Capital punishment: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Capital punishment

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Part of a series on
Capital punishment
Debate · Religion and capital punishment · Wrongful execution
By country or region
Aruba · Australia · Brazil · Bulgaria · Canada · PR China · Cook Islands · Denmark · Ecuador · Egypt · France · Germany · India · Iran · Iraq · Israel · Italy · Japan · Liechtenstein · Malaysia · Mexico · Mongolia · Netherlands · New Zealand · North Korea · Pakistan · Philippines · Poland · Romania · Russia · San Marino · Saudi Arabia · Singapore · South Korea · Suriname · Taiwan (ROC) · Tonga · Turkey · United Kingdom · United States · Venezuela
Boiling · Breaking wheel · Burning · Crucifixion · Crushing · Decapitation · Disembowelment · Dismemberment · Electrocution · Firing squad · Flaying · Gas chamber · Hanging · Impaling · Lethal injection · Necklacing · Sawing · Shooting · Slow slicing · Stoning · Torture · Nitrogen asphyxiation (proposed)
Other related topics
Crime · Last meal · Penology

Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is the killing of a person by judicial process as a punishment for an offense. 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.

Capital punishment has in the past been practiced in virtually every society, although currently only 58 nations actively practice it, with 95 countries abolishing it (the remainder having not used it for 10 years or allowing it only in exceptional circumstances such as war)[10]. It is a matter of active controversy in various countries and states, and positions can vary within a single political ideology or cultural region. In the EU member states, Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment.[1]

Today, most countries are considered by Amnesty International as abolitionists,[2] which allowed a vote on a nonbinding resolution to the UN to promote the abolition of the death penalty.[3] But more than 60% of the worldwide population live in countries where executions take place insofar as the four most populous countries in the world (the People's Republic of China, India, United States and Indonesia) apply the death penalty and are unlikely to abolish it in the near future.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]



Execution of criminals and political opponents has been used by nearly all societies—both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. In most places that practice capital punishment it is reserved for murder, espionage, treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries sexual crimes, such as rape, adultery, incest and sodomy, carry the death penalty, as do religious crimes such as apostasy in Islamic nations (the formal renunciation of the State religion). In many countries that use the death penalty, drug trafficking is also a capital offense. In China, human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are punished by the death penalty. In militaries around the world courts-martial have imposed death sentences for offenses such as cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny.[13]

Anarchist guillotined in France in 1894

The use of formal execution extends to the beginning of recorded history. Most historical records and 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. Usually, compensation and shunning were enough as a form of justice.[14] 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."[15] However, in practice, it is often difficult to distinguish between a war of vendetta and one of conquest.

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.

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883). Roman Colosseum.

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.[16] 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.

Giovanni Battista Bugatti, executioner of the Papal States between 1796 and 1865, carried out 516 executions (Bugatti pictured offering snuff to a condemned prisoner). Vatican City abolished its capital punishment statute in 1969.

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.[17] 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, though Solon later repealed Draco's code and published new laws, retaining only Draco's homicide statutes.[18] The word draconian derives from Draco's laws. The Romans also used death penalty for a wide range of offenses.[19][20]

Islam on the whole accepts capital punishment.[21] The Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad, such as Al-Mu'tadid, were often cruel in their punishments.[22] In the medieval Islamic world, there were a handful of sheikhs who were opposed to killing as a punishment.[citation needed] In the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights, the fictional storyteller Sheherazade is portrayed as being the "voice of sanity and mercy", with her philosophical position being generally opposed to punishment by death. She expresses this though several of her tales, including "The Merchant and the Jinni", "The Fisherman and the Jinni", "The Three Apples", and "The Hunchback".[23]

Similarly, in medieval and early modern Europe, before the development of modern prison systems, the death penalty was also used as a generalised 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.[24] 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, September 28, 1708 for theft. The local press did not, however, consider the executions of two children newsworthy.[25]

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 abolished.[26] 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.[26] 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.

Mexican execution by firing squad, 1916

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 became an increasingly unnecessary deterrent in prevention of minor crimes such as theft. The argument that deterrence, rather than retribution, is the main justification for punishment is a hallmark of the rational choice theory and can be traced to Cesare Beccaria whose well-known treatise On Crimes and Punishments (1764), condemned torture and the death penalty and Jeremy Bentham who twice critiqued the death penalty.[27] 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.[citation needed] Moving executions there inside prisons and away from public view was prompted by official recognition of the phenomenon reported first by Beccaria in Italy and later by Charles Dickens and Karl Marx of increased violent criminality at the times and places of executions.

Saint Nicholas of Myra seizes the executioner's sword in order to save at the last moment three wrongly-condemned prisoners (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).

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. The Soviets, for example, executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion during World War II.[28] In the past, cowardice, absence without leave, desertion, insubordination, looting, shirking under enemy fire and disobeying orders were often crimes punishable by death (see decimation and running the gauntlet). 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.

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 35 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.[29]

Advocates of the death penalty argue that it deters crime, is a good tool for police and prosecutors (in plea bargaining for example),[30] improves the community by making sure that convicted criminals do not offend again, provides closure to surviving victims or loved ones, and is a just penalty for their crime. 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,[31] and that it violates human rights.

Movements towards humane execution

A gurney in the United States on which prisoners rest during an execution by lethal injection.

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[32] 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."[33] 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 kicking a stool or a bucket, which causes death by suffocation, was replaced by long drop "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 criticised as being too painful. Nevertheless, some countries still employ slow hanging methods, beheading by sword and even stoning, although the latter is rarely employed.


The death penalty was banned in China between 747 and 759. In England, a public statement of opposition was included in The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards, written in 1395. Sir 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 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 commemorated on this day by 300 cities around the world celebrating Cities for Life Day.

Peter Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, by Joseph Hickel, 1769

The Roman Republic banned capital punishment in 1849. Venezuela followed suit and 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 legislative proposals in 1852 and 1863, the death penalty was abolished in 1867.

In the United Kingdom, it was abolished for murder (leaving only treason, piracy with violence, Arson in royal dockyards and a number of wartime military offences as capital crimes) for a five year experiment in 1965 and permanently in 1969, the last execution having taken place in 1964. It was abolished for all peacetime offences in 1998.[34]

Canada abolished it in 1976, France abolished it in 1981, 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".[35]

In the United States, Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty, on May 18, 1846.[36] The death penalty was declared unconstitutional between 1972-1976 based on the Furman v. Georgia case, but the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia case once again permitted the death penalty under certain circumstances. Further limitations were placed on the death penalty in Atkins v. Virginia (death penalty unconstitutional for persons with IQ below 70, the baseline for mental retardation) and Roper v. Simmons (death penalty unconstitutional if defendant was under age 18 at the time the crime was committed). Currently, as of March 18, 2009, 15 states of the U.S. and the District of Columbia ban capital punishment. Of the states where the death penalty is permitted, California has the largest number of inmates on death row, while Texas has been the most active in carrying out executions (approximately 1/3rd of all executions since the practice was again legalized).

The latest country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes was Togo, on June 23, 2009.[37] Human Rights activists oppose the death penalty, calling it "cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment". Amnesty International considers it to be "the ultimate denial of Human Rights".[38]

Contemporary use

Global distribution

Since World War II there has been a consistent trend towards abolishing the death penalty. In 1977, 16 countries were abolitionist. Currently now, 95 countries had abolished capital punishment, 9 had done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 35 had not used it for at least 10 years or were under a moratorium. The other 58 actively retained the death penalty.[39]

According to Hands Off Cain, at least 5,727 executions were carried out in 26 States in 2008.[40]

Country Number
People's Republic of China China At least 1700[41] - 5000 [42]
Iran Iran At least 346
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia At least 102
North Korea North Korea At least 63
United States United States of America 37
Pakistan Pakistan At least 36
Iraq Iraq At least 34
Vietnam Vietnam At least 19
Afghanistan Afghanistan At least 17
Japan Japan 15
Yemen Yemen At least 13
Indonesia Indonesia 10
Libya Libya At least 8
Sudan Sudan At least 5
Bangladesh Bangladesh 5
Belarus Belarus 4
Somalia Somalia At least 3
Egypt Egypt At least 2
United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates At least 1
Malaysia Malaysia At least 1
Mongolia Mongolia At least 1
Singapore Singapore At least 1
Syria Syria At least 1
Bahrain Bahrain 1
Botswana Botswana 1
Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Kitts and Nevis 1

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.[43] 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 practicing the death penalty after having suspended executions for long periods. The United States suspended executions in 1967 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.

Execution for drug-related offences

Some countries that retain the death penalty for murder and other violent crimes do not execute offenders for drug-related crimes. The following is a list of countries that currently have statutory provisions for the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Afghanistan Afghanistan
Bangladesh Bangladesh
Brunei Brunei
People's Republic of China Peoples Republic of China[44]
Republic of China Republic of China[45]
Egypt Egypt
India India (no execution carried out for such offences[citation needed])
Indonesia Indonesia
Iran Iran
Iraq Iraq
Kuwait Kuwait
Laos Laos
Malaysia Malaysia
Oman Oman
Pakistan Pakistan
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia
Singapore Singapore
Thailand Thailand
Vietnam Vietnam
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe

In specific countries

Use of the death penalty around the world (as of June 2009).
     Abolished for all offenses (94)      Abolished for all offenses except under special circumstances (10)      Retains, though not used for at least 10 years (35)      Retains death penalty (58)* *Note that, while laws vary between U.S. states, it is considered retentionist because the federal death penalty is still in active use.

For further information about capital punishment in these countries or regions, 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

Juvenile offenders

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: The People's Republic of China (PRC), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United States and Yemen.[46] The PRC, Pakistan, the United States and Yemen have since raised the minimum age to 18.[47] 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.[48] The PRC does not allow for the execution of those under 18, but child executions have reportedly taken place.[49]

Starting in 1642 within British America, an estimated 365[50] juvenile offenders were executed by the states and federal government of the United States.[51] 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). In addition, in 2002, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the execution of individuals with mental retardation, in Atkins v. Virginia.[52]

Between 2005 and May 2008, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen were reported to have executed child offenders, the most being from Iran.[53]

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 (notwithstanding the latter's Supreme Court decisions abolishing the practice).[54] 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 (whose Article 6.5 also states that "Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age...").

In Japan, the minimum age for the death penalty is 18 as mandated by the internationals standards. But under Japanese law, anyone under 20 is considered a juvenile. There are three men currently on death row for crimes they committed at age 18 or 19.


Iran, despite its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is currently the world's biggest executioner of juvenile offenders, for which it has received international condemnation; the country's record is the focus of the Stop Child Executions Campaign.

