Capital punishment, the death penalty or execution, is the killing of a person by judicial process as punishment. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from Latin capitalis, literally "regarding the head" (Latin caput). Hence, a capital crime was originally one punished by the severing of the head.
Among countries around the world, almost all European and many Pacific Area states (including Australia, New Zealand and Timor Leste), and Canada have abolished capital punishment. In Latin America, most states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment, while some countries, such as Brazil, allow for capital punishment only in exceptional situations, such as treason committed during wartime. The United States (the federal government and 36 of the states), Guatemala, most of the Caribbean and the majority of democracies in Asia (e.g. Japan and India) and Africa (e.g. Botswana and Zambia) retain it. South Africa, which is probably the most developed African nation, and which has been a democracy since 1994, does not have the death penalty. This fact is currently quite controversial in that country, due to the high levels of violent crime, including murder and rape.
Capital punishment is a contentious issue in some cultures. Supporters of capital punishment argue that it deters crime, prevents recidivism, that it is less expensive than life imprisonment and is an appropriate form of punishment for some crimes. Opponents of capital punishment argue that it has led to the execution of wrongfully convicted, that it discriminates against minorities and the poor, that it does not deter criminals more than life imprisonment, that it encourages a "culture of violence", that it is more expensive than life imprisonment, and that it violates human rights.
The latest countries to abolish the death penalty de facto for all crimes were Gabon, which announced on September 14, 2007 that they would no longer apply capital punishment and South Korea in practice on December 31, 2007 after ten years of disuse. The latest to abolish executions de jure was Argentina.
At least 3,000 people (and probably considerably more) were sentenced to death during 2007, and at the end of the year around 25,000 were on death row around the world, with Pakistan and the USA accounting for about half this figure between them. China carries out by far the greatest number of actual executions - while Amnesty International has confirmed at least 470 executions there during 2007 the true figure has been estimated at up to 6,000. Outside China, at least 800 people were put to death in 23 countries during 2007, with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and the USA the main contributors. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen executed people for crimes committed when they were juveniles, in contravention of international law.
Executions are known to have been carried out in the following countries in 2007:
In 2007 the largest number of verifiable executions were carried out in the six countries listed below (note though that with the exception of the US, the figures for other countries are believed to be under-estimates): Most Executions carried out in 2007
|China||470+ (other sources est. 5,000)1|
|1.Based on a combination of published and anecdotal evidence,Dui Hua foundation suggests the real tally in China may be as high as 5,000|
The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly restrained in retentionist countries. Singapore, Japan and the U.S. are the only fully developed countries that have retained the death penalty. The death penalty was overwhelmingly practiced in poor and authoritarian states, which often employed the death penalty as a tool of political oppression. During the 1980s, the democratisation of Latin America swelled the rank of abolitionist countries. This was soon followed by the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, which then aspired to enter the EU. In these countries, the public support for the death penalty varies but it is decreasing . The European Union and the Council of Europe both strictly require member states not to practice the death penalty (see Capital punishment in Europe). On the other hand, rapid industrialisation in Asia has been increasing the number of developed retentionist countries. In these countries, the death penalty enjoys strong public support, and the matter receives little attention from the government or the media. This trend has been followed by some African and Middle Eastern countries where support for the death penalty is high.
Some countries have resumed practising the death penalty after having suspended executions for long periods. Notably, the United States suspended executions in 1972 but resumed them in 1977; there was no execution in India between 1995 and 2004; and Sri Lanka recently declared an end to its moratorium on the death penalty, although it has not yet performed any executions. The Philippines re-introduced the death penalty in 1993 after abolishing it in 1987, but abolished it again in 2006.
For further information about capital punishment in these countries, see: Australia · Canada · People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) · Europe · India · Iran · Iraq · Japan · New Zealand ·Pakistan· Philippines · Russia · Singapore · Taiwan · United Kingdom · United States
The death penalty for juvenile offenders (criminals aged under 18 years at the time of their crime) has become increasingly rare. Since 1990, nine countries have executed offenders who were juveniles at the time of their crimes: China, D.R. Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United States and Yemen. China, Pakistan, the United States and Yemen have since raised the minimum age to 18. Amnesty International has recorded 61 verified executions since then, in several countries, of both juveniles and adults who had been convicted of committing their offenses as juveniles. China does not allow for the execution of those under 18; nevertheless, child executions have reportedly taken place. The United States Supreme Court abolished capital punishment for offenders under the age of 16 in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), and for all juveniles in Roper v. Simmons (2005). Between 2005 and May 2008, five nations (Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen) were reported to have executed child offenders, the most being from Iran.
