What is the oldest state/nation that has abolished the death penalty?

What is the oldest state/nation that has abolished the death penalty?

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In 1846 the state of Michigan became the first state in the United States to abolish the use of the death penalty, which still stands today.

Is there any country (or state/province/etc.) elsewhere that has had the death penalty abolished for longer and still has it abolished?

This answer is thoroughly non original, as it is drawn extensively from Wikipedia's article on the topic. According to this source, Tuscany officially abolished the death penalty in 1786. Of course, this presumably does not count, because Tuscany was later absorbed into Italy, which reinstated it in Tuscany in 1927 under the Fascist regime. So, again according to this article, the nation-state which has officially abolished death penalty for the longest period of time is Venezuela, which abolished it in 1854, so well after Michigan. However, one possible contender would be San Marino, which abolished death penalty "only" in 1865 but which carried out its last execution in 1468.

All in all, if this article is to be trusted, then Michigan seems indeed to be the legal entity which holds the record of de jure abolition, with San Marino by far the record holder for de facto abolition.

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What was the biggest empire that never had capital punishment?1

And here:

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Recent Legal History of the Death Penalty in America

The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is the government-sanctioned execution of a person sentenced to death by a court of law as punishment for a crime. Crimes that can be punished by the death penalty are known as capital crimes and include serious offenses such as murder, aggravated rape, child rape, child sexual abuse, terrorism, treason, espionage, sedition, piracy, aircraft hijacking, drug trafficking and drug dealing, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Currently, 56 countries, including the United States allow their courts to impose the death penalty, while 106 countries have enacted laws abolishing it completely. Eight countries sanction the death penalty in special circumstances such as war crimes, and 28 countries have abolished it in practice.

As in the United States, the death penalty is a matter of controversy. The United Nations has now adopted five non-binding resolutions calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty, calling for its eventual abolition worldwide. While most countries have abolished it, over 60% of the world’s population live countries where the death penalty is allowed. China is believed to execute more people than all other countries combined.

Virginia&rsquos 20 year shift

The abolition of the death penalty is the latest in a series of progressive actions recently undertaken by Virginia&rsquos state legislature. In 2019, Virginia&rsquos midterm elections put Democratic lawmakers in the majority for the first time in over two decades, a flip driven in part by the state&rsquos changing demographics and a rebuke of then-President Donald Trump. The death penalty issue split along party lines in the state Senate on Feb. 3, although three Republicans voted in favor of the House&rsquos abolition bill on Feb. 5, which passed 57-41.

Democratic Del. Michael Mullin, who sponsored the House bill, told TIME in February that he does not think abolition would have been possible without the public support of Gov. Northam. For years opposition to the death penalty in the Virginia could hinder a politician&rsquos standing when Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine was Governor between 2006 and 2010, he presided over 11 executions, despite saying he personally opposed the practice. Northam, on the other hand, called for an end to capital punishment in his State of the Commonwealth address in January.

&ldquoThere have been people who have put abolition forward for the better part of four decades,&rdquo Mullin explained. &ldquoBut we’ve never had a Governor who went out forcefully and with a full throated approach to abolish the death penalty.&rdquo

While 22 U.S. states have already banned the death penalty, they&rsquore largely places &ldquothat never sentenced very many people to death to begin with,&rdquo says Brandon Garrett, a professor of law at Duke University School of Law and the author of End of its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice.

Virginia, on the other hand, was a prolific executioner for decades. This was in part because it had some of the strictest procedural rules in the country, including a rule that a defendant&rsquos legal claims could be denied judicial review if their lawyer missed a filing deadline. This meant that poorer defendants who couldn&rsquot afford more experienced attorneys were more likely to be executed without &ldquoany meaningful review of their cases,&rdquo argues Robert Dunham, the executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. In other cases, judges did not clarify that recipients of a life sentence could be deemed ineligible for parole, Dunham continues, arguing that some juries might have imposed death sentences &ldquobecause they thought it would be too dangerous to let [the defendant] return to the streets.&rdquo

In 1999, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in Yarbrough v. Commonwealth that judges had to inform their juries that they could impose a sentence of life without parole. Around the same time the state legislature began establishing regional capital defender offices, which provided defense specifically for people facing capital charges (and were well versed in the deadlines and requirements they had to meet). The impact was striking: &ldquoAll of a sudden… the prosecution is losing about half the time when they seek the death penalty, and jurors aren&rsquot imposing life sentences,&rdquo says Garrett.

