• On June 29, 1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. By a narrow margin, the justices said that executing a criminal was “cruel and unusual punishment,” and violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Just four years later, the court reinstated the death penalty under a “model of guided discretion.”
     
    Today, use of the death penalty is decided upon by individual states. Many states do not use the death penalty at all, including New Mexico, North Dakota, and Maine. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia have used it the most often.
     
    As of 2013, the United States is one of just 58 nations that use capital punishment. The nations that use the death penalty most frequently are China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    amendment Noun

    change made to a law or set of laws.

    constitution Noun

    system of ideas and general laws that guide a nation, state, or other organization.

    criminal Noun

    person convicted of a crime.

    death penalty Noun

    punishment by execution. Also called capital punishment.

    discretion Noun

    thoughtful judgement or wisdom.

    execute Verb

    to put to death by order of the law or in a well-planned manner.

    frequent Adjective

    often.

    margin Noun

    amount allowed or available beyond what is necessary.

    punishment Noun

    penalty inflicted for a crime or offense.

    reinstate Verb

    to restore or put a position or policy back in place.

    Supreme Court Noun

    highest judicial authority on issues of national or constitutional importance in the U.S.

    unconstitutional Adjective

    against the laws of the United States Constitution.

    violate Verb

    to break a rule.

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