What is a Capital Case?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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A capital case is a legal case in which a defendant is accused of committing a capital offense and is potentially eligible for capital punishment. Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a ruling in which a convicted criminal is sentenced to be put to death and is typically regarded as the harshest judgment that can be handed down. Though capital offenses may vary among countries, and even different states or territories within a country, they are crimes that when committed can result in a person receiving capital punishment.

In the United States, federal law decrees certain crimes as capital offenses and the trying of such crimes typically constitutes a capital case. These can include premeditated or first degree murder, murder of public officials of the federal government such as politicians and federal agents, as well as treason. Individual state laws can also involve capital offenses, and a number of states allow capital punishment. Many of the state capital offense laws involve similar acts as federal laws, such as premeditated murder, murder while committing another crime, certain crimes against minors, and murder of a law enforcement agent.


A capital case is often considered among the most serious cases that a person can defend against, as the crime is usually especially heinous and the verdict can be dire. Some lawyers choose to specialize in defending such cases, and this can be from a sense of disagreement with the use of capital punishment. Capital punishment and the means of execution have been sources of debate among legal professionals, politicians, and citizens for decades, all across the world. Many countries that still utilize capital punishment sometimes come under criticism from other nations to abolish the death penalty or at least reduce its use.

The means of execution for someone convicted in a capital case can vary from country to country, and even between states. Some places use lethal injection, in which a person is injected with drugs that have a fatal reaction within the human body. In other regions, hanging and beheading are still used as forms of capital punishment, though the trend over the last century has been a decline in the use of execution as a criminal punishment. Those who argue for the use of capital punishment insist that it serves as a deterrent and reduces the costs of incarcerating long-term prisoners. Others who decry the use of execution in conviction from a capital case point to evidence showing little deterrence in regions that employ capital punishment, as well as the potential for wrongful death of someone who was erroneously convicted.


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Post 3

So we're all equal before the law apart from politicians and federal agents; they are much more important than regular joes.

Post 2

@dfoster85 - Maybe an individual death penalty case is more expensive, but I wonder if there's any data comparing the overall cost of murder cases in states with the death penalty with the cost in states that do not have the death penalty. What I'm thinking is that the existence of the death penalty may make plea deals possible in murder cases, and plea bargains save a lot of money. "Confess, and you'll get life in prison. Make us put on a whole expensive trial, and we'll seek the death penalty."

Post 1

My problem with capital punishment cases is that they are so expensive to try. What with the initial trial, the appeals, the court-appointed lawyer, etc., it costs more than life in prison. (Some researchers argue the opposite, but it seems like most agree that it is more expensive.) When you consider how long the process takes and that prison probably takes a toll on one's health, is the cost really worth it to shave a few miserable years off someone's life?

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