Iran accounts for two-thirds of the global total of such executions, and currently has roughly 140 people on death row for crimes committed as juveniles (up from 71 in 2007).[55][56] The past executions of Mahmoud Asgari, Ayaz Marhoni and Makwan Moloudzadeh became international symbols of Iran's child capital punishment and the judicial system that hands down such sentences.[57][58]


There is evidence that child executions are taking place in the parts of Somalia controlled by the Islamic Courts Union. In October 2008, a girl, Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow was buried up to her neck at a football stadium, then stoned to death in front of more than 1,000 people. The stoning occurred after she had allegedly pleaded guilty to adultery in a shariah court in Kismayo, a city controlled by Islamist insurgents. According to the insurgents she had stated that she wanted shariah law to apply.[59] However, other sources state that the victim had been crying, that she begged for mercy and had to be forced into the hole before being buried up to her neck in the ground.[60] Amnesty International later learned that the girl was in fact 13 years old and had been arrested by the al-Shabab militia after she had reported being gang-raped by three men.[61]

However, Somalia's recently-established Transitional Federal Government announced in November 2009 that it plans to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This move was lauded by UNICEF as a welcome attempt to secure children's rights in the country.[62]


Methods of execution include electrocution, the firing squad or other sorts of shooting, stoning in Islamic countries, the gas chamber, hanging, and lethal injection.

Controversy and debate

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,[31] 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 strictest form.

Wrongful executions

Wrongful execution is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment.[63] Many people have been proclaimed innocent victims of the death penalty.[64][65][66] 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. Newly-available DNA evidence has allowed the exoneration of more than 15 death row inmates since 1992 in the U.S.,[67] 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[citation needed] with compensation paid for people executed between 1950 and 1953, when the execution rate in England and Wales averaged 17 per year[citation needed].

Public opinion

In Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, and Western Europe, the death penalty has become relatively unpopular, with the majority of the population opposing it, however certain cases of mass murder, terrorism, and child murder occasionally cause waves of support for reinstitution, such as the Greyhound bus beheading, Port Arthur massacre and Bali bombings, though these are generally emotionally based and fade away.[citation needed]

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 1847), 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.[citation needed]

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 said that "Worldwide support was expressed in favor 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 a poll completed by Gallup in October 2008, 64% of Americans supported the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, while 30% were against and 5% did not have an opinion.[68]

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.[69] 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.[70] 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.[71] 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.[72]

International organisations

The United Nations introduced a resolution during the General Assembly's 62nd sessions in 2007 calling for a universal ban.[73][74] The approval of a draft resolution by the Assembly's third committee, which deals with human rights issues, voted 99 to 52, with 33 abstentions, in favour of the resolution on November 15, 2007 and was put to a vote in the Assembly on December 18.[75][76][77] Again in 2008, a large majority of states from all regions adopted a second resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the UN General Assembly (Third Committee) on November 20. 105 countries voted in favour of the draft resolution, 48 voted against and 31 abstained. A range of amendments proposed by a small minority of pro-death penalty countries were overwhelmingly defeated. It had in 2007 passed a non-binding resolution (by 104 to 54, with 29 abstentions) by asking its member states for "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".[78]

Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union affirms the prohibition on capital punishment in the EU

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.[79]

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).[80] Italy is the most recent to ratify it, on March 3, 2009.[81]

Turkey has recently, as a move towards EU membership, undergone a reform of its legal system. Previously there was a de facto moratorium on the 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, 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.[citation needed]

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.

Religious views


There is disagreement among Buddhists as to whether or not Buddhism forbids the death penalty. The first of the Five Precepts (Panca-sila) is to abstain from destruction of life. Chapter 10 of the Dhammapada states:

Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill. Everyone fears punishment; everyone loves life, as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill.

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. Historically, most states where the official religion is Buddhism have imposed capital punishment for some offenses. One notable 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. Japan still imposes the death penalty, although some recent justice ministers have refused to sign death warrants, citing their Buddhist beliefs as their reason.[82] Other Buddhist-majority states vary in their policy. For example, Bhutan has abolished the death penalty, but Thailand still retains it, although Buddhism is the official religion in both.


The official teachings of Judaism approve the death penalty in principle but the standard of proof required for application of death penalty is extremely stringent, and in practice, it has been abolished by various Talmudic decisions, making the situations in which a death sentence could be passed effectively impossible and hypothetical. A capital case could not be tried by a normal Beit Din of three but can only be adjudicated by a Sanhedrin of a minimum of twenty-three.[83] Forty years before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, i.e. in 30 CE, the Sanhedrin effectively abolished capital punishment, making it a hypothetical upper limit on the severity of punishment, fitting in finality for God alone to use, not fallible people.[84]

Most followers of Judaism either oppose the death penalty altogether or support it only in extreme cases with absolute proof, such as well-documented cases of genocide.

In law schools everywhere, students read the famous quotation from the 12th century legal scholar, Maimonides,

"It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death."

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.[85]


Scholars of Islam hold it to be permissible but the victim or the family of the victim has the right to pardon. In Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh), to forbid what is not forbidden is forbidden. Consequently, it is impossible to make a case for abolition of the death penalty, which is explicitly endorsed.

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.[86]

"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 destabilise the society. Crimes that have fallen under this description have included: (1) Treason, when one 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 behaviour.[87]


Although some interpret that Jesus' teachings condemn the death penalty in The Gospel of Luke and The Gospel of Matthew regarding Turning the other cheek, and John 8:7 in which Jesus intervenes in the stoning of an adulteress, rebuking the mob with the phrase "may he who is without sin cast the first stone", others consider Romans 13:3-4 to support it. Also, Leviticus 20:2-27 has a whole list of situations in which execution is supported. Christian positions on this vary.[88] The sixth commandment (fifth in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) is preached as 'Thou shalt not kill' by some denominations and as 'Thou shalt not murder' by others. As some denominations do not have a hard-line stance on the subject, Christians of such denominations are free to make a personal decision.[89]

Roman Catholic Church

The Church classes capital punishment as a form of "lawful slaying", a view derived from the thought of theological authorities such as Thomas Aquinas, who accepted the death penalty as a necessary deterrent and prevention method, but not as a means of vengeance. (See also Aquinas on the death penalty). The Roman Catechism states this teaching thus:

Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. Hence these words of David: In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land, that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.[90]

In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II suggested that capital punishment should be avoided unless it is the only way to defend society from the offender in question, opining that punishment "ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent."[91] The most recent edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church restates this view.[92] That the assessment of the contemporary situation advanced by John Paul II is not binding on the faithful was confirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote in 2004 that,

if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.[93]

While all Catholics must therefore hold that "the infliction of capital punishment is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church, and the power of the State to visit upon culprits the penalty of death derives much authority from revelation and from the writings of theologians", the matter of "the advisability of exercising that power is, of course, an affair to be determined upon other and various considerations."[94]

Anglican and Episcopalian

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican and Episcopalian bishops condemned the death penalty in 1988:

This Conference: ... 3. Urges the Church to speak out against: ... (b) all governments who practice capital punishment, and encourages them to find alternative ways of sentencing offenders so that the divine dignity of every human being is respected and yet justice is pursued;....[95]

United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church, along with other Methodist churches, also condemns capital punishment, saying that it cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life.[96] The Church also holds that the death penalty falls unfairly and unequally upon marginalised persons including the poor, the uneducated, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with mental and emotional illnesses.[97] The General Conference of the United Methodist Church calls for its bishops to uphold opposition to capital punishment and for governments to enact an immediate moratorium on carrying out the death penalty sentence.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In a 1991 social policy statement, the ELCA officially took a stand to oppose the death penalty. It states that revenge is a primary motivation for capital punishment policy and that true healing can only take place through repentance and forgiveness.[98]

The Southern Baptist Convention

In 2000 the Southern Baptist Convention updated Baptist Faith and Message. In it the convention officially sanctioned the use of capital punishment by the State. It said that it is the duty of the state to execute those guilty of murder and that God established capital punishment in the Noahic Covenant.

Other Protestants

Several key leaders early in the Protestant Reformation, including Martin Luther and John Calvin, followed the traditional reasoning in favour of capital punishment, and the Lutheran Church's Augsburg Confession explicitly defended it. Some Protestant groups have cited Genesis 9:5–6, Romans 13:3–4, and Leviticus 20:1–27 as the basis for permitting the death penalty.[99]

Mennonites, Church of the Brethren 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 Matthew Chapter 5–7) and Sermon on the Plain (transcribed in Luke 6:17–49). 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.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called Mormons) neither promotes nor opposes capital punishment. They officially state it is a "matter to be decided solely by the prescribed processes of civil law."[100]

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Eastern Orthodox Christianity generally has a negative view of the death penalty, but there is little said either way in this religion.

Esoteric Christianity

The Rosicrucian Fellowship and many other Christian esoteric schools condemn capital punishment in all circumstances.[101][102]

In arts and media


  • The Gospels describe the execution of Jesus Christ at length, and these accounts form the central story of the Christian faith. Depictions of the crucifixion are abundant in Christian art.
  • Valerius Maximus' story of Damon and Pythias was long a famous example of fidelity. Damon was sentenced to death (the reader does not learn why) and his friend Pythias offered to take his place while Damon went to say his last farewells.
  • "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is a short story by Ambrose Bierce originally published in 1890. The story deals with the hanging of a Confederate sympathiser during the American Civil War.
  • Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities ends in the climactic execution of the book's main character.
  • Victor Hugo's The Last Day of a Condemned Man (Le Dernier Jour d'un condamné) describes the thoughts of a condemned man just before his execution; also notable is its preface, in which Hugo argues at length against capital punishment.
  • Anaïs Nin's anthology Little Birds included an erotic depiction of a public execution.
  • William Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch also included erotic and surreal depictions of capital punishment. In the obscenity trial against Burroughs, the defense claimed successfully that the novel was a form of anti-death-penalty argument, and therefore had redeeming political value.
  • In The Chamber by John Grisham, a young lawyer tries to save his Klansman grandfather from being executed. The novel is noted for presentation of anti-death penalty materials.
  • Bernard Cornwell's novel Gallows Thief is a whodunit taking place in early 19th century England, during the so-called "Bloody Code" a series of laws making several minor crimes capital offenses. The hero is a detective assigned to investigate the guilt of a condemned man, and the difficulties he encounters act as a harsh indictment of the draconian laws and the public's complacent attitude towards capital punishment.
  • A Hanging, by George Orwell, tells the story of an execution that he witnessed while he served as a policeman in Burma in the 1920s. He wrote, "It is curious, but till that moment I had never realised what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide. This man was not dying, he was alive just as we were alive..."
  • Discipline and Punish: The Birth of The Prison, by Michel Foucault deals with capital punishment relative to how torture has been eradicated for the most part, and punishment is now quick and painless. Foucault believes that punishment is now directed more toward the soul than toward the body.
  • A Lesson Before Dying follows a wrongly convicted man on death row.
  • The Stranger (L'Étranger/The Foreigner, The Outsider), by Albert Camus, imaginatively describes a murderer sentenced to the guillotine, based on a trial that Camus attended in Algeria. At the end, the murderer accepts his coming death, and looks forward to the howls of execration from a huge crowd of spectators at his execution.

