A death sentence is a criminal penalty that typically results in the execution of a person as punishment for committing a capital crime. Death sentences are usually carried out by an electric chair, lethal injection, or shooting with one or more firearms. Most countries no longer deliver this type of punishment, though some countries still issue a death sentence for certain crimes, such as terrorism or serial murder, however.
The crimes that lead to a death sentence vary by country and locality. Most commonly, the death sentence is issued for violent crimes, such as murder, terrorism, and aggravated sexual assault. Even these crimes often require special circumstances for a death sentence to be issued. For example, especially violent murder, mass murder, and the sexual assault of a minor are qualifying circumstances in some areas. In rare circumstances, non-violent criminals are put to death for drug offenses, fraud, or extortion by kidnapping.
One of the most common ways to carry out a death sentence is with firearms. This method is typically carried out either with multiple simultaneous shots by different shooters, or a single shot to a vital area, often at close range. When the former method is utilized, often by military establishments, a major goal may be to anonymize the shooter so that no one knows for sure who actually killed the condemned.
Other methods of execution include stoning, gas chamber, or hanging. Stoning is an ancient form of execution by torture that is primarily practiced in Islamic countries. Gas chambers, or airtight chambers filled with poisonous gas, are reportedly used in North Korea and famously were used by the Nazi's during World War II. Lastly, hanging is common to many countries, including India, Iraq, and Japan.
The legal process of carrying out a death sentence is very complex in some countries. Criminals can wait 20 to 35 years before being executed. It is not unusual for older inmates to die of natural causes during this wait. The average time spent on "death row," the special prison areas reserved for those with death sentences, varies but is usually more than one decade and less than two.
In many locales, it is traditional to offer the condemned a last meal before carrying out their execution. This special meal is usually of the convicted person’s choosing, but may be limited by cost or other measurements. Items containing alcohol or tobacco are often refused because of the belief that they may dull the pain of the sentence. While the origins of the last meal tradition are inconclusive, it is often surmised to be a ritualized demonstration of the condemned person’s acceptance of their fate.