Starting in 1642 within British America, an estimated 365 juvenile offenders were executed by the states and federal government of the United States. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the execution of individuals with mental retardation.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forbids capital punishment for juveniles under article 37(a), has been signed by all countries and ratified, except for Somalia and the United States. The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights maintains that the death penalty for juveniles has become contrary to a jus cogens of customary international law. A majority of countries are also party to the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (whereas under Article 6.5 also states that "Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age...").
Japan has what it considers a death penalty for juveniles, but under Japanese law, anyone under 21 is considered a juvenile. There are three men currently on death row for crimes they committed at age 18 or 19.
The use of formal execution extends at least to the beginning of recorded history. Most historical records as well as various primitive tribal practices indicate that the death penalty was a part of their justice system. Communal punishment for wrongdoing generally included compensation by the wrongdoer, corporal punishment, shunning, banishment and execution. However, within a small community, crimes were rare and murder was almost always a crime of passion. Moreover, most would hesitate to inflict death on a member of the community. For this reason, execution and even banishment were extremely rare. Usually, compensation and shunning were enough as a form of justice.
However, these are not effective responses to crimes committed by outsiders. Consequently, even small crimes committed by outsiders were considered to be an assault on the community and were severely punished. The methods varied from beating and enslavement to executions. However, the response to crime committed by neighbouring tribes or communities included formal apology, compensation or blood feuds.
A blood feud or vendetta occurs when arbitration between families or tribes fails or an arbitration system is non-existent. This form of justice was common before the emergence of an arbitration system based on state or organised religion. It may result from crime, land disputes or a code of honour. "Acts of retaliation underscore the ability of the social collective to defend itself and demonstrate to enemies (as well as potential allies) that injury to property, rights, or the person will not go unpunished. However, in practice, it is often difficult to distinguish between a war of vendetta and one of conquest.
For most of recorded history, capital punishments were often cruel and inhumane. Severe historical penalties include breaking wheel, boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, disembowelment, crucifixion, impalement, crushing (including crushing by elephant), stoning, execution by burning, dismemberment, sawing, decapitation, scaphism, or necklacing.
Elaborations of tribal arbitration of feuds included peace settlements often done in a religious context and compensation system. Compensation was based on the principle of substitution which might include material (e.g. cattle, slave) compensation, exchange of brides or grooms, or payment of the blood debt. Settlement rules could allow for animal blood to replace human blood, or transfers of property or blood money or in some case an offer of a person for execution. The person offered for execution did not have to be an original perpetrator of the crime because the system was based on tribes, not individuals. Blood feuds could be regulated at meetings, such as the Viking things. Systems deriving from blood feuds may survive alongside more advanced legal systems or be given recognition by courts (e.g. trial by combat). One of the more modern refinements of the blood feud is the duel.
In certain parts of the world, nations in the form of ancient republics, monarchies or tribal oligarchies emerged. These nations were often united by common linguistic, religious or family ties. Moreover, expansion of these nations often occurred by conquest of neighbouring tribes or nations. Consequently, various classes of royalty, nobility, various commoners and slave emerged. Accordingly, the systems of tribal arbitration were submerged into a more unified system of justice which formalised the relation between the different "classes" rather than "tribes". The earliest and most famous example is Code of Hammurabi which set the different punishment and compensation according to the different class/group of victims and perpetrators. The Torah (Jewish Law), also known as the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Christian Old Testament), lays down the death penalty for murder, kidnapping, magic, violation of the Sabbath, blasphemy, and a wide range of sexual crimes, although evidence suggests that actual executions were rare. A further example comes from Ancient Greece, where the Athenian legal system was first written down by Draco in about 621 BC: the death penalty was applied for a particularly wide range of crimes. The word draconian derives from Draco's laws.
