Death sentence


August 15, 2022

The death penalty, or capital punishment, is a penalty provided by law consisting in executing a person who has been found guilty of a misdemeanor qualified as a “capital crime”. The sentence is pronounced by the judiciary after a trial. In the absence of a trial, or in cases where it is not carried out by a recognized institution, we speak of summary execution, an act of revenge or private justice. The death penalty is variously considered according to times and geographical regions. Among the 197 countries of the world, the death penalty is provided for in the texts of the laws of 82 countries, and 23 of them carried out executions in 2014. In 2022, 141 countries are abolitionist, including 109 for all crimes . The death penalty is a sanction recognized although condemned by international institutions such as the United Nations (UN) or the European Court of Human Rights. Abolitionist states are now in the majority (141), but they represent only a minority of the world's population. Among the industrialized democracies, only 3 practice it: the United States (27 States out of 50), Japan and Taiwan. At the international level, on December 18, 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 62/149 calling for a moratorium on executions worldwide. This resolution (like the other resolutions of the UN General Assembly) is not binding but can be seen as a sign that the majority of States wish to challenge the death penalty. However, eight of the ten most populous countries voted against the resolution. It was renewed in 2014.


The death penalty is one of the first penal sanctions. It is present in the oldest legal texts such as the Code of Hammurabi. It represents the "keystone of repressive systems until the 18th century" and remained a common law until the beginning of the 19th century when the abolitionist movement began to gain momentum. Traces of legal texts on the death penalty have been found in many civilizations throughout history. Mesopotamians, ancient Greeks, Romans and medieval societies applied the death penalty. A universally recognized and applied sanction, it was called into question from the 19th century, then abolished in the majority of countries in the world. But in the 21st century, the death penalty persists in many countries and still receives a lot of support. Historians agree on the origin of the death penalty. This represents the punishment of the group towards an individual who does not respect the rules of life of his community. Its original role is essentially deterrence and putting out of harm's way, at a time when the prison system is not developed. The death penalty is a criminal sanction. The accused is condemned because of the non-respect of a rule of law of which he was convinced. This pain stems from the group's need for organization. Before the birth of law and of the justice-institution, we cannot speak of the death penalty. In these primitive or current societies, not knowing the rule of law, a death sentence can be considered at best as a summary execution or simply as an act of revenge or private justice. We can therefore consider that the origin of the death penalty is the construction of the State itself. The French word potence also comes from the Latin potentia, which means "power" in the political sense of the term. In ancient Mesopotamia around 1730 BC. J.-C., the Code of Hammurabi, the most famous text of the period, promotes the death penalty according to the causal principle of “talion law”. Thus, an architect who would have made a house, which would have collapsed on its occupants, thus causing