Capital punishment in the United States
Capital punishment in the United States is administered for a wide variety of crimes ranging from drug trafficking to aggravated murder. However, in practice, it is reserved only for homicide-related crimes including aggravated murder, felony murder, and contract killing. Capital punishment was a penalty at common law, for many felonies, and was enforced in all the American colonies prior to the Declaration of Independence. The death penalty is currently a legal sentence in 33 states and in the federal civilian and military legal systems. The methods of execution and the crimes subject to the penalty vary by jurisdiction and have varied widely throughout time, though the most common method in recent decades has been lethal injection. Thirty-three jurisdictions continue to have it by law. There were 37 executions in the United States in 2008, the lowest number since 1994 (largely due to lethal injection litigation revolving around a now resolved constitutional question). There were 43 executions in 2011, all by lethal injection. In 2011, 13 states executed 43 inmates; in 2010, 46 people were executed.
Capital punishment is a contentious social issue in the US. While historically a large majority of the American public has favored it in cases of murder, the extent of this support has varied over time. There has long been strong opposition to capital punishment in the United States from certain sectors of the population, and as of 2012, seventeen states (as well as Washington, D.C.) have banned its use. While the level of public support today is lower than it was in the 1980s and 1990s (reaching an all-time high of 80 percent in 1994), it has been largely static over the past decade. A 2011 Gallup poll showed 61 percent of Americans favored it in cases of murder while 35 percent opposed it, the lowest level of support recorded by Gallup since 1972. When life in prison without parole is listed as a poll option, the public is more evenly divided; a 2010 Gallup poll found 49 percent preferring the death penalty and 46 percent favoring life without parole.