jury is enough to call the death penalty inhumane, not to mention the years the inmate will have to sit on death row knowing that at any time, it could be their turn to be strapped in to die. As far as the death penalty being unusual, since the U. S. is the only western democracy to still use the death penalty, it would be safe to say this punishment is uncommon.
The death penalty should not be carried out in any case. Some look at it as an eye for an eye, but as Mahatma Gandhi once said, An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. As we head into the next millennium, it is time we modernize our punishments of criminals just as we have modernized every other aspect of our lives.