Pub. date: 2005 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952514 | Print ISBN: 9780761927310 | Online ISBN: 9781412952514| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Susan F. Sharp
Capital punishment refers to the use of the death penalty as punishment for certain crimes. In America, almost 20,000 persons have been legally put to death since colonial times, with most of the executions occurring in the 19th and 20th centuries. In recent years, opposition to the death penalty has become more vocal in many states, leading some criminologists to predict its eventual demise. The United States has had a system of capital punishment in place since colonial times. The first recorded legal execution in the American colonies occurred in 1608 in Virginia, when Captain George Kendall was executed for the crime of spying for Spain. Since then, the crimes eligible for a death sentence have changed. For example, prior to the American Revolution, the list of capital crimes included idolatry, witchcraft, blasphemy, murder, manslaughter, poisoning, bestiality, sodomy, adultery, manslaughter, bearing false witness in capital cases, conspiracy, and rebellion. Now, ...