Death Penalty in USA and China


The use of capital punishment was practiced throughout the world during ancient times and the move to abolish only began in the 18th century and has seen almost half of the countries in the world abolish the practice however others like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the USA are still in favor of the law.

According to international law, the death penalty also known as capital punishment is the legally recognized enforcement of death as a penalty for doing a transgression (Palmer, 2001). The imposition of this law has attracted great criticism from those opposed to it to an extent that the supreme courts have ruled that the sentence should be in a position to consider the conscience of the community and that its application is accorded as per the changing standards and decency of the society.

This paper discusses capital punishment and how it is implemented in both China and the USA by looking in-depth at the historical background, legal procedures in both countries, methods of execution involved, and finally a review on the similarities and differences in implementation of the punishment in both countries.

Death penalty in China

China has been ranked among the top five countries with the highest rates of execution compared with that of the United States and Pakistan. The official policy on the death penalty in China is to prevent excessive executions and exercise with caution. (Deng, Xiaoping 1983)

China considers offenders less than 18 years of age minors and therefore exempted from capital punishment. Another exemption is granted to expectant mothers(Hodgkinson & Rutherford, 1996)

The administration of a capital offense in China at times can be influenced by political and social factors. A case in 2003 involving a leader of an organization took a different twist when due to public opinion a death sentence with two years of probation was revoked and on retrial death sentence that was served immediately was administered.The law also requires that legal representation for such cases is mandatory and a provision for a suspended death sentence which could apply in a case where an offender is supposed to be sentenced but immediate execution is not essential.

In china, the offences liable for capital punishment as stipulated in the 1997 criminal law include:

Crimes Endangering National Security e.g. espionage, providing the enemy with armed equipment and military materials, instigating split in the country, crimes endangering public security such as arson, poisoning, threats to public security, illegal manufacture of guns, ammunition, and explosives.

Crimes undermine the socialist market economic order through production and distribution of bogus medicines, smuggling weapons, and ammunition, counterfeit currency, frauds, etc (Lu, & Zhang, 2005).

Crimes that infringe upon the rights of the person and his democratic Rights such as murder, rape, abduction, and kidnapping attract capital punishment in China. Also, encroachment on property offenses such as robbery and theft and even disruption of public order by riots and jailbreaks is punishable by death.

Crimes endangering National Defense Interest e.g. sabotaging military weapons or communication and knowingly supplying unqualified weapons or military installation to the armed forces, those associated with graft and bribery, and even crimes that violate the military code of conduct (Luo, wei 1998).

China unlike other countries ensures that death sentences are carried out as quickly as possible guaranteed via a court process that begins with a trial in an intermediate court which will be followed shortly by an appeal in the High court and if the defendant is found guilty of the offense, the punishment is served immediately. During such cases that attract capital punishment, an execution van is present outside the court and if condemned, the culprit is executed within the shortest time possible (Chen, Xingliang 2002).

Reforms and prospects

China is faced with the issue of lack of prisons due to this the longest jail term is only 15 years. With this reality china in most cases lack alternative ways to punish what they consider capital offenses hence making the death sentence a most favorable solution. If the rates of execution are to reduce in the near future setting up prisons that will accommodate all the lawbreakers will be of great importance. (Zhang, Zhengxin 2004)

The scope of capital laws as stipulated by China’s law is indeed wide and needs revision so as to weed out offenses that are of small magnitude and those that are rarely practiced and by doing this the issue of the death penalty could be eradicated slowly. In China, most of those condemned to the death penalty suffer a great deal of torture from the authorities forcing them to admit to crimes they would not have admitted to if they were at their own will. This has often contributed to the rise of executions in the recent past.

China is trying to curb this problem by placing measures to ensure that suspects are protected from such situations by ensuring that they are represented to defend them from self-incrimination and also ensuring police discipline. In its attempts to reduce the number of executions, China has embarked on a plan that will foresee centralization of the authority that will review and approve death sentences to the Supreme this is in an effort to ensure uniformity, fairness, and caution when implementing the penalty.

All the above policies are meant to prevent excessive and unnecessary executions and to see to it that it is implemented with caution.

China uses two methods of execution at the moment lethal vans and execution vans. Others include firing squads for common crimes like murder.

