Capital punishment, death penalty or execution is government sanctioned punishment by death. The sentence is referred to as a death sentence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital is derived from the Latin capitalis ("of the head", referring to execution by beheading).
Thirty-six countries actively practice capital punishment, 103 countries have completely abolished it de jure for all crimes, six have abolished it for ordinary crimes (while maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes), and 50 have abolished it de facto (have not used it for at least ten years and/or are under moratorium).
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, Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits the use of capital punishment. Also, the Council of Europe, which has 47 member states, prohibits the use of the death penalty by its members.
The United Nations General Assembly has adopted, in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 non-binding resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions, with a view to eventual abolition. Although many nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world's population live in countries where executions take place, such as China, India, the United States and Indonesia.
What is the Death Penalty and Capital Punishment?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
[Editor’s Note: The terms "death penalty" and "capital punishment" are frequently used to mean the same thing. However, some people believe that a difference exists because "death penalty" refers to the penalty received and not necessarily its implementation while "capital punishment" refers to the execution itself. Other people believe that penalty means punishment and capital refers to death so any difference between the terms is negligible. Rather than present these definitions on separate pages, we have presented them on one page so our readers can see what differences, if any, exist between the terms.]
Encyclopedia Britannica, in an entry titled "Capital Punishment," retrieved from its website on Apr. 25, 2008, offered the following definition:
"[A]lso called death penalty - Execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense. Capital punishment should be distinguished from extrajudicial executions carried out without due process of law. The term death penalty is sometimes used interchangeably with capital punishment, though imposition of the penalty is not always followed by execution (even when it is upheld on appeal), because of the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment."
Apr. 25, 2008 - Encyclopedia Britannica
The Columbia Encyclopedia, in its 2008 sixth edition, under the heading titled "Capital Punishment," offered the following:
"Capital punishment: Imposition of a penalty of death by the state. Capital punishment was widely applied in ancient times; it can be found (c.1750 BC) in the Code of Hammurabi. From the fall of Rome to the beginnings of the modern era, capital punishment was practiced throughout Western Europe...
Some of the first countries to abolish capital punishment included Venezuela (1863), San Marino (1865), and Costa Rica (1877). As of 2004, 81 countries had entirely abolished the death penalty, including the members of the European Union. Some other countries retained capital punishment only for treason and war crimes, while in others, death remained a penalty at law, though in practice there had not been any executions for decades.
Since the 1970s almost all capital sentences in the United States have been imposed for homicide. Today, 36 states and the federal government have reinstituted the death penalty... some 75% of executions now employ lethal injection. The gas chamber, hanging, the firing squad, and, most commonly, the electric chair are still used in some states... In 2002 the Court ruled that the death penalty must be imposed through a finding of a jury and not a judge."
The Catholic Encyclopedia, a compilation of Catholic teachings and definitions originally published in 1907, in an entry titled "Capital Punishment," stated:
"The infliction by due legal process of the penalty of death as a punishment for crime. The Latins use the word capitalis (from caput, head) to describe that which related to life, that by which life is endangered. They used the neuter form of this adjective, i.e., capitale, substantively to denominate death, actual or civil, and banishment imposed by public authority in consequence of crime. The idea of capital punishment is of great antiquity and formed a part of the primal concepts of the human race."
1907 - The Catholic Encyclopedia
The Federal Judicial Center, in an April 2004 "Resource Guide for Managing Capital Cases," offered the following:
"...the death penalty [is] a sentencing option for over sixty offenses. In addition, the The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994... established a procedure for conducting the sentencing phase of a capital trial and set forth the prerequisites for imposing the death penalty, including information on aggravating and mitigating factors and appointment of counsel.
Furthermore, the jury is required to return special findings with respect to the aggravating factors. The Federal Death Penalty Act provides that a finding of a statutory aggravating factor must be unanimous, whereas a finding of a mitigating factor may be made by a single jury member. Similarly, the Act directs the jury to 'consider whether all the aggravating factor or factors found to exist sufficiently outweigh all the mitigating factor or factors found to exist to justify the death sentence.'
