AskDefine | Define execute

Dictionary Definition



1 kill as a means of socially sanctioned punishment; "In some states, criminals are executed" [syn: put to death]
2 murder execution-style; "The Mafioso who collaborated with the police was executed"
3 put in effect; "carry out a task"; "execute the decision of the people"; "He actioned the operation" [syn: carry through, accomplish, carry out, action, fulfill, fulfil]
4 carry out the legalities of; "execute a will or a deed"
5 carry out a process or program, as on a computer or a machine; "Run the dishwasher"; "run a new program on the Mac"; "the computer executed the instruction" [syn: run]
6 carry out or perform an action; "John did the painting, the weeding, and he cleaned out the gutters"; "the skater executed a triple pirouette"; "she did a little dance" [syn: perform, do]
7 sign in the presence of witnesses; "The President executed the treaty"

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. To kill as punishment for capital crimes.
    There are certain states where it is lawful to execute prisoners convicted of certain crimes.
  2. To start a defined process and run it to completion.
    Your orders have been executed, Sir!
  3. To start a defined process, without regard to whether it runs to completion or not.
    I’ll execute your orders as soon as this meeting is adjourned.
  4. To start, launch or run software.
  5. To sign or otherwise cause a document (especially a contract) to become legally valid.


to kill as punishment
To start a defined process and run it to completion
To start a defined process, without regard to whether it runs to completion or not
To start, launch or run software
To sign or otherwise cause a document (especially a contract) to become legally valid

Extensive Definition

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the execution of a person by the state as punishment for a crime. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital origins from Latin capitalis, literally "regarding the head" (Latin caput). Hence, a capital crime originally was to be punished by the loss of the head.
Historically, the execution of criminals and political opponents was used by nearly all societies—both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. In most places that practice capital punishment today, the death penalty is reserved as punishment for premeditated murder, espionage, treason, or as part of military justice. In some countries sexual crimes, such as rape, adultery and sodomy, carry the death penalty, as do religious crimes such as apostasy (the formal renunciation of the State religion). In many retentionist countries (countries that use the death penalty), drug trafficking is also a capital offense. In China human trafficking and serious cases of corruption are also punished by the death penalty. In militaries around the world courts-martial have imposed death sentences for offenses such as cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny.
Among countries around the world, almost all European and many Pacific Area states (including Australia, New Zealand and Timor Leste), and Canada have abolished capital punishment. In Latin America, most states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment, while some countries, such as Brazil, allow for capital punishment only in exceptional situations, such as treason committed during wartime. The United States (the federal government and 36 of its states), Guatemala, most of the Caribbean and the majority of democracies in Asia (e.g. Japan and India) and Africa (e.g. Botswana and Zambia) retain it. South Africa, which is probably the most developed African nation, and which has been a democracy since 1994, does not have the death penalty. This fact is currently quite controversial in that country, due to the high levels of violent crime, including murder and rape.
Capital punishment is a contentious issue in some cultures. Supporters of capital punishment argue that it deters crime, prevents recidivism, that it is less expensive than life imprisonment and is an appropriate form of punishment for some crimes. Opponents of capital punishment argue that it has led to the execution of wrongfully convicted, that it discriminates against minorities and the poor, that it does not deter criminals more than life imprisonment, that it encourages a "culture of violence", that it is more expensive than life imprisonment, and that it violates human rights.
The latest countries to abolish the death penalty de facto for all crimes were Gabon, which announced on September 14, 2007 that they would no longer apply capital punishment and South Korea in practice on December 31, 2007 after ten years of disuse. The latest to abolish executions de jure was Uzbekistan on January 1, 2008.