Death penalty in the United States

Capital punishment in the USA varies greatly by jurisdiction and is most applicable in cases of aggravated murder and some rare cases of felony murder. The US is also ranked among the countries with the highest execution rates and follows China closely. According to opinion polls, Americans are in favor of the punishment. Despite much criticism, it was not until 1972 during the case of Furman vs. Georgia that the punishment was publicly questioned and subsequently suspended on the 29th of June in the same year. The punishment was later restored due to pressure from both the states and the government. (Banner, Stuart, 2002).

After the reinstatement of the punishment, some changes have been witnessed with the number of executions varying greatly but the number of those on death row remains the same. This factor has been attributed to the slow process in which appeals take therefore one will likely stay for a long time before the sentence is executed

However, there are abolitionist states that have completely abolished death penalties from their laws such as Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan amongst other northern states that have considered themselves progressed. Apart from murder and treason, other offenses that attract capital punishment in the United States include acts of terrorism, espionage, and mass destruction by the use of lethal weapons. (Bakken, Gordon Morris, 2010)

The administration of the penalty in the United States is a complex process involving four steps. These steps start with sentencing after which the defendant applies for an appeal which requires a review of the evidence presented in a process called the direct review a process that may result in acquitting, a retrial, or the judgment stand. The third step is the state collateral review whereby the defendant is allowed to challenge the sentence but it is rare for these reviews to succeed. If the review fails a defendant may file a suit referred to a federal habeas corpus in a federal court.

Execution methods employed in the united states in the past Ranged from burning the culprits,

Breaking them using wheels and in some instances death by hanging. However, others like firing squad, electric chair, and gas chamber have also been used. Currently, lethal injection is used as it is generally accepted in the countries that serve death penalties.

The use of capital punishment in the United States has drawn so much controversy especially from prominent organizations and individuals who are against the punishment. They do not understand why the united state which is an industrialized democracy still uses capital punishments and argue their views based on perspectives such as morality, religion, and also the practicability of the matter.


although there are similarities in the manner in which death penalties operate in the two countries some differences do exist.

First, the manner in which execution takes place is almost similar in both countries with both preferring the use of lethal injection to kill. China has even invested a great deal in an expensive execution van. At first, the USA even prosecuted offenders of less than 18 years but this was later changed therefore the age consideration within the two countries is the same.

However, one great difference evident between the two countries is the process of execution. In the United States execution is a long process that allows offenders to defend themselves as much as possible until they are satisfied with the sentence making it long progress that might take years while in China the process is short and once one is convicted, they are quickly served with their sentence.

The offenses that are accorded with capital punishment in china are widely varied making the rates of execution very high. This is unlike in the United States where the main offenses that are punishable by the death penalty are those associated mainly with murder and felony.

In both countries execution of foreigners is a rare happening but in some cases, it is done if the need arises only recently a Japanese was executed in China for illegal possession of drugs.

In both countries, the use of capital punishment has always stirred controversy involving those opposed to the punishment and those for the process, however, the use of the death penalty receives much support from the Americans. With changing times both countries are on the route of eliminating the use of the punishment with china trying to come up with the policies that will enable her to curb the high rates of execution and in the process stop it.


Bakken, Gordon Morris, ed. Invitation to an Execution: A History of the Death Penalty in the United States. University of New Mexico Press.

Banner, Stuart (2002). The Death Penalty: An American History. Harvard University Press.

Chen, Xingliang (2002). The new Horizon of Contemporary Law in China. The Chinese University of Politics and Law Press.

Deng, Xiaoping (1983). 3rd Ed Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping., Beijing: People’s Publishing house.

Hodgkinson, P & Rutherford, A (1996). Capital punishment: Global Issues and Prospects. Domum Road, Winchester: Waterside Press.

Luo, wei (1998). The 1997 Criminal Code of the peoples Republic of China. Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & CO. Inc.

Lu, H & Zhang, L (2005). Death Penalty in China: The Law and the Practice, Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 367-376.

Palmer, L. J (2001). Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States, Jefferson NC.

Zhang, Zhengxin (2004). Theory and Practice of the suspended Death penalty system in China. Wuhan: Wuhan University press.

Experts Agree: Death Penalty Not a Deterrent to Violent Crime. Web.

Death penalty. Web.

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