In the event of a death sentence, the Act directs the U.S. marshal to supervise implementation of the sentence in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed. If the death sentence is handed down in a state that does not have the death penalty, the court will 'designate another state, the law of which does provide for the implementation of a sentence of death, and have the prisoner executed in accordance with the law prevailing there."
The lawful infliction of death as a punishment; the death penalty.
Capital punishment continues to be used in the United States despite controversy over its merits and over its effectiveness as a deterrent to serious crime. A sentence of death may be carried out by one of five lawful means: electrocution, hanging,lethal injection, gas chamber, and firing squad. As of 2003, 38 states employed capital punishment as a sentence; 12 states—Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia,and Wisconsin—and the District of Columbia did not.
The first known infliction of the death penalty in the American colonies occurred in Jamestown Colony in 1608. During the period of the Revolutionary War, capital punishment apparently was widely accepted—162 documented executions took place in the eighteenth century. At the end of the war, 11 colonies wrote new constitutions, and, although nine of them did not allow Cruel and Unusual Punishment, all authorized capital punishment. In 1790, the First Congress enacted legislation that implemented capital punishment for the crimes of Robbery, rape, murder, and forgery of public Securities.The nineteenth century saw a dramatic increase in the use of capital punishment with 1,391 documented executions. The death penalty continued as an acceptable practice in the United States for some time.
In 1967, a national Moratorium was placed on capital punishment while the U.S. Supreme Court considered its constitutionality. In 1972, it appeared that the Court had put an end to the death penalty in the case of Furman V. Georgia, 408U.S. 238, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 33 L. Ed 2d 346, declaring certain capital punishment laws to be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual because juries were applying them arbitrarily and capriciously. It seemed as if Furman would mark the passing into history of capital punishment in the United States.
By 1976, Georgia, Florida, and Texas had drafted new death penalty laws, however, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld them. Of the nine justices, only two, William J. Brennan JR. and Thurgood Marshall, persisted in the belief that capital punishment is unconstitutional per se. Capital punishment had survived, and so had the controversies surrounding it.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution permits the use of capital punishment, decisions on this issue have divided the Court and have done little to convince opponents of the death penalty that it is fair. Critics have argued that the death penalty is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, that it is applied in a racially discriminatory manner, that it lacks a deterrent effect, and that it is wrong.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from inflicting "cruel and unusual punishments."The controversy over the constitutionality of the death penalty lies in the Ambiguity of the phrase "cruel and unusual." The first meeting of Congress addressed the phrase for only a few minutes. Congressman William Smith of South Carolina foreshadowed the controversy to come when he stated that the wording of the Eighth Amendment was "too indefinite."
Whereas some argue that the phrase "cruel and unusual" refers to the type of punishment inflicted (such punishments as the severing of limbs, for example, would almost certainly be considered cruel and unusual), others feel that the phrase refers to the degree and duration of the punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected both interpretations, leaving the death penalty a legal means of punishing certain criminals.
The Costs of Capital Punishment
In 1989, the state of Florida executed 42-year-old Ted Bundy. Bundy confessed to 28 murders in four states. During his nine years on death row, he received three stays of execution. Before he was put to death in the electric chair, Bundy cost taxpayers more than $5 million.
In a country where some 70 percent of the population favors the death penalty, many people may feel that Bundy got what he deserved. A further question, however, is whether U.S. taxpayers got their money's worth. When a single sentence of death can cost millions of dollars to carry out, does it make economic sense to retain the death penalty?
At first glance, the costs involved in the execution of an inmate appear simple and minuscule. As of 2003, the state of Florida paid $150 to the executioner, $20 for the last meal, $150 for a new suit for the inmate's burial, and $525 for the undertaker's services and a coffin. In Florida, the cost of an execution is less than $1,000.
The actual execution of an inmate is quick and simple; the capital punishment system is far more complex. To resolve issues of unconstitutionality that the Supreme Court found in Furman V. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 33 L. Ed. 2d346 (1972), states found it necessary to introduce a complex appeals process that would guarantee the rights of death row inmates. Capital trials are much more expensive to carry out than are their noncapital counterparts because of the price atstake, the life of the accused. Evidence gathering is also more expensive: evidence must be collected not only to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused but also to support or contradict a sentence of death. All sentences of death face a mandatory review by the state supreme court, at an additional cost of at least $70,000. If a case advances further in the state or federal appeals process, the costs are likely to jump to $275,000 or more for each appeal.