Contemporary use

Global distribution

Since World War II there has been a consistent trend towards abolishing the death penalty. In 1977, 16 countries were abolitionist. As of January 1 2008, 92 countries had abolished capital punishment altogether, 10 had done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 33 others had not used it for at least 10 years - while 62 countries actively retained the death penalty.
At least 3,000 people (and probably considerably more) were sentenced to death during 2007, and at the end of the year around 25,000 were on death row around the world, with Pakistan and the USA accounting for about half this figure between them. China carries out by far the greatest number of actual executions - while Amnesty International has confirmed at least 470 executions there during 2007 the true figure has been estimated at up to 6,000. Outside China, at least 800 people were put to death in 23 countries during 2007, with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and the USA the main contributors. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen executed people for crimes committed when they were juveniles, in contravention of international law.
Executions are known to have been carried out in the following countries in 2007:
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Botswana, China, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, USA, Vietnam, Yemen.
In 2007 the largest number of verifiable executions were carried out in the six countries listed below (note though that with the exception of the US, the figures for other countries are believed to be under-estimates): Most Executions carried out in 2007 The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly restrained in retentionist countries. Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and the U.S. are the only fully developed countries that have retained the death penalty. The death penalty was overwhelmingly practiced in poor and authoritarian states, which often employed the death penalty as a tool of political oppression. During the 1980s, the democratization of Latin America swelled the rank of abolitionist countries. This was soon followed by the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, which then aspired to enter the EU. In these countries, the public support for the death penalty varies but it is decreasing . The European Union and the Council of Europe both strictly require member states not to practice the death penalty (see Capital punishment in Europe). On the other hand, rapid industrialization in Asia has been increasing the number of developed retentionist countries . In these countries, the death penalty enjoys strong public support, and the matter receives little attention from the government or the media. This trend has been followed by some African and Middle Eastern countries where support for the death penalty is high.
Some countries have resumed practicing the death penalty after having suspended executions for long periods. Notably, the United States suspended executions in 1973 but resumed them in 1977; there was no execution in India between 1995 and 2004; and Sri Lanka recently declared an end to its moratorium on the death penalty, although it has not yet performed any executions. The Philippines had re-introduced the death penalty in 1993 after abolishing it in 1987, but abolished it again in 2006.

In specific countries

For further information about capital punishment in these countries, see: Australia · Belarus · Canada · People's Republic of China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) · Denmark · Europe · France · India · Iraq · Japan · The Netherlands · New Zealand ·Pakistan· Philippines · Russia · Singapore · Sweden · Taiwan · United Kingdom · United States

Juvenile offenders

The death penalty for juvenile offenders (criminals aged under 18 years at the time of their crime) has become increasingly rare. The only countries still officially supporting the practice are Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, . Since 1990, nine countries have executed offenders who were juveniles at the time of their crimes; China, D.R. Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United States and Yemen. China, Pakistan, the United States and Yemen have since raised the minimum age to 18, Amnesty International has recorded 54 verified executions since then, in several countries, of both juveniles and adults who had been convicted of committing their offenses as juveniles. China does not allow for the execution of those under 18; nevertheless, child executions have reportedly taken place. The United States Supreme Court abolished capital punishment for offenders under the age of 16 in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), and for all juveniles in Roper v. Simmons (2005). Starting in 1642 within British America, an estimated 365 juvenile offenders were executed by the states and federal government of the United States. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the execution of individuals with mental retardation.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forbids capital punishment for juveniles, has been signed and ratified by all countries except for the United States and Somalia. The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights maintains that the death penalty for juveniles has become contrary to a jus cogens of customary international law.
Japan has what it considers a death penalty for juveniles, but under Japanese law, anyone under 21 is considered a juvenile. There are three men on death row for crimes they committed at age 18 or 19.


There are several methods of execution, including: decapitation, electrocution, the firing squad or other sorts of shooting, the gas chamber, hanging, and lethal injection.