Similarly, in medieval and early modern Europe, before the development of modern prison systems, the death penalty was also used as a generalized form of punishment. For example, in 1700s Britain, there were 222 crimes which were punishable by death, including crimes such as cutting down a tree or stealing an animal. Thanks to the notorious Bloody Code, 18th century (and early 19th century) Britain was a hazardous place to live. For example, Michael Hammond and his sister, Ann, whose ages were given as 7 and 11, were reportedly hanged at King's Lynn on Wednesday, the September 28, 1708 for theft. The local press did not, however, consider the executions of two children newsworthy.
Although many are executed in China each year in the modern age, there was a time in Tang Dynasty China when the death penalty was actually abolished altogether. This was in the year 747, enacted by Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 712–756), who before was the only person in China with the authority to sentence criminals to execution. Even then capital punishment was relatively infrequent, with only 24 executions in the year 730 and 58 executions in the year 736. Two hundred years later there was a form of execution called Ling Chi, slow slicing, or death by/of a thousand cuts, used in China from roughly 900 CE to its abolition in 1905.
Despite its wide use, calls for reform were not unknown. The 12th century Sephardic legal scholar, Moses Maimonides, wrote, "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent man to death." He argued that executing an accused criminal on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice." His concern was maintaining popular respect for law, and he saw errors of commission as much more threatening than errors of omission.
The last several centuries have seen the emergence of modern nation-states. Almost fundamental to the concept of nation state is the idea of citizenship. This caused justice to be increasingly associated with equality and universality, which in Europe saw an emergence of the concept of natural rights. Another important aspect is that emergence of standing police forces and permanent penitential institutions. The death penalty become an increasingly unnecessary deterrent in prevention of minor crimes such as theft. Additionally, in countries like Britain, law enforcement officials became alarmed when juries tended to acquit non-violent felons rather than risk a conviction that could result in execution. The 20th century was one of the bloodiest of the human history. Massive killing occurred as the resolution of war between nation-states. A large part of execution was summary execution of enemy combatants. Also, modern military organisations employed capital punishment as a means of maintaining military discipline. In the past, cowardice, absence without leave, desertion, insubordination, looting, shirking under enemy fire and disobeying orders were often crimes punishable by death. One method of execution since firearms came into common use has almost invariably been firing squad. Moreover, various authoritarian states—for example those with fascist or communist governments—employed the death penalty as a potent means of political oppression. Partly as a response to such excessive punishment, civil organisations have started to place increasing emphasis on the concept of human rights and abolition of the death penalty.
In early New England, public executions were a very solemn and sorrowful occasion, sometimes attended by large crowds, who also listened to a Gospel message and remarks by local preachers and politicians. The Connecticut Courant records one such public execution on December 1, 1803, saying, "The assembly conducted through the whole in a very orderly and solemn manner, so much so, as to occasion an observing gentleman acquainted with other countries as well as this, to say that such an assembly, so decent and solemn, could not be collected anywhere but in New England. Trends in most of the world have long been to move to less painful, or more humane, executions. France developed the guillotine for this reason in the final years of the 18th century while Britain banned drawing and quartering in the early 19th century. Hanging by turning the victim off a ladder or by dangling them from the back of a moving cart, which causes death by suffocation, was replaced by "hanging" where the subject is dropped a longer distance to dislocate the neck and sever the spinal cord. In the U.S., the electric chair and the gas chamber were introduced as more humane alternatives to hanging, but have been almost entirely superseded by lethal injection, which in turn has been criticized as being too painful. Nevertheless, some countries still employ slow hanging methods, beheading by sword and even stoning, although the latter is rarely employed.
Execution by nitrogen asphyxiation was proposed in 1995 and appears occasionally in online discussions, but as of , it has not been used by any nation.
The death penalty was briefly banned in the country of China between 747 and 759. In England, a public statement of opposition was included in The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards, written in 1395. Thomas More's Utopia, published in 1516, debated the benefits of the death penalty in dialogue form, coming to no firm conclusion. More recent opposition to the death penalty stemmed from the book of the Italian Cesare Beccaria Dei Delitti e Delle Pene ("On Crimes and Punishments"), published in 1764. In this book, Beccaria aimed to demonstrate not only the injustice, but even the futility from the point of view of social welfare, of torture and the death penalty. Influenced by the book, Grand Duke Leopold II of Habsburg, famous enlightened monarch and future Emperor of Austria, abolished the death penalty in the then-independent Granducato di Toscana (Grand Duchy of Tuscany), the first permanent abolition in modern times. On November 30, 1786, after having de facto blocked capital executions (the last was in 1769), Leopold promulgated the reform of the penal code that abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all the instruments for capital execution in his land. In 2000 Tuscany's regional authorities instituted an annual holiday on November 30 to commemorate the event. The event is also commemorated on this day by 300 cities around the world celebrating the Cities for Life Day.