Appeals of a death sentence guarantee great expense to the taxpayer, as the state pays both to defend and to prosecute death row inmates. Public defenders in such appeals openly admit that their goal is delay, and prosecutors and state attorneys slow the process by fighting access to public records and allowing death row defendants to sweat out their cases until the last minute.
Abolitionists believe that the existing system cannot be repaired and must be abandoned. The alternative sentence, life imprisonment without Parole, achieves the same result as capital punishment, they argue. Like the death penalty, a life sentence permanently removes the convict from the community against which he or she committed crimes. And it is far less expensive.
According to a 1990 study, the total cost to build a maximum-security prison cell is $63,000, which breaks down to approximately $5,000 a year in principal and interest. The annual cost to maintain an inmate in this cell is approximately$20,000 a year. Together, these costs mean an annual expenditure of $25,000 to incarcerate an inmate. Based on a sentence term of 40 to 45 years, one inmate would cost the taxpayer only slightly more than $1 million—less than a third of what it would take to pay for the process that culminates in execution. A twenty-five-year-old woman convicted of first-degree murder would need to serve a life term to the age of 145 before the costs of incarcerating her would surpass those of executing her.
Other studies have reached similar conclusions. According to a study by the Indiana Criminal Law Study Commission released in 2002, executions cost the state 38 percent more than the costs of keeping an inmate incarcerated for life.Similarly, a 1993 study at Duke University showed that between 1976 and 1992, the state of North Carolina spent in excess of $1 billion on executions or $2.16 million per execution. Moreover, in January 2003, the California governor approved the construction of a $220 million state-of-the-art death row.
Not only are the costs of execution excessive but so too are the time delays. It is not unusual for an individual to wait on death row for more than ten years. In the 1995 case Lackey v. Texas, 514 U.S. 1045, 115 S. Ct. 1421, 131 L. Ed. 2d 304,Clarence Allen Lackey, who had been on death row for seventeen years, claimed that such a duration constituted Cruel and Unusual Punishment. Although his motion was denied, Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer admitted that the concern was not without warrant.
Opponents of capital punishment point out that abandoning the death penalty would make available many millions of dollars as well as thousands of hours that the courts could allocate to other aspects of the criminal justice system. The amount of money necessary to execute a single inmate might be used to put several criminals behind bars for the remainder of their lives.
Supporters of capital punishment agree with detractors on one issue: the death row appeals process is far too complex and expensive. However, while opponents of the death penalty use this as a reason to reform sentencing, supporters use it as a reason to reform the system of appeals. Supporters argue that thorough reform of the appeals process would free up as much money as abolishing the death penalty; expenses could be cut while capital punishment is retained.
Immediately following the execution of Bundy, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist called for changes in the procedure for appealing death sentences. Noting that the Supreme Court had turned down three emergency appeals by Bundy in the hours just prior to his execution, the chief justice said, "Surely it would be a bold person to say that this system could not be improved."
In a 1995 interview, President bill clinton, a staunch supporter of capital punishment, called the appeals process ridiculous and in need of reform. Clinton, like other supporters of the death penalty, saw appeals reform as paramount if capital punishment is to be efficiently and effectively carried out.
Supporters also argue that too many rights are provided to death row inmates. The appeals process is too kind to convicts,they argue, and ignores the pain that persists in the aftermath of the criminals' actions. Family members of victims of capital crimes are expected to wait years, while perpetrators abuse the system to forestall execution of the sentence imposed.
In addition to the president, the nation's highest court sides with those who support capital punishment. Under the leadership of Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Supreme Court has moved to limit the number of appeals a death row inmate may file,arguing that endless appeals serve only to undermine the ability of the state to carry out its constitutionally sanctioned punishment.
Capital punishment, also called death penalty,execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense. Capital punishment should be distinguished from extrajudicial executions carried out without due process of law. The term death penalty is sometimes used interchangeably with capital punishment, though imposition of the penalty is not always followed by execution (even when it is upheld on appeal), because of the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment.
