Pub. date: 2002 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412950664 | Print ISBN: 9780761922582 | Online ISBN: 9781412950664| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
James R. Acker
The criminal law relies on a rough principle of proportionality to determine the appropriate punishment for specific offenses. The most severe sanctions are reserved for the worst crimes. All criminal punishments are stigmatizing because they signify society's official condemnation of an offender and his or her conduct. The additional practical consequences of criminal convictions range widely and include monetary fines, probation, jail and prison sentences, and death. Capital crimes are those punishable by death; capitalis in Latin means “of the head.” In keeping with the proportionality principle, crimes that can be punished by death represent the most serious offenses committed against individuals and the social order. The death penalty—a sanction imposed in the name of a government as punishment for the commission of an offense—must be distinguished from the practice followed in some societies of offering human sacrifices as a religious ritual. Punishment by death has been used throughout history ...