Film, television, and theatre


  • "16 on Death Row", a song from 2Pac's Posthumous Album R U Still Down? (Remember Me)
  • "Women's Prison", song from Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose album
  • "25 Minutes to Go" is a song written by Shel Silverstein and sung by Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison and The Brothers Four.
  • "The Mercy Seat" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (also performed by Johnny Cash) describes a man being executed via the electric chair who maintains his innocence until he is about to die, when he admits to his guilt.
  • "Ride The Lightning" by Metallica is also about a man being executed via an electric chair, although he is not ultimately culpable, as through insanity or loss of autonomy.
  • "Hallowed Be Thy Name" by Iron Maiden is about a man about be executed by hanging.
  • In "Green Green Grass of Home", the singer who is apparently returning home is actually awaiting his execution.
  • "Shock rock" star Alice Cooper will use three different methods of capital punishment for his stage shows. The three are the guillotine, the electric chair (retired) and hanging (first method, then retired, then used on the 2007 tour).
  • Freedom Cry is an album of songs performed by condemned prisoners in Uganda, recorded by prisoners' rights charity African Prisons Project and available online.[103]
  • "Gallows Pole" is a centuries old folk song, popularised by Lead Belly, which has seen several cover versions. Led Zeppelin covered the song in the 70's, and was subsequently revived by Page and Plant during their No Quarter acoustic tours.
  • The Bee Gees song "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" deals with a man who is about to be executed who wants to get one last message to his wife.
  • The song "The Man I Killed" by NOFX from their album Wolves in Wolves' Clothing is sung from the perspective of a death row inmate during his execution by lethal injection.
  • "Ellis Unit One" song by Steve Earle (from the movie, Dead Man Walking) is a movie that looks at capital punishment from the perspective of the jail guards.
  • "Dead Man Walking" by Bruce Springsteen (from the movie, Dead Man Walking) is written from the perspective of the inmate about to be killed.
  • "Long Black Veil" is a 1959 song which has become a country and folk standard in the US
  • "Capital Punishment" by Dutch rock band Sandy Coast, which was recorded in 1968.
  • "Capital Punishment", a 1999 song by American crust punk band Aus-Rotten
  • "Two Hangmen", is a 1969 song by American Rock/Folk/Country band Mason Proffit. It tells the story of an objecting hangman who is hung for his objection to capital punishment.

See also


  1. ^ Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
  2. ^ Amnesty International
  3. ^ moratorium on the death penalty
  4. ^ Asia Times Online – The best news coverage from South Asia
  5. ^ Coalition mondiale contre la peine de mort – Indonesian activists face upward death penalty trend – Asia – Pacific – Actualités
  6. ^ No serious chance of repeal in those states that are actually using the death penalty
  7. ^ AG Brown says he'll follow law on death penalty
  8. ^ lawmakers-cite-economic-crisis-effort-ban-death-penalty
  9. ^ death penalty is not likely to end soon in US
  10. ^ Death penalty repeal unlikely says anti-death penalty activist
  11. ^ A new Texas? Ohio's death penalty examined – Campus
  12. ^ THE DEATH PENALTY IN JAPAN-FIDH > Human Rights for All / Les Droits de l'Homme pour Tous
  13. ^ "Shot at Dawn, campaign for pardons for British and Commonwealth soldiers executed in World War I". Shot at Dawn Pardons Campaign. Retrieved 2006-07-20. 
  14. ^ So common was the practice of compensation that the word murder is derived from the French word mordre (bite) a reference to the heavy compensation one must pay for causing an unjust death. The "bite" one had to pay was used as a term for the crime itself: "Mordre wol out; that se we day by day." – Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400), The Canterbury Tales, The Nun's Priest's Tale, l. 4242 (1387-1400), repr. In The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Alfred W. Pollard, et al. (1898).
  15. ^ Translated from Waldmann, op.cit., p.147.
  16. ^ Lindow, op.cit. (primarily discusses Icelandic things).
  17. ^ Schabas, William (2002). The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81491-X. 
  18. ^ Greece, A History of Ancient Greece, Draco and Solon Laws
  19. ^ capital punishment, Encyclopædia Britannica
  20. ^ Capital punishment in the Roman Empire
  21. ^ Islam and capital punishment
  22. ^ The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall., William Muir
  23. ^ Zipes, Jack David (1999), When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition, Routledge, pp. 57–8, ISBN 0415921511 
  24. ^ Almost invariably, however, sentences of death for property crimes were commuted to transportation to a penal colony or to a place where the felon was worked as an indentured servant/Michigan State University and Death Penalty Information Center
  25. ^ History of British judicial hanging
  26. ^ a b Benn, Charles. 2002. China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517665-0. Page 8.
  27. ^ "JSTOR: The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-)Vol. 74, No. 3 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 1033-1065". Northwestern University School of Law. 1983. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  28. ^ Patriots ignore greatest brutality. The Sydney Morning Herald. August 13, 2007.
  29. ^ "Definite no to Death Row – Asmal". Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ a b "The High Cost of the Death Penalty". Death Penalty Focus. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  32. ^ Article from the Connecticut Courant (December 1, 1803)
  33. ^ The Execution of Caleb Adams, 2003
  34. ^ History of Capital Punishment
  35. ^ Death Penalty
  36. ^ See Caitlin pp. 420-422
  37. ^ Togo abolishes the death penalty
  38. ^ Abolish the death penalty | Amnesty International
  39. ^ "Abolitionist and Retentionist Countries". Amnesty International. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  40. ^ [2]
  41. ^ [3]
  42. ^ [4]
  43. ^ "International Polls & Studies". The Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  44. ^ "Akmal Shaikh told of execution for drug smuggling". December 28, 2009. Retrieved December 29, 2009. 
  45. ^ "毒品危害防范條例". May 20, 2009. Retrieved Januaray 1, 2010. 
  46. ^ Juvenile executions (except US)
  47. ^ Amnesty International
  48. ^ Amnesty International
  49. ^ "Stop Child Executions! Ending the death penalty for child offenders". Amnesty International. 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-12. 
  50. ^ Execution of Juveniles in the U.S. and other Countries
  51. ^ Rob Gallagher, Table of juvenile executions in British America/United States, 1642–1959
  52. ^ Supreme Court bars executing mentally retarded Law Center. June 25, 2002
  53. ^ HRW Report
  54. ^ UNICEF, Convention of the Rights of the Child – FAQ: "The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. Only two countries, Somalia and the United States, have not ratified this celebrated agreement. Somalia is currently unable to proceed to ratification as it has no recognised government. By signing the Convention, the United States has signaled its intention to ratify, but has yet to do so."
  55. ^ Iranian activists fight child executions, Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, September 17, 2008; accessed September 22, 2008.
  56. ^ Iran rapped over child executions, Pam O'Toole, BBC, June 27, 2007; accessed September 22, 2008.
  57. ^ Iran Does Far Worse Than Ignore Gays, Critics Say, Fox News, September 25, 2007; accessed September 20, 2008.
  58. ^ Iranian hanged after verdict stay;; 2007-12-06; Retrieved on 2007-12-06
  59. ^ "Somali woman executed by stoning". BBC News. 2008-10-27. Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  60. ^ BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Stoning victim 'begged for mercy'
  61. ^ "Somalia: Girl stoned was a child of 13". Amnesty International. 2008-10-31. Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  62. ^ UNICEF lauds move by Somalia to ratify child convention
  63. ^ Innocence and the Death Penalty
  64. ^ Capital Defense Weekly
  65. ^ Executed Innocents
  66. ^ Wrongful executions
  67. ^ The Innocence Project – News and Information: Press Releases
  68. ^ 2008 Gallup Death Penalty Poll.
  69. ^ ABC News poll, "Capital Punishment, 30 Years On: Support, but Ambivalence as Well" (PDF, July 1, 2006).
  70. ^ Crime.
  71. ^ [5] [6]
  72. ^ [7] [8]
  73. ^ Thomas Hubert (2007-06-29). "Journée contre la peine de mort : le monde décide!" (in French). Coalition Mondiale. 
  74. ^ Amnesty International.
  75. ^ "UN set for key death penalty vote". Amnesty International. 2007-12-09. Retrieved 2008-02-12. 
  76. ^ Directorate of Communication – The global campaign against the death penalty is gaining momentum – Statement by Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
  77. ^ UN General Assembly – Latest from the UN News Centre.
  78. ^ "U.N. Assembly calls for moratorium on death penalty". Reuters. 
  79. ^ "Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR". Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. Retrieved 2007-12-08. 
  80. ^ Amnesty International.
  81. ^ Italy abolishes the death penalty in all circumstances.
  82. ^ Japan hangs two more on death row (see also paragraph 11
  83. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 2a
  84. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 41 a)
  85. ^ Moses Maimonides, The Commandments, Neg. Comm. 290, at 269–271 (Charles B. Chavel trans., 1967).
  86. ^ capital punishment – Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  87. ^ Capital Punishment in Islam
  88. ^ What The Christian Scriptures Say About The Death Penalty – Capital Punishment
  89. ^ BBC – Religion & Ethics – Capital punishment: Introduction
  90. ^
  91. ^ Papal encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, March 25, 1995
  92. ^ 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.
  93. ^
  94. ^
  95. ^ Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, 1988, Resolution 33, paragraph 3. (b), found at Lambeth Conference official website page. Accessed July 16, 2008.
  96. ^ The United Methodist Church: Capital Punishment
  97. ^ The United Methodist Church: Official church statements on capital punishment
  98. ^ ELCA Social Statement on the Death Penalty
  99. ^ [9]
  100. ^ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Public Issues
  101. ^ Heindel, Max (1910s), The Rosicrucian Philosophy in Questions and Answers – Volume II: Question no.33: Rosicrucian Viewpoint of Capital Punishment, ISBN 0-911274-90-1
  102. ^ The Rosicrucian Fellowship: Obsession, Occult Effects of Capital Punishment
  103. ^ Condemned Choirs from Luzira Prison, Uganda

External links


In favour

Religious views


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for crimes known as capital crimes or capital offences. Historically, the execution of criminals and political opponents was used by nearly all societies—both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent.


