What are the Different Types of Death Penalty Laws?

Felicia Dye

The death penalty is often referred to as capital punishment. In some countries, laws pertaining to this form of punishment can be made at both the national and lower levels of government. The outlined death penalty laws in a jurisdiction often define acceptable and unacceptable manners of execution. The types of crimes for which a person may be executed tend to be limited. There are also normally systems in place to allow individuals to continue fighting against their death sentences after they have been imposed.

San Quentin State Prison, which houses the only death row for male inmates in California. The death penalty could be imposed for a murder conviction in the US.
San Quentin State Prison, which houses the only death row for male inmates in California. The death penalty could be imposed for a murder conviction in the US.

Death penalty laws can vary at the national level or at lower levels of government. For example, some nations forbid the death penalty, and doing so eliminates this type of punishment from being permitted by lower levels of government. On the contrary, some nations allow capital punishment, but it may be outlawed by lower levels of government in places that opt not to use it.

The electric chair is not often used to carry out the death penalty in the US, although it is still optional in some states.
The electric chair is not often used to carry out the death penalty in the US, although it is still optional in some states.

Countries that do not impose the death penalty often have laws that prevent them from assisting other countries to do so. Extradition is a process wherein one government will allow a person accused by another government to be transferred to that country to face justice. Nations that do not permit capital punishment usually will not permit individuals to be transferred from their territory to a country to face charges in which there is a possibility of being executed.

Even when capital punishment is allowed, death penalty laws often prescribe the manner in which it may be carried out. While there may be numerous options available, such as firing squads and electric chairs, many legislatures prohibit any method that is deemed to cause unnecessary suffering. This means that torture is generally barred.

There are generally a limited number of crimes for which a person may be executed. This is usually determined by legislation that requires punishments to be proportionate to the crimes. The list of crimes for which death is considered proportionate may be longer in some countries than in others. For example, in the US, the death penalty is not permitted for drug offenses, though it is in places such as Saudi Arabia and China.

There are usually death penalty laws that prohibit the execution of certain individuals. Juveniles, for example, are usually considered a protected group. The same status may be applied to pregnant women and to individuals who are considered mentally retarded or insane. All of these individuals may be considered to lack the mental capacity to be subjected to the consequence of death.

Some death penalty laws require an automatic review if the sentence is imposed. It is also common for death penalty laws to allow for an extensive appeals processes. In the US, if a person is sentenced to death, he may proceed through a state appeals process, and if that is unsuccessful, he may embark on a federal appeals mission.

Saudi Arabia allows the death penalty for some drug offenses.
Saudi Arabia allows the death penalty for some drug offenses.

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Discussion Comments

PelesTears

The federal government has a death penalty law as well as 35 other states and the military. Surprisingly the District of Columbia does not have a death penalty law. In addition, an organization compiles death penalty information. The organization publishes this information in the death penalty information center.

chicada

Is there a federal death penalty or is death penalty legislation exclusive to individual states? In one of my classes, a death penalty debate erupted, but I felt like I could not participate fully because I did not understand the laws surrounding the death penalty. Now I am curious as to what the legislation is concerning the death penalty.

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