Wrongful executions

"Wrongful execution" is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment. Many people have been heralded as innocent victims of the death penalty. At least 39 executions have been carried out in the U.S. in face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt. Newly-available DNA evidence has allowed the exoneration of more than 15 death row inmates since 1992 in the U.S., but DNA evidence is only available in a fraction of capital cases. In the UK, reviews prompted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission have resulted in one pardon and three exonerations with compensation paid for people executed between 1950 and 1953, when the execution rate in England and Wales averaged 17 per year.


The use of formal execution extends at least to the beginning of recorded history. Most historical records as well as various primitive tribal practices indicate that the death penalty was a part of their justice system. Communal punishment for wrongdoing generally included compensation by the wrongdoer, corporal punishment, shunning, banishment and execution. However, within a small community, crimes were rare and murder was almost always a crime of passion. Moreover, most would hesitate to inflict death on a member of the community. For this reason, execution and even banishment were extremely rare. Usually, compensation and shunning were enough as a form of justice.
However, these are not effective responses to crimes committed by outsiders. Consequently, even small crimes committed by outsiders were considered to be an assault on the community and were severely punished. The methods varied from beating and enslavement to executions. However, the response to crime committed by neighbouring tribes or communities included formal apology, compensation or blood feuds.
A blood feud or vendetta occurs when arbitration between families or tribes fails or an arbitration system is non-existent. This form of justice was common before the emergence of an arbitration system based on state or organised religion. It may result from crime, land disputes or a code of honour. "Acts of retaliation underscore the ability of the social collective to defend itself and demonstrate to enemies (as well as potential allies) that injury to property, rights, or the person will not go unpunished." However, in practice, it is often difficult to distinguish between a war of vendetta and one of conquest.
For most of recorded history, capital punishments were often cruel and inhumane. Severe historical penalties include breaking wheel, boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, disembowelment, crucifixion, impalement, crushing (including crushing by elephant), stoning, execution by burning, dismemberment, sawing, decapitation, scaphism, or necklacing.
Elaborations of tribal arbitration of feuds included peace settlements often done in a religious context and compensation system. Compensation was based on the principle of substitution which might include material (e.g. cattle, slave) compensation, exchange of brides or grooms, or payment of the blood debt. Settlement rules could allow for animal blood to replace human blood, or transfers of property or blood money or in some case an offer of a person for execution. The person offered for execution did not have to be an original perpetrator of the crime because the system was based on tribes, not individuals. Blood feuds could be regulated at meetings, such as the Viking things. Systems deriving from blood feuds may survive alongside more advanced legal systems or be given recognition by courts (e.g. trial by combat). One of the more modern refinements of the blood feud is the duel.
In certain parts of the world, nations in the form of ancient republics, monarchies or tribal oligarchies emerged. These nations were often united by common linguistic, religious or family ties. Moreover, expansion of these nations often occurred by conquest of neighbouring tribes or nations. Consequently, various classes of royalty, nobility, various commoners and slave emerged. Accordingly, the systems of tribal arbitration were submerged into a more unified system of justice which formalised the relation between the different "classes" rather than "tribes". The earliest and most famous example is Code of Hammurabi which set the different punishment and compensation according to the different class/group of victims and perpetrators. The Torah (Jewish Law), also known as the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Christian Old Testament), lays down the death penalty for murder, kidnapping, magic, violation of the Sabbath, blasphemy, and a wide range of sexual crimes, although evidence suggests that actual executions were rare. A further example comes from Ancient Greece, where the Athenian legal system was first written down by Draco in about 621 BC: the death penalty was applied for a particularly wide range of crimes. The word draconian derives from Draco's laws.
Similarly, in medieval and early modern Europe, before the development of modern prison systems, the death penalty was also used as a generalized form of punishment. For example, in 1700s Britain, there were 222 crimes which were punishable by death, including crimes such as cutting down a tree or stealing an animal. Thanks to the notorious Bloody Code, 18th century (and early 19th century) Britain was a hazardous place to live. For example, Michael Hammond and his sister, Ann, whose ages were given as 7 and 11, were reportedly hanged at King's Lynn on Wednesday, the 28 September 1708 for theft. The local press did not, however, consider the executions of two children newsworthy.
Although many are executed in China each year in the modern age, there was a time in Tang Dynasty China when the death penalty was actually abolished altogether. This was in the year 747, enacted by Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 712–756), who before was the only person in China with the authority to sentence criminals to execution. Even then capital punishment was relatively infrequent, with only 24 executions in the year 730 and 58 executions in the year 736. and remarks by local preachers and politicians. The Connecticut Courant records one such public execution on December 1, 1803, saying, "The assembly conducted through the whole in a very orderly and solemn manner, so much so, as to occasion an observing gentleman acquainted with other countries as well as this, to say that such an assembly, so decent and solemn, could not be collected anywhere but in New England."
Trends in most of the world have long been to move to less painful, or more humane, executions. France developed the guillotine for this reason in the final years of the 18th century while Britain banned drawing and quartering in the early 19th century. Hanging by turning the victim off a ladder or by dangling him from the back of a moving cart, which causes death by suffocation, was replaced by "hanging" where the subject is dropped a longer distance to dislocate the neck and sever the spinal cord. In the U.S., the electric chair and the gas chamber were introduced as more humane alternatives to hanging, but have been almost entirely superseded by lethal injection, which in turn has been criticized as being too painful. Nevertheless, some countries still employ slow hanging methods, beheading by sword and even stoning, although the latter is rarely employed.
Execution by nitrogen asphyxiation was proposed in 1995 and appears occasionally in online discussions, but as of , it has not been used by any nation.


