Capital punishment in the United States is a hot topic, as there are supporters for such drastic action and there are also people who speak out against it, believing that no crime should be paid for with a live. While this piece doesn’t necessarily explore all of the sides of this debate, it is important to know what crimes are actually punishable by the death penalty in the United States.
10. First Degree Murder
Shall we just get this one out of the way?
First degree murder is defined as the unlawful killing that is both willful and premeditated. So, if you meticulously plan a perfect crime style murder but then get caught, you might wind up getting the death penalty. This type of murder isn’t something that is in the heat of passion or caused by dangerous misconduct. In those cases, it is generally considered second degree murder and you’d be in the clear (for the most part) of the death penalty.
Either way, though, you could end up spending the rest of your life in jail, which would totally suck so, uh, probably just don’t kill anyone.
9. Placing A Bomb Near A Bus Station (In Missouri)
Missouri is all about that public transportation. No, but seriously if you place an explosive near a bus station in Missouri, they are going to be pissed… like, so pissed that they might sentence you to death.
This is actually quite reasonable considering how frequently terrorists attacks happen on or near venues of public transportation. Anymore, it seems that planes, trains, buses and all locations to board such modes of transportation are all unsafe.
If the bomb did go off and took the lives of innocent people, this case would turn into one of first degree murder and, as you’ve learned, such a crime can face the death penalty. What Missouri is saying is that even if your bomb doesn’t kill anyone or doesn’t even go off, you could face the death penalty just for placing it at a bus station.
So, if you’re lugging around a heavy bomb and want to put it down for a second, don’t put it down at a bus station in Missouri.
8. Carjack Resulting In Death
If you’re ever in need for a quick ride and without a car, you shouldn’t turn to carjacking.
Specifying that carjacking resulting in death is punishable by the death penalty is likely listed because this case isn’t usually a first degree murder. If you think about it, most carjacking situations can’t be very planned out beforehand. You never really know where you’ll be when you need a ride and choose to jack someone’s Prius. This is a type of heat-of-the-moment crime, but I guess the government doesn’t want everyone running around, stealing cars and kill people so, alas, death penalty.
7. Torture Resulting In Death
Like carjacking resulting in death, this is listed separately as one may be able to argue that it isn’t necessarily a first degree murder. I mean, I suppose one could argue that they tortured someone and didn’t really mean to kill them. That wasn’t their intention, right? They just like totally wanted to torture them a little bit and let them keep living.
Either way, no matter how much your ex sucks, you shouldn’t kidnap and torture them because if they end up dying, you could get the death penalty.
6. Aircraft Hijacking (In Georgia and Missouri)
In this case, aircraft hijacking is a crime punishable by the death sentence even if no one is murdered, however only in Georgia and Missouri.
While this is not a federal crime punishable by the death sentence, it is a state crime punishable by the death sentence in those two states. Generally, one who is hijacking a plane is probably up to no good and it is likely they are possibly planning to take a life or several.
As it stands, though, technically just hijacking a plane in Georgia to take a little trip to Cabo is not a good idea.
5. Attempting To Kill A Juror Or Witness
For this one, again, you don’t actually have to murder someone to get the death penalty.
If you are planning on murdering a member of the jury, you could face the death penalty, even if you don’t actually murder them. This protects the innocent people who are serving their jury duty because jury duty sucks and the government doesn’t want to give anyone another reason to blow it off.
Also, if you attempt to murder a witness, who is likely going to testify with some case-changing testimony, you could face the death penalty for this as well.
These two feel like they were created solely for the mob. There are countless mob movies in which a witness or juror gets popped, right?
4. Large Scale Drug Trafficking
Large scale drug trafficking isn’t just your corner drug dealer. It’s the guy who is in charge of the guy who is in charge of the guy and so on. It’s the head honcho. For the guy in charge of the operation to actually be sentenced to the death penalty, he would have to be pushing a large, large quantity, which resulted in someone’s death, be it an overdose or a murder.
If you are trying to think of someone who would have definitely been facing the death penalty, Walter White from Braking Bad is a perfect example. He murdered a ton of people and was pumping out product that made it all the way to Europe. Heisenberg, baby.
Don’t mess with the US, okay? That’s basically the point the government makes with the very few non-murder crimes for which one can receive the death penalty.
Espionage is among one of the few crimes you could receive the death penalty that doesn’t involve killing someone. I get it. I mean, selling out the United States to another country is a pretty big deal and how exactly would the country really trust one to continuing living in the country it tried to sabotage?
Famously, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 for passing information to the Soviet Union about the atomic bomb. Considering that this was during The Cold War, it was a time during which one would not want to get caught passing information to the Soviet Union.
Like espionage, treason is another crime that can land you the death penalty even if you yourself haven’t murdered anyone.
Treason is more or less the same thing as espionage. It is a breach of trust resulting from an individual working to overthrow the government. So, unlike espionage, you could be convicted of treason without actually spying, but rather just helping a spy.
The most famous historical case of treason is Benedict Arnold, who collaborated with the British during The American Revolution but this act was committed before the Constitution was even written. Ol’ Arnold was made a general in the British army, which kept him safe from prosecution.
1. Assassinating The President
Obviously, right? If you assassinate The President of the United States, you’re definitely going to get the death penalty.
While we lost JFK in the past 50 years, no one was been executed for assassinating a president since 1882 when Charles J. Guiteau was hanged for the assassination of President James Garfield.
John Wilkes Booth, who famously assassinated Abraham Lincoln, died of a gunshot wound before a trial could even be conducted. His four co-conspirators were hanged in 1865.
Most recently, Lee Harvey Oswald may have almost definitely been sentenced to death for assassinating the dreamiest president John F. Kennedy had he not been killed by Jack Ruby.
Also, a fun fact – assassinating a president wasn’t made a federal crime until after the death of JFK. These past incidences were all just state crimes.