Current US Policy

death penaltyCapital punishment, also known as the death penalty, may be prescribed by Congress or any state legislature in cases of murder and other capital crimes. The Supreme Court has upheld this power, stating that, while the Eighth Amendment protecting individuals from cruel and unusual punishment does shape the procedures for the use and carrying out of the death penalty, it is not, on its own, in violation of this Amendment. This application of the Constitution requires both state and federal courts to consider the evolving standards of decency in deciding if a particular punishment, including death, constitutes a cruel or unusual punishment. These “standards” include both objective factors such as changes in community standards as well as independent evaluations of whether a penalty is reasonable.

In its evaluation, the federal Supreme Court has established that the application of the Eighth Amendment requires consideration of a penalty’s proportionality to the crime, the manner of execution, and factors which may diminish the defendant’s culpability. In testing whether the death penalty is proportional to the crime committed, the Court considers three factors: the gravity of the offense and strictness of the penalty, how the jurisdiction punishes other criminals, and a comparison to how other jurisdictions punish the same or similar crimes. In regards to manner, while a legislature may decide the method of execution, this method may not cause unnecessary pain. While the Supreme Court has not officially ruled on the legality of hanging or electrocution, in Baze v. Rees, the Court did settle the controversial issue of lethal injection by asserting its legality. Finally, in Atkins v. Virginia and Roper v. Simmons, the Supreme Court banned execution of both mentally retarded and juvenile criminals on the basis of diminished culpability due to these factors.

Capital Punishment Posts

Faith Communities Mobilize Across the Country on World Day Against the Death Penalty 2023
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Faith Communities Mobilize Across the Country on World Day Against the Death Penalty 2023

Faith communities across the United States are joining hands to observe the annual World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10.

New Catholic Resource Explores Church’s Anti-Death Penalty Teaching

The Catholic Mobilizing Network has announced the publication of Dignity and the Death Penalty based on the insights of Sister Helen Prejean, a leading advocate for abolishing the death penalty.
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The Nonviolent Shift: The Catholic Church and the Growing Call to Gospel Nonviolence with Dr. Ken Butigan, DePaul University

RSVP to [email protected]; access details will be available closer to the event. Nonviolence is a spiritual journey, a way of life, a method for social change, and a universal ethic. Pope Francis has increasingly called on the Church and the…
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Ibram X. Kendi to speak at 28th annual MLK Convocation

Registration link New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi will speak at Loyola University Maryland's annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Convocation on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at 7 p.m. The convocation,…
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Killing in Our Name: Federal Executions and Pro-life Witness

RSVP link As the end of his administration approaches, President Trump has restarted the use of the federal death penalty. Since July there have been 10 executions with another three before he leaves office. These federal executions are the…

New Report Paints 2020 Death Penalty Use an “Aberration”

Following a 17-year hiatus from federal executions, the Trump administration initiated an unprecedented execution spree in 2020, resulting in a greater total number of executions than all U.S. states combined.

Catholic Mobilizing Network Condemns Tidal Wave of Federal Executions

The federal government plans to execute Brandon Bernard and Alfred Bourgeois on consecutive days this week—the latest executions in the Trump administration’s unprecedented 2020 killing spree. Catholic Mobilizing Network will host two Virtual Prayer Vigils this week on the afternoons of each scheduled execution.

Catholic Bishops, Religious, and Laypeople to Pray Against Federal Executions

Catholic bishops, men and women religious, and laypeople will come together next week for two Virtual Prayer Vigils hosted by Catholic Mobilizing Network surrounding the federal government’s planned executions of William LeCroy on September 22 and Christopher Vialva on September 24.

Capital Punishment in the Media

Capital Punishment Resources

Capital Punishment Stories

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For the men and women who sit on death row
awaiting the end of their life,
that we might pray for them
with compassion and care;
We pray to the Lord

For those who have lost hope,
and especially for those condemned to die,
that we might work to save their lives;
We pray to the Lord

For those condemned to die,
and especially for men and women on death row,
that their plight might move the hearts of the people of this nation;
We pray to the Lord

For guards on death row,
and all who touch the lives of those condemned to die:
for compassion, respect,
and an appreciation of the dignity of all human life;
We pray to the Lord

From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored–indeed, I have struggled–along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor. Rather than continue to coddle the Court’s delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies. —Justice Blackmun dissent, Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994)