The death penalty was briefly banned in China between 747 and 759. In England, a public statement of opposition was included in The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards, written in 1395. More recent opposition to the death penalty stemmed from the book of the Italian Cesare Beccaria Dei Delitti e Delle Pene ("On Crimes and Punishments"), published in 1764. In this book, Beccaria aimed to demonstrate not only the injustice, but even the futility from the point of view of social welfare, of torture and the death penalty. Influenced by the book, Grand Duke Leopold II of Habsburg, famous enlightened monarch and future Emperor of Austria, abolished the death penalty in the then-independent Granducato di Toscana (Grand Duchy of Tuscany), the first permanent abolition in modern times. On 30 November 1786, after having de facto blocked capital executions (the last was in 1769), Leopold promulgated the reform of the penal code that abolished the death penalty and ordered the destruction of all the instruments for capital execution in his land. In 2000 Tuscany's regional authorities instituted an annual holiday on 30 November to commemorate the event. The event is also commemorated on this day by 300 cities around the world celebrating the Cities for Life Day.
Abolition of the death penalty was not common and was viewed as unnecessary. The Roman Republic went out on a limb and banned capital punishment. In 1849, this made the Roman Republic the first ever to ban capital punishment. However, Venezuela followed suit and in 1863 abolished the death penalty and San Marino did so in 1865. The last execution in San Marino had taken place in 1468. In Portugal, after two legislative proposals, in 1852 and 1863, the death penalty was abolished in 1867.
In Great Britain, it was abolished (except for cases of treason) in 1971; France abolished it in 1981. Canada abolished it in 1976; Australia 1985. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed in a formal resolution that throughout the world, it is desirable to "progressively restrict the number of offenses for which the death penalty might be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment".
In the United States, the state of Michigan was the first state to ban the death penalty, on March 1, 1847. The 160-year ban on capital punishment has never been repealed. Currently, 12 states of the U.S. and the District of Columbia ban capital punishment.

Controversy and debate

Capital punishment is often the subject of controversy. Opponents of the death penalty argue that it has led to the execution of innocent people, that life imprisonment is an effective and less expensive substitute, that it discriminates against minorities and the poor, and that it violates the criminal's right to life. Supporters believe that the penalty is justified for murderers by the principle of retribution, that life imprisonment is not an equally effective deterrent, and that the death penalty affirms the right to life by punishing those who violate it in the most strict form.

