Execution Law & Legal Definition


A death penalty is the sentence of execution for murder and some other capital crimes (serious crimes, especially murder, which are punishable by death). The death penalty, or capital punishment, may be prescribed by Congress or any state legislature for murder and other capital crimes. The Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty is not a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Furthermore, the Sixth Amendment does not require a jury trial in capital crime cases.

A majority, but not all states provide for the death penalty. Most states that do allow capital punishment have an age requirement, although it is permissible to impose a death penalty on a minor in certain cases. Recently, challenges to death penalties have arisen based upon the mental capacity of the convicted to understand the wrongfulness of their actions.In addition to the death penalty laws in many states, the federal government has also employed capital punishment for certain federal offenses, such as murder of a government official, kidnapping resulting in death, running a large-scale drug enterprise, and treason.

In April 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Commission passed the Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium On Executions. The resolution calls on countries which have not abolished the death penalty to restrict its use of the death penalty, including not imposing it on juvenile offenders and limiting the number of offenses for which it can be imposed. Ten countries, including the United States, China, Pakistan, Rwanda and Sudan voted against the resolution.