At MyLawQuestions, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
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.