Public opinion

Support for the death penalty varies widely. Both in abolitionist and retentionist democracies, the government's stance often has wide public support and receives little attention by politicians or the media. In some abolitionist countries, the majority of the public supports or has supported the death penalty. Abolition was often adopted due to political change, such as when countries shifted from authoritarianism to democracy, or when it became an entry condition for the European Union. The United States is a notable exception: some states have had bans on capital punishment for decades (the earliest is Michigan, where it was abolished in 1846), while others actively use it today. The death penalty there remains a contentious issue which is hotly debated. Elsewhere, however, it is rare for the death penalty to be abolished as a result of an active public discussion of its merits.
In abolitionist countries, debate is sometimes revived by particularly brutal murders, though few countries have brought it back after abolishing it. However, a spike in serious, violent crimes, such as murders or terrorist attacks, has prompted some countries (such as Sri Lanka and Jamaica) to effectively end the moratorium on the death penalty. In retentionist countries, the debate is sometimes revived when a miscarriage of justice has occurred, though this tends to cause legislative efforts to improve the judicial process rather than to abolish the death penalty.
A Gallup International poll from 2000 claimed that "Worldwide support was expressed in favour of the death penalty, with just more than half (52%) indicating that they were in favour of this form of punishment." A number of other polls and studies have been done in recent years with various results.
In the U.S., surveys have long shown a majority in favor of capital punishment. An ABC News survey in July 2006 found 65 percent in favour of capital punishment, consistent with other polling since 2000. About half the American public says the death penalty is not imposed frequently enough and 60 percent believe it is applied fairly, according to a Gallup poll from May 2006. Yet surveys also show the public is more divided when asked to choose between the death penalty and life without parole, or when dealing with juvenile offenders. Roughly six in 10 tell Gallup they do not believe capital punishment deters murder and majorities believe at least one innocent person has been executed in the past five years.

International organisations

The United Nations introduced a resolution during the General Assembly's 62nd session in 2007 calling for a universal ban. The approval of a draft resolution by the Assembly’s third committee, which deals with human rights issues, voted 99 to 52, with 33 abstentions, in favour of the resolution on November 15, 2007 and was put to a vote in the General Assembly on December 18. It passed a non-binding resolution (by a 104 to 54 vote, with 29 abstentions) by asking its member states for "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".
A number of regional conventions prohibit the death penalty, most notably, the Sixth Protocol (abolition in time of peace) and the Thirteenth Protocol (abolition in all circumstances) to the European Convention on Human Rights. The same is also stated under the Second Protocol in the American Convention on Human Rights, which, however has not been ratified by all countries in the Americas, most notably Canada and the United States. Most relevant operative international treaties do not require its prohibition for cases of serious crime, most notably, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This instead has, in common with several other treaties, an optional protocol prohibiting capital punishment and promoting its wider abolition.
Several international organisations have made the abolition of the death penalty (during time of peace) a requirement of membership, most notably the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe. The EU and the Council of Europe are willing to accept a moratorium as an interim measure. Thus, while Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, and practices the death penalty in law, it has not made public use of it since becoming a member of the Council. Other states, while having abolished de jure the death penalty in time of peace and de facto in all circumstances, have not ratified Protocol no.13 yet and therefore have no international obligation to refrain from using the death penalty in time of war or imminent threat of war (Armenia, Latvia, Poland and Spain). France is the most recent to ratify it (October 10, 2007) with the effective date of February 1, 2008.
Turkey has recently, as a move towards EU membership, undergone a reform of its legal system. Previously there was a de facto moratorium on death penalty in Turkey as the last execution took place in 1984. The death penalty was removed from peacetime law in August 2002, and in May 2004 Turkey amended its constitution in order to remove capital punishment in all circumstances. It ratified Protocol no. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights in February 2006. As a result, Europe is a continent free of the death penalty in practice (all states but Russia, which has entered a moratorium, having ratified the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights), with the sole exception of Belarus, which is not a member of the Council of Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been lobbying for Council of Europe observer states who practice the death penalty, namely the U.S. and Japan, to abolish it or lose their observer status. In addition to banning capital punishment for EU member states, the EU has also banned detainee transfers in cases where the receiving party may seek the death penalty.
Among non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are noted for their opposition to capital punishment. A number of such NGOs, as well as trade unions, local councils and bar associations formed a World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in 2002.