Virginia now hasn&rsquot imposed a death sentence since 2011 and hasn&rsquot executed someone since 2017. There were just two men on Virginia’s death row both of them are Black. Their sentences will be converted to life without parole. A Feb. 2 poll by Christopher Newport University also found that 56% of Virginians now support repealing the death penalty.

Advocates point to several reasons for the state&rsquos changed stance. Capital trials&mdashand the numerous appeals that are usually filed afterwards&mdashare costly, and a growing number of conservatives have come to oppose the practice on fiscal grounds. &ldquoWe’ve done an awful lot of hard work over the [years] to build support among a very broad coalition,&rdquo says Michael Stone, executive director of advocacy group Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. &ldquoWe have built support among libertarians, among Republicans, among prosecutors, within the faith community and with murder victims&rsquo family members.&rdquo

Rev. LaKeisha Cook, a justice reform organizer at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, says that 2020&rsquos mass Black Lives Matter protests, as well as the federal government&rsquos spree of 13 executions in the last seven month of President Trump&rsquos term, proved &ldquothe perfect storm&rdquo for creating momentum to end capital punishment in Virginia. &ldquoI believe that racial justice issues and capital punishment was pushed to the forefront of people’s minds and conversations,&rdquo she explains.

&ldquoThe Virginia legislature is finally catching up with public opinion here in the commonwealth,&rdquo Mullin adds. &ldquoI think that a large majority of Virginians believe that the death penalty is inherently racist, unfair and can’t be executed in a proper fashion.&rdquo

MercoPress. South Atlantic News Agency

“There is no place today for the death penalty in this commonwealth, in the South or in this nation,” Governor Northam said.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Wednesday signed into law a bill whereby the death penalty has been abolished after over 400 years in the force, thus making his state the 23rd to take such a step.

The legislative decision is particularly significant since Virginia, with 113 executions since 1976, was second only to Texas since the Supreme Court reallowed capital punishment in 1976. Virginia is the first state in what was the Confederacy to officially abolish the ultimate sanction. The state was one of the most prolific users of the penalty dating back to the first execution in 1608.

“There is no place today for the death penalty in this commonwealth, in the South, or this nation,” Northam said, shortly before signing the legislation at the Greensville Correctional Centre where executions were previously carried out. The state legislature passed bills ending the practice in late February.

Northam called capital punishment “fundamentally flawed” and noted that it was disproportionately levied against black people. “Virginia has a long and complicated history like other Southern states,” Northam said. “The racism and discrimination of our past still echo in our systems today and as we continue to step beyond the burden of that past, it is vital that we also change the systems in which inequality continues to fester.”

Overall, Virginia has executed over 1,300 people &mdash more than any other state, and in the 20th century, more than 296 of the 377 defendants that Virginia executed for murder were black. And since 1976, nearly half of the 113 people executed in the state were black, as are both men sitting currently on death row and whose sentences will be automatically commuted to life imprisonment.

The Death Penalty Information Center has reported both death penalty sentences and executions have reached historic lows nationwide.

Virginia Becomes 23 rd State and the First in the South to Abolish the Death Penalty

Saying “[t]here is no place today for the death penalty in this commonwealth, in the South, or in this nation,” Governor Ralph Northam (pictured) signed historic legislation making Virginia the 23 rd U.S. state and the first in the South to abolish capital punishment.

Governor Northam signed the bill in a March 24, 2021 ceremony at the Greensville Correctional Center, where the commonwealth’s execution chamber had been located since 1991. With Virginia’s abolition, a majority of U.S. states (26) have either abolished the death penalty or have a formal moratorium on executions.

“Signing this new law is the right thing to do,” Northam said. “It is the moral thing to do.”

Northam was joined at the bill signing by legislators, anti-death penalty activists, capital attorneys, and faith leaders. Delegate Mike Mullin, a criminal prosecutor and sponsor of the abolition legislation, spoke about the racial bias in Virginia’s use of capital punishment. “We’ve carried out the death penalty in extraordinarily unfair fashion,” he said. “Only four times out of nearly 1400 [executions] was the defendant white and the victim Black.” Rev. LaKeisha Cook, justice reform organizer for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said at the ceremony, “Today, we start a new chapter, embracing the possibility of a new, evidence-based approach to public safety: one that values the dignity of all human beings and is focused on transforming the justice system into one that is rooted in fairness, accountability, and redemption.”

