• Capital punishment or the death penalty is a
legal process whereby a person is put to death
by the state as a punishment for a crime. The
judicial decree that someone be punished in this
manner is a death sentence, while the actual
process of killing the person is an execution.
Crimes that can result in a death penalty are
known as capital crimes or capital offences. The
term capital originates from the Latin capitals,
literally "regarding the head" (referring to
execution by beheading.
• Capital punishment has, in the past, been
practiced by most societies. Currently 58 nations
actively practice it, 97 countries have abolished
it de jure for all crimes, 8 have abolished it for
ordinary crimes only (maintain it for special
circumstances such as war crimes), and 35 have
abolished it de facto (have not used it for at least
ten years and/or are under moratorium.
• Amnesty International considers most
countries abolitionist, overall, the
organization considers 140 countries to be
abolitionist in law or practice. About 90% of
all executions in the world take place in
• Capital punishment 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 European
Union member states, Article 2 of the Charter of
Fundamental Rights of the European Union
prohibits the use of capital punishment. The
Council of Europe, which has 47 member states,
also prohibits the use of the death penalty by its
• One reason often cited for supporting the death
penalty is retribution. This reason goes back to
the old biblical concept of "an eye for an eye."
Many people feel that execution is a natural
human response to the crime of murder. The
rationale is that, if the defendant has taken a life,
then the defendant's life should be taken.
• A more common academic reason given for
supporting the death penalty is that it is a deterrent
for others who may consider committing the same
crime. One argument for punishment of criminals is
that by punishing someone who has committed a
crime, others will be deterred from committing the
same or similar crimes. Supporters of the death
penalty feel that if someone knows that he or she
could be executed for breaking the law, then he or
she will be less likely to follow through with the
commission of a crime.
• Incapacitation is another justification for
supporting the death penalty. Although similar to
the retribution argument, incapacitation is more
of a logical response as opposed to an
emotional response. One way to be certain that
a criminal will not re-offend is to take away the
possibility of re-offending. Some people feel that
prison still affords a person the ability to commit
a crime and is the only true way to incapacitate
the offender. To assure that he or she cannot
commit another crime, he or she is executed.
• The death penalty gives closure to the victim's
families who have suffered so much. Some
family members of crime victims may take years
or decades to recover from the shock and loss of
a loved one. Some may never recover. One of
the things that helps hasten this recovery is to
achieve some kind of closure. Life in prison just
means the criminal is still around to haunt the
victim. A death sentence brings finality to a
horrible chapter in the lives of these family
• · Our justice system shows more sympathy for
criminals than it does victims. It's time we put the
emphasis of our criminal justice system back on
protecting the victim rather than the accused.
Remember, a person who's on death row has
almost always committed crimes before this. A long
line of victims have been waiting for justice. We
need justice for current and past victims.
• Prisoner parole or escapes can give criminals
another chance to kill. Perhaps the biggest reason
to keep the death penalty is to prevent the crime
from happening again. The parole system nowadays
is a joke. Does it make sense to anyone outside the
legal system to have multiple "life" sentences + 20
years or other liverish? Even if a criminal is
sentenced to life without possibility of parole, he still
has a chance to kill while in prison, or even worse,
escape and go on a crime/murder spree.
• · It contributes to the problem of overpopulation in
the prison system. Prisons across the country face
the problem of too many prisoners and not enough
space & resources. Each additional prisoner
requires a portion of a cell, food, clothing, extra
guard time, and so on. When you eliminate the
death penalty as an option, it means that prisoner
must be housed for life. Thus, it only adds to the
problem of an overcrowded prison system.
• · It gives prosecutors another bargaining chip in
the plea bargain process, which is essential in
cutting costs in an overcrowded court system.
The number of criminal cases that are plea
bargained (meaning the accused admits guilt in
return for a lesser sentence or some other
concession) can be as high as 80 or 90 percent
of cases. With the time, cost, and personnel
requirements of a criminal case, there really isn't
much of a choice.
• The vast majority of people that are arraigned are in
fact guilty of the crime they are accused. Even if you
believe a defendant only deserves life in prison,
without the threat of a death sentence, there may be
no way to get him to plead guilty and accept the
sentence. If a case goes to trial, in addition to the
enormous cost, you run the chance that you may
lose the case, meaning a violent criminal gets off
scot free. The existence of the death penalty gives
prosecutors much more flexibility and power to
ensure just punishments.
• · It provides a deterrent for prisoners already
serving a life sentence. What about people already
sentenced to life in prison. What's to stop them from
murdering people constantly while in prison? What
are they going to do--extend their sentences? Sure,
they can take away some prison privileges, but is
this enough of a deterrent to stop the killing? What
about a person sentenced to life who happens to
escape? What's to stop him from killing anyone who
might try to bring him in or curb his crime spree?
• Morality: "Ultimately, the moral question surrounding capital
punishment in America has less to do with whether those
convicted of violent crime deserve to die than with whether
state and federal governments deserve to kill those whom it
has imprisoned. The legacy of racial apartheid, racial bias,
and ethnic discrimination is unavoidably evident in the
administration of capital punishment in America. Death
sentences are imposed in a criminal justice system that treats
you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and
innocent. This is an immoral condition that makes rejecting
the death penalty on moral grounds not only defensible but
necessary for those who refuse to accept unequal or unjust
administration of punishment."
Bryan Stevenson, JD
Professor of Law at New York University School of Law
"Close to Death: Reflections on Race and Capital Punishment in America," from Debating the Death Penalty: Should
America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Best Case
• DNA testing and other methods of modern crime
scene science can now effectively eliminate
almost all uncertainty as to a person's guilt or
innocence. One of the biggest arguments
against the death penalty is the possibility of
error. Sure, we can never completely eliminate
all uncertainty, but nowadays, it's about as close
as you can get. DNA testing is over 99 percent
• And even if DNA testing and other such scientific
methods didn't exist, the trial and appeals
process is so thorough it's next to impossible to
convict an innocent person. Remember, a jury of
12 members must unanimously decide there's
not even a reasonable doubt the person is guilty.
