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Government Resources: Public Safety: Sentencing

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The Evolution of the Death Penalty in the United States

There is no specific mention of the death penalty in the U.S. Constitution -- not surprisingly perhaps since capital punishment was in widespread use throughout the world at the time, including in the American colonies. However, there is evidence that the framers assumed that some offenses would be "capital" crimes. For example, the Fifth Amendment specifically makes mention of such crimes.

The First Congress of the United States also made reference to capital punishment and authorized it for no less than 12 offenses, including treason, murder, piracy, and forgery. However, just as today, the ultimate penalty was the subject of debate, particularly about its deterrent value and the degree to which it should be imposed.  Source: The Evolution of the Death Penalty in the United States.


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