Death penalty has been a belligerent issue in the United States. The states are divided on the view of murder as means of punishment to offenders. Punishment instilled on an offender is dependent on individual states law regarding the crime. In Mississippi, capital punishment is legal and is allowed under the following offenses; treason, murder and aircraft piracy.
Collaboration with the enemy/treason is defined as assisting the states enemy gain advantage over the state (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-7-67 (2011)). This offense is punishable by death and has been implemented since 19th century. The law is meant to bar people from collaborating with the enemies of the state. Secondly, suspects convicted of murder crimes are punished by death. This is the most ancient reason for the introduction of the death penalty. It is assumed that people who kill should also be killed to serve justice to the victims (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-19 (2011)). The state law also hands death sentences to persons who conspire to hijack an aircraft or intend to use weapons aboard a plane (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-25-55 (2011))
History of the death penalty in Mississippi
Mississippi carried out its fits execution in 1818. The execution involved a white male George Harman, who was accused and subsequently found guilty of stealing a black slave. The conviction of Herman marked the beginning of state executions by means of hanging. The state executed approximately 794 persons between 1818 and 2002.
Mississippi used to hang as its execution method until 1940. The legislature thought it was a good show to execute individuals in public so that people could learn about the repercussions of their actions. Death as punishment was generally accepted as the most just way of serving justice to victims. Hangings took place in areas where the convicts had made the crime. It was a show of justice to the people. However, after the repulsion of hanging as method of executing capital punishment, public executions were no more.
Increased cases of crimes pressured the state to build a prison in 1843. The prison, located at Parchman, Yellow County, would be used to bar convicts who posed a threat to the community. From that year, capital punishments would be carried out in the facility. Though the residents objected to capital punishment being executed at the facility, the state government was able to silence them.
Despite the political support the punishment had, there were a number of issues associated who the penalty. The issues raised were respect for human life, such that it was argued that it was not beneficial to punish loss of life by losing another, and also complexities involved in capital crimes such as conspiracies in murder.
The need to make executions more humane led to the innovation of the electric chair. The chair was located at the state penitentiary in Yellow County. The victims would be electrocuted to death. The first victim to be executed using the new method was Willie Mae Bragg, a convicted wife killer. The chair would then be replaced by a gas chamber at the facility.
Capital punishment was repealed in the state in the year 1964. There were widespread litigations that challenged the application and importance of the death penalty to the American society. The result was that the Supreme Court rendered capital punishment laws inactive in the United States. The uproar was due to complications associated with the scale of crime that would deserve a death sentence. In addition, complexities arising from proving conspiracy theories in capital crime, where innocents would be convicted of a murder they had not committed. In the case, Furman v Georgia, United States Supreme Court held that the death penalty in most US states violated the constitution (eighth amendment), the laws were unusual and cruel.
The Mississippi state legislature amended the death penalty laws to fit the eighth amendment, however, it was determined that the changes were not sufficient to resume the death penalty. The state thus froze executions until 1983. The execution followed a series of changes in the state corrections systems (Carter, Kreitzberg& Howe 2012). The state department of corrections (MDOC) had been formed in 1976 to suffice the judiciary’s work in handling criminals.
There were significant changes in capital punishment in the State of Mississippi. In 1998, the state legislature of Mississippi amended the law to introduce a lethal injection (§§ 99-19-51 of the Mississippi Code). It was thought to be the most humane way to end human life. This is because the lethal injection would kill the convict without pain. The injection was devised as an alternative due to human rights cries on the suffering the convicts on the death row had to undergo. However, supporters of the death penalty protested that lethal injection is not enough punishment for criminals. They argue the move would not deter criminals from committing capital crimes, especially when they contemplated suicide.
The state law pertaining death penalty has been subject to Supreme Court scrutiny. In 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States found that it was unusual to execute a mentally retarded person. Also, pregnant women were to be spared in the interest of the unborn baby. In this care, therefore, the state of Mississippi had to conform to the new changes. In the wake of the new ruling, the state justice system must determine the mental situation of a suspect before a decision is handed. Most people claim retardation to dodge the death penalty.
There are several cases that question the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty. Most lawyers accuse the state justice department as flawed in the application of the death penalty. The latest scrutiny pertains the case of Gerald Holland, who was re-sentenced to death. The Mississippi system comprises of two trials, one for guilt determination and the other for decisions on the death sentence or a life sentence. As with Holland’s case, law analysts find it legally unacceptable for jury that is unfamiliar to a case determining the sentence. Moreover, technicalities surrounding cases that involve capital crimes lead to wrong decisions.
In conclusion, it is apparent that capital punishment in Mississippi is not a new phenomenon and that has been supported by many people, both civilians and politicians. As discussed, the penalty is applied to capital crimes that entail murder and conspiracy to kill, aircraft piracy and treason. The cases attract a death penalty once guilt is proven. Despite the many criticisms, the state continues to execute convicts on the death row by use of lethal injection. However, the constitutionality of the death penalty remains an issue both in Mississippi and other states in the USA.
Cabana, Donald A.(1996). Death At Midnight: Confessions Of An Executioner. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Hillegas, Jan. (2006) “Preliminary List of Mississippi Legal Executions,” Revised. Jackson: New Mississippi, Inc..
Taylor, William Banks.(1999) Down On Parchman Farm. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press
Mississippi and the Death Penalty. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mdoc.state.ms.us/mississippi_and_the_death_penalt.htm
Carter, L. E., Kreitzberg, E., & Howe, S. W. (2012). Understanding capital punishment law.
Mississippi Code of 1972, Title 97. Crimes § 97-3-19 (2011)