What offenses can you get the death penalty for in the U.S.?

I was always under the impression that to be sentenced to death in this country, you had to actually kill someone yourself - or perhaps commit treason. Then, a few months ago, I found out that dealers who are caught with 60,000 kilos of marijuana or can be proven to have made $20 million in a year from their criminal enterprise can actually have the death penalty imposed on them!

Is there any other way to get yourself executed in the U.S. without killing a person?

Kidnapping and transportation of victim across state lines.

According to US Department of Justice, in 2001, as well as murder (sometimes only in specific situations) the following could be punished by death in certain states:

Treason in a number of states.

Train wrecking in California.

Perjury leading to an execution in California.

Certain drug trafficking in Florida.

Certain serious sexual offences in Florida

Aggravated rape of a child under 12 in Louisiana.

Aircraft piracy in Mississippi.

There are also a number of federal provisions, as well as various types of murder and homicide (e.g. deaths from destruction of aircraft and motor vehicles, deaths resulting from hijacking, civil rights offenses resulting in death, deaths from train-wrecking, killing the President when you are trying to kidnap him):



Mailing of injurious articles with intent to kill

The above link is a PDF. For a summary see also: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?did=144&scid=10

Ooops, I missed capital sexual assault in Montana and “solicitation by command or threat in furtherance of a narcotics conspiracy” in New Jersey.

In practice, however, I would think that the odds of being given DP for anything other than a “traditional” capital offense (i.e. murder) are remote. Even down here in Texas, the epitome of a death-penalty state, juries can’t assess DP without a series of findings about future dangerousness, etc. For that reason, prosecutors are not going to be as gung-ho about seeking DP on “technical” DP cases like some of the ones quoted above. (None of which, I don’t think, exist in Texas. I think in TX it has to be a murder with one or another aggravating circumstance).

I’m a civil lawyer, not criminal; and don’t profess to be an expert on DP. I’m ready to be proven wrong but I think that it is likely that the number of DPs handed out for non-murders is very low in practice.
JohnW77707, Esq.

Here’s the Illinois law.

  1. DEATH PENALTY. A person who was at least 18 at the time may be sentenced to death for committing first-degree murder by killing: (1) a peace officer or fireman who was performing official duties, or to prevent or retaliate for such performance; (2) an employee, prisoner, or other authorized person in a prison or jail, (3) more than one person (at either the same or different times), if done with separate intent or by separate acts; (4) as a result of a hijacking; (5) for hire, or by hiring another person; (6) intentionally in the course of another felony involving violence, force, or a drug conspiracy; (7) a person under age 12 with". . . wanton cruelty;" (8) to prevent or retaliate for the victim’s aiding in criminal investigation or prosecution; (9) intentionally as part of a drug crime, or by causing another person to kill as part of such a crime; (10) while in prison and in the course of committing or conspiring to commit a felony; (11) as part of a cold, calculated, and premeditated scheme to take a human life illegally; (12) an emergency medical worker employed by government, while performing or to prevent or retaliate for performance of duties; (13) as the kingpin in a criminal drug conspiracy; (14) intentionally by a method involving torture; (15) in a drive-by shooting; (16) a person 60 or older, with " . . . wanton cruelty; (17) disabled person; (18) because the victim was a community policing volunteer, or to deter service as such a volunteer; (19) a person protected by an order of protection issued against the murderer; or (20) a teacher or other employee in or near a school.

I think this website has all the information you need. Here are the Federal laws.


Well, there go my weekend plans.

I’m not sure that the “Capital” part makes sense. I mean does it have to be really, really satisfying before you can say it was “Capital”.

“I say, what a capital idea…”

Hmmm - Now I know why those bastards we always so smug…

The UCMJ (applies to military personnel) carries the death penalty, even during peacetime, as the maximum penalty for rape. Of course, it’s applicable to a few other crimes, too.

laws vary from state to state, so I won’t comment on what crimes can get one executed outside of Texas.

In Texas, the only crime for which the death penalty can be imposed is muder- and not just ANY murder, but only murders committed in the course of ANOTHER felony.

That is, if I shoot and kill a teller while robbing a bank, I’m eligible for the death penalty.

If I kidnap a child, then kill her after getting the ransom, I’m eligible for the death penalty.

If I kill a woman after raping her, I’m eligible for the death penalty.

But, oddly enough, if I simply poison my wife because I’m sick of living with her, or if I shoot some random passerby because I’m bored, I’m NOT eligible for the death penalty- just a long prison term.

This oddity in Texas law came into play a few years back, in the wake of the James Byrd case. There was some question as to whether the creeps who dragged James Byrd to death had committed a capital crime. They definitely DIDN’T commit a capital crime under federal law (which is a big part of the reason they weren’t tried under federal civil rights law)… but it wasn’t immediately clear that the killing was a capital crime under Texas state law. Ultimately, prosecutors argued successfully that Byrd was murdered in the course of a kidnapping, which meant that his killers were eligible for the death penalty.

Well, not exactly. There are a few other circumstances that make for capital murder. Murder of a peace officer or fireman, murder of a child under six, murder while incarcerated, etc. etc.
Tex. Pen. Code 19.03.