The Roman Republic banned capital punishment in 1849. Venezuela followed suit abolished the death penalty in 1863 and San Marino did so in 1865. The last execution in San Marino had taken place in 1468. In Portugal, after two legislative proposals, in 1852 and 1863, the death penalty was abolished in 1867.
In the United Kingdom, it was abolished (except for cases of treason) in 1973, the last execution having taken place in 1964. It was abolished totally in 1998. France abolished it in 1981, Canada abolished it in 1976 and Australia in 1985. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed in a formal resolution that throughout the world, it is desirable to "progressively restrict the number of offenses for which the death penalty might be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment".
In the United States, the state of Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty, on March 1, 1847. The 160-year ban on capital punishment has never been repealed. Currently, 12 states of the U.S. and the District of Columbia ban capital punishment.
Capital punishment is often the subject of controversy. Opponents of the death penalty argue that it has led to the execution of innocent people, that life imprisonment is an effective and less expensive substitute, that it discriminates against minorities and the poor, and that it violates the criminal's right to life. Supporters believe that the penalty is justified for murderers by the principle of retribution, that life imprisonment is not an equally effective deterrent, and that the death penalty affirms the right to life by punishing those who violate it in the most strict form.
"Wrongful execution" is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment. Many people have been proclaimed innocent victims of the death penalty. Some have claimed that as many as 39 executions have been carried out in the U.S. in face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt. However, many of the men on this list include those convicted on DNA evidence such as O’Dell Barnes in Texas and Joseph O’Dell in Virginia. Others plead guilty to murder, like Lionel Herrera. Newly-available DNA evidence has allowed the exoneration of more than 15 death row inmates since 1992 in the U.S., but DNA evidence is only available in a fraction of capital cases. In the UK, reviews prompted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission have resulted in one pardon and three exonerations with compensation paid for people executed between 1950 and 1953, when the execution rate in England and Wales averaged 17 per year.
Support for the death penalty varies. Both in abolitionist and retentionist democracies, the government's stance often has wide public support and receives little attention by politicians or the media. In some abolitionist countries, the majority of the public supports or has supported the death penalty. Abolition was often adopted due to political change, as when countries shifted from authoritarianism to democracy, or when it became an entry condition for the European Union. The United States is a notable exception: some states have had bans on capital punishment for decades (the earliest is Michigan, where it was abolished in 1846), while others actively use it today. The death penalty there remains a contentious issue which is hotly debated. Elsewhere, however, it is rare for the death penalty to be abolished as a result of an active public discussion of its merits.
In abolitionist countries, debate is sometimes revived by particularly brutal murders, though few countries have brought it back after abolishing it. However, a spike in serious, violent crimes, such as murders or terrorist attacks, has prompted some countries (such as Sri Lanka and Jamaica) to effectively end the moratorium on the death penalty. In retentionist countries, the debate is sometimes revived when a miscarriage of justice has occurred, though this tends to cause legislative efforts to improve the judicial process rather than to abolish the death penalty.
A Gallup International poll from 2000 claimed that "Worldwide support was expressed in favour of the death penalty, with just more than half (52%) indicating that they were in favour of this form of punishment." A number of other polls and studies have been done in recent years with various results
In the U.S., surveys have long shown a majority in favor of capital punishment. An ABC News survey in July 2006 found 65 percent in favour of capital punishment, consistent with other polling since 2000. About half the American public says the death penalty is not imposed frequently enough and 60 percent believe it is applied fairly, according to a Gallup poll from May 2006. Yet surveys also show the public is more divided when asked to choose between the death penalty and life without parole, or when dealing with juvenile offenders. Roughly six in 10 tell Gallup they do not believe capital punishment deters murder and majorities believe at least one innocent person has been executed in the past five years.
A number of regional conventions prohibit the death penalty, most notably, the Sixth Protocol (abolition in time of peace) and the Thirteenth Protocol (abolition in all circumstances) to the European Convention on Human Rights. The same is also stated under the Second Protocol in the American Convention on Human Rights, which, however has not been ratified by all countries in the Americas, most notably Canada and the United States. Most relevant operative international treaties do not require its prohibition for cases of serious crime, most notably, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This instead has, in common with several other treaties, an optional protocol prohibiting capital punishment and promoting its wider abolition.