On February 3, the Virginia Senate voted along party lines, 21-17, in favor of abolishing capital punishment. Two days later, three Republicans joined all but one Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates in a 57-41 vote to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole. Each legislative body approved the other house’s bill on February 22, marking the final step before the legislation moved to the governor’s desk.

The repeal effort was supported by Governor Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring. Northam issued a call to abolish the death penalty during his January 13, 2021 State of the Commonwealth address marking the opening of the 2021 legislative session. “It’s time to change the law and end the death penalty in Virginia,” Northam said. “We’re taking these actions because we value people and we believe in treating them equitably.” According to a Wason Center for Civic Leadership poll released in February, a majority of Virginians (56%) support repeal of the death penalty.

A group of twelve reform prosecutors, from jurisdictions representing 40% of Virginia’s population, urged the legislature to pass the bill. “The death penalty is unjust, racially biased, and ineffective at deterring crime,” they wrote. “We have more equitable and effective means of keeping our communities safe and addressing society’s most heinous crimes. It is past time for Virginia to end this antiquated practice.”

In 1608, Virginia was the first European colony to carry out an execution in what is now the United States and the 1,390 executions it has conducted are the most of an U.S. jurisdiction. It has put 113 prisoners to death since executions resumed in the U.S. in the 1970s, second only to Texas.

“Virginia’s abolition of capital punishment is tremendously significant, both in terms of the death penalty’s continuing nationwide decline and as an historical marker of race relations in the United States,” said DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham. “No state that has relied so heavily on capital punishment has ever before repealed its death penalty. Going back to colonial times, Virginia has conducted more executions than any other U.S. jurisdiction and, in the modern era, it trails only Texas in the number of people it has put to death.”

“The symbolic value of a legislature sitting in the former capital of the Confederacy dismantling this tool of racial oppression cannot be overstated,” Dunham said.

“Virginia’s death penalty is rooted in racial oppression,” LaKeisha Cook from the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy said. “Now that it is coming to an end, we can start a new chapter that embraces an evidence-based approach to public safety: One that values the dignity of all human beings and is focused on transforming the justice system into one rooted in fairness, accountability, and redemption.”

Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?

In its last six months, the United States government has put 13 prisoners to death. Do you think capital punishment should end?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

In July, the United States carried out its first federal execution in 17 years. Since then, the Trump administration has executed 13 inmates, more than three times as many as the federal government had in the previous six decades.

The death penalty has been abolished in 22 states and 106 countries, yet it is still legal at the federal level in the United States. Does your state or country allow the death penalty?

Do you believe governments should be allowed to execute people who have been convicted of crimes? Is it ever justified, such as for the most heinous crimes? Or are you universally opposed to capital punishment?

In 2015, a few months before he died, Justice Antonin Scalia said he would not be surprised if the Supreme Court did away with the death penalty.

These days, after President Trump’s appointment of three justices, liberal members of the court have lost all hope of abolishing capital punishment. In the face of an extraordinary run of federal executions over the past six months, they have been left to wonder whether the court is prepared to play any role in capital cases beyond hastening executions.

Until July, there had been no federal executions in 17 years. Since then, the Trump administration has executed 13 inmates, more than three times as many as the federal government had put to death in the previous six decades.

The article goes on to explain that Justice Stephen G. Breyer issued a dissent on Friday as the Supreme Court cleared the way for the last execution of the Trump era, complaining that it had not sufficiently resolved legal questions that inmates had asked. The article continues:

If Justice Breyer sounded rueful, it was because he had just a few years ago held out hope that the court would reconsider the constitutionality of capital punishment. He had set out his arguments in a major dissent in 2015, one that must have been on Justice Scalia’s mind when he made his comments a few months later.

Justice Breyer wrote in that 46-page dissent that he considered it “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” which bars cruel and unusual punishments. He said that death row exonerations were frequent, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily and that the capital justice system was marred by racial discrimination.

Justice Breyer added that there was little reason to think that the death penalty deterred crime and that long delays between sentences and executions might themselves violate the Eighth Amendment. Most of the country did not use the death penalty, he said, and the United States was an international outlier in embracing it.

Justice Ginsburg, who died in September, had joined the dissent. The two other liberals — Justices Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — were undoubtedly sympathetic.

And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who held the decisive vote in many closely divided cases until his retirement in 2018, had written the majority opinions in several 5-to-4 decisions that imposed limits on the death penalty, including ones barring the execution of juvenile offenders and people convicted of crimes other than murder.