  • No man e'er felt the halter draw,
    With good opinion of the law.
  • If we could do away with death, we wouldn’t object; to do away with capital punishment will be more difficult. Were that to happen, we would reinstate it from time to time.
  • Many of us do not believe in capital punishment, because thus society takes from a man what society cannot give.
  • What will be left of the power of example if it is proved that capital punishment has another power, and a very real one, which degrades men to the point of shame, madness, and murder?
    • Albert Camus, “Reflections on the Guillotine,” Resistance, Rebellion and Death (1961).
  • We are concerned here only with the imposition of capital punishment for the crime of murder, and when a life has been taken deliberately by the offender, we cannot say that the punishment is invariably disproportionate to the crime. It is an extreme sanction suitable to the most extreme of crimes.
    • Potter Stewart, Majority opinion in 7-2 ruling that the death penalty is a constitutionally acceptable form of punishment for premeditated murder (July 2, 1976)
  • Capital punishment kills immediately, whereas lifetime imprisonment does so slowly. Which executioner is more humane? The one who kills you in a few minutes, or the one who wrests your life from you in the course of many years?
    • Anton Chekhov, The banker in The Bet, Works, vol. 7, p. 229, “Nauka” <1254>
  • As regards capital cases, the trouble is that emotional men and women always see only the individual whose fate is up at the moment, and neither his victim nor the many millions of unknown individuals who would in the long run be harmed by what they ask. Moreover, almost any criminal, however brutal, has usually some person, often a person whom he has greatly wronged, who will plead for him. If the mother is alive she will always come, and she cannot help feeling that the case in which she is so concerned is peculiar, that in this case a pardon should be granted. It was really heartrending to have to see the kinfolk and friends of murderers who were condemned to death, and among the very rare occasions when anything governmental or official caused me to lose sleep were times when I had to listen to some poor mother making a plea for a criminal so wicked, so utterly brutal and depraved, that it would have been a crime on my part to remit his punishment.
  • I personally have always voted for the death penalty because I believe that people who go out prepared to take the lives of other people forfeit their own right to live. I believe that that death penalty should be used only very rarely, but I believe that no-one should go out certain that no matter how cruel, how vicious, how hideous their murder, they themselves will not suffer the death penalty.
  • In the case of murder, the death penalty - issued by way of putting the culprit to sleep to then apply the lethal injection - is the time delayed procedure of self-defense as carried out by the representatives of the victim(s) who, at the time of the incident and due to the then existing circumstances, was/were unable to defend itself/themselves from the willful murderous attack.
  • I have reached the conviction that the abolition of the death penalty is desirable. Reasons: 1) Irreparability in the event of an error of justice, 2) Detrimental moral influence of the execution procedure on those who, whether directly or indirectly, have to do with the procedure.
    • Albert Einstein p.83, Albert Einstein-The human side, Princeton University Press 1979
  • Death penalty is the special and eternal sign of barbarism. Where death penalty is applied, barbarism dominates; where death penalty is rare, civilisation reigns.
  • Three things belong to God and do not belong to men: the irrevocable, the irreparable and the indissoluble. Woe to men if they introduce it in their laws!
  • The burning of the house of the offender is not a permissible punishment for arson. The rape of the offender is not a permissible punishment of a rapist. Why should murder be a permissible punishment for murder?
  • The ability of so many people to live comfortably with the idea of capital punishment is perhaps a clue to how so many Europeans were able to live with the idea of the Holocaust: Once you accept the notion that the state has the right to kill someone and the right to define what is a capital crime, aren't you halfway there?


  • And capital punishment, however ineffective it may be and through whatever ignorance it may be resorted to, is a strictly defensive act, - at least in theory.
  • Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty.
  • Capital punishment is our society's recognition of the sanctity of human life.
  • Executing a murderer is the only way to adequately express our horror at the taking of an innocent life. Nothing else suffices. To equate the lives of killers with those of victims is the worst kind of moral equivalency. If capital punishment is state murder, then imprisonment is state kidnapping and restitution is state theft.
    • Don Feder
  • If Capital Punishment is state sponsored murder, then any lesser punishment is a state sponsored murder of Justice.
    • Saqib Ali
  • It is Justice, not Laws that cures the society. And Capital Punishment is the only Justice that suits a murderer.
    • Saqib Ali
  • Que dit la loi? 'Tu ne tueras pas.' Comment le dit-elle? En tuant!
  • What does the law say? "Thou shalt not kill." How does it say it? By killing!"
  • Said a man ingenuously to one of his friends: "This morning we condemned three men to death. Two of them definitely deserved it."

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

[3] -- Famous Quotes supporting Death Penalty Death Penalty Quotes -- an compilation of abolitionist quotes

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. By this term is now meant the infliction of the penalty of death for crime under the sentence of some properly constituted authority, as distinguished from killing the offender as a matter of self-defence or private vengeance, or under the order of some self-constituted or irregular tribunal unknown to the law, such as that of the Vigilantes of California, or of lynch law. In the early stages of society a man-slayer was killed by the "avenger of blood" on behalf of the family of the man killed, and not as representing the authority of the state (Pollock and Maitland, Hist. Eng. Law, ii. 447.) This mode of dealing with homicide survives in the vendetta of Corsica and of the Mainotes in Greece, and in certain of the southern states of North America. The obligation or inclination to take vengeance depends on the fact of homicide, and not on the circumstances in which it was committed, i.e. it is a part of the lex talionis. The mischief of this system was alleviated under the Levitical law by the creation of cities of refuge, and in Greece and Italy, both in Pagan and Christian times, by the recognition of the right of sanctuary in temples and churches. A second mode of dealing with homicide was that known to early Teutonic and early Celtic law, where the relatives of the deceased, instead of the life of the slayer, received the wer of the deceased, i.e. a payment in proportion to the rank of the slain, and the king received the blood-wite for the loss of his man. But even under this system certain crimes were in Anglo-Saxon law bot-less, i.e. no compensation could be paid, and the offender must suffer the penalty of death. In the laws of Khammurabi, king of Babylon (2285-2242 B.C.), the death penalty is imposed for many offences. The modes for executing it specially named are burning, drowning and impalement (Oldest Code of Laws, by C. H. W. Johns, 1903). Under the Roman law, "capital" punishment also included punishments which deprived the offender of the status of Roman citizen (capitis deminutio, capitis amissio), e.g. condemnation to servitude in the mines or to deportation to an island (Dig. 48.19) .

Table of contents

United Kingdom

The modes of capital punishment in England under the Saxon and Danish kings were various: hanging beheading, burning, drowning, stoning, and, foreign precipitation from rocks. The principle on which this variety depended was that where an offence was such as to entitle the king to outlaw the offender, he forfeited all, life and limb, lands and goods, and that the king might take his life and choose the mode of death. William the Conqueror would not allow judgment of death to be executed by hanging and substituted mutilation; but his successors varied somewhat in their policy as to capital punishment, and by the 13th century the penalty of death became by usage (without legislation) the usual punishment for high and petty treason and for all felonies (except mayhem and petty larceny, i.e. theft of property worth less than is.); see Stephen, Hist. Cr. Law, vol. i. 458; Pollock and Maitland, Hist. Eng. Law, vol. ii. 459 It therefore included all the more serious forms of crime against person or property, such as murder, manslaughter, arson, highway robbery, burglary (or hamesucken) and larceny; and when statutory felonies were created they were also punishable by death unless the statute otherwise provided. The death penalty was also extended to heretics under the writ de heretico comburendo, which was lawfully issuable under statute from 1382 (5 Ric. II. stat. 5) until 1677 (2 9 Chas. II. C. 9). For this purpose the legislature had adopted the civil law of the Roman Empire, which was not a part of the English common law (Stephen, Hist. Cr. Law, vol. ii. 438-469).

The methods of execution by crucifixion (as under the Roman law), or breaking on the wheel (as under the Roman Dutch law and the Holy Roman Empire), were never recognized by the common law, and would fall within the term "cruel and unusual punishments" in the English Bill of Rights, and in the United States would seem to be unconstitutional (see Wilkinson v. Utah, 1889, 136 U.S. 436, 446).

The severity of barbarian and feudal laws was mitigated, so far as common-law offences were concerned, by the influence of the Church as the inheritor of Christian traditions and Roman jurisprudence. The Roman law under the empire did not allow the execution of citizens except under the Lex Porcia. But the right of the emperors to legislate per rescriptum principis enabled them to disregard the ordinary law when so disposed. The 83rd novel of Justinian provided that criminal causes against clerics should be tried by the judges, and that the convicted cleric should be degraded by his bishop before his condemnation by the secular power, and other novels gave the bishops considerable influence, if not authority, over the lay judiciary. In western Europe the right given by imperial legislation in the Eastern Empire was utilized by the Papacy to claim privilege of clergy, i.e. that clerks must be remitted to the bishop for canonical punishment, and not subjected to civil condemnation at all. The history of benefit of clergy is given in Pollock and Maitland, Hist. English Law, vol. i. pp. 424-440, and Stephen, Hist. Cr. Law, vol. iii. 459, 463. By degrees the privilege was extended not only to persons who could prove ordination or show a genuine tonsure, but all persons who had sufficient learning to be able to read the neck-verse (Ps. li. v. i). Before the Reformation the ecclesiastical courts had ceased to take any effective action with respect to clerks accused of offences against the king's laws; and by the time of Henry VII. burning on the hand under the order of the king's judges was substituted for the old process of compurgation in use in the spiritual courts.

The effect of the claim of benefit of clergy is said to have been to increase the number of convictions, though it mitigated the punishment; and it became, in fact, a means of showing mercy to certain classes of individuals convicted of crime as a kind of privilege to the educated, i.e. to all clerks whether secular or religious (25 Edw. III. stat. 3); and it was allowed only in case of a first conviction, except in the case of clerks who could produce their letters of orders or a certificate of ordination. To prevent a second claim it was the practice to brand murderers with the letter M, and other felons with the Tyburn T, and Ben Jonson was in 1598 so marked for manslaughter.

The reign of Henry VIII. was marked by extreme severity in the execution of criminals - as during this time 72,000 persons are said to have been hanged. After the formation of English settlements in America the severity of the law was mitigated by the practice of reprieving persons sentenced to death on condition of their consenting to be transported to the American colonies, and to enter into bond service there. The practice seems to have been borrowed from Spain, and to have been begun in 1 597 (39 Eliz. c. 4). It was applied by Cromwell after his campaign in Ireland, and was in full force immediately after the Restoration, and is recognized in the Habeas Corpus Act 1677, and was used for the Cameronians during Claverhouse's campaign in south-west Scotland. In the 18th century the courts were empowered to sentence felons to transportation (see Deportation) instead of to execution, and this state of the law continued until 1857 (6 Law Quarterly Review, p. 388). This power to sentence to transportation at first applied only to felonies with benefit of clergy; but in 1705, on the abolition of the necessity of proving capacity to read, all criminals alike became entitled to the benefit previously reserved to clerks. Benefit of clergy was finally abolished in 1827 as to all persons not having privilege of peerage, and in 1841 as to peers and peeresses. Its beneficial effect had now been exhausted, since no clergyable offences remained capital crimes.

