After ten years of constitutional controversy during which there were no executions, in 1977 some American states began once again to execute condemned prisoners. The most common method is by lethal injection, followed by the electric chair and the gas chamber. Since 1977, only about 1% of all those executed have been women.
The legal process of imposing the death penalty, commonly for murder, up through the actual carrying out of the sentence, is cumbersome, lengthy, and extremely costly to the governmental entities involved. Decades may pass, during which the prisoner languishes in the area of a prison called “death row” seeing out appeal after appeal, delay after delay.
The death penalty in the United States is under constant legal and moral attack. Opponents claim that it is used capriciously and often on a racial basis. Possible innocence of the condemned person is also a major basis for protest. DNA evidence has now disproved the guilt of a number of death row residents. A further line of attack is the notion that the means of execution are cruel, with the most current debate occurring over the efficacy of lethal injection. The extremely high cost of capital punishment, born by the taxpayers (usually on a state basis) is becoming quite a cogent argument for abolition.
Despite the many objections from inside and outside the United States, the American public largely favors the imposition of the death penalty for murder. A number of states, faced with thorny legalistic uncertainties, have passed moratoria on executions. Several states have abolished the practice entirely.