Capital punishment for murder, treason, arson, and rape was widely employed in ancient Greece under the laws of Draco (fl. 7th century bce), though Plato argued that it should be used only for the incorrigible. The Romans also used it for a wide range of offenses, though citizens were exempted for a short time during the republic. It also has been sanctioned at one time or another by most of the world’s major religions. Followers of Judaism and Christianity, for example, have claimed to find justification for capital punishment in the biblical passage “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6). Yet capital punishment has been prescribed for many crimes not involving loss of life, including adultery and blasphemy. The ancient legal principle Lex talionis (talion)—“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life”—which appears in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, was invoked in some societies to ensure that capital punishment was not disproportionately applied.
The prevalence of capital punishment in ancient times is difficult to ascertain precisely, but it seems likely that it was often avoided, sometimes by the alternative of banishment and sometimes by payment of compensation. For example, it was customary during Japan’s peaceful Heian period (794–1185) for the emperor to commute every death sentence and replace it with deportation to a remote area, though executions were reinstated once civil war broke out in the mid-11th century.
In Islamic law, as expressed in the Qurʾān, capital punishment is condoned. Although the Qurʾān prescribes the death penalty for several ḥadd (fixed) crimes—including robbery, adultery, and apostasy of Islam—murder is not among them. Instead, murder is treated as a civil crime and is covered by the law of qiṣās (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.
Death was formerly the penalty for a large number of offenses in England during the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was never applied as widely as the law provided. As in other countries, many offenders who committed capital crimes escaped the death penalty, either because juries or courts would not convict them or because they were pardoned, usually on condition that they agreed to banishment; some were sentenced to the lesser punishment of transportation to the then American colonies and later to Australia. Beginning in the Middle Ages, it was possible for offenders guilty of capital offenses to receive benefit of clergy, by which those who could prove that they were ordained priests (clerks in Holy Orders) as well as secular clerks who assisted in divine service (or, from 1547, a peer of the realm) were allowed to go free, though it remained within the judge’s power to sentence them to prison for up to a year, or from 1717 onward to transportation for seven years. Because during medieval times the only proof of ordination was literacy, it became customary between the 15th and 18th centuries to allow anyone convicted of a felony to escape the death sentence by proving that he (the privilege was extended to women in 1629) could read. Until 1705, all he had to do was read (or recite) the first verse from Psalm 51 of the Bible—“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions”—which came to be known as the “neck verse” (for its power to save one’s neck). To ensure that an offender could escape death only once through benefit of clergy, he was branded on the brawn of the thumb (M for murder or T for theft). Branding was abolished in 1779, and benefit of clergy ceased in 1827.
From ancient times until well into the 19th century, many societies administered exceptionally cruel forms of capital punishment. In Romethe condemned were hurled from the Tarpeian Rock (see Tarpeia); for parricide they were drowned in a sealed bag with a dog, cock, ape, and viper; and still others were executed by forced gladiatorial combat or by crucifixion. Executions in ancient China were carried out by many painful methods, such as sawing the condemned in half, flaying him while still alive, and boiling. Cruel forms of execution in Europe included “breaking” on the wheel, boiling in oil,burning at the stake, decapitation by the guillotine or an axe, hanging, drawing and quartering, and drowning. Although by the end of the 20th century many jurisdictions (e.g., nearly every U.S. state that employs the death penalty, Guatemala, the Philippines, Taiwan, and some Chinese provinces) had adopted lethal injection, offenders continued to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia and occasionally stoned to death (for adultery) in Iran and Sudan. Other methods of execution were electrocution, gassing, and the firing squad.
Historically, executions were public events, attended by large crowds, and the mutilated bodies were often displayed until they rotted. Public executions were banned in England in 1868, though they continued to take place in parts of the United States until the 1930s. In the last half of the 20th century, there was considerable debate regarding whether executions should be broadcast on television, as has occurred in Guatemala. Since the mid-1990s public executions have taken place in some 20 countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria, though the practice has been condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Committee as “incompatible with human dignity.”
