Legal Dictionary

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Death Penalty

The death penalty is a sentence that imposes death as the punishment for a crime. Crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed are referred to as capital crimes. The death penalty is also referred to as “Capital Punishment” and “Death Sentence.” In California, a number of offenses may result in the death penalty, including first-degree murder with special circumstances, sabotage, train wrecking causing death, treason, perjury causing the execution of an innocent person and fatal assault by a prisoner serving a life sentence.

Circumstances that can elevate a first-degree murder to a death penalty case include:

  • The murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
  • The murder was committed during the commission or attempt to commit another felony (e.g., kidnapping, robbery, rape).
  • The defendant was lying in wait before murdering the victim.
  • The defendant committed or attempted to commit more than one murder at the same time.

Thirty-five states have the death penalty. California re-enacted the death penalty in 1974. “Death row” (where the prisoners are held who have been sentenced to the death penalty) for male prisoners is located in San Quentin, California female death penalty prisoners are in Chowchilla, California. In California, defendants on “Death Row” can choose to be put to death either by injection or gas.