Definition of capital punishment noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


capital punishment

BrE BrE//ˌkæpɪtl ˈpʌnɪʃmənt//
; NAmE NAmE//ˌkæpɪtl ˈpʌnɪʃmənt//
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punishment by death Public opinion was in favour of bringing back capital punishment. Culturecapital punishmentCapital punishment is the legal killing of a person for a crime they have been proved in a court of law to have committed. In the US the death penalty is used in many states. In 1972 the Supreme Court decided that it was ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, which the Constitution does not allow, and it became illegal until 1976, when the Court changed its mind.Each state decides what methods of execution (= killing) will be used. This is usually a lethal injection (= an injection of a poisonous chemical) but other methods used include the electric chair (= a chair which sends a strong electric current through the prisoner's body), and, rarely, hanging, a firing squad (= a group of soldiers who shoot the prisoner), and the gas chamber (= a room that is filled with poisonous gas when the prisoner is inside).In the US the death penalty is passed on people found guilty of murder. Since 1976 over a thousand people have been executed. Most people who receive the death sentence appeal to higher courts, and the sentence may be changed. The legal system moves slowly, so that a long time passes between the sentence being given and the execution taking place. The result is that there are about 3 000 prisoners on death row, i.e. waiting to be executed. The state governor can give a stay of execution (= a delay so that the prisoner has time to appeal to another court) or a pardon. This can happen at any time until the execution takes place.Another reason why many death sentences are not carried out is that there is strong opposition to capital punishment. People argue that it is immoral and that if a mistake is made it cannot be put right. They also say that the death penalty does not prevent people from committing murder. Another strong argument is that more African Americans who are found guilty of murder are sentenced to death than other racial groups and this is unfair.In Britain the death penalty for murder was abolished (= ended) in 1965, but it could still in theory be passed on anyone found guilty of treason (= crimes against the state) until 1998. Some British people think that the death penalty should be brought back for crimes such as terrorism (= the use of violence for political aims) or the murder of a police officer, but Parliament has voted several times against this. In former times about 200 crimes were capital offences, punishable by hanging. The wooden gallows or gibbet on which criminals were hanged can still be seen in some places. Many criminals were hanged in public at Tyburn in London, and later at Newgate prison. Traitors (= people who betray their country) were hanged, drawn and quartered, i.e. hanged on the gallows, then taken down while still alive and their intestines cut out. Their heads were cut off and their bodies cut into four pieces.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: capital punishment