In many countries death sentences are not carried out immediately after they are imposed; there is often a long period of uncertainty for the convicted while their cases are appealed. Inmates awaiting execution live on what has been called “death row”; in the United States and Japan, some prisoners have been executed more than 15 years after their convictions. The European Union regards this phenomenon as so inhumane that, on the basis of a binding ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (1989), EU countries may extradite an offender accused of a capital crime to a country that practices capital punishment only if a guarantee is given that the death penalty will not be sought.
Arguments for and against capital punishment
Capital punishment has long engendered considerable debate about both its morality and its effect on criminal behaviour. Contemporary arguments for and against capital punishment fall under three general headings: moral, utilitarian, and practical.
Supporters of the death penalty believe that those who commit murder, because they have taken the life of another, have forfeited their own right to life. Furthermore, they believe, capital punishment is a just form of retribution, expressing and reinforcing the moral indignation not only of the victim’s relatives but of law-abiding citizens in general. By contrast, opponents of capital punishment, following the writings of Cesare Beccaria (in particular On Crimes and Punishments ), argue that, by legitimizing the very behaviour that the law seeks to repress—killing—capital punishment is counterproductive in the moral message it conveys. Moreover, they urge, when it is used for lesser crimes, capital punishment is immoral because it is wholly disproportionate to the harm done. Abolitionists also claim that capital punishment violates the condemned person’s right to life and is fundamentally inhuman and degrading.
Although death was prescribed for crimes in many sacred religious documents and historically was practiced widely with the support of religious hierarchies, today there is no agreement among religious faiths, or among denominations or sects within them, on the morality of capital punishment. Beginning in the last half of the 20th century, increasing numbers of religious leaders—particularly within Judaism and Roman Catholicism—campaigned against it. Capital punishment was abolished by the state ofIsrael for all offenses except treason and crimes against humanity, and Pope John Paul II condemned it as “cruel and unnecessary.”
Supporters of capital punishment also claim that it has a uniquely potent deterrent effect on potentially violent offenders for whom the threat of imprisonment is not a sufficient restraint. Opponents, however, point to research that generally has demonstrated that the death penalty is not a more effective deterrent than the alternative sanction of life or long-term imprisonment.
There also are disputes about whether capital punishment can be administered in a manner consistent with justice. Those who support capital punishment believe that it is possible to fashion laws and procedures that ensure that only those who are really deserving of death are executed. By contrast, opponents maintain that the historical application of capital punishment shows that any attempt to single out certain kinds of crime as deserving of death will inevitably be arbitrary and discriminatory. They also point to other factors that they think preclude the possibility that capital punishment can be fairly applied, arguing that the poor and ethnic and religious minorities often do not have access to good legal assistance, that racial prejudice motivates predominantly white juries in capital cases to convict black and other nonwhite defendants in disproportionate numbers, and that, because errors are inevitable even in a well-run criminal justice system, some people will be executed for crimes they did not commit. Finally, they argue that, because the appeals process for death sentences is protracted, those condemned to death are often cruelly forced to endure long periods of uncertainty about their fate.
The abolition movement
Under the influence of the European Enlightenment, in the latter part of the 18th century there began a movement to limit the scope of capital punishment. Until that time a very wide range of offenses, including even common theft, were punishable by death—though the punishment was not always enforced, in part because juries tended to acquit defendants against the evidence in minor cases. In 1794 the U.S. state of Pennsylvania became the first jurisdiction to restrict the death penalty to first-degree murder, and in 1846 the state of Michigan abolished capital punishment for all murders and other common crimes. In 1863 Venezuela became the first country to abolish capital punishment for all crimes, including serious offenses against the state (e.g., treason and military offenses in time of war). Portugal was the first European country to abolish the death penalty, doing so in 1867; by the early 20th century several other countries, including the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy, had followed suit (though it was reintroduced in Italy under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini). By the mid-1960s some 25 countries had abolished the death penalty for murder, though only about half of them also had abolished it for offenses against the state or the military code. For example, Britain abolished capital punishment for murder in 1965, but treason, piracy, and military crimes remained capital offenses until 1998.
