Most societies at some time or other have endorsed the use of the death penalty. Ancient Roman and Judaic cultures practiced retributive justice, adhering to the rule of “an eye for an eye.” The United States inherited its use of capital punishment from European settlers in the seventeenth century, promoting the notion that heinous crimes deserved severe punishment. In the eighteenth century, however, philosophers began to question the ethics of the death penalty. Italian criminologist Cesare Beccaria condemned capital punishment as an ineffective and grossly inhumane deterrent to...
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