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What Crimes are Punishable by Death?

There are as many as 31 US States that have the death penalty, with the state of California being one of them. In recent years, attempts have been made to repeal the capital punishment in California completely. However, the Supreme Court of California held up the constitutionality of Proposition 66, which expedites appeals and executions, but limits the scope of its core provisions.

So far, in 2018, there have been three executions, all within the state of Texas and all by lethal injection. While personal opinions on the subject vary wildly, in the legal profession, there’s an inherent obligation to keep you informed on capital punishment laws.

One of the most common questions centers around what types of crimes are punishable by death. While murder is the most common, there are some very specific circumstances that need to be present for a prosecutor to seek the death penalty.

Special Circumstances Murder

Special circumstances murder, also referred to as capital murder, is a set of laws designed to prevent random capital punishment sentencing. These are the guidelines that determine when it may be appropriate to seek capital punishment, and when it’s not even an option.

There are 15 special circumstances, that when accompanying a murder charge, can result in capital punishment. A few of these special circumstances include:

  • Prior murder conviction
  • Multiple murder convictions
  • Murder due to race, nationality or religion
  • Murder involving torture
  • Murder of a police officer, federal agent or firefighter
  • Murder of a witness
  • Murder by a gang member
  • Preventing arrest or escaping
  • Murder by destructive device

There are several other special circumstances, however, this helps to illustrate that capital punishment is not a sentence that’s handed out arbitrarily or lightly. In these cases, the prosecution is not only responsible for proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for the murder charge, but they must also prove the existence of the special circumstance. Additionally, a guilty verdict of these crimes does not guarantee a punishment of death. That decision remains up to the jury, during a penalty phase of the trial, to decide between capital punishment and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Other Crimes Punishable by Death

In addition to capital murder, there are 5 other crime punishable by death in the state of California. These crimes are far less common, but when committed can result in a lethal sentence.

  • Treason: The act of waging war against the state or offering support to those that do.
  • Perjury: Committing perjury that results in the execution of an innocent person.
  • Assault with a deadly weapon that ends in death while serving a life sentence in prison.
  • Purposefully interfering with U.S preparations to go to war that result in someone being killed.

As of mid-2017, there were 746 prisoners on death row in California. If you’re facing a capital murder charge, or have questions about capital punishment, we’re here with help and answers. Contact us today and get the representation you need.


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