The number of innocent people that might
somehow be convicted is no greater than the
number of innocent victims of the murderers who
are set free.
Islam and Capital Punishment
• Islam on the whole accepts capital
• Take not life, which God has made sacred,
except by way of justice and law. Thus does He
command you, so that you may learn wisdom
• Qur'an 6:151
Islam and Capital Punishment
• "Whoever slays a soul, unless it be for
manslaughter or for anarchy in the land, it is as
though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive,
it is as though he kept alive all men; and certainly
Our apostles came to them with clear arguments,
but even after that many of them certainly act
extravagantly in the land. Chapter 5, Verse 120 "The
"...do not kill the soul which Allah has
forbidden except for the requirements of justice;
this He has enjoined you with that you may
understand." Chapter 6, Verse 165: "The Cattle
Islam and Capital Punishment
• According to the Islamic injunctions, death penalty
can be administered in two cases only. Firstly, if a
person is physically harmed or injured by another,
Islam directs the state to provide justice to the
individual (or his relatives) by letting him/them harm
or injure the guilty to the same extent, as he himself
was guilty of harming his victim, in the first place.
This concept of punishing the guilty is known as
'Qisaas', which means 'to follow suit' or to deal with
the criminal in a manner similar to the act originally
committed. In other words, the criminal is to be killed
or injured in the same way as he himself killed or
injured his victim...
Islam and Capital Punishment
• Secondly, the death penalty may be
administered if the criminal is guilty of 'Hiraabah'
or 'Fasaad fil Ardh'. 'Hiraabah' and/or 'Fasaad fil
Ardh' include crimes committed against the
community, rather than an individual or crimes
that are of the nature of religious persecution or
crimes committed with the objective of spreading
a wave of terror through the community or
crimes committed against the state..."
Islam and Capital Punishment
• [Editor's Note: The above quote states that only
"two cases" exist for which the Qur'an allows the
death penalty. The first case is for murder. The
second case applies to "crimes committed
against the community" which, depending on
who is interpreting the Qur’an, may include:
treason, apostasy (when one leaves the faith
and turns against it), terrorism, piracy, rape,
adultery, and homosexual activity.]
Types of Death Penalty
• Crushing Elephant
Devouring by animals, as in damnatio ad bestias (i.e., as
in the cliché, "being thrown to the lions"), as well as by
alligators, crocodiles, piranha and sharks.
Stings from scorpions and bites by snakes, spiders, etc.
(e.g. the "Snake pit" of Germanic legend)[dubious – discuss]
Tearing apart by horses (e.g., in medieval Europe and
Imperial China, with four horses; or "quartering", with
four horses, as in The Song of Roland and Child Owlet).
Trampling by horses (example: Al-Musta'sim, the last
Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad).
• A Mongolian method of execution that
avoided the spilling of blood on the
ground (example: the Mongolian leader
Jamukha was probably executed this way
• Blowing from a gun
• Tied to the mouth of a cannon, which is then
• Boiling to Death
• This penalty was carried out using a large
cauldron filled with water, oil, tar, tallow, or even
• Breaking Wheel
• Also known as the Catherine wheel, after a saint who
was allegedly sentenced to be executed by this method.
• Berried Alive
• Traditional punishment for Vestal virgins who
had broken their vows.
• Most infamous as a method of execution for
heretics and witches. A slower method of
applying single pieces of burning wood was
used by Native Americans in torturing captives to
• Roping or nailing to a wooden cross or similar
apparatus (such as a tree) and allowing to
By a weight, abruptly or as a slow ordeal.
Also known as beheading. One of the most
famous execution methods is execution by
• Often employed as a preliminary stage to the
actual execution, e.g. by beheading; an integral
part of seppuku (harakiri), which was sometimes
used as a form of capital punishment.
• Drawing & Quartering
• English method of executing those found guilty of
• The electric chair.
• The victim is thrown off a height or into a hollow
(example: the Barathron in Athens, into which the
Athenian generals condemned for their part in the
battle of Arginusae were cast). In Argentina during
the Dirty War, those secretly abducted were later
drugged and thrown from an airplane into the ocean.
The skin is removed from the body.
Used most commonly in Spain and in former Spanish colonies
(e.g. the Philippines), used to strangle or choke someone.
Death by asphyxiation or poison gas in a sealed chamber.
The act of gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type
structure from which the victim was usually placed within a
cage which is then hung in a public location and the victim left
to die to deter other existing or potential criminals.
• One of the most common methods of execution, still
in use in a number of countries.
• The confinement of a person by walling off any exits;
since they were usually kept alive through an
opening, this was more a form of imprisonment for
life than of capital punishment (example: the
countess Elisabeth Báthory, who lived for four more
years after having been immured).
• European maritime punishment.
• Lethal injection. Before modern times, sayak (사약,
) was the method of capital punishment of
nobles (yangban) and members of the royal family
during the Joseon Dynasty in Korea due to the
Confucianist belief that one may kill a seonbi but
may not insult him (사가살불가욕,
• A type of machine with an axe head for a weight that
slices closer to the victim's torso over time. (Of
• (Of disputed historicity.)
By cannon (see Blowing from a gun)
By firing squad
By a single shot (such as the neck shot,
often performed on a kneeling prisoner, as in
• The condemned is pummeled by stones thrown
by a group of people with the totality of the
injuries suffered leading to eventual death.