In a recent vote, the New Hampshire state legislature fell one vote short of abolishing the death penalty. As a developed state, the US is unusual in still making use of capital punishment (it doesn’t exist in the EU, which, oddly enough, has a substantially lower murder rate), but, despite this instance of the practice’s perpetuation, there appears to be a rising tide of support to abolish the death penalty. Today, capital punishment is outlawed in 18 states, and 60% of americans favor its use (compared to 80% in 1994). The arguments against capital punishment include that it fails to act as a deterrent, it can be accidentally used against the wrongfully convicted, and, with the long chains of appeals and teams of lawyers put together to ensure that all condemned to it are truly guilty, it is actually significantly more expensive than life imprisonment.
This information was obtained from The Economist. Click here for the article
This situation is one of the prime examples of the effects of constitutional interpretation. Here, we are dealing with the eighth amendment of the Constitution, which primarily deals with cruel and unusual punishment. An issue surrounding the constitutionality of the death penalty is whether or not it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” It was not considered so at the time of the eighth amendment’s implementation, but one of the quirks of vague wording (of which this amendment represents a superlative case) is that the meaning of a document can sway greatly over time. As the statistics show, more Americans are coming around to the perception that capital punishment falls under the umbrella of “cruel and unusual”, and this change of perception is bringing about a dramatic change in our legal system without needing substantial legal precedent. That is interesting in and of itself, but it also demonstrates how the Constitution is very much a living document, subject to new interpretations and occasional revision.