International Influence on the Death Penalty in the U.S.

International Influence in the Past

    The death penalty in the earliest days of the United States was a continuation of the practice brought over from England, but less harsh.  The number of crimes punishable by death was curtailed in the early colonies compared to the long list of capital offenses in England, and gradually became limited to the most violent crimes such as first degree murder and rape.  Some jurisdictions in the U.S. abolished the death penalty in their state systems long before that became the norm in Western Europe.  The state of Michigan abolished the death penalty in 1846 and Wisconsin took a similar step in 1853.  Neither state has carried out an execution since then.

    But the death penalty was not seriously challenged as a constitutional issue in the U.S. until the late 1960s — a time of considerable turmoil on civil rights issues here, and a time of movement toward abolition of the death penalty in Europe.  This challenge resulted in the somewhat surprising decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia in 1972 finding the death penalty to be unconstitutional as it was being applied everywhere in the U.S.  The five opinions of the concurring justices made scant mention of any trend away from the death penalty outside the U.S., though they recognized the debt that the ban on cruel and unusual punishments owed to English law and the Magna Carta.  Some of the justices measured the meaning of this clause by the “evolving standards of decency” in society, but did not look to other countries for these standards.

    The decisive rationale for holding the death penalty unconstitutional in Furman rested on its arbitrary and capricious use within the United States, rather than on any declining use or condemnation from abroad.  In fact, a number of the justices pointed to the increasing rarity of the use of the death penalty in the U.S. as a reason for stopping it all together.  Justice Stewart, one of the two key Justices in the decision, compared the death penalty to the random act of being “struck by lightning.”  Justice White, the other centrist, said that it was impossible to distinguish the many cases eligible for the death penalty from the few who received it.

    In the late 1980s, international opinion was considered but largely rejected in the discussion of the death penalty for juvenile offenders.  The Supreme Court banned the execution of those who were under 16 years-of-age at the time of their offense in Thompson v. Oklahoma in 1988, relying almost exclusively on U.S. practice at the time.  When the Court was faced with the companion question regarding the execution of those who were 16 or 17 years old at the time of their crime, it not only allowed the practice, but Justice Scalia, writing for the court, strongly objected to the use of international opinion in evaluating the evolving standards of decency to apply in the U.S., a point raised by the dissent.  This sharp difference of opinion on the use of international standards set the stage for future battles on the death penalty in the Court.

    International influence on the U.S. death penalty perhaps reached its nadir in the dispute over the execution of foreign nationals in this country.  When it was gradually discovered that the U.S. had been systematically ignoring the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to inform defendants of their right to confer with their respective consulates, and that some of these defendants had been sentenced to death, numerous objections were raised.  The issue reached a crisis with the scheduled execution of Angel Breard in Virginia in 1998.  Breard’s home country, Paraguay, tried to intervene on his behalf in Virginia courts, in federal court and with the governor — all to no avail.  Finally, Paraguay appealed to the International Court of Justice at The Hague and received an order for a stay of execution.  They brought this order to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the case was dismissed, largely on procedural grounds, and the execution went forward on schedule.

    Germany pursued a similar route to stop the execution of two of its citizens, Karl and Walter LaGrand, who were also not informed of their consular rights.  Again the ICJ unanimously called for a stay of execution, but the order was rejected.  This time, Germany continued pursuing the matter in the ICJ after the executions and eventually prevailed in a ruling holding the U.S. in violation of the Vienna Convention treaty.

    All of this caused little ripple in the U.S. media or in public opinion.  For example, a poll conducted in 2000 by Newsweek found that, even among opponents of the death penalty, only 2 percent gave as the main reason for opposition that the death penalty “hurts America’s image.”  But now there are signs of change.



The president himself, doesn't believe that there are Homosexuals even exist in Iran. Probaly because they have all been sentenced to the Death Penalty for false charges.

The president himself, doesn't believe that there are Homosexuals even exist in Iran. Probaly because they have all been sentenced to the Death Penalty for false charges.

Death Penalty for a Young Alcoholic

Death to a Young Alcoholic

Death for alcoholism? A young man was sentenced to death for being intoxicated on more than one occasion. What are you opinions of the Harsh sentences passed down in Iran?


IRAN/Death Penalty





Political Cartoon


Did You Know?

Stoning  in Iran is prescribed for the offense of “adultery while being married.” In 2002 the head of the Judiciary introduced in a directive implementing a moratorium on executions by stoning. In 2008 Ali Beza Jamshidi said that the directive on the moratorium had no legal weight and judges were therefore free to IGNORE it.

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