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One of the most controversial debates that rages constantly in this country is the argument over whether capital punishment should be outlawed.

There are two basics arguments within the debate over capital punishment: First is the question of whether capital punishment is moral, or more simply put, whether it is right. And second is the question of whether capital punishment is constitutional. Although the death penalty has come far into the forefront recently, the constitutionality of the death penalty is not a new question.

The death penalty has never been outlawed nationally per se, but for a period in the mid 1970's the Supreme Court changed the rules about capital punishment so that it was nearly impossible for a state to put a prisoner to death under any circumstances. The problems that death penalty opponents have with capital punishment can be found in the Bill of Rights, or more specifically, the fifth and eight amendments.

The fifth amendment gives every citizen of the United States the right to "due process of law", meaning full access to courts and proper representation, etc. Many believe that a great number of inmates on death row have not been given due process, and that no one should be put to death if they have not been given their right to it. The eighth amendment bars the government from doling out any "cruel or unusual punishment" to its prisoners.

Although it is certainly debatable whether execution is
cruel and/or unusual, many believe that it is, and therefore is a violation of the eighth amendment. There are many facets to this argument, and even an updated Supreme Court ruling is unlikely to quell the debate.
There is also another very contentious point in the debate over capital punishment.

Obviously, the penalty of death is the most final punishment possible. Many death penalty opponents say that the capital punishment should never be used in a case where the jury or judge is not 100% sure of guilt. They say that, because it is impossible to ever be 100% sure about anything, the death penalty should not be used when someone might be innocent. This argument has been bolstered recently, as a significant number of prisoners presumed guilty of first-degree murder have been released from prison because of new evidence in their cases.

Early in 2000 Illinois governor George Ryan put a moratorium on the death penalty in that state for this reason, and the pressure has increased on other governors to follow suit.