Religious views


There is disagreement among Buddhists as to whether or not Buddhism forbids the death penalty. The first of the Five Precepts (Panca-sila) is to abstain from destruction of life. Chapter 10 of the Dhammapada states:
Everyone fears punishment; everyone fears death, just as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill. Everyone fears punishment; everyone loves life, as you do. Therefore do not kill or cause to kill.
Chapter 26, the final chapter of the Dhammapada, states, "Him I call a brahmin who has put aside weapons and renounced violence toward all creatures. He neither kills nor helps others to kill." These sentences are interpreted by many Buddhists (especially in the West) as an injunction against supporting any legal measure which might lead to the death penalty. However, as is often the case with the interpretation of scripture, there is dispute on this matter. Thailand, where Buddhism is the official religion, practices the death penalty, as do all other countries where the majority of the population is Buddhist, i.e. Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and Myanmar, although the last has had a moratorium on executions since 1997. Moreover, throughout almost all history, countries where Buddhism has been the official religion (which includes most of the Far East and Indochina) have practiced the death penalty. One exception is the abolition of the death penalty by the Emperor Saga of Japan in 818. This lasted until 1165, although in private manors executions continued to be conducted as a form of retaliation.


The official teachings of Judaism approve the death penalty in principle but the standard of proof required for application of death penalty is extremely stringent, and in practice, it has been abolished by various Talmudic decisions, making the situations in which a death sentence could be passed effectively impossible and hypothetical. "Forty years before the destruction" of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, i.e. in 30 AD, the Sanhedrin effectively abolished capital punishment, making it a hypothetical upper limit on the severity of punishment, fitting in finality for God alone to use, not fallible people.
In law schools everywhere, students read the famous quotation from the 12th century legal scholar, Maimonides,
"It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death."
Maimonides argued that executing a defendant on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice." Maimonides was concerned about the need for the law to guard itself in public perceptions, to preserve its majesty and retain the people's respect.


Scholars of Islam hold it to be permissible but the victim or the family of the victim has the right to pardon. In Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh), to forbid what is not forbidden is wrong. Consequently, it is impossible to make a case for abolition of the death penalty which is explicitly endorsed.
Sharia Law or Islamic law may require capital punishment, there is great variation within Islamic nations as to actual capital punishment. Apostasy in Islam and Stoning to death in Islam are controversial topics. Furthermore, as expressed in the Qur'an, capital punishment is condoned. Although the Qur'an prescribes the death penalty for several hadd (fixed) crimes—including rape—murder is not among them. Instead, murder is treated as a civil crime and is covered by the law of qisas (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.
"If anyone kills a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all people. And if anyone saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people" (Qur'an 5:32). "Spreading mischief in the land" can mean many different things, but is generally interpreted to mean those crimes that affect the community as a whole, and destabilize the society. Crimes that have fallen under this description have included: (1) Treason / Apostasy (when one leaves the faith and joins the enemy in fighting against the Muslim community) (2) Terrorism - Land, sea, or air piracy (3) Rape (4) Adultery (5) Homosexual behavior. (6) Murder


Although some interpret that of the Bible condemns the death penalty, others consider to support it. Christian positions on this vary. The sixth commandment (fifth in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) is preached as 'Thou shalt not kill' by some denominations and as 'Thou shalt not murder' by others. As none of the denominations have a hard-line stance on the subject, Christians are free to make a personal decision.

