Durchgeführte Hinrichtungen 2008: 38

"Can the state, which represents the whole of society and has the duty of protecting society, fulfill that duty by lowering itself to the level of the murderer, and treating him as he treated others?"
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan after receiving a petition signed by 3.2 million people seeking a moratorium on the death penalty world-wide.

The death penalty in the US

Since the alternative (decided by each state) reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, over 1400 people have been executed in the United States (exact figures see 'Statistics'). They were hanged, gassed, shot, tortured to death on the electric chair or killed by lethal injection.

Today, the most common method of execution is the so-called 'lethal injection'. It is labeled a 'humane execution' although it has not been scientifically confirmed that the person being executed does not suffer pain or agony.  

In the United States, a defendant can be sentenced to death for culpable homicide (murder) but also for homicide in alliance with another criminal offence (for example robbery with lethal consequence).

The law of parties allows a person to be sentenced to death who took part in a criminal offence but did not actually kill anyone.  

31 states have the death penalty on the books, the other 19 states and the District of Columbia do not have capital punishment. Most executions take place in southern states.

From 1972 until 1976 the death penalty in the United States was suspended. This was primarily the result of the decision of the US Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia (408 US 238, 1972). The court held that the death penalty was a breach of the constitution -  a cruel and unusual punishment - in violation of the eighth amendment.  

After this decision the states changed their laws and court proceedings. From then until 1976,  with what would have been a death penalty case there was a guilt-innocence phase and a sentencing phase. Thus with the US SC  deciding Gregg v. Georgia (428 US 153, 1976), the US allowed capital punishment again under this prerequisite.  

The first execution after Furman was on January 17th, 1977, when Gary Gilmore was shot to death by firing squad in Utah.

Prior to 1972, people in the US were condemned to death not only for murder but also for crimes which had not resulted in  murder such as rape, robbery, etc.  

Following the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, the US Supreme Court ruled in Woodson v. North Carolina (428 US 280) and Roberts v. Louisiana (428 US 325) that a state death sentence could only be given for a murder during the commission of another felony.  

The 1977 US Supreme Court decision in Coker v. Georgia barred the death penalty for rape, and, by implication, for any offense other than murder.  The current federal kidnapping statute, however, may still lead to the death penalty - since  the death penalty applies if the victim dies in the perpetrator's custody, not necessarily by his hand.  

In addition, the federal government retains the death penalty for such non-murder offenses as treason, espionage and crimes under military jurisdiction. 

In 2002, in Atkins v. Virgina the US Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for mentally retarded people. Generally, a person with an IQ below 70 is considered to be mentally retarded.  

In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for persons under the age of 18 at the time ofthe crime.  

Since Furman v. Georgia, seven states have abolished the death penalty:
- Massachusetts (1984) and New York (2004) by a court decision;
- New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), and Maryland (2013) by law.
- Nebraska abolished capital punishment in 2015, however, death penalty proponents try to repeal this decision.


New Hampshire, Kansas and the US Military still have the death penalty on the books but haven't had an execution since 1976.  

Today about 2984 human beings are waiting for their execution on American death rows. (source: Death Penalty Information Center, December 2015)




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