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Capital Punishment: Morality, Politics, and Policy

Capital Crimes

Historically, a wide variety of crimes have been punishable by death. As recently as 1965 in the United States one or more jurisdictions authorized the death penalty not only for murder, but also for kidnapping, treason, rape, carnal knowledge, armed robbery, perjury in a capital case, assault by a life-term prisoner, burglary, arson, train wrecking, sabotage, and desecration of a grave, to mention only a dozen. Executions for these crimes, except for rape, were rare. Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s, however, rejected mandatory death penalties (even for murder by a prisoner serving a life term for murder), and the death penalty for such nonhomicidal crimes as rape and kidnapping. In subsequent years, Congress has enacted statutes punishing several nonhomicidal crimes with death (notably, the crime of trafficking in large quantities of drugs). Whether the Supreme Court will sustain or reject the death penalty for such crimes remains to be seen.

In other countries murder is by no means the only capital crime. In Egypt and Algeria, terrorists are subject to the death penalty. Rebellion and obdurate apostasy are subject to the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Threats of a coup d'etat in Sierra Leone led to summary executions in 1992. Certain drug offenses in Malaysia and Indonesia carry a death penalty. In 1992, China added more than two dozen new capital crimes to its penal code. Although virtually all of western European nations have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, it retains popular and governmental support in much of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCapital Punishment: Morality, Politics, and Policy - The Death Penalty In America, 1793–1982, Current Status, Capital Crimes, Public Opinion, Administration