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Capital punishment
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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)
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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. http://www.shotatdawn.org.uk/. 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. http://www.jstor.org/pss/1143143. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  28. ^ Patriots ignore greatest brutality. The Sydney Morning Herald. August 13, 2007.
  29. ^ "Definite no to Death Row – Asmal". http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=13&art_id=vn20080308081322646C403034/. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ a b "The High Cost of the Death Penalty". Death Penalty Focus. http://www.deathpenalty.org/article.php?id=42. 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. http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/abolitionist-and-retentionist-countries. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  40. ^ [2]
  41. ^ [3]
  42. ^ [4]
  43. ^ "International Polls & Studies". The Death Penalty Information Center. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?did=2165. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  44. ^ "Akmal Shaikh told of execution for drug smuggling". December 28, 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8432351.stm. Retrieved December 29, 2009. 
  45. ^ "毒品危害防范條例". May 20, 2009. http://law.moj.gov.tw/Scripts/Query4A.asp?FullDoc=all&Fcode=C0000008. 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. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGACT500152004. 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 CNN.com 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; BBCnews.co.uk; 2007-12-06; Retrieved on 2007-12-06
  59. ^ "Somali woman executed by stoning". BBC News. 2008-10-27. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7694397.stm. 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. http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/somalia-girl-stoned-was-child-13-20081031. 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. http://www.worldcoalition.org/modules/news/article.php?storyid=10. 
  74. ^ Amnesty International.
  75. ^ "UN set for key death penalty vote". Amnesty International. 2007-12-09. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/un-set-key-death-penalty-vote-20071209. 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. http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN1849885920071218. 
  79. ^ "Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR". Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr-death.htm. 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. ^ http://www.cin.org/users/james/ebooks/master/trent/tcomm05.htm
  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. ^ http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm
  94. ^ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12565a.htm
  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] http://www.equip.org/free/CP1304.htm
  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

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EXECUTION (from Lat. ex-sequor, exsecutus, follow or;carry out), the carrying into effect of anything, whether a rite, a piece of music, an office, &c.; and so sometimes involving a notion of skill in the performance. Technically, the word is used r in law in the execution of a deed (its formal signing and sealin g), an execution (see below) by the sheriff's officers under a "writ of execution" (the enforcement of a judgment on a debtor's goods); and execution of death has been shortened to the one word to denote Capital Punishment.

Civil Execution may be defined as the process by which the judgments or orders of courts of law are made effectual. In Roman law the earliest mode of execution was the seizure, legalized by the actio per manus injectionem, of the debtor as a slave of the creditor. During the later Republic, imprisonment took the place of slavery. Under the regime of the actio per manus injectionem, the debtor might dispute the debt - the issue being raised by his finding a substitute (vindex) to conduct the case for him. By the time of Gaius (iv. 25) the actio per manus injectionem had been superseded by the actio judicati, the object of which was to enable the creditor to take payment of the debt or compel the debtor to find security (pious in causa judicati captum: Cautio judicatum solvi), and in A.D. 320 Constantine abolished imprisonment for debt, unless the debtor were contumacious. The time allowed for payment of a judgment debt was by the XII. Tables 30 days; it was afterwards extended to two months, and ultimately, by Justinian, to four months. The next stage in the Roman law of execution was the recognition of bankruptcy either against the will of the bankrupt (missio in bona) or on the application of the bankrupt (cessio bonorum; and see Bankruptcy). Lastly, in the time of Antoninus Pius, judgment debts were directly enforced by the seizure and sale of the debtor's property. Slaves, oxen and implements of husbandry were privileged; and movable property was to be exhausted before recourse was had to land (see Hunter, Roman Law, 4th ed. pp. 1029 et seq., Sohm, Inst. Rom. Law, 2nd ed. Pp. 302-305).

Table of contents

Great Britain

. - The English law of execution is very complicated, and only a statement of the principal processes can here be attempted.

