Addressing Capital Punishment Through Statutory Reform

By Douglas A. Berman / Ohio State Law Journal, on 1 January 2002

State legislatures principally have been responsible for the acceptance and evolution (and even sometimes the abandonment) of capital punishment in the American criminal justice system from the colonial and founding eras, through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and now into the twenty-first century. A number of colonial legislative enactments, though influenced by England’s embrace of the punishment of death, uniquely defined and often significantly confined which crimes were to be subject to capital punishment.[1] State legislatures further narrowed the reach of the death penalty through the early nineteenth century as states, prodded often by vocal abolitionists and led by developments in Pennsylvania, divided the offense of murder into degrees and provided that only the most aggravated murderers would be subject to the punishment of death. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also saw states, as the product of legislative enactments, move away from mandating death as the punishment for certain crimes by giving juries discretion to choose which defendants would be sentenced to die. Throughout all these periods, statutory enactments have also played a fundamental role in the evolution of where and how executions are carried out.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Networks,