During the last third of the 20th century, the number of abolitionist countries increased more than threefold. These countries, together with those that are “de facto” abolitionist—i.e., those in which capital punishment is legal but not exercised—now represent more than half the countries of the world. One reason for the significant increase in the number of abolitionist states was that the abolition movement was successful in making capital punishment an international human rights issue, whereas formerly it had been regarded as solely an internal matter for the countries concerned. In 1971 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that, “in order fully to guarantee the right to life, provided for in…the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” called for restricting the number of offenses for which the death penalty could be imposed, with a view toward abolishing it altogether. This resolution was reaffirmed by the General Assembly in 1977. Optional protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights (1983) and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(1989) have been established, under which countries party to the convention and the covenant undertake not to carry out executions. The Council of Europe (1994) and the EU (1998) established as a condition of membership in their organizations the requirement that prospective member countries suspend executions and commit themselves to abolition. This decision had a remarkable impact on the countries of central and eastern Europe, prompting several of them—e.g., the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia—to abolish capital punishment. In the 1990s many African countries—including Angola, Djibouti, Mozambique, and Namibia—abolished capital punishment, though most African countries retained it. In South Africa, which formerly had one of the world’s highest execution rates, capital punishment was outlawed in 1995 by the Constitutional Court, which declared that it was incompatible with the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment and with “a human rights culture.”
Capital punishment in the early 21st century
Despite the movement toward abolition, many countries have retained capital punishment, and, in fact, some have extended its scope. More than 30 countries have made the importation and possession for sale of certain drugs a capital offense. Iran, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines impose a mandatory death sentence for the possession of relatively small amounts of illegal drugs. In Singapore, which has by far the highest rate of execution per capita of any country, about three-fourths of persons executed in 2000 had been sentenced for drug offenses. Some 20 countries impose the death penalty for various economic crimes, including bribery and corruption of public officials, embezzlement of public funds, currency speculation, and the theft of large sums of money. Sexual offenses of various kinds are punishable by death in about two dozen countries, including most Islamic states. In the early 21st century there were more than 50 capital offenses in China.
Despite the large number of capital offenses in some countries, in most years only about 30 countries carry out executions. In the United States, where roughly three-fourths of the states and the federal government have retained the death penalty, about two-thirds of all executions since 1976 (when new death penalty laws were affirmed by the Supreme Court) have occurred in just six states—Texas, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. China was believed to have executed about 1,000 people annually (no reliable statistics are published) until the first decade of the 21st century, when estimates of the number of deaths dropped sharply. Although the number of executions worldwide varies from year to year, some countries—including Belarus, Congo (Kinshasa), Iran, Jordan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Yemen—execute criminals regularly. Japan and India also have retained the death penalty and carry out executions from time to time.
In only a few countries does the law allow for the execution of persons who were minors (under the age of 18) at the time they committed their crime. Most such executions, which are prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have occurred in the United States, which has not ratified the convention and which ratified the covenant with reservations regarding the death penalty. Beginning in the late 1990s, there was considerable debate about whether the death penalty should be imposed on the mentally impaired; much of the controversy concerned practices in the United States, where more than a dozen such executions took place from 1990 to 2001 despite a UN injunction against the practice in 1989. In 2002 and 2005, respectively, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of the mentally impaired and those under age 18 was unconstitutional, and in 2014 it held that states could not define such mental impairment as the possession of an IQ (intelligence quotient) score of 70 or below. The court banned the imposition of the death penalty for rape in 1977 and specifically for child rape in 2008.
In the late 1990s, following a series of cases in which persons convicted of capital crimes and awaiting execution on death row were exonerated on the basis of new evidence—including evidence based on new DNA-testing technology—some U.S. states began to consider moratoriums on the death penalty. In 2000 Illinois Gov. George Ryan ordered such a moratorium, noting that the state had executed 12 people from 1977 to 2000 but that the death sentences of 13 other people had been overturned in the same period. In 2003, on the eve of leaving office, Ryan emptied the state’s death row by pardoning 4 people and commuting the death sentences of 167 others. The state of New Jersey abolished capital punishment in 2007, as did Illinois in 2011 and Connecticut in 2012.