High Court

Fieri Facias. A judgment for the recovery of money or costs is enforced, as a rule, by writ of fieri facias addressed to the sheriff, and directing him to cause to be made (fieri facias) of the goods and chattels of the debtor a levy of a sum sufficient to satisfy the judgment and costs, which carry interest at 4% per annum. The seizure effected by the sheriff or his officer, under this writ, of the property of the debtor, is what is popularly known as "the putting-in" of an execution. The seizure should be carried out with all possible despatch. The sheriff or his officer must not break open the debtor's house in effecting a seizure, for "a man's house is his castle" (Semayne's Case [1604], 5 Coke Rep. 91); but this principle applies only to a dwelling-house, and a barn or outhouse unconnected with the dwelling-house may be broken into. The sheriff on receipt of the writ endorses on it the day, hour, month and year when he received it; and the writ binds the debtor's goods as at the date of its delivery, except as regards goods sold before seizure in market overt, or purchased for value, without notice before actual seizure (Sale of Goods Act 1893, s. 26, which supersedes s. 16 of the Statute of Frauds and s. 1 of the Mercantile Law Amendment Act 1856). This rule is limited to goods, and does not apply to the money or bank notes of the debtor which are not bound by the writ till seized under it (Johnson v. Pickering, Oct. 14, 1907, C.A.). The mere seizure of the goods, however, although, subject to such exceptions as those just stated, it binds the interest of the debtor, and gives the sheriff such an interest in the goods as will enable him to sue for the recovery of their possession, does not pass the property in the goods to the sheriff. The goods are in the custody of the law. But the property remains in the debtor who may get rid of the execution on payment of the claim and fees of the sheriff [as to which see Sheriffs Act 1887, s. 20, and order of 21st of August 1888, Annual Practice (1908), vol. ii. p. 278]. The wearing apparel, bedding, tools, &c., of the debtor to the value of £5 are protected. Competing claims as to the ownership of the goods seized are brought before the courts by the procedure of "interpleader." After seizure, the sheriff must retain possession, and, in default of payment by the execution debtor, proceed to sell. Where the judgment debt, including legal expenses, exceeds £20, the sale must be by public auction, unless the Court otherwise orders, and must be publicly advertised. The proceeds of sale, after deduction of the sheriff's fees and expenses, become the property of the execution creditor to the extent of his claim. The Bankruptcy Act 18 9 0 (53 & 54 Vict. c. 71, s. II [2]) requires the sheriff in case of sale under a judgment for a sum exceeding £ 20 to hold the proceeds for 14 days in case notice of bankruptcy proceedings should be served upon him (see Bankruptcy). The form of the writ of fieri facias requires the sheriff to make a return to the writ. In practice this is seldom done unless the execution has been ineffective or there has been delay in the execution of the writ; but the judgment creditor may obtain an order calling on the sheriff to make a return. A sheriff or his officer, who is guilty of extortion in the execution of the writ, is liable to committal for contempt, and to forfeit £200 and pay all damages suffered by the person aggrieved (Sheriffs Act 1887 [50 & 51 Vict. c. 55], s. 29 [2]), besides being civilly liable to such person. Imprisonment for debt in execution of civil judgments is now abolished except in cases of default in the nature of contempt, unsatisfied judgments for penalties, defaults by persons in a fiduciary character, and defaults by judgment debtors (Debtors Act 1869 [32 & 33 Vict. c. 62]; Bankruptcy Act 1883 [46 & 47 Vict. c. 52], ss. 53, 103). Imprisonment for debt has been abolished within similar limits in Scotland (Debtors [Scotland] Act 1880 [43 & 44 Vict. c. 34] and Ireland, Debtors [Ireland] Act 1872, 35 & 36 Vict. c. 57). There may still be imprisonment in England, under the writ - rarely used in practice - ne exeat regno, which issues to prevent a debtor from leaving the kindgom.

Writ of Elegit

The writ of elegit is a process enabling the creditor to satisfy his judgment debt out of the lands of the debtor. It derives its name from the election of the creditor in favour of this mode of recovery. It is founded on the Statute of Westminster (1285, 13 Ed. I. c. 18), under which the sheriff was required to deliver to the creditor all the chattels (except oxen and beasts of the plough) and half the lands of the debtor until the debt was satisfied. By the Judgments Act 1838 the remedy was extended to all the debtor's lands, and by the Bankruptcy Act 1883 the writ no longer extends to the debtor's goods. The writ is enforceable against legal interests whether in possession or remainder (Hood-Barrs v. Cathcart, 1895, 2 Ch. 411), but not against equitable interests in land (Earl of Jersey v. Uxbridge Rural Sanitary Authority, 1891, 3 Ch. 183). When the debtor's interest is equitable, recourse is had to equitable execution by the appointment of a receiver or to bankruptcy proceedings.

