Death Penalty

Guide to the Death Penalty in the United States

The death penalty is also called “execution” or “capital punishment” (capital referring to the head, as the death penalty often used to be carried out by cutting off the head).

What crimes are eligible for the death penalty?

Murder1various state and federal laws; Treason218 U.S.C. § 2381; Espionage (spying)318 U.S.C. § 794; other various crimes resulting in death.

Where a crime is committed against an individual and it did not result in death, the offender cannot receive a death sentence.4Kennedy v Louisiana (2008)

Can a rapist get the death penalty?

If the acts did not result in the victim’s death, then no (see above).

Can a child or teenager get the death penalty?

No. Executing individuals who were juveniles or minors (under 18) at the time they committed their crimes is not allowed.5Roper v Simmons (2005) These executions have been ruled as “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the 8th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Can a “mentally retarded” person be sentenced to death?

No. It is also not legal to execute those who have been deemed “mentally retarded.”6Atkins v Virginia (2002) This is also a violation of the 8th amendment.

Are certain forms of death penalty illegal?

Certain forms of capital punishment have been found to be “cruel and unusual” as a violation of the 8th amendment. However the current standard for determining whether a certain method of carrying out an execution is illegal (unconstitutional) is whether it causes “substantially more pain than necessary.” The Constitution does not guarantee a “painless death.”7Bucklew v Precythe (2019)

Which states still use the death penalty?

Capital punishment is currently legal in 30 states, but only actively used in 26 states.

Alabama
Arizona
Arkansas
California*
Colorado*
Florida
Georgia
Idaho
Indiana
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nevada
New Hampshire
North Carolina
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon*
Pennsylvania*
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Virginia
Washington
Wyoming

Which states no longer use the death penalty?

The death penalty is no longer used in 24 states + DC.

Alaska
California*
Colorado*
Connecticut
Delaware
Hawaii
Illinois
Iowa
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Nebraska
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Dakota
Oregon*
Pennsylvania*
Rhode Island
Vermont
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Washington, DC

*In California, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, the governors have imposed an indefinite hold on all future executions.

Further Resources

See more info at the Death Penalty Information Center.

And see options for getting legal help.

Related Pages

References[+]

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