At the end of the 8th century the criminal law of all Europe was ferocious and indiscriminate in its administration of capital punishment for almost all forms of grave crime; and yet owing to poverty, social conditions, and the inefficiency of the police, such forms of crime were far more numerous than they now are. The policy and righteousness of the English law were questioned as early as 1766 by Goldsmith through the mouth of the vicar of Wakefield: "Nor can I avoid even questioning the validity of that right which social combinations have assumed of capitally punishing offences of a slight nature. In cases of murder their right is obvious, as it is the duty of us all from the law of selfdefence to cut off that man who has shown a disregard for the life of another. Against such all nature rises in arms; but it is not so against him who steals my property." He adds later: "When by indiscriminate penal laws the nation beholds the same punishment affixed to dissimilar degrees of guilt, the people are led to lose all sense of distinction in the crime, and this distinction is the bulwark of all morality." The opinion expressed by Goldsmith was strongly supported by Bentham, Romilly, Basil Montagu and Mackintosh in England, and resulted in considerable mitigation of the severity of the law. In 1800 over 200 and in 1819 about 180 crimes were capital. As the result of the labour of these eminent men and their disciples, and of Sir Robert Peel, there are now only four crimes (other than offences against military law or naval discipline) capitally punishable in England - high treason, murder, piracy with violence, and destruction of public arsenals and dockyards (The Dockyards, &c., Protection Act 1772). An attempt to abolish the death penalty for this last offence was made in 1837, but failed, and has not since been renewed. In the case of the last two offences sentence of death need not be pronounced, but may be recorded (4 Geo. IV. c. 48). Since 1838 it has in practice been executed only for murder; the method being by hanging.

Death Sentences.

Sentences Executed.


For all


For all











18 33 1





1838 1





1862 1





The change in the severity of the law is best illustrated by the following statistics: - During the twelve years from 1893 to 1904, 788 persons were committed for trial for murder, being an average of 65. The highest number was in 1893 (82) and the lowest in 1900 (51). Of those tried in 1904, 28 (26 males and 2 females) were convicted of murder, 16 (all males) were executed; 9 males and 2 females had their sentences commuted to penal servitude for life.

In Scotland capital punishment can be imposed only for treason, murder and offences against io Geo. IV. c. 38, i.e. wilful shooting, stabbing, strangling or throwing corrosives with intent to murder, maim, disfigure, disable, or do grievous bodily harm, in all cases where if death had ensued the offence would have been murder. Prior to 1887 rape, robbery, wilful fire-raising and incest, and many other crimes, were also capital offences; but in practice the pains of law were restricted at the instance of the prosecution. The method is by hanging.

In Ireland capital punishment may be inflicted for the same offences as in England, except offences under the Dockyards Protection Act 1772, and it is carried out in the same manner.

Offences under Military Law. - Thus far only crimes against the ordinary law of the land have been dealt with. But both the Naval Discipline Act of 1866 and the Army Act empower courts-martial to pass sentence for a number of offences against military and naval laws. Such sentences are rarely if ever passed where an ordinary court is within reach, or except in time of war. The offences extend from traitorous communication with the enemy and cowardice on the field to falling asleep while acting as a sentinel on active service. It is for the authority confirming a sentence of death by court-martial to direct the mode of execution, which both in the British and United States armies is usually by shooting or hanging. During the Indian Mutiny some mutineers were executed by being blown from the mouth of cannon. As to the history of military punishments see Clode, Military and Martial Law. 1 Each of these years followed upon legislation mitigating severity of punishment.

British Colonies and Possessions

Under the Indian Penal Code sentence of death may be passed for waging war against the king (s. 121) and for murder (s. 302). If the murder is committed by a man under sentence of transportation for life the death penalty must be imposed (s. 303). In other cases it is alternative. This code has been in substance adopted in Ceylon, in Straits Settlements and Hong-Kong, and in the Sudan. In most of the British colonies and possessions the death penalty may be imposed only in the case of high treason, wilful murder and piracy with violence. But in New South Wales and Victoria sentence of death may be passed for rape and criminal abuse of girls under ten. In Queensland the law was the same until the passing of the Criminal Code of 1899.

Under the Canadian Criminal Code of 1892 the death sentence may be imposed for treason (s. 657), murder (s. 231), rape (s. 267), piracy with violence (s. 127), and upon subjects of a friendly power who levy war on the king in Canada (s. 68). But the judge is bound by statute to report on all death sentences, and the date of execution is fixed so as to give time for considering the report. The sentence is executed by hanging. In South Africa the criminal law is based on the Roman-Dutch law, under which capital punishment is liable for treason (crimen perduellionis or laesae majestatis), murder and rape (van Leeuwen, c. 36). In the Cape Colony rape is still capital (R. v. Nonosi, 1885; 1 Buchanan, 1898). In Natal rape may be punished by hanging (act no. 22, 1898). Though the Roman-Dutch modes of executing the sentence by decapitation or breaking on the wheel have not been formally abolished, in practice the sentence in the Cape Colony is executed by hanging. In the Transvaal hanging is now the sole mode of executing capital punishment (Criminal Procedure Code, 1903, s. 244). The Roman-Dutch law as to crime and punishments has been superseded in Ceylon and British Guiana by ordinance.


In Austria capital punishment was in 1787 for a time abolished, but was reintroduced in 1795 for high treason, and in 1803 for certain other crimes. Under the penal code still in force in 1906 it might be inflicted for the offences in the table given below, but not on offenders who were under twenty when they committed the offence. The annexed table indicates that the full sentence was sparingly executed. Under a Penal Code drafted in 1906, however, only two offences were made capital, viz. high treason against the person of the emperor and the graver cases of murder. The sentence is executed by hanging.


Under the Belgian Penal Code of 1867 the death penalty is retained for certain forms of high treason, and for assassination and parricide by poisoning. It may not be pronounced on a person under eighteen. The sentence is executed publicly by the guillotine. No execution seems to have taken place since 1863.


Sentence of death may be imposed for most forms of high treason, aggravated cases of murder, rape and piracy. It is executed publicly by the axe. Offenders under eighteen are not liable.


In Finland the death penalty is alleged not to have been inflicted since 1824. It may be imposed for the assassination of the grand duke or grand duchess of the head of a friendly state, and wilful murder of other persons.

1853 to 1873.

1875 to 1900.

1901 to 1903.

Crimes Punishable by











High treason







Murder, s. 136. .. .







Killing by robbers, s. 141 .







Public violence, ss. 85, 87





Incendiarism, s. 167 .







Criminal use of explosives

(explosives law, s. 4).






Under the ancien regime in France, 115 crimes had become capital in 1789. The mode of execution varied, but in some cases it was effected by breaking on the wheel or burning, and was coupled with mutilation. Under the Penal Code of 1810, as amended in or after 1832, even so late as 1871,thirty offences were capital, one being perjury against a prisoner resulting in his condemnation to death (art. 361). At present it may be imposed for wounding a public official with intent to murder (art. 233), assassination, parricide, poisoning, killing to commit a crime or escape from justice (arts. 302, 304). But juries freely exercise the power of acquitting in capital cases, or of defeating the capital sentence by finding extenuating circumstances in more than seven-eighths of the cases, which compels the court to reduce the punishment by one or more degrees, i.e. below the penalty of death. And in recent times the prerogative of mercy has been continually exercised by the president, even in gross cases where public opinion demanded the extreme penalty. The sentence is executed in public by the guillotine.


In many of the states of Germany capital punishment had been abolished (Brunswick, Coburg, Nassau, Oldenburg in 1849; Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Weimar, 1862; Baden, 1863; Saxony, 1868). But it has been restored by the Imperial Criminal Code of 1872, in the case of attempts on the life of the emperor, or of the sovereign of any federal state in which the offender happens to be (s. 80), and for deliberate homicide (s. 21 I) - as opposed to intentional homicide without deliberation - and for certain treasonable acts committed when a state of siege has been proclaimed. The sentence is executed by beheading (s. 13).


In Holland there have been no executions since 1860. Capital punishment (by hanging) was abolished in 1870, and was not reintroduced in the Penal Code of 1886.


Capital punishment was abolished in Tuscany as far back as 1786, and from Italy has come the chief opposition to the death penalty, originated by Beccaria, and supported by many eminent jurists. Under the Penal Code of 1888 the death penalty was abrogated for all crimes, even for regicide. The cases of homicide in Italy are very numerous compared with those in England, amounting in 1905 to 105 per million as compared with 27 per million in the United Kingdom.


The penalty of death is executed by hanging within a prison. It may be imposed for executing or contriving acts of violence against the mikado or certain of his family, and for seditious violence with the object of seizing the territory or subverting the government or laws of Japan, or conspiring with foreign powers to commence hostilities against Japan. It is inflicted for certain forms of homicide, substantially wilful murder in the first degree.


Under Norwegian law, up to 1905, sentence of death might be passed for murder with premeditation, but the court might as an alternative decree penal servitude for life. Sentence of death had also to be passed in cases where a person under sentence of penal servitude for life committed murder or culpable homicide, or caused bodily injuries in circumstances warranting a sentence of penal servitude for life, or committed robbery or the graver forms of wilful fire-raising. The sentence was carried out by decapitation (see Beheading); but there had been no execution since 1876. The new Norwegian Code, which came into force on the 6th of January 1905, abolished capital punishment.


There has been considerable objection in Portugal to capital punishment, and it was abolished in 1867.


Capital punishment was abolished in 1864.


In 1750, under the empress Elizabeth, capital punishment was abolished; but it was restored later and was freely inflicted, the sentence being executed by shooting, beheading or hanging. According to a Home Office Return in England in 1907 the death penalty is abolished, except in cases where the lives of the emperor, empress or heir to the throne are concerned.


Under the Spanish Penal Code of 1870 the following crimes are capital: - inducing a foreign power to declare war against Spain, killing the sovereign, parricide and assassination. The method employed is execution in public by the garrote. But the death sentence is rarely imposed, the customary penalty for murder being penal servitude in chains for life, while a parricide is imprisoned in chains "in perpetuity until death." Sweden. - The severity of the law in Sweden was greatly mitigated so far back as 1777. Under the Penal Code of 1864 the penalty of death may be imposed for certain forms of treason, including attempts on the life of the sovereign or on the independence of Sweden, and for premeditated homicide (assassinat), and in certain cases for offences committed by persons under sentence of imprisonment for life. In 1901 a bill to abolish capital punishment was rejected by both houses of the Swedish parliament.


