Last updated on: 9/15/2023 | Author:

Should the Death Penalty Be Legal?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

John Gramlich, Senior Writer and Editor at Pew Research Center, states:

“Six-in-ten U.S. adults strongly or somewhat favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, according to the April 2021 survey. A similar share (64%) say the death penalty is morally justified when someone commits a crime like murder.

Support for capital punishment is strongly associated with the view that it is morally justified in certain cases. Nine-in-ten of those who favor the death penalty say it is morally justified when someone commits a crime like murder; only a quarter of those who oppose capital punishment see it as morally justified.”


John Gramlich, 10 Facts about the Death Penalty in the U.S.,”, July 19, 2021

Ian Millhiser, Senior Correspondent at Vox, states:

“Fewer people were executed in 2020 than in any year for nearly three decades, and fewer people were sentenced to die than at any point since the Supreme Court created the modern legal framework governing the death penalty in 1976…

One significant reason so few people were executed in 2020 is the Covid-19 pandemic — which has slowed court proceedings and turned gathering prison officials and witnesses for an execution into a dangerous event for everyone involved. But even if 2020 is an outlier year due to the pandemic, DPIC’s [Death Penalty Information Center’s] data shows a sharp and consistent trend away from the death penalty since the number of capital sentences peaked in the 1990s.

In total, only 17 people were executed in 2020, a number that would be much lower if not for the Trump administration resuming federal executions this year for the first time in nearly two decades. 2020 is the first year in American history when the federal government executed more people than all of the states combined: 10 of the 17 people executed in 2020 were killed by the federal government.

Only five states — Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee — conducted executions in 2020. And of these five states, only one, Texas, killed more than one person on death row.

The trend away from new death sentences and executions has continued despite two recent significant pro-death penalty opinions from the Supreme Court. The Court’s decisions in Glossip v. Gross (2015) and especially in Bucklew v. Precythe (2019) make it much more difficult for death row inmates to claim their executions violate the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.”


Ian Millhiser, “The Decline and Fall of the American Death Penalty,”, Dec. 30, 2020

Roger Hood, former professor at the Centre for Criminological Research at the University of Oxford, states:

“[C]apital punishment, also called death penalty, [is the] execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense. Capital punishment should be distinguished from extrajudicial executions carried out without due process of law. The term death penalty is sometimes used interchangeably with capital punishment, though imposition of the penalty is not always followed by execution (even when it is upheld on appeal), because of the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment”


Roger Hood, “Capital Punishment,”, Mar. 25, 2021

PRO (yes)


Robert Blecker, professor emeritus at New York Law School, states:

“Society embraces four major justifications for punishment: deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and retribution. Retribution has often been scorned by academics and judges, but ultimately, it provides capital punishment with its only truly moral foundation. Critics of the theory, including Mr. [Nikolas] Cruz’s lawyers, commonly equate retribution with revenge — disparaging ‘an eye for an eye’ as barbaric.

But retribution is not simply revenge. Revenge may be limitless and misdirected at the undeserving, as with collective punishment. Retribution, on the other hand, can help restore a moral balance. It demands that punishment must be limited and proportional. Retributivists like myself just as strongly oppose excessive punishment as we urge adequate punishment: as much, but no more than what’s deserved. Thus I endorse capital punishment only for the worst of the worst criminals.


Robert Blecker, “If Not the Parkland Shooter, Who Is the Death Penalty For?,”, Oct. 27, 2022


Jeffrey A. Rosen, Former Deputy Attorney General in the Trump Administration, states:

“The death penalty is a difficult issue for many Americans on moral, religious and policy grounds. But as a legal issue, it is straightforward. The United States Constitution expressly contemplates ‘capital’ crimes, and Congress has authorized the death penalty for serious federal offenses since President George Washington signed the Crimes Act of 1790. The American people have repeatedly ratified that decision, including through the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 signed by President Bill Clinton, the federal execution of Timothy McVeigh under President George W. Bush and the decision by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department to seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bomber and Dylann Roof.

The recent executions reflect that consensus, as the Justice Department has an obligation to carry out the law. The decision to seek the death penalty against Mr. Lee was made by Attorney General Janet Reno (who said she personally opposed the death penalty but was bound by the law) and reaffirmed by Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.

Mr. Purkey was prosecuted during the George W. Bush administration, and his conviction and sentence were vigorously defended throughout the Obama administration. The judge who imposed the death sentence on Mr. Honken, Mark Bennett, said that while he generally opposed the death penalty, he would not lose any sleep over Mr. Honken’s execution.”


Jeffrey A. Rosen, “The Death Penalty Can Ensure ‘Justice Is Being Done,'”, July 27, 2020


Charles Stimson, Acting Chief of Staff and Senior Legal Fellow of the Heritage Foundation, states:

“[F]or the death penalty to be applied fairly, we must strive to make the criminal justice system work as it was intended. We should all agree that all defendants in capital cases should have competent and zealous lawyers representing them at all stages in the trial and appeals process.

