What Is A Capital Offense?

If you are accused of a crime, you had better hope it isn’t a capital offense. These are among the most serious crimes that can be committed by an individual or group, so much so that the death penalty is often considered a culturally and socially acceptable response for a government (in some parts of the world, anyway). Crimes that fall under this somewhat wide umbrella include murder or treason, among others. Most capital offenses cannot be committed without intent. If you willfully commit the crime, then you fall into the dangerous category of a capital offender and could be sentenced to death if convicted.

There are exceptions, of course. If you were under the age of eighteen when you were accused of committing the crime, then you cannot be sentenced to death.

Many offenses that are considered capital crimes are reworded descriptions of like crimes. For example, one such offense involves the murder of a governmental official such as a member of Congress or the Supreme Court. If you illegally transport explosives or destroy government property, and the act results in the death of another, then you’ve committed a capital crime. Genocide is a capital crime, as is espionage. The murder of judges, members of law enforcement, federal prisoners, foreign diplomats, hostages, or subjects of a kidnapping are all capital crimes.

It should be noted that the very idea of a capital offense as different from an ordinary offense deserving of a particular punishment is now vehemently contested all over the world. There are 195 countries in the world right now and, of these, 103 have ended the death penalty for any crime that could be committed. Only 56 countries maintain capital punishment, and most of these are developing nations. The United States, Indonesia, India, and China are among the countries that still make use of the death penalty as a form of capital punishment.

Part of the controversy stems from international resolutions that either end the practice of executing prisoners or call for a moratorium on the same. Capital punishment is banned in the European Union. The 47 member states of the Council of Europe are banned from using the death penalty. The United Nations General Assembly is responsible for a number of these resolutions to end the death penalty, but unfortunately, none are legally binding. The U.S., for example, is not obligated the follow these resolutions. And we don’t.

The concept of capital punishment may be fading from the world, but it has been around since ancient times. In some parts of the ancient world, the death penalty was considered only in retribution for murder, while in others it was used for a number of criminal offenses ranging from petty theft to rape.