Capital punishment was abolished in Switzerland in 1874 by Federal legislation; but. in 187 9, in consequence of a plebiscite, each canton was empowered to restore the death penalty for offences in its territory. The Federal government was unwilling to take this course, but was impelled to it by the fact that, between 1874 and 1879, cases of premeditated murder had considerably increased. Seven of the cantons out of twenty-two have exercised the power given to restore capital punishment. But there do not seem to have been any cases in which the death penalty has been inflicted; and on the assassination of the empress of Austria at Geneva in 1898 it was found that the laws of the canton did not permit the execution of the assassin. The canton of Zug imposes the lowest minimum penalty known, i.e. three years' imprisonment for wilful homicide, the maximum being imprisonment for life.

United States of America

Under the Federal laws sentence of death may be passed for treason against the United States and for piracy and for murder within the Federal jurisdiction. But for the most part the punishment of crime is regulated by the laws of the constituent states of the Union.

The death penalty was abolished in Michigan in 1846 except for treason, and wholly in Wisconsin in 18J 3. In Maine it was abolished and subsequently re-enacted, but again abolished in 1887. In Rhode Island it was abolished in 1852, but restored in 1882, only in case of murder committed by a person under sentence of imprisonment for life (Laws, 1896, c. 277, s. 2). In all the other states the death penalty may still be inflicted: in Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, and West Virginia, for treason, murder, arson and rape; in Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, New Jersey, Mississippi, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, and South Dakota, for treason and murder; in Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming, for murder only; in Kentucky and Virginia, for treason, murder and rape; in Vermont, for treason, murder and arson; in Indiana, for treason, murder, and for arson if death result; in California, for treason, murder and train-wrecking; in North Carolina, for murder, rape, arson and burglary; in Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, for murder and rape; in Arkansas and Louisiana, for treason, murder, rape, and administering poison or use of dangerous weapons with intent to murder. Louisiana is cited by Girardin (le droit de punir) as a state in which the death penalty was abolished in 1830. Under the influence of the eminent jurist, E. Livingston, who framed the state codes, the legislature certainly passed a resolution against capital punishment. But since as early as 1846 it has been there lawful, subject to a power given to the jury, to bring in a verdict of guilty, "but no capital punishment," which had the effect of imposing a sentence of hard labour for life. In certain states the jury has, under local legislation, the right to award the sentence. The constitutionality of such legislation has been doubted, but has been recognized by the courts of Illinois and Iowa. Sentence of death is executed by hanging, except in New York, Massachusetts and Ohio, where it is carried out by "electrocution" (q.v.).

With the mitigation of the law as to punishment, agitation against the theory of capital punishment has lost much of its force. But many European and American writers, and some English writers and associations, advocate the g ? tio Th total abolition of the death punishment. The ultimate argument of the opponents of capital punishment is that society has no right to take the life of any one of its members on any ground. But they also object to capital punishment: (I) on religious grounds, because it may deprive the sinner of his full time for repentance; (2) on medical grounds, because homicide is usually if not always evidence of mental disease or irresponsibility; (3) on utilitarian grounds, because capital punishment is not really deterrent, and is actually inflicted in so few instances that criminals discount the risks of undergoing it; (4) on legal grounds, i.e. that the sentence being irrevocable and the evidence often circumstantial only, there is great risk of gross injustice in executing a person convicted of murder; (5) on moral grounds, that the punishment does not fit the case nor effect the reformation of the offender. It is to be noted that the English Children Act 1908 expressly forbids the pronouncing or recording the sentence of death against any person under the age of sixteen (s. 103).

The punishment is probably retained, partly from ingrained habit, partly from a sense of its appropriateness for certain crimes, but also that the ultima ratio may be available in cases of sufficient gravity to the commonweal. The apparent discrepancy between the number of trials and convictions for murder is not in England any evidence of hostility on the part of juries to capital punishment, which has on the whole lessened rather than increased since the middle of the 19th century. It is rarely if ever necessary in England, though common in America, to question the jurors as to their views on capital punishment. The reasons for the comparatively small number of convictions for murder seem to be: (I) that court and jury in a capital case lean in favorem vitae, and if the offence falls short of the full gravity of murder, conviction for manslaughter only results; (2) that in the absence of a statutory classification of the degrees of murder, the prerogative of mercy is exercised in eases falling short of the highest degree of gravity recognized by lawyers and by public opinion; (3) that where the conviction rests on circumstantial evidence the sentence is not executed unless the circumstantial evidence is conclusive; (4) that charges of infanticide against the mothers of illegitimate children are treated mercifully by judge and jury, and usually terminate in acquittal, or in a conviction of concealment of birth; (5) that many persons tried as murderers are obviously insane; (6) that coroners' juries are somewhat recklessly free in returning inquisitions of murder without any evidence which would warrant the conviction of the person accused.

The medical doctrine, and that of Lombroso with respect to criminal atavism and irresponsibility, have probably tended to incline the public mind in favour of capital punishment, and Sir James Stephen and other eminent jurists have even been thereby tempted to advocate the execution of habitual criminals. It certainly seems strange that the community should feel bound carefully to preserve and tend a class of dangerous lunatics, and to give them, as Charles Kingsley says, "the finest air in England and the right to kill two gaolers a week." The whole question of capital punishment in the United Kingdom was considered by a royal commission appointed in 1864, which reported in 1866 (Part. Pap., 1866, 10,438). The commission took the opinions of all the judges of the supreme courts in the United Kingdom and of many other eminent persons, and collected the laws of other countries so far as this was ascertainable. The commissioners differed on the question of the expediency of abolishing or retaining capital punishment, and did not report thereon. But they recommended: (I) that it should be restricted throughout the United Kingdom to high treason and murder; (2) alteration of the law of homicide so as to classify homicides according to their gravity, and to confine capital punishment to murder in the first degree; (3) modification of the law as to child murder so as to punish certain cases of infanticide as misdemeanours; (4) authorizing judges to direct sentence of death to be recorded; (5) the abolition since carried out - of public executions.


Beccaria, Dei Delitte e delle Pene (1790); Bentham, Rationale of Punishment; Lammasch, Grundris des Strafrechts (Leipzig, 1902); Olivecrona, De la peine de wort; Mittermaier, Capital Punishment; Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (Part. Pap., 1866, No. 10,438); Oldfield, The Penalty of Death (1901); Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law; Pike, History of Crime; Sir J. F. Stephen, History of Crime in England; S. Walpole, History of England, vol. i. p. 191; vol. iv. p. 74 Andrews' Old Time Punishments; A Century of Law Reform (London, 1901); Lecture ii. by Sir H. B. Poland; Howard Association Publications. (W. F. C.)

<< Capital (Economics)

Capito >>

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010
(Redirected to Capital Punishment article)

From BibleWiki


—In the Pentateuch:

Warrants for the infliction of capital punishment, as opposed to private retribution or vengeance, are found in the Pentateuchal codes for the commission of any one of the following crimes: adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22); bestiality (Ex 22:18 [A. V. 19]; Lev 20:15); blasphemy (Lev 24:16); false evidence in capital cases (Deut 19:16-19); false prophecy (Deut 13:6, xviii. 20); idolatry, actual or virtual (Lev 20:2; Deut 13:7-19, xvii. 2-7); incestuous or unnatural connections (Lev 18:22, xx. 11-14); insubordination to supreme authority (Deut 17:12); kidnaping (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7); licentiousness of a priest's daughter (Lev 21:9); murder (Ex 21:12; Lev 24:17; Num 35:16 et seq.); rape committed on a betrothed woman (Deut 22:25); striking or cursing a parent, or otherwise rebelling against parental authority (Ex 21:15, 17; Lev 20:9; Deut 21:18-21); Sabbath-breaking (Ex 31:14, xxxv. 2; Num 15:32-36); witchcraft and augury (Ex 22:17; Lev 20:27).

Modes of Punishment.

Only in comparatively few instances is the particular mode of death incurred by the commission of a crime prescribed. Blasphemy, idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, witchcraft, prostitution by a betrothed virgin, or deceiving her husband at marriage as to her chastity (Deut 22:21), and the rebellious son are, according to the Pentateuchal laws, to be punished with death by stoning; bigamous marriage with a wife's mother and the prostitution of a priest's daughter are punished byburning; communal apostasy is punished by the sword. With reference to all other capital offenses, the law ordains that the perpetrator shall die a violent death, occasionally adding the expression, "His (their) blood shall be upon him (them)." This expression, as we shall see presently, post-Biblical legislation applies to death by stoning. The Bible speaks also of hanging (Deut 21:22), but, according to the rabbinical interpretation, not as a mode of execution, but rather of exposure after death (Sanh. vi. 4, 75b).

Rabbinic Developments.

—In Rabbinic Law:

An old-established rule of rabbinic jurisprudence forbids the infliction of punishment where there is no Biblical authority for such punishment (Sanh. 82b; compare Sifre, Deut. 154). That authority, however, may be established by Gezerah Shawah ( (missing hebrew text) ); i.e., by comparing similar or analogous expressions in two or more passages, in one of which the meaning and import of the expression are unmistakable (Ker. 5a). Similarly in cases where the Pentateuch imposes the death penalty, without specifying the mode of death, Talmudic jurisprudence discovers the particular mode intended by means of the principle of Gezerah shawah. Thus: In reference to the man or the woman who makes use of "a familiar spirit"—i.e., "a wizard"—the law says (Lev 20:27), "They shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them" ( (missing hebrew text) ). Here the expression "Demehem bam" is plainly used in connection with death by stoning; hence it is argued that, wherever the same expression occurs in the Pentateuch in connection with the death penalty, it means death by stoning, and consequently the punishment of the crimes mentioned in Lev 20:9, 11, 12, 13, 16, is the same: death by stoning (Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix.; Sanh. 53b, 66a). Again, with reference to the perpetrator of bestiality the law reads (Lev 20:15), "He shall surely be put to death; and ye shall slay the beast." Here the particular mode of death is not stated, but rabbinic law again infers it by means of a Gezerah shawah. Since, with reference to the enticer to idolatry, the Bible (Deut. xiii 10 [A. V. 9]) employs the term Harag = "to slay" ("Thou shalt surely slay him"), and this is immediately explained by the addition (ib. 11 [A. V. 10]), "Thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die," it follows that the term "harag" used in reference to the beast likewise means to slay by stoning. And as for the criminal himself, his sentence is the same as that of the beast in connection with which he is mentioned (Sifra, l.c. x.; Sanh. 54b). In the case of the instigator to communal apostasy ("maddiaḥ") the law reads (Deut 13:6 [A. V. 5]), "He hath spoken . . . to thrust thee out of the way of the Lord," and in that of the enticer of individuals ("mesit") the identical expression is used: "He hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord" (ib. 11 [A. V. 10]); hence as in the latter case stoning is the penalty, so it is in the former (Sifre, Deut. 86; Sanh. 89b). Finally, concerning the witch, it is said (Ex 12:17 [A. V. 18]), "Thou shalt not suffer her to live," and elsewhere (ib. xix. 13) the expression, "Shall not live," is used in connection with "He shall surely be stoned"; therefore in the first case the particular penalty is to be the same as in the second (Mek., l.c.; Sanh. 67a).