The writ is directed to the sheriff, who, after marking on it the date of its receipt, at once in pursuance of its directions holds an inquiry with a jury as to the nature and value of the interest of the debtor in the lands extended under the writ, and delivers to the creditor at a reasonable price and extent in accordance with the writ, the lands of which the debtor was possessed in the bailiwick. When the sheriff has returned and filed a record (in the central office of the High Court) of the writ and the execution thereof, the execution creditor becomes "tenant to the elegit." Where the land is freehold the creditor acquires only a chattel interest in it; where the land is leasehold he acquires the whole of the debtor's interest (Johns v. Pink, 1900, I Ch. 296). The creditor is entitled to hold the land till his debt is satisfied, or enough to satisfy it is tendered to him, and under the Judgments Act 1864 the creditor may obtain an order for sale. Until the land is delivered on execution and the writs which have effected the delivery are registered in the Land Registry, the judgment does not create any charge on the land so as to fetter the debtor's power of dealing with it. Land Charges Registration Acts 1888 and 1900. (See R.S.C., O. xliii.) Writs of Possession and Delivery. - Judgments for the recovery or for the delivery of the possession of land are enforceable by writ of possession. The recovery of specific chattels is obtained by writ of delivery (R.S.C., O. xlvii., xlviii.).

Writ of Sequestration

Where a judgment directing the payment of money into court, or the performance by the defendant of any act within a limited time, has not been complied with, or where a corporation has wilfully disobeyed a judgment, a writ of sequestration is issued, to not less than four sequestrators, ordering them to enter upon the real estate of the party in default, and "sequester" the rents and profits until the judgment has been obeyed (R.S.C., O. xliii. r. 6).

Equitable Execution

Where a judgment creditor is otherwise unable to reach the property of his debtor he may obtain equitable execution, usually by the appointment of a receiver, who collects the rents and profits of the debtor's land for the benefit of the creditor (R.S.C., O. 1. rr. 15A-22). But receivers may be appointed of interests in personal property belonging to the debtor by virtue of the Judicature Act 1873, s. 25 (8).


A judgment creditor may "attach" debts due by third parties to his debtor by what are known as garnishee proceedings. Stock and shares belonging to a judgment debtor may be charged by a charging order, so as, in the first instance, to prevent transfer of the stock or payment of the dividends, and ultimately to enable the judgment creditor to realise his charge. A writ of attachment of the person of a defaulting debtor or party may be obtained in a variety of cases akin to contempt (e.g. against a person failing to comply with an order to answer interrogatories, or against a solicitor not entering an appearance in an action, in breach of his written undertaking to do so), and in the cases where imprisonment for debt is still preserved by the Debtors Act 1869 (R.S.C., O. xliv.). Contempt Of Court in its ordinary forms is also punishable by summary committal.

County Courts

In the county courts the chief modes of execution are "warrant of execution in the nature of a writ of fieri facias"; garnishee proceedings; equitable execution; warrants of possession and delivery, corresponding to the writs of possession and delivery above mentioned; committal, where a judgment debtor has, or, since the date of the judgment has had, means to pay his debt; and attachment of the person for contempt of court. If the judgment debtor assaults the bailiff or his officer or rescues the goods, he is liable to a fine not exceeding £5.

Scotland. - The principal modes of execution or "diligence" in Scots law are (i.) Arrestment and furthcoming, which corresponds to the English garnishee proceedings; (ii.) arrestment jurisdictionis fundandae causa, i.e. the seizure of movables within the jurisdiction to found jurisdiction against their owner, being a foreigner; this precedure, which is not, however, strictly a "diligence," as it does not bind the goods, is analogous to the French saisie-arret, and to the obsolete practice in the mayor's court of London known as "foreign attachment" (see Glyn and Jackson, Mayor's Court Practice, 2nd ed., vii. 260); (iii.) arrestment under meditatione fugae warrant, corresponding to the old English writ of ne exeat regno, and applicable in the case of a debtor who intends to leave Scotland to evade an action; (iv.) arrestment on dependence, i.e. of funds in security; (v.) poinding, i.e. valuation and sale of the debtor's goods; (vi.) sequestration, e.g. of tenant's effects under a landlord's hypothec for rent; (vii.) action of adjudication, by which a debtor's "heritable" (i.e. real) estate is transferred to his judgment creditor in satisfaction of his debt or security therefor. In Scots law "multiplepoinding" is the equivalent of "interpleader." Ireland. - The law of execution in Ireland (see R.S.C., 1905, Orders xli.-xlviii.) is practically the same as in England.