In the July Opinion essay “The Death Penalty Can Ensure ‘Justice Is Being Done,’” Jeffrey A. Rosen, then acting deputy attorney general, makes a legal case for capital punishment:

The death penalty is a difficult issue for many Americans on moral, religious and policy grounds. But as a legal issue, it is straightforward. The United States Constitution expressly contemplates “capital” crimes, and Congress has authorized the death penalty for serious federal offenses since President George Washington signed the Crimes Act of 1790. The American people have repeatedly ratified that decision, including through the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 signed by President Bill Clinton, the federal execution of Timothy McVeigh under President George W. Bush and the decision by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department to seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bomber and Dylann Roof.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

Do you support the use of capital punishment? Or do you think it should be abolished? Why?

Do you think the death penalty serves a necessary purpose, like deterring crime, providing relief for victims’ families or imparting justice? Or is capital punishment “cruel and unusual” and therefore prohibited by the Constitution? Is it morally wrong?

Are there alternatives to the death penalty that you think would be more appropriate? For example, is life in prison without the possibility of parole a sufficient sentence? Or is that still too harsh? What about restorative justice, an approach that “considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends”? What other ideas do you have?

Vast racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty have been found. For example, Black people are overrepresented on death row, and a recent study found that “defendants convicted of killing white victims were executed at a rate 17 times greater than those convicted of killing Black victims.” Does this information change or reinforce your opinion of capital punishment? How so?

The Federal Death Penalty Act prohibits the government from executing an inmate who is mentally disabled however, in the recent executions of Corey Johnson, Alfred Bourgeois and Lisa Montgomery, their defense teams, families and others argued that they had intellectual disabilities. What role do you think disability or trauma history should play in how someone is punished, or rehabilitated, after committing a crime?

How concerned should we be about wrongfully convicted people being executed? The Innocence Project has proved the innocence of 18 people on death row who were exonerated by DNA testing. Do you have worries about the fair application of the death penalty, or about the possibility of the criminal justice system executing an innocent person?

About Student Opinion

Find all of our Student Opinion questions in this column.
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Learn more about how to use our free daily writing prompts for remote learning.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

'The death penalty has no place in the 21st century' – UN chief Guterres

The death penalty does little to deter crimes or serve victims, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday, calling on all countries which have not forbidden the extreme practice to urgently stop executions.

“The death penalty has no place in the 21st century,” underscored Mr. Guterres, speaking alongside Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at an event at the UN Headquarters, in New York.

Welcoming that some 170 States around the world have either abolished the death penalty and put a moratorium on its use – most recently, Gambia and Madagascar – and that executions in 2016 were down 37 per cent compared in 2015, the UN chief, however, added that at present just four countries accounted for 87 per cent of all recorded executions.

He also expressed concern that the countries that countries that continue executions are also failing to meet their international obligations, particular in relation to transparency and compliance with international human rights standards.

“Some governments conceal executions and enforce an elaborate system of secrecy to hide who is on death row, and why,” noted Mr. Guterres, underscoring that lack of transparency showed a lack of respect for the human rights of those sentenced to death and to their families, as well as damaging administration of justice more generally.

Concluding his remarks, the Secretary-General urged all those States that have abolished the death penalty to lend their voice to the call on the leaders of those countries that retain it, “to establish an official moratorium, with a view to abolition as soon as possible.”

Also today, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also called on all countries to strengthen efforts to abolish the death penalty.

“We […] call on all States to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for OHCHR, told journalists at a regular news briefing in Geneva.

The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), now ratified by 85 States around the globe, requires its parties to abolish death penalty. It is the only universal international legal instrument that aims to end the practice.

“[OHCHR] stands ready to continue to support all efforts in this direction,” he added.

A Brief History of New York's Capital Punishment Laws

New York no longer has the death penalty, which was abolished in 2007 (the state actually has abolished and reinstated capital punishment multiple times in its history).

The state stopped all executions in 1984, 11 years after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the practice. It was again reinstated by Governor George Pataki in 1995, using lethal injection as the means of execution. But executions were halted after the New York Court of Appeals found it unconstitutional.

The statute was changed in 2007, officially prohibiting the death penalty. Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole became New York's stiffest penalty after capital punishment was abolished.

Information about the abolition of New York's capital punishment laws and procedures in 2007 is listed in the following box. See FindLaw's Death Penalty section for more articles about capital punishment laws.