According to these conclusions, rabbinic law based on Pentateuchal authority, expressed or inferred, affixes death by stoning to each of the following eighteen crimes: 1. Bestiality committed by man (Lev 20:15; Sanh. vii. 4, 54b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, x. 1; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17). 2. Bestiality com mitted by woman (Lev 20:16: Sanh. vii. 4, 54b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, x. 3; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17). 3. Blasphemy (Lev 24:16; Sanh. vii. 4, 43a; Sifra, Emor, xix.). 4. Criminal conversation with a betrothed virgin (Deut 22:23, 24; Sanh. vii. 4, 66b; Sifre, Deut. 242). 5. Criminal conversation with one's own daughter-in-law (Lev 20:12; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 13). 6. Criminal conversation with one's own mother (Lev 18:7, xx. 11; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 12). 7. Criminal conversation with one's own stepmother (Lev 18:8, xx. 11; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 12). 8. Cursing a parent (Lev 20:9; Sanh. vii. 4, 66a; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 7). 9. Enticing individuals to idolatry: "Mesit" (Deut 13:7-12 [A. V. 6-11]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Sifre, Deut. 90). 10. Idolatry (Deut 17:2-7; Sanh. vii. 4, 60b; Sifre, Deut. 149). 11. Instigating communities to idolatry: "Maddiaḥ" (Deut 13:2-6 [A. V. 1-5]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Sifre, Deut. 86). 12. Necromancy (Lev 20:27; Sanh. vii. 4, 65a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, xi., end). 13. Offering one's own children to Molech (Lev 20:2; Sanh. vii. 4, 64a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, viii., parashah 10, beginning). 14. Pederasty (Lev 20:13; Sanh. vii. 4, 54a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 14). 15. Pythonism (Lev 20:27; Sanh. vii. 4, 65a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, xi., end). 16. Rebelling against parents (Deut 21:18-21; Sanh. vii. 4, 68b; Sifre, Deut. 220). 17. Sabbath-breaking (Num 15:32-36; Sanh. vii. 4; Sifre, Num. 114). 18. Witchcraft (Ex 22:17 [A. V. 18]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17).

As in the several classes included in the above category (1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 14) rabbinic jurisprudence establishes the particular punishment of the criminal on the basis of Gezerah shawah, so in most cases of the following category the particular punishment is deduced from Gezerah shawah. Thus, with reference to bigamy with mother and daughter the law reads (Lev 20:14): "It is wickedness" ("Zimmah hi"), and because elsewhere (ib. xviii. 17) the identical expression is used with reference to criminal conversation of man with female relatives of other degrees, rabbinic law affixes the penalty which the Pentateuch attaches to the former also to the latter (Sanh. ix. 1, 75a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 17). On the same principle the Rabbis establish the penalty for such conversation with relatives within certain ascending degrees, comparing them with the descending degrees of like removes, explicitly mentioned in the Bible (Yeb. 21a et seq.; Yer. Sanh. ix. 26d; Yer. Yeb. ii. 3d).

The crimes punished in rabbinic law with death by burning are accordingly the following ten: 1. Criminal conversation by a priest's daughter (Lev 21:9; Sanh. ix. 1, 76a; Sifra, Emor, i. 14 et seq.). 2. Criminal conversation with one's own daughter (Yeb. 3a; Sanh. ix. 1, 75a). 3. Criminal conversation with one's own daughter's daughter (Lev 18:10; Sanh. ix. 1, 75a). 4. Criminal conversation with one's own son's daughter (Lev 18:10; Sanh. ix. 1, 75a). 5. Criminal conversation with one's own stepdaughter (Lev 18:17; Sanh. ix. 1, 75a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 16). 6. Criminal conversation with one's own stepdaughter's daughter (Lev 18:17; Sanh. ix. 1, 75a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 16). 7. Criminal conversation with one's own stepson's daughter (Lev 18:17; Sanh. ix. 1, 75a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 16). 8. Criminal conversation with one's own mother-in-law (Lev 20:14; Sanh. ix. 1, 75a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 15). 9. Criminal conversation with one's own mother-in-law's mother (Sanh. ix. 1, 75a; Sifra. Ḳedoshim, ix. 17; Yeb. 21a et seq.). 10. Criminal conversation with one's own father-in-law's mother (Sanh. ix. 1, 75a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 17; Yeb. 21a).

The nine cases of incest here enumerated (2-10) subject the perpetrator to the penalty of burningonly when the crime is committed during the life of his legal wife (Yeb. 95a; Sanh. 76b; see Maimonides, "Yad," Issure Bi'ah, i. 5).

Two crimes only are punished by slaying: 1. Communal apostasy (Deut 13:13-16 [A. V. 12-15]; Sanh. ix. 1, 52b; Sifre, Deut. 94.). 2. Murder (Ex 21:12; Lev 24:17; Sanh. ix. 1, 52b; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 4; Sifre, Num. 160; see Homicide).

The penalty for the first is explicitly declared (Deut 13:16 [A. V. 15]): "Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword"; but that of the latter is again based on the principle of the Gezerah shawah. As with reference to a murderer the law is (Ex 21:20), "He shall surely be punished" ("naḳom yinnaḳem"; literally, "It shall surely be avenged"), and elsewhere (Lev 26:25) an "avenging sword" ("ḥereb noḳemet") is spoken of, the Rabbis argue that the term "naḳom" applied to homicide has the significance given to it by its connection with sword (Sanh. vii. 3, 52b; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 4).

To the three modes of capital punishment explicitly mentioned in the Pentateuchal laws, rabbinic law adds a fourth; viz., strangulation. In post-Biblical jurisprudence this is the penalty incurred by the perpetrator of any one of the crimes to which the Pentateuch affixes death, without specifying the mode of death and where no conclusions from Gezerah shawah can be deduced. The Rabbis argue thus: No death-sentence pronounced in the Bible indefinitely may be construed with severity; on the contrary, it must be interpreted leniently. And since the Rabbis viewed strangulation as the easiest of deaths, they decided that the undefined death-sentence of the Pentateuchal code means strangulation. Moreover, the Bible frequently speaks of death sent "by Heaven" for certain sins (for example: Gen 38:7, 10; Lev 10:7, 9); and as the death visited by Heaven leaves no outward mark, so must the death inflicted by a human tribunal leave no outward marks, and that is possible only in an execution by strangulation (Mek., Mishpaṭim, 5; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 11; Sanh. 52b).

By strangulation the following six crimes are punished: 1. Adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22; Sanh. xi. 1, 52b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 11; Sifre, Deut. 241; see Adultery). 2. Bruising a parent (Ex 21:15; Sanh. xi. 1, 84b; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 5). 3. False prophecy (Deut 18:20; Sanh. xi. 1, 5, 89a; Sifre, Deut. 178). 4. Insubordination to supreme authority; "Zaḳen mamre," (Deut 17:12; Sanh. xi. 1, 87a; Sifre, Deut. 155). 5. Kidnaping (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7; Sanh. xi. 1, 85b; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 5; Sifre, Deut. 273; see Abduction). 6. Prophesying in the name of heathen deities (Deut 18:20; Sanh. xi. 1, 5, 89a; Sifre, Deut. 178).

Of the four modes of capital punishment—stoning, burning, slaying, and strangulation—the first is considered by the majority of Rabbis the severest; the last, the mildest (Sanh. vii. 1, 49b et seq.). Hence when convicts condemned to different modes of capital punishment become intermixed beyond the possibility of identification and classification, all of them suffer the sentence carrying with it the death named lowest in the order cited above (Sanh. ix. 3, 80b). On the other hand, when one is found guilty of several crimes of different grades of punishment, he will suffer the severest death to which he is liable (Sanh. ix. 4, 81a; compare Tos. Yom-Ṭob to Mishnah).

Mode of Judgment.

Capital punishment in rabbinic law, or indeed any other punishment, must not be inflicted, except by the verdict of a regularly constituted court (Lesser Sanh.) of three-and-twenty qualified members (Sanh. i. 1; Sifre, Num. 160), and except on the most trustworthy and convincing testimony of at least two qualified eye-witnesses to the crime (Deut 17:6, xix. 15; Soṭah vi. 3; Sifre, Num. 161; ib. Deut. 150, 188; Sanh. 30a) who must also depose that the culprit had been forewarned as to the criminality and the consequences of his project (Sanh. v. 1, 40b et seq.; see Hatraah). The culprit must be a person of legal age and of sound mind, and the crime must be proved to have been committed of the culprit's free will and without the aid of others (see Abetment); and if any one wilfully kills him before conviction, a charge of murder will lie against such perpetrator (Tosef., B. Ḳ. ix. 15; Sifre, Num. 161; compare 'Ar. i. 3, 6b). Nor may an execution be deferred, except in the case of the "Zaḳen mamre" (Sanh. xi. 4), or of a woman about to be delivered of a child ('Ar. i. 4), nor may it be carried out on a day sacred to religion (Mek., Mishpaṭim, 4; ib. Wayyaḳhel; Yeb. 6b; Sanh. 35b). On the day that the verdict is pronounced, the convict is led forth to execution (Sanh. 34a). Looking upon the sinner as upon the victim of folly (Soṭah 3a), and considering death an expiation for misdeeds (Ber. 60a; Sanh. vi. 2; see Atonement), the Rabbis would not permit the protraction of the interval between sentence and execution, which they considered as the most terrible period in the convict's existence. These considerations prompted them to afford the convict every possible alleviation of the pains and sufferings concomitant with the execution, and to direct the execution itself so as to prevent the mutilation of the body, or to reduce such mutilation, where it is unavoidable—as in stoning or slaying—to a minimum. The Pentateuchal law (Lev 19:18) prescribes, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy-self"; and the Rabbis maintain that this love must be extended beyond the limits of social intercourse in life, and applied even to the convicted criminal who, "though a sinner, is still thy brother" (Mak. iii. 15; Sanh. 44a): "The spirit of love must be manifested by according him a decent death" (Sanh. 45a, 52a).

Execution of Sentence.

