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Limitations on the Death Penalty

Limitations within the United States

Constitutional Requirements

The 1960s brought challenges to the legality of the death penalty. Before then, the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution were interpreted as permitting the death penalty. However, in the early 1960s, it was suggested that the death penalty was a "cruel and unusual" punishment and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. In 1958, the Supreme Court decided in Trop v. Dulles (356 U.S.

Early and Mid-Twentieth Century

From 1907 to 1917, six states completely outlawed the death penalty and three limited it to the rarely committed crimes of treason and first degree murder of a law enforcement official. However, this reform was short-lived. There was a frenzied atmosphere in the U.S., as citizens began to panic about the threat of revolution in the wake of the Russian Revolution. In addition, the U.S.

Changes in Death Penalty Laws

Nineteenth Century

In the early part of the nineteenth century, many states reduced the number of their capital crimes and built state penitentiaries. In 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state to move executions away from the public eye and carry them out in correctional facilities.

Early Questions About the Death Penalty in Colonial America

Early Questions About the Death Penalty

Colonial Times

History: Early World and American Death Penalty Laws


The following is a brief summary of the history of capital punishment, with an emphasis on developments in the United States. The sources used in this summary are listed at the end to allow more in-depth research.

Early Death Penalty Laws

Testimony in Favor of the Death Penalty: Arbitrariness

Justice Lewis Powell
United States Supreme Court Justice
excerpts from McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987)
(footnotes and citations omitted)