Code Section N/A -- capital punishment abolished in 2007
Is Capital Punishment Allowed? No. After the 2004 New York Court of Appeals decision in People v. LaValle, which found that the capital punishment statute violated the state's constitution, New York has not practiced the death penalty. It was formally abolished in 2007, with the last remaining death sentences converted to life imprisonment.
Effect of Defendant's Incapacity -
Minimum Age -
Available for Crimes Other than Homicide? -
Definition of Capital Homicide -
Method of Execution -

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Virginia abolishes the death penalty, becoming first southern state to end capital punishment

Virginia became the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty Wednesday after Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation that would end the use of capital punishment in the commonwealth.

"There is no place today for the death penalty in this commonwealth, in the South, or in this nation," Northam said in a speech Wednesday before he signed the bill. He called capital punishment "fundamentally flawed" and noted that it was disproportionately levied against Black people.

Over Virginia's 400-year history, the commonwealth has executed more than 1,300 people &mdash more than any other state, Northam said. Virginia will become the first state of the former Confederacy to abolish the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

"Virginia has a long and complicated history like other Southern states," Northam said. "The racism and discrimination of our past still echoes in our systems today and as we continue to step beyond the burden of that past, it is vital that we also change the systems in which inequality continues to fester."

In the 20th century, more than 296 of the 377 defendants that Virginia executed for murder were Black, Northam said, and since 1976, nearly half of the 113 people executed in the state were Black.

The two men who are currently on death row in Virginia will have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment, according to the legislation. Both men are Black.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, left, looks over the electric chair in the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt on March 24, 2021. Steve Helber / AP

The Death Penalty Information Center &mdash which does not take a position on the death penalty but is critical of its application &mdash says Virginia's move to abolish the penalty represents a national move away from capital punishment. In the U.S., both death penalty sentences and executions have reached historic lows, the group says.

Inside The U.S. Justice System

Virginia's General Assembly, which has been controlled by a Democratic majority for a second year, approved the legislation last month.

"Virginia will become a more just, more righteous, more humane Commonwealth when we abolish the death penalty today," tweeted Virginia state delegate Marcus Simon, a Democrat who supported the bill.

Human rights group Amnesty International said they welcomed the news, calling the death penalty "irreversible" and "ineffective."

Kristina Roth, the group's senior advocate for criminal justice programs, said a Black defendant in Virginia is three times more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim is white rather than Black. "Virginia, once a stronghold of the confederacy, now becomes the first Southern state to end the ultimate denial of human rights that is the death penalty," she said in a statement to CBS News.

Northam signed the legislation Wednesday from Greensville Correctional Center, a prison that houses Virginia's death chamber. Before signing the bill, Northam toured the facility.

"It is a powerful thing to stand in the room where people were put to death," he said. "It is the moral thing to do to end the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Looking to the future

Clutching a hand-written goodbye letter Bundy wrote to him in the hours before he went to the electric chair, Radelet likens his last visits with inmates to hospice work. In their final hours, he says, even a convicted murderer deserves the grace of a listening ear.

Some have accused him over the years of sympathizing with criminals. He disagrees. “You don’t oppose the death penalty because these guys are all great citizens. You oppose it because of what it does to society.”

Others have suggested he is insensitive to murder victims’ families.

But through an alliance with Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, he and his students have worked for years to assist families in cases where the murder of their loved one remains unsolved.

“What all families want is closure,” he says. “Executing some guy 20 years after the murder doesn’t necessarily accomplish that.”

At a minimum, Radelet is confident that Biden will order no executions under the federal death penalty during his term, and hopeful that he will commute existing federal death sentences to life. It is also conceivable the president will take a firmer stand, following shifting public opinion (60% of Americans now favor life imprisonment over the death penalty) and supporting proposed legislation to abolish the federal death penalty for good.

Meanwhile, Radelet plans to keep doing research. And students he mentored decades ago are now doing their own.

“It is one thing for us to talk anecdotally about whether the death penalty is racist or biased or flawed. He actually demonstrated it,” said Stacy Mallicoat, a former student who is now a professor and researcher in the criminal justice department at California State University Fullerton. “He had a huge impact in shaping my career.”

Asked if he’s proud of his legacy, Radelet says it’s too early to tell.

“In my discipline, nobody is a river, you are just a little stream flowing into a lake and you never know what your true impact really is. I’m just happy to have the opportunity to have an impact at all.”


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