British PossEssloNs. - The Judicature Acts of most of the Colonies have also adopted English Law. Parts of the French Code de procedure civile are still in force in Mauritius. But its provisions have been modified by local enactment (No. 19 of 1868) as regards realty, and the rules of the Supreme Court 1903 have introduced the English forms of writs. Quebec and St Lucia, where French law formerly prevailed, have now their own codes of Civil Procedure. The law of execution under the Quebec Code resembles the French, that under the St Lucia Code the English system. In British Guiana and Ceylon, in which Roman Dutch law in one form or another prevailed, the English law of execution has now in substance been adopted (British Guiana Rules of Court, 1900, Order xxxvi.)., Ceylon (Code of Civil Procedure, No. 2 of 1889); the modes of execution in the South African Colonies are also the subject of local enactment, largely influenced by English law (cf. the Sheriffs' Ordinance, 1902, No. 9 of 1902), (Orange River Colony) and (Proclamation 17 of 1902), Transvaal (Nathan, Common Law of South Africa, vol. iv. p. 2206); and generally, Van Zyl, Judicial Practice of South Africa, pp. 198 et seq.

United STATEs. - Execution in the United States is founded upon English law, which it closely resembles. Substantially the same forms of execution are in force. The provisions of the Statute of Frauds making the lien of execution attach only on delivery to the sheriff were generally adopted in America, and are still law in many of the states. The law as to the rights and duties of sheriffs is substantially the same as in England. The "homestead laws" which are in force in nearly all the American States exempt a certain amount or value of real estate occupied by a debtor as his homestead from a forced sale for the payment of his debts. This homestead legislation has been copied in some British colonies, e.g. Western Australia (No. 37 of 1898, Pt. viii.), Quebec (Rev. Stats., ss. 1743-1748), Manitoba (Rev. Stats., 1902, C. 58, S. 29, C. 21, S. 9), Ontario (Rev. Stats., 1897, c. 29), British Columbia (Rev. Stats., 18 97, c. 93), New South Wales (Crown Lands Act 1895, Pt. iii.), New Zealand (Family Homes Protection Act 1895, No. 20 of 1895).

France. - Provisional execution (saisie-arreet) with a view to. obtain security has been already mentioned. Execution against personalty (saisie-execution) is preceded by a commandement or summons, personally served upon, or left at the domicile of the debtor calling on him to pay. The necessary bedding of debtors and of their children residing with them, and the clothes worn by them, cannot be seized in execution under any circumstances. Objects declared by law to be immovable by destination (immeubles par destination), such as beasts of burden and agricultural implements, books relating to the debtor's profession, to the value of 300 francs, workmen's tools, military equipments, provisions and certain cattle cannot be seized, even for a debt due to Government, unless in respect of provisions furnished to the debtor, or amounts due to the manufacturers or vendors of protected articles or to parties who advanced moneys to purchase, manufacture or repair them. Growing fruits cannot be seized except during the six weeks preceding the ordinary period when they become ripe. Execution against immovable property (la saisie immobiliere) is preceded also by a summons to pay, and execution cannot issue until the expiry of 30 days after service of such summons (see further Code Proc. Civ., Arts. 673-689). Imprisonment for debt was abolished in all civil and commercial matters by the law of 22nd of July 1867, which extends to foreigners. It still subsists in favour of the State for non-payment of fines, &c. The French system is in substance in force in Belgium (Code Civ. Proc., Arts. 51 et seq.), the Netherlands (Code Civ. Proc., Arts. 430 et seq.), Italy (Code Civ. Proc., Arts. 553 et seq., 659 et seq.), and Spain.

