What is the Death Penalty?

Only about 1/3 of the countries around the world still allow the death penalty.
Only about 1/3 of the countries around the world still allow the death penalty.

What Is the Death Penalty?

The death penalty remains a controversial issue in many governments and states all over the world. Death penalty refers to the sentence of death imposed by a court of law on an offender who has committed a capital offense. The death penalty is sometimes referred to as the capital punishment. Even though the words death penalty and capital punishment are used interchangeably in many contexts, some people believe that there exists a difference in the meaning of the two phrases. However, the difference in meaning is negligible. The death penalty is merely the imposition of a death penalty on a capital offender by a court of law, whereas capital punishment is the actual execution or killing of the offender after imposition of a death penalty. The death penalty should be differentiated from the extrajudicial execution. Whereas death penalty is imposed through conviction of an offender is a court of law, extrajudicial executions happen without the due process of the law.

Death Penalty Around the World

In the recent centuries, the death penalty has become rare because its use as a method of punishment has been banned by many governments. Countries that still carry out punishment by death penalty constitutes about only a third of the countries in the world. Such countries include Iran, Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, United States, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Sudan among others.

Other countries, among them Australia, Canada, Mexico, and all members of the Council of Europe have abolished the use of the death penalty. A total of 75 countries in the world have completely abolished the use of death penalty regardless of whether the offense committed is a capital offense or not.

In most countries that practice the death penalty, the penalty is reserved only for the capital or serious crimes. Such crimes include murder, terrorism rape, kidnapping and human trafficking, illegal drug trafficking and corruption and bribery. Besides, in some states, some sexual offenses such as prostitution homosexuality and adultery are punishable by the death penalty. However, some countries also impose the death penalty on smaller crimes such as general theft and drugs.

It is also important to understand that execution of the death penalty is governed by some laws and regulation. For instance, particular groups of people are excluded from being sentenced to death. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, juvenile offenders are excluded from receiving the death penalty. Besides, mentally handicapped criminals are also excluded from receiving the death penalty. The severity of the capital offence committed by the juvenile and the mentally handicapped is seen as less severe based on the mental capability and therefore imposing a death penalty on them is regarded disproportionately severe.

Forms of Execution

When imposing the death penalty, the form of execution is prescribed by the legislature in charge. The form of execution imposed must not inflict unnecessary pain on the capital offender. Some of the forms of execution applied today include the use of an electric chair or electrocution, lethal injections, strangulation, hanging, beheading and the use of firing squad. Stoning is a traditional method of imposing the death penalty.


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