The Death Penalty

The Death Penalty
Capital punishment in the UK
• at common law
- early Norman times – felonies (castration or blinding)
- by the 13th century – all felonies (death by hanging, being drawn and
quartered for treason)
- in the 17th century – 50 offences
• under statute
- the ”Bloody Code” – 220 crimes to be punished with death in England
- e.g. theft of goods valued at 12 pence, being in the company of
Gypsies for a month
- however, often not carried out for minor offences (murder, robbery
and burglary always)
commuted or respited
- 1770-1830 = about 35000 death sentences, 7000 executions
• Sir Samuel Romilly
- 1808 – pickpocketing
- 1823 – judges allowed to commute the sentence except for murder
and treason
- 1832 – theft
- 1861 – civilian capital crimes reduced to: murder, treason, espionage,
arson in royal dockyards and piracy with violence
- 1868 – public executions abolished
- 1870 – beheading and quartering executed traitors stopped
- Childrens Act 1908 – juveniles under 16
- 1930 – recommendation for suspension of capital punishment for 5
- 1931 – pregnant women
- 1933 – minimum age for capital punishment 18
- 1938 – clause within the Criminal Justice Bill called for an
experimental 5-year suspension
- 1949-1953 – Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (”whether the
liability to suffer capital punishment should be limited or modified”)
- their report recommended abolition from an ethical standpoint but
made no mention of possible miscarriages of justice
- Homicide Act 1957 – distinction between capital and non-capital
Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965
- suspended the death penalty for murder in England, Scotland and
Wales for 5 years and substituted a mandatory sentence of life
- 1969 – the Act became permanent
- 1973 – the death penalty for murder abolished in Northern Ireland
- vote held every subsequent year in Parliament to restore the death
- complete abolition of the death penalty (6th protocol of the ECHR)
- last death sentence – Liam Holden, 1973, Northern Ireland
- last execution – Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans, 1964, England
- 2004 – the UK acceded to the 13th protocol which prohibits the
death penalty under all circumstances
Capital punishment in the USA
• legal sentence in 32 states
- Michigan, Alaska and Hawaii
never had the death penalty
- abolition from 1953-2013
- in some states abolition is not
Furman v Georgia 1972
- the Supreme Court considered a group of consolidated cases
- the lead case involved an individual convicted under Georgia's death
penalty statute, which featured a "unitary trial" procedure in which
the jury was asked to return a verdict of guilt or innocence and,
simultaneously, determine whether the defendant would be punished
by death or life imprisonment
- the Supreme Court struck down the impositions of the death penalty
in each of the consolidated cases as unconstitutional
- executions suspended 1972-1976
The Supreme Court
• Atkins v Virginia (2002)
- the execution of mentally retarded inmates is "cruel and unusual
punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment
• Roper v Simmons (2005)
- abolished executions for persons under the age of 18 at the time of
the crime
• murder (aggravating circumstances)
• treason
• use of a weapon of mass destruction
• espionage
• terrorism
• certain violations of the Geneva Convention
- last execution for offence other than murder or conspiracy to murder
(1964, robbery, Alabama)
- Uniform Code of Military Justice (desertion, mutiny, spying, assault upon a
commanding officer)
Legal process
Direct review (legal appeal)
affirm the judgment, let the sentence stand
reverse the judgment, nullify the sentence, order a new capital
sentencing hearing
c) acquit the defendant of the crime for which they received the
death penalty and order him sentenced to the next most severe
3. State collateral review
4. Federal habeas corpus
- to ensure that state courts, through the process of direct review and
state collateral review, have done at least a reasonable job in
protecting the prisoner's federal constitutional rights
5. the Section 1983 challenge
- the Supreme Court approved the use of Section 1983 (Civil Rights Act
1871) as a vehicle for challenging a state's method of execution as cruel
and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment
• historically: burning, crushing, breaking on wheel, bludgeoning,
hanging in chains, hanging, firing quad, electric chair, gas chamber
• now: electrocution, death by firing squad, hanging, gas chamber and
lethal injection
Abolitionist v retentionist countries
• Total abolitionist in law or practice: 140
• Retentionist: 58 (China, India, Japan, Singapore, the USA)
• 2013 – at least 778 (80% in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia)
(+ thousands executed in China)
• 1994-2013 = 37 countries
Thank you!