Germany. - Under the German Code of Civil Prodecure (Arts. 79 6 et seq.), both the goods and (if the goods do not offer adequate security) the person of the debtor may be seized (the process is called arrest) as a guarantee of payment. The debtor's goods cannot be sold except in pursuance of a judgment notified to the debtor either before or within a prescribed period after the execution (Art. 809 [3], and law of 30th of April 1886). Imprisonment for debt in civil and commercial matters has been abolished or limited on the lines of the French law of 1867 in many countries (e.g. Italy, law of the 6th of December 1877; Belgium, law of the 27th of July 1871; Greece, law of the 9th of March 1900; Russia, decree of the 7th of March 1879).


Anderson, Execution (London, 1889); Annual Practice (London, 1908); Johnston Edwards, Execution (London, 1888); Mather, Sheriff Law (London, 1903). As to Scots law, Mackay, Manual of Practice (Edinburgh, 1893). As to American law, Bingham, Judgments and Executions (Philadelphia, 1836); A. C. Freeman, Law of Execution, Civil Cases (3rd ed., San Francisco, 1900); H. M. Herman, Law of Executions (New York, 1875); American Notes to tit. " Execution," in Ruling Cases (London and Boston, 1897); Bouvier, Law Dict., ed. Rawle (1897), s.v. " Execution."

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From BibleWiki

Carrying into effect the decision of a court. The word also denotes the writ entrusting some officer of the law with the duty of carrying the judgment into effect. For the manner of carrying out a criminal sentence see Capital, Punishment and Stripes. The present article treats of the enforcement of judgments in civil cases; another part of the subject (dealing with cases in which the judgment is satisfied by a seizure of land) is treated under Appraisement. See also Bankruptcy; Foreign Attachment; Garnishment.

Delay of Execution.

In the Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, the course of procedure is as follows: After judgment has been rendered for a debt, if the defendant is in the same town or within a short distance, no steps are taken to seize his property until he has been notified, so that he may have an opportunity to apply for a new trial. When the time for "opening the judgment" has expired, the court waits until another Monday, Thursday, and Monday have elapsed. On further default the court makes out a writ, known as "petiḤah" (lit. "opening"), by which the lesser ban is pronounced against the debtor for ninety days. On further default the court makes out a writ for seizure of the debtor's property—"adrakta"—and releases him from the ban; but if the debtor is within one (or two) day's journey, this is not done before a messenger has warned him. A man's property is but a surety for him (B. B. 174a), and the surety should not be the first attached. The ninety days are given (B. Ḳ. 112b) on the assumption that for thirty days the defendant will seek a loan, that in the next thirty days he will endeavor to sell the property, and that, if it be sold, the purchaser will need the last thirty days to secure the purchasemoney. When the judgment is not for money, but for the restitution of goods, or for the recovery of land, the delay of ninety days is inadmissible.

Forms of Writ.

The adrakta as to "free property" (lands of the defendant not sold or encumbered) is written thus: "A B was adjudged to owe [a named sum] to C D, and not having paid voluntarily, we have written out this execution on his field described as follows" (then follow the appraisement and advertisement, as shown under Appraisement); whereupon the bond, if such has been the basis of the proceedings, is torn up.

If the debtor has several parcels of the same class of property, the choice as to which of them shall be "extended" to the creditor at an appraisement lies with him, not with the creditor (Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 102, 2).

When no free property can be found the adrakta is written thus: "A B was found to be in debt to C D by reason of a bond in the latter's hands. As A B did not pay voluntarily, and as we have not found any free property of his, and have already torn up the bond held by C D, and have given to said C D the power to search and seek out and lay hands on all property of A B that he can find, including all lands which A B has sold from [a named time] on, said C D has power to levy his claim on such property." A solemn oath is exacted from the creditor, following Ketubot 87a and Shebu'ot 45b, that he has not otherwise collected, nor released, nor sold his demand, in whole or in part; and, under a later institution, the debtor is called upon to take a rabbinical oath that he has no means of payment. So far the Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, following a variant reading in the Talmud (B. B. 169a), has been followed. But in the reading used by Maimonides ("Yad," Malweh, xxii.), and followed in printed editions of the Talmud, the "ṭirpa" (tearing away) document comes first, and the adrakta afterward, the latter reciting the tearing up of the former.

The "iggeret shuma" (letter of appraisement), by which the land is turned over to the creditor or to a purchaser at execution, recites the tearing up of the last preceding document.

Case of Insolvent Debtor.

