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Capital punishment was last used as a form of punishment in Brazil in 1861, and has not been officially used since the proclamation of the Republic in 1889. Brazil was the second country in the Americas to abolish this form of punishment, preceded by Costa Rica on 1859.



The last execution determined by the civil justice was of the black slave Francisco, in Pilar, Alagoas on April 28, 1876, and the last execution of a free man was probably (there are no official records), of José Pereira de Sousa, in Santa Luzia, Goiás. He was hanged on October 30, 1861. Until the final years of the Empire of Brazil, defendants were still condemned to death despite the fact that Emperor Pedro II of Brazil commuted all death sentences in 1876, for both free men and slaves. However, the death sentence was only fully abolished for common crimes after the proclamation of the Republic in 1889. It was not abolished for certain military offenses in wartime.[1]

The 1937 Constitution, which ruled the country during Getúlio Vargas' Estado Novo presidency, made possible the usage of the death penalty for crimes beyond military offenses in wartime. In 1942, writer Gerardo Mello Mourão, was sentenced to death under the accusation of committing espionage for the Axis powers. Nevertheless, there are no records of an execution taking place during the period of time in which this Constitution ruled, what lasted until 1946.

From 1969 to 1978, during the military dictatorship, execution once again became available as a form of punishment for political crimes which resulted in death. Some opponents of the regime were even convicted to death, but there are no records of an execution taking place, once the Supreme Military Court commuted the sentences into life imprisonment. However, the regime was responsible for the death of over 300 opponents, which did not have the opportunity of broad defense in a legal trial.

Capital punishment for all non-military offenses was finally abolished in Brazil by the 1988 Constitution. Currently, the death penalty may be applicable in Brazil only for military offenses such as treason, defection, mutiny and genocide during wartime. The Military Penal Code advises that this penalty should be used only in extreme cases, and that the President may pardon the convicted officer. However, it should be noted that Brazil has not engaged in any major armed conflict since the end of the World War II. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country that still maintains the death penalty for some offenses.


The Brazilian Constitution of 1988 expressly prohibits the usage of capital punishment by the penal justice system.[2] However, death penalty may be applicable, according to international law, in case of a declared war, under the terms of Article 84, paragraph 19, of the Constitution. It also prohibits, in the same article that refers to the death penalty, the usage of life sentences,[3] making Brazil one of the few countries which has abolished both life imprisonment and death penalty. According to the Brazilian Penal Code, a citizen cannot spend more than 30 years incarcerated.

Brazil is a member of the Protocol of the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, which was ratified on August 13, 1996.

According to international law, the "application of the death penalty in time of war pursuant to a conviction for a serious crime of a military nature committed during wartime" is admissible. Article 2, paragraph 1 of the United Nations Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, allows members to make a reservation in these terms, at the time of ratification or accession to the Protocol.

Opinion polls

Opinion polls about death penalty in Brazil since 1991:      Favourable      Against     Undefined Source: Datafolha institute.

Datafolha, a polling institute linked to the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, has conducted an annual survey since the early 1990s regarding the acceptance of the death penalty in the Brazilian society. The majority of these surveys indicates that most Brazilians are favourable to this form of punishment.[4] The most recent poll (dated March 2008), however, indicates that there is no longer a consensus on the issue. The difference between those who agree and oppose to the usage of the method is only 1%, and thus, within the margin of error of the poll.[4][5] The results are similar to a 2000 poll conducted by the same institute, when approval of the death penalty had an abrupt fall, only to rose up again in subsequent years.[4] The newspaper indicates that cases widely explored by the mass media during the time of the survey, such as the murder of João Hélio Fernandes Vieites (which also opened a debate on the criminal responsibility age), may influence the outcome of the polls.[4]

A poll conducted by Sensus institute in January 2010, has indicated that most Brazilians are against the death penalty.[6] More than 55 per cent of the 2,000 respondents share this opinion, practically the same percentage from a poll conducted by the same institute on January 2001.[6]


  1. ^ CARVALHO FILHO, Luís Francisco. Impunidade no Brasil - Colônia e Império. in: Estudos Avançados - V. 18. São Paulo, 2004; RIBEIRO, João Luiz. No meio das galinhas as baratas não têm razão. A Lei de 10 de junho de 1835. Os escravos e a pena de morte no Império do Brasil (1822 - 1889). Rio de Janeiro, Editora Renovar, 2005; RIBEIRO, João Luiz. A Violência Homicida diante do Tribunal do Júri da Corte Imperial do Rio de Janeiro UFRJ, 2008.
  2. ^ Article 5 of Brazilian Constitution (See Paragraph XLVII-a)
  3. ^ Article 5 of Brazilian Constitution (See Paragraph XLVII-b)
  4. ^ a b c d Carvalho, Mário Cesar. "Cai apoio à pena de morte e país fica dividido" ("Support on the death penalty falls and nation is divided"). Folha de S. Paulo. April 6, 2008. Cotidiano - page C1.
  5. ^ "Death Penalty Splits Views in Brazil". Angus Reid Global Monitor. April 12, 2008
  6. ^ a b [ "Brazilians Remain Opposed to Death Penalty". Angus Reid Global Monitor. February 5, 2010.

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