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What is a Capital Crime?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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A capital crime is a crime for which a person may be punished with the death penalty. In most countries, this designation is reserved for the most heinous of crimes, such as murder. The death penalty is not given in all murder cases, however. Each jurisdiction has different laws concerning which crimes are capital crimes and whether or not the death penalty should be given. In fact, there are some places in which the death penalty isn’t used at all.

Murder is the crime most people think of when capital crimes are discussed. In many places, first-degree murder may be considered a capital crime while other jurisdictions may also consider other murder charges worthy of the death penalty. A first-degree murder is usually one that the accused person planned or thought about in advance of the crime. Sometimes, however, a crime can be considered first-degree murder even if the perpetrator didn’t plan to kill anyone. For example, a first-degree murder charge may be levied if a person kills someone during a rape, kidnapping, or robbery, even if he did not plan to kill the person in advance.

Sometimes a murder may occur with intent, but without premeditation. In such a case, the charge is typically second-degree murder, and in many places, isn’t considered a capital crime. This sort of charge may be levied after a person kills a cheating spouse. If, for example, a person comes home and finds his spouse with another man and intentionally kills her, he may be guilty of second-degree murder. Since he did not plan to kill her, the murder may not be a capital crime.

Regardless of whether or not premeditation was involved, some crimes may carry the death penalty because they are particularly heinous. For example, a person who kills multiple people at one time or even over a course of many years may be given the death penalty in some countries. Killing and torturing or defiling the victim may be a capital crime in some places as well.

Some jurisdictions also give the death penalty for certain serious crimes that do not involve murder. For example, if a person is convicted of raping a woman, he may be given the death penalty if he also tortured her or inflicted severe bodily harm. Likewise, some places give the death penalty in cases involving the killing or molestation of minors, particularly when the details of the crime were particularly abhorrent.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon197925 — On Jul 18, 2011

what would be the charges if someone provided transportation to someone who just committed murder, but didn't know what the murder was committed?

By sunshine31 — On Dec 01, 2010

I think that capital punishment is a deterrent to crime if it is carried out correctly For example, Singapore has capital punishment in place and is a strong advocate of the death penalty.

Singapore enjoys among the lowest crime rates in the world because they take aggressive stances against crime.

Once people see that you are serious they are less likely to commit the crime.

Being aggressive in fighting all types of crimes including the capital crimes does make capital punishment as a deterrent to crime a smart choice.

In fact, with regards to murders, Singapore only had 8 by 2007. Singapore ranks 4th in the world in terms of the least amount of corruption cases reported in the world. This demonstrates the effectiveness of their criminal justice system.

By sneakers41 — On Nov 29, 2010

There is debate about whether capital punishment as a deterrent to crime is effective. An average execution costs about two million dollars. In addition, capital punishment may not be seen as a deterrent to crime because people keep committing murder so it has not lessened the crime rate.

The main problem with the capital punishment situation is that the punishment is not administered quickly enough.

The years of appeals that a death row inmate experiences takes away the effectiveness of the punishment and makes the process less likely to deter a criminal.

In order for a punishment to be effective it has to be administered in a timely manner. Offering an appeal and a few months to prepare and serve an appeal should be enough, but some of our death row inmates serve 10 to 15 years before they reached their final appeal. This is why the cost of these executions is so high.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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