The debtor can avoid the pronouncement of the ban and other proceedings by coming forward and surrendering all his property, taking out only his exemptions. But under an institution of the Geonim he can be compelled to take a solemn oath to the effect that he has nothing beyond the property exempted, that he has nothing concealed in the hands of others, and that he has not given anything away with the understanding that it will be returned to him; and he takes an oath that he will apply his future earnings, beyond his simple wants, to the discharge of the debt (Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 91). The creditor has also the right to demand the proclamation of the ban against all who know, and do not inform him, of any assets belonging to the debtor (for instance, money in the hands of Gentiles; ib. 100, 1, on geonic authority). When the debtor is known to be poor and honest, and the judge has good reason to believe that the creditor wishes to humiliate him, or to bring pressure to bear upon him to make him surrender his wife's property or borrow the money at heavy interest from Gentiles, the court should not exact the oath (ib. 99, 4).

In passing from the stay of judgment to levies on land the writer has followed the Talmud and the codes. But in practise a judgment was ordinarily satisfied with very little formality out of the debtor's goods and chattels, moneys and bonds, and this before levying either on "free" or on "subject" lands. Money found by the messenger of the courtwould be turned over at once to the creditor toward payment of the judgment; goods would be sold without appraisement and the proceeds applied in like manner. Under the older law a man condemned for tort might insist that the creditor after judgment should pay himself out of the debtor's lands; for the Torah says, "With the best of his vineyard . . . he shall make restitution." But in the later practise, and for ordinary debts, the lender may refuse to levy on lands at all, preferring to wait till the debtor should find the money (ib. 101, 4). Bonds for the payment of money may be taken in execution, but they are not sold; they are appraised according to the solvency of the obligors and according to the character of their lands, and turned over to the creditor at such appraisement (ib. 5, based only on authorities later than the Talmud).

The presumption prevails that all goods found on the debtor's premises are his. But when third parties claim them against the execution creditor, this presumption can be overcome by witnesses, but only when the goods are of the kind it is customary to lend or hire. When the debtor is a factor engaged in selling goods such as are found on his premises, there is no longer a presumption that the goods are his (ib. 99, 2; no mode of trial of the right of property in the goods is indicated).

Bibliography: Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 97-105; Maimonides, Yad, Malweh; Bloch, Civil-Process Ordnung, s.v. Executions-Verfahren; Judah ben Barzilai, Sefer ha-Sheṭarot.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

Simple English

Execution is where state authorities kill someone for having committed an extremely serious crime, usually treason or special-circumstance murder. In most countries where the death penalty is still provided for by law, using it is an option available to the sentencing judge: even if the jury or judicial panel recommends the death penalty, the presiding judge still has the option to lock the convicted person in a prison for the rest of their life. , an innocent Queen of England is beheaded.]]



Centries ago, many countries used beheading as an execution for important people, including England. In England, some kings and queens have been beheaded. There, the prisoner would be led up the scaffold and usually say a speech. Then, he/she would be blindfolded and put his/her neck onto a block. Then, the executioner would lift up his axe and swing it down onto the victim's neck. If the executioner was skilled and the axe was sharp, then the axe would usually cut through the bone and organs of the victim in one stroke. But if the executioner was inexperienced, then it may take many strokes before the head would be cut off.

Other ways of execution

Many countries do not allow executions as punishment any more, because it is too violent. However, many states of the United States and some other foreign countries allow it. Even in the United States, less violent ways of execution have had to be used. Here are some other ways of execution other than hanging

  • Lethal injection: Killing a person by placing several poisons in their blood. This is used as the choice of execution in most U.S. states that allow executions
  • Gas chamber: A person is placed in area where the air is filled with bad gases until he cannot breathe and dies. This was used as an execution method in some U.S. states, and by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
  • Electrocution: Killing a person by placing them in an electric chair and giving them a very high electric shock.
  • Firing Squad: Several people (some who do not have real bullets) shoot and kill a person. This execution was used in the state of Utah until recently, and was also often used in the Army.

Old-Fashioned Ways of Execution

  • Hanging: Using a rope to break someone's neck. Widely used around the world until the 20th century.
  • Drawing and Quartering: A very violent form of execution common in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. It involved taking a person's organs out while he was still alive, then tying him to four horses going in different directions until his body is torn apart. A similar thing is "breaking on the wheel", when a wheel rather than horses is used to tear a person's body apart

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