Several international organisations have made the abolition of the death penalty (during time of peace) a requirement of membership, most notably the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe. The EU and the Council of Europe are willing to accept a moratorium as an interim measure. Thus, while Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, and practices the death penalty in law, it has not made public use of it since becoming a member of the Council. Other states, while having abolished de jure the death penalty in time of peace and de facto in all circumstances, have not ratified Protocol no.13 yet and therefore have no international obligation to refrain from using the death penalty in time of war or imminent threat of war (Armenia, Latvia, Poland and Spain). France is the most recent to ratify it (October 10, 2007) with the effective date of February 1, 2008.
Turkey has recently, as a move towards EU membership, undergone a reform of its legal system. Previously there was a de facto moratorium on death penalty in Turkey as the last execution took place in 1984. The death penalty was removed from peacetime law in August 2002, and in May 2004 Turkey amended its constitution in order to remove capital punishment in all circumstances. It ratified Protocol no. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights in February 2006. As a result, Europe is a continent free of the death penalty in practice (all states but Russia, which has entered a moratorium, having ratified the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights), with the sole exception of Belarus, which is not a member of the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been lobbying for Council of Europe observer states who practice the death penalty, namely the U.S. and Japan, to abolish it or lose their observer status. In addition to banning capital punishment for EU member states, the EU has also banned detainee transfers in cases where the receiving party may seek the death penalty.
Among non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are noted for their opposition to capital punishment. A number of such NGOs, as well as trade unions, local councils and bar associations formed a World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in 2002.
Chapter 26, the final chapter of the Dhammapada, states, "Him I call a brahmin who has put aside weapons and renounced violence toward all creatures. He neither kills nor helps others to kill." These sentences are interpreted by many Buddhists (especially in the West) as an injunction against supporting any legal measure which might lead to the death penalty. However, as is often the case with the interpretation of scripture, there is dispute on this matter. Thailand, where Buddhism is the official religion, practices the death penalty, as do all other countries where the majority of the population is Buddhist, i.e. Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and Burma, although the last has had a moratorium on executions since 1997. Moreover, throughout almost all history, countries where Buddhism has been the official religion (which includes most of the Far East and Indochina) have practiced the death penalty. One exception is the abolition of the death penalty by the Emperor Saga of Japan in 818. This lasted until 1165, although in private manors executions continued to be conducted as a form of retaliation.
In law schools everywhere, students read the famous quotation from the 12th century legal scholar, Maimonides,
Maimonides argued that executing a defendant on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice." Maimonides was concerned about the need for the law to guard itself in public perceptions, to preserve its majesty and retain the people's respect.
Sharia Law or Islamic law may require capital punishment, there is great variation within Islamic nations as to actual capital punishment. Apostasy in Islam and Stoning to death in Islam are controversial topics. Furthermore, as expressed in the Qur'an, capital punishment is condoned. Although the Qur'an prescribes the death penalty for several hadd (fixed) crimes—including rape—murder is not among them. Instead, murder is treated as a civil crime and is covered by the law of qisas (retaliation), whereby the relatives of the victim decide whether the offender is punished with death by the authorities or made to pay diyah (wergild) as compensation.
"If anyone kills person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all people. And if anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people" (Qur'an 5:32). "Spreading mischief in the land" can mean many different things, but is generally interpreted to mean those crimes that affect the community as a whole, and destabilize the society. Crimes that have fallen under this description have included: (1) Treason when ones helps an enemy of the Muslim community (2) Apostasy when one leaves the faith (3) Land, sea, or air piracy (4) Rape (5) Adultery (6) Homosexual behavior.
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.
On the other hand, the Mennonites and Friends have opposed the death penalty since their founding, and continue to be strongly opposed to it today. These groups, along with other Christians opposed to capital punishment, have cited Christ's Sermon on the Mount (transcribed in Bible (World English)/Matthew#Chapter 5) and Sermon on the Plain (transcribed in Bible (World English)/Luke#Chapter 6). In both sermons, Christ tells his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies, which these groups believe mandates nonviolence, including opposition to the death penalty.