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church traditionally accepted capital punishment as per the theology of Thomas Aquinas (who accepted the death penalty as a necessary deterrent and prevention method, but not as the means of vengeance; see also Aquinas on the death penalty). Under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, this position was refined. As stated in John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Roman Catholic Church holds that capital punishment should be avoided unless it is the only way to defend society from the offender in question, and that with today's penal system such a situation requiring an execution is either rare or non-existent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.

Anglican and Episcopalian

The Lambeth Conference of Anglican and Episcopalian bishops condemned the death penalty in 1988.

United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church, along with other Methodist churches, also condemns capital punishment, saying that it cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life. The Church also holds that the death penalty falls unfairly and unequally upon marginalized persons including the poor, the uneducated, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with mental and emotional illnesses. The General Conference of the United Methodist Church calls for its bishops to uphold opposition to capital punishment and for governments to enact an immediate moratorium on carrying out the death penalty sentence.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In a 1991 social policy statement, the ELCA officially took a stand to oppose the death penalty. It states that revenge is a primary motivation for capital punishment policy and that true healing can only take place through repentance and forgiveness.

Other Protestants

Several key leaders early in the Protestant Reformation, including Martin Luther and John Calvin, followed the traditional reasoning in favour of capital punishment, and the Lutheran Church's Augsburg Confession explicitly defended it. Some Protestant groups have cited Genesis 9:5–6, Romans 13:3–4, and Leviticus 20:1–27 as the basis for permitting the death penalty.
On the other hand, the Mennonites and Friends have opposed the death penalty since their founding, and continue to be strongly opposed to it today. These groups, along with other Christians opposed to capital punishment, have cited Christ's Sermon on the Mount (transcribed in Mathew Chapter 5–7) and Sermon on the Plain (transcribed in Luke 6:17–49). In both sermons, Christ tells his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies, which these groups believe mandates nonviolence, including opposition to the death penalty.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (colloquially known as Mormons) holds a neutral position on the death penalty.

Esoteric Christianity

The Rosicrucian Fellowship and many other Christian esoteric schools condemn the capital punishment in all circumstances.

In arts and media

As a capital punishment forms a more important thematic element. Many of these works are abolitionist in nature, but sometimes capital punishment is used as a metaphor for some other theme, such as sacrifice or mortality.


  • The Gospels describe the execution of Jesus Christ at length, and these accounts form the central story of the Christian faith. Depictions of the crucifixion are abundant in Christian art.
  • Valerius Maximus' story of Damon and Pythias was long a famous example of fidelity. Damon was sentenced to death (the reader does not learn why) and his friend Pythias offered to take his place.
  • An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a short story by Ambrose Bierce originally published in 1890. The story deals with the hanging of a Confederate sympathizer during the American Civil War.
  • Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities ends in the climactic execution of the book's main character.
  • Victor Hugo's The Last Day of a Condemned Man (Le Dernier Jour d'un condamné) describes the thoughts of a condemned man just before his execution; also notable is its preface, in which Hugo argues at length against capital punishment.
  • Anaïs Nin's anthology Little Birds included an erotic depiction of a public execution.
  • William Burroughs' novel Naked Lunch also included erotic and surreal depictions of capital punishment. In the obscenity trial against Burroughs, the defense claimed successfully that the novel was a form of anti-death-penalty argument, and therefore had redeeming political value.
  • In The Chamber by John Grisham, a young lawyer tries to save his Klansman grandfather from being executed. The novel is noted for presentation of anti-death penalty materials.
  • Bernard Cornwell's novel Gallows Thief is a whodunit taking place in early 19th century England, during the so-called "Bloody Code" a series of laws making several minor crimes capital offenses. The hero is a detective assigned to investigate the guilt of a condemned man, and the difficulties he encounters act as a harsh indictment of the draconian laws and the public's complacent attitude towards capital punishment.

