When a defendant is convicted of a crime and sentenced to death, this is known as a capital sentence. This type of sentence is also popularly known as the “death penalty” in many nations. A great deal of controversy exists globally over capital sentencing, which has a number of staunch opponents and defenders.
When someone commits a crime which is punishable by death, the crime itself is also said to be capital. Typically, capital crimes are very carefully outlined in the legal codes of a nation. Murder is a common example of a capital crime, but courts may also issue a capital sentence for extremely violent crimes, sex crimes, treason, and even apostasy. The abuse of capital sentencing in extremely conservative nations is a cause for concern for some people, as some activists feel that the death penalty is an extremely harsh punishment for crimes such as adultery.
If someone is on trial for a capital crime in a nation which allows trial by jury, the jury may be Death Qualified (DQ). A DQ jury consists only of individuals who would feel comfortable with a capital sentence as a result of conviction. Jurors who express unease with the death penalty may still be allowed to sit on the jury, but people who are categorically opposed to it will be struck. This is out of concern that the juror's personal ethics may play a role in his or her decision about the defendant's guilt.
Supporters of capital sentencing argue that the practice discourages crime by setting a clear example to the rest of society. It also in theory permanently removes criminals from society, reducing the risk of recidivism. When carried out quickly and humanely, it also represents less expense to the state than keeping someone in prison for life.
Opponents, however, argue that death is a very extreme punishment, and that it should be used in very rare cases, if at all. People who do not support the death penalty have argued that the legal system may not always be fair, especially to minorities, and they are concerned about wrongful convictions. In the United States, many people claim that it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” which is outlawed under the United States Constitution.
Supporters and opponents both agree that an excessive capital sentence may constitute a human rights violation. The use of a capital sentence for a non-violent crime, for example, is generally considered excessive. In a clear miscarriage of justice, the sentence is also generally deemed a human rights violation. Around the world, activists work to prevent human rights violations of this kind, in the hopes of making the world better for all.