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


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.

Catholic Mobilizing Network Condemns First Federal Execution in 17 Years

The federal government took the life of Daniel Lewis Lee Tuesday morning in what became the United States’ first federal execution in 17 years.

Catholics Laud Colorado Death Penalty Repeal

Colorado became the 22nd U.S. state to abolish capital punishment on Monday, March 23, after Governor Jared Polis signed death penalty repeal bill SB 20-100 into law.

Catholics Speak Out in Opposition to the Restart of Federal Executions

Catholic Mobilizing Network delivered a petition to President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr opposing the planned restart of federal executions, signed by nearly 3,000 U.S. Catholics.

Catholic Mobilizing Network Condemns Resumption in Federal Executions

Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, strongly condemns Thursday’s announcement by the Department of Justice to resume the practice of capital punishment at the federal level.

Speaking Openly

The Gospel tells us that Jesus “spoke openly” about his inevitable suffering. As witnesses to suffering, perhaps speaking openly, passionately, and with urgency is one of our greatest tasks.

Jesuit's America Magazine Joins Diverse Catholic Journalistic Voices In Calling for End to Death Penalty in U.S.

Demonstrating unity across the U.S. Catholic Church, the editors of the Jesuit-sponsored America Magazine have joined fellow editors at National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, and Our Sunday Visitor, in calling for the end of capital punishment in the United States.

Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

  "I realize that I cannot standby silently as my government executes its citizens. If I do not speak out and resist, I am an accomplice."   - Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

Capital Punishment in the Media

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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)