Any remnant of racism in the criminal justice system is wrong, and we should work to eliminate it. Nobody is in favor of racist prosecutors, bad judges or incompetent defense attorneys. If problems arise in particular cases, they should be corrected—and often are.

That said, the death penalty serves three legitimate penological objectives: general deterrence, specific deterrence, and retribution.”


Charles Stimson, “The Death Penalty Is Appropriate,”, Dec. 20, 2019


George Brauchler, District Attorney of the 18th Judicial District in Colorado, states:

“The paramount goal of sentencing is the imposition of justice. Sometimes, justice is dismissing a charge, granting a plea bargain, expunging a past conviction, seeking a prison sentence, or — in a very few cases, for the worst of the worst murderers — sometimes, justice is death…

A drug cartel member who murders a rival cartel member faces life in prison without parole. What if he murders two, three, or 12 people? Or the victim is a child or multiple children? What if the murder was preceded by torture or rape? How about a serial killer? Or a terrorist who kills dozens, hundreds or thousands?

The repeal of the death penalty treats all murders as the same. Once a person commits a single act of murder, each additional murder is a freebie.

That is not justice.”


George Brauchler, “Coloradans Should Have the Final Say on the Death Penalty (and I’d Hope They Keep It),”, Mar. 1, 2019

CON (no)


Michael Meltsner and Daniel S. Medwed, Professors of Law at Northeastern University, state:

“You don’t have to be a statistician to realize that in a system that executes a tiny proportion of the eligible, selection will always be arbitrary. Indeed, now that more states have ended capital punishment and fewer death sentences are even sought in the states that retain it, executions resemble more and more the sacrificial practices of our remote ancestors. Furman found a grievous error when some persons are sentenced to death and others not for what amounts to the same crime. But it is still true that race, class, geography, and lawyer competence determine who lives and who dies.

The selection process we are left with operates in a troubled judicial landscape. Courts are no longer required to compare cases to ensure even handed decisions. Hyper-technical rules often block consideration of seemingly legitimate claims. High Court decisions increasingly permit troublesome executions that go both unreviewed and unexplained.

The American way of sentencing the convicted to death is rare and random—but also bureaucratic, costly, and governed by often indecipherably complex rules. When it cannot even produce the results its supporters seek, time has come for it to go. We cannot wait a moment longer.”


Michael Meltsner and Daniel S. Medwed, “Does a Fair Way to Decide Who Gets The Death Penalty Actually Exist?,”, Feb. 22, 2022


Elliot Williams, CNN legal analyst and Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department, states:

“It is time to end the federal death penalty.

Last week, the federal government executed two men within nearly 24 hours.

What’s striking here is the timing. The deaths of Alfred Bourgeois and Brandon Bernard mark the first time the death penalty has been imposed during the lame-duck period since 1889, when Grover Cleveland was President — before the bottle cap or the diesel engine were even invented. The executions come more than a year after Attorney General William Barr directed the federal government to reinstate the death penalty for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The fact that an attorney general can decide to commence the federal death penalty after years without it, or that the United States has a century-plus-old practice of suspending it at certain points in the political calendar tells us everything that is wrong with the practice. The death penalty is unique in the law — despite its finality, it is politically fraught, inconsistently applied, subject to the basest human impulses, and a relic of the ugliest elements baked into our criminal justice system.”


Elliot Williams, “The Death Penalty Confuses Vengeance with Justice, and It’s Time to End It,”, Dec. 13, 2020


Jared Olsen, Wyoming State Representative (R), states:

“A long-held stereotype is that conservatives in this country favor capital punishment, while liberals oppose it. But that doesn’t accord with reality: In recent years, more conservatives have come to realize that capital punishment conflicts irreconcilably with their principles of valuing life, fiscal responsibility and limited government. Many conservatives also recognize that the death penalty inflicts extreme and unnecessary trauma on the family members of victims and the correctional employees who have the job of taking the prisoner’s life.”


Jared Olsen, “I’m a Republican and I Oppose Restarting Federal Executions,”, July 29, 2019


Kamala Harris, then U.S. Senator (D-CA), states

“As a career law enforcement official, I have opposed the death penalty because it is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars…

Black and Latino defendants are far more likely to be executed than their white counterparts. Poor defendants without a team of lawyers are far more likely to enter death row than those with strong representation. Your race or your bank account shouldn’t determine your sentence.

It is also a waste of taxpayer money. The California Legislative Analyst’s office estimates that California would save $150 million a year if it replaced the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. That’s money that could go into schools, health care, or restorative justice programs.”


Kamala Harris, “Senator Kamala Harris on California Death Penalty Moratorium,”, Mar. 13, 2019