Film and television



Religious views

by Roland Nicholson, Jr.
execute in Afrikaans: Doodstraf
execute in Arabic: إعدام
execute in Asturian: Pena de muerte
execute in Min Nan: Sí-hêng
execute in Bosnian: Smrtna kazna
execute in Bulgarian: Смъртно наказание
execute in Catalan: Pena de mort
execute in Czech: Trest smrti
execute in Welsh: Y gosb eithaf
execute in Danish: Dødsstraf
execute in German: Todesstrafe
execute in Estonian: Surmanuhtlus
execute in Modern Greek (1453-): Θανατική ποινή
execute in Spanish: Pena de muerte
execute in Esperanto: Mortpuno
execute in Basque: Heriotza zigor
execute in Faroese: Deyðarevsing
execute in French: Peine de mort
execute in Galician: Pena de morte
execute in Classical Chinese: 死刑
execute in Korean: 사형
execute in Croatian: Smrtna kazna
execute in Indonesian: Hukuman mati
execute in Icelandic: Dauðarefsing
execute in Italian: Pena di morte
execute in Hebrew: עונש מוות
execute in Swahili (macrolanguage): Adhabu ya kifo
execute in Latvian: Nāvessods
execute in Lithuanian: Mirties bausmė
execute in Hungarian: Halálbüntetés
execute in Malayalam: വധശിക്ഷ
execute in Malay (macrolanguage): Hukuman mati
execute in Dutch: Doodstraf
execute in Japanese: 死刑
execute in Norwegian: Dødsstraff
execute in Norwegian Nynorsk: Dødsstraff
execute in Occitan (post 1500): Pena de mòrt
execute in Polish: Kara śmierci
execute in Portuguese: Pena de morte
execute in Romanian: Pedeapsa cu moartea
execute in Quechua: Wañuy wanay
execute in Russian: Смертная казнь
execute in Sicilian: Pena di morti
execute in Simple English: Death penalty
execute in Slovak: Trest smrti
execute in Slovenian: Smrtna kazen
execute in Serbian: Смртна казна
execute in Serbo-Croatian: Smrtna kazna
execute in Finnish: Kuolemanrangaistus
execute in Swedish: Dödsstraff
execute in Tagalog: Parusang kamatayan
execute in Thai: โทษประหารชีวิต
execute in Vietnamese: Tử hình
execute in Turkish: İdam cezası
execute in Ukrainian: Смертна кара
execute in Samogitian: Smerties bausmė
execute in Chinese: 死刑

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abide by, accompany, accomplish, achieve, act, adhere to, administer, administrate, annihilate, assassinate, attain, be productive, behead, bereave of life, bowstring, bring about, bring into being, bring off, bring to fruition, bump off, burn, butcher, carry away, carry into execution, carry off, carry out, carry through, cause, chloroform, chord, compass, complete, concertize, conduct, consummate, cool, cope with, countersign, crucify, cut, cut down, cut off, deal with, decapitate, decollate, defenestrate, deliver, deprive of life, destroy, discharge, dispatch, dispose of, do, do away with, do for, do in, do the job, do the trick, do to death, dust off, effect, effectuate, electrocute, eliminate, enact, end, enforce, engineer, exterminate, fetch, fill out, finish, finish off, fulfill, garrote, govern, guillotine, handle, honor, ice, immolate, implement, industrialize, inflict capital punishment, interpret, kill, knock off, lapidate, launch into eternity, liquidate, lynch, make, make away with, make music, make out, manage, martyr, martyrize, mass-produce, murder, observe, overproduce, perform, play, play by ear, poison, polish off, practice, produce, promulgate, prosecute, pull off, purge, put away, put down, put in force, put over, put through, put to death, put to sleep, realize, remove, remove from life, render, rub out, sacrifice, seal, shoot, sign, slay, snuff out, starve, stone, strangle, succeed, swing, symphonize, take care of, take life, take off, transact, turn the trick, validate, volume-produce, waste, wipe out, work, work out
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