As the convict is led forth to the place of execution, which is located outside of the city limits and at some distance from the court-house (Sanh. vi. 1, 42b), a flag-bearer is stationed at the entrance to the court, and farther on a rider is placed, while a herald marches in front of the procession, proclaiming the name of the convict, his crime, when and where committed, and the names of the witnesses on whose evidence he was convicted, at the same time inviting any and every one in possession of evidence favorable to the convict to come forward and declare it—the judges remaining in session throughout the process of the execution and fasting all that day (M. Ḳ. 14b; Sanh. 63a). If favorable evidence comes to light, the flag-bearer gives the signal, and the rider turns the procession back to the court where the new evidence is dulyconsidered. Indeed, the convict's own declaration that he can prove his innocence, or mitigating circumstances, cause a stay until he is heard. And even where he fails to effect a reversal of sentence by his first attempt, there is still hope left for him. He may repeat the attempt several times, two scholars accompanying him for the purpose of hearing him and judging whether further delay should be permitted. On arriving in the neighborhood of the scaffold, he is exhorted to make confession of his sins, though not specifically of the crime for which he is to suffer death (see Confession of Sin). Thereupon he is given to drink a mixture of wine and olibanum, that he may become stupefied and not realize the painful close of his earthly career (Sem. ii. 9; Sanh. 43a; compare Mk 15:23; contrast Mt 27:34). When he is brought still nearer to the fatal place, he is divested of his clothes and covered in front, and, if a woman, in front and behind (according to the adopted opinion, a woman was not divested at all). In this state the convict was led on to the spot (Sanh. vi. 1-3, 42b-45b; Tosef., Sanh. ix. 6; Sifra, Emor, xix. 3; Sifre, Deut. 221). Then the prosecuting witnesses, who are the only legal executioners known to Biblical and rabbinic laws (Deut 17:7; Sifra, Emor, xix. 3; Sifre, Deut. 89, 151; Sanh. 45b), proceed to carry out the sentence which their evidence has brought about. That is done in the following manner:

The "Four Deaths."

Stoning ( (missing hebrew text) ): With reference to two offenders subject to this penalty, the Pentateuch says, "Thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people" (Deut 13:10 [A. V. 9]), and again (ib. xvii. 7), "The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people." Rabbinic law follows this injunction literally, but confines its consummation within narrow limits. The convict having been placed on a platform twice his height, one of the witnesses throws him to the ground. If the concussion does not produce instant death, the second witness hurls a heavy stone at his chest; and only when this also proves insufficient to end his misery, the bystanders throw stones at the prostrate body until death ensues (Sanh. vi. 4; 45a et seq.; Sifra, Emor, xix.; Sifre, Num. 114; ib. Deut. 89, 90, 149, 151).

Burning ( (missing hebrew text) ): The Pentateuch simply ordains that the criminal "shall be burnt with fire" (Lev 20:14, xxi. 9), and a case is reported from the last days of the Second Temple, where a guilty daughter of a priest was actually burned on a pyre. However, the reporter of the case stated that he had witnessed it during his minority; and as the testimony of a minor is not valid, no rule of procedure could be based thereon. Indeed, the Rabbis declared that a court ordering such an execution was ignorant of traditional law, and a later teacher was of opinion that the court referred to consisted of dissenting Sadducees. According to rabbinic law, an execution by burning means this: The witnesses secure the convict, then force his mouth open by means of a stout cord (wrapped in soft cloth, to prevent the discoloration of the convict's neck) being tightly drawn around his neck, when molten lead or, according to another opinion, a mixture of lead and tin, is poured down his throat and burns his vitals. (Sanh. vii. 2, 52b; Tosef., Sanh. ix. 11; Yer. Sanh. vii. 24b).

Slaying ( (missing hebrew text) ): The convict having been fastened to a post, his head is severed from the body by a blow with a sword. Splitting the body or piercing it is not permitted; neither is it allowed to perform decapitation on a block (Sanh. vii. 3, 52b; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 4; Sifre, Deut. 94). See Beheading.

Strangulation ( (missing hebrew text) ) is effected by slinging around the convict's neck a stout cord, wrapped in soft cloth, which the executioners draw in opposite directions, until all breath leaves his body and he dies (Sanh. vii. 3, 52b; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 5; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 11).

No execution is attended with posthumous indignities, except that the usual mourning ceremonies are not observed (Sifra, Shemini, Introduction, 28; Sem. ii. 7; Sanh. vi. 6), and in the case of the idolater and of the blasphemer hanging is superadded, provided the criminal is not a woman. The exposure of the body, however, must not be protracted. The dead convict's hands are joined above his head, and by them he is suspended; but while one of the executioners is still engaged in fastening the cords, the other must begin to untie them. As to the gibbet, it must not be a natural or permanent one, like a tree, but an artificial arrangement, easily removable; and when once used, must be buried out of sight (Sanh. vi. 4, 46b; Sifre, Deut. 221).

For the burial of convicts two special cemeteries are provided: one in which those are buried who have been executed either by stoning or by burning, and another for those slain or strangled. The dry bones are eventually disinterred, and placed in the general burial-grounds (Sanh. vi. 5, 6, 47b; Tosef., Sanh. ix. 8, 9; Yer. Sanh. vi. 23d).

No sentence carries with it any change in the civil status of the convict's family. The Pentateuchal law provides (Deut 24:16), "The parents shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the parents; every man shall be put to death for his own sins," and rabbinic jurisprudence follows this principle both to the letter and in spirit. Nor is a sentence attended by confiscation of the convict's goods. All his possessions descend to his legal heirs (Tosef., Sanh. iv. 6; Sanh. 27b, 48b; see Confiscation).

Critical Note.

Rabbinic jurisprudence is developed on the basis of the letter and the spirit of the Bible, particularly of the Pentateuchal codes (Josh 1:8, viii. 31; Josephus, "Contra Ap." i. 8; Ḥag. 10b, 14a; Ned. 22b; Mak. 23b; compare Darmesteter, "The Talmud," translation by H. Szold, pp. 62 et seq.); but that development naturally partook of the spirit of the ages during which it took place—from Ezra's times to the final redaction of the Gemara (559 B.C. to 550 C.E.). This was especially the case with the development of the civil and ritualistic laws, which governed Jewish life long after the Roman conquest of Palestine. But also in criminal law, involving capital punishment, the right to administer which had been taken from the Sanhedrin decades before the fall of Jerusalem (Sanh. 41a; Yer. Sanh. i. 18a,vii. 24b), the Rabbis delved deeply, elaborating the details thereof with a view to their application in the hoped-for Messianic days ( (missing hebrew text) , Sanh. 51b; Yeb. 45a) or for the satisfaction accruing from study ( (missing hebrew text) , ib.). In this department there are therefore some laws which are mere legal opinions or theoretic ratiocinations which were never applied in practise. Such, for example, are the laws relating to the "rebellious son" and to "communal apostasy" (Tosef., Sanh. xi. 6, xiv. 1; Sanh. 71a). However, the bulk of rabbinic rules, even those concerning capital punishment, bear the stamp of great antiquity, inasmuch as they are based on actual precedent or on old traditional interpretation. Josephus, whose main authority for the first half of his "Antiquities" doubtless was the Bible itself, supplements his outlines of "the polity settled by Moses" ("Ant." iv. 8, §§ 1-45) with traditions current in his day. Some of these traditions agree with the corresponding Halakot embodied in the Talmudim and halakic Midrashim at a much later date. A few examples must suffice. In the true spirit of traditional law, Josephus ("Ant." xii. 9, § 1) says, "The purposing of a thing, but not actually doing it, is not deserving of punishment" (compare Tosef., Mak. v. [iv.] 10; Sanh. 63b; Mak. 16a); nevertheless he construes the Pentateuchal law regarding the confuted witness (Deut 19:16-19) as decreeing punishment where the sentence brought about by the confuted testimony has not been executed. He says ("Ant." iv. 8, § 15), "If any one be believed to have borne false witness, let him, when he is convicted, suffer all the very same punishments which he against whom he bore witness was to have suffered." This coincides with the rabbinic Halakah (Mak. i. 6; Sifre, Deut. 190; see Alibi), as opposed to the Sadducean ruling that the confuted witness is punishable only after the execution of the sentence which his falsehood has brought about (ib.; compare S. Mendelsohn, "Criminal Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews," p. 136). Also the Pentateuchal law (Ex 21:21, 22) regarding an assault on a woman with child, Josephus (l.c. § 23) interprets in the spirit of the Halakah (Mek., Mishpaṭim, 8; B. Ḳ. 42a; Sanh. 74a; compare Geiger, "Urschrift," pp. 436 et seq.; Pineles, "Darkah shel Torah," § 160). Likewise his esteeming guiltless the slayer of the thief, "although he were only breaking in at the wall" (l.c. § 27), is in consonance with the traditional interpretation of the Halakah (Mek., Mishpaṭim, 13; Sanh. 72a; Yer. Sanh. viii. 26c); and so is his reduction of the number of stripes (Deut 25:1-3) from forty to "forty save one" (l.c. §§ 21, 23) in accord with the Halakah (Mak. iii. 10, 22b; Sifre, Deut. 186; compare 2Cor 11:24).

As to the spirit of later rabbinic legislation, it clearly appears that there was a tendency to reduce capital punishment to a minimum, if not to abolish it altogether. That capital punishment was a rare occurrence in the latter days of the Jewish commonwealth is patent from the statement in the Mishnah that a court was stigmatized as "murderous" if it condemned to death more than one human being in the course of seven years. Indeed, Eleazar b. Azariah applied the same epithet to a court that executed more than one man in every seventy years; and his famous colleagues, Tryphon and Akiba, openly avowed their opposition to capital punishment, saying, "Had we belonged to the Sanhedrin [during Judea's independence], no man would ever have been executed," as they would always have found some legal informalities by which to make a sentence of death impossible (Mak. i. 7a).

Bibliography: Benny, Crim. Code of the Jews, pp. 84-95; Fassel, Strafg. Gerichtsverfahren, §§ 72-78; Hamburger, R. B. T. i. 992-995; Hetzel, Die Todesstrafe, 40-48; Mayer, Rechte d. Israeliten, etc., iii. §§ 59-70; Maimonides, Hil. Sanhedrin, xiv., xv.; S. Mendelsohn, Crim. Jurisprudence of the Ancient Hebrews, §§ 25-32, 116-133; Michaelis, Mosaische Recht, §§ 229-236; Saalschütz, Das Mosaische Recht, ch. lviii.; Salvador, Histoire des Institutions de Moïse, Bk. iv.; Semag, Ordinances, pp. 99-104.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
This article needs to be merged with [[Capital Punishment (Catholic Encyclopedia)]].
Facts about Capital PunishmentRDF feed

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address