Additional NCSL Resources
NCSL's Criminal Justice Program in Denver, Colo. at 303-364-7700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Capital punishment is currently authorized in 34 states, by the federal government and the U.S. military. In recent years, Connecticut, Illinois, and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment with no opportunity for parole. Meanwhile, states across the country continue to debate its fairness, reliability and cost of implementation.
U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
Updated April 16, 2012
Over the past decade, several U.S. Supreme Court rulings have narrowed the death penalty’s application in the states. The Court has abolished the death penalty for mentally disabled offenders (Atkins v. Virginia, 2002), juvenile offenders (Roper v. Simmons, 2005), and for those convicted of raping a child where death was not the intended or actual result (Kennedy v. Louisiana, 2008) – each ruling stating the execution of such individuals was unconstitutional, violating cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, the Court also ended the practice of a judge, rather than a jury, deciding whether defendants should be sentenced to death (Ring v. Arizona, 2002).
The Court has also rejected challenges to the constitutionality of the death penalty. In Baze v. Rees (2008), the Court held that the most common form of execution, the three-drug lethal injection, did not present an unconstitutional risk of cruel pain.