Impact of Death Penalty on Crime Rates in the US and China

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The sentence offered by courts of law for some crimes is the death penalty. Such crimes are considered excessively gross that for the perpetrators to serve jail time would not be logically possible or appealing to society. The death penalty has impacted the crime rate in various ways. Human rights and international humanitarian law have some views concerning the imposition of capital punishment for crimes considered as capital offenses. The prison-industrial complex has been a key factor in managing prisoners who have committed different crimes. This study focuses its attention on the death penalty and its impacts on crime rates in the U.S compared to the republic of China.

Types of Crimes

Ideally, a crime is a kind of act contrary to the legal code and constitutes an offense punishable by law. The history of crimes is far-reaching, drawing back to time immemorial. Crime rate can be defined as the number of crimes committed during a certain period and in a particular place. Crime rates are considered for different countries or states, counties, cities, and towns within those particular states. There are different crimes in society.

First, there are crimes against persons. Such crimes are also referred to as personal crimes, including aggravated assault, robbery, murder, and rape. Crimes against persons are unevenly distributed in the US (Ye et al., 2018). Statistically, the most affected and arrested for such crimes are poor, young, urban, non-white individuals and some historically marginalized groups. White, middle-class, and upper-class people are rarely affected and arrested for personal crimes.

Secondly, there are property crimes. Such crimes involve the theft of property by criminals without causing any bodily harm to persons, including larceny, burglary, auto theft, and arson. Thirdly, there are hate crimes. Such crimes are committed against persons or property by invoking prejudices for race, religion, or sexual orientation. Additionally, there are crimes against morality (MacLean & Miller, 2018). Such crimes are also referred to as victimless crimes since usually; there is no official victim or complainant. Crimes against morality are based on societal beliefs and standards that join society’s moral code. Victimless crimes include illegal use of drugs, prostitution, and illegal gambling.

Nonetheless, there are white-collar crimes. Such crimes are committed by individuals who hold high statuses in society and commit crimes based on the nature of their occupation. White-collar crimes include tax evasion, embezzlement, violation of income tax laws, and insider trading. Generally, white-collar crimes are of less concern to the general public than other crimes. Typically, such crimes are committed by structured or organized groups that sell and distribute illegal goods and services (Stovpets, 2019). This include teams that own and control large illegal establishments and enterprises such as smuggling weapons, illegal gambling businesses, money laundering, trading drugs, and prostitution. Organized crime mostly takes on a corporate form where illegal enterprises are organized and established along the same line as legitimate businesses.

Crime Rates in the U.S.A

The United States has been recording crime rates since the early 17th century. Factually, advancement in the rate of crime has constantly shifted. Crime rates in the U.S rose steadily between 1900 and 1990, after which they started to fall yearly until 2015, when new spikes were recorded. In 2018 and 2019, the crime rates dropped but increased again in 2020 and 2021, especially murders (Suartha, 2020). Even though the amount of crime in the U.S is high, it has significantly dropped over the past twenty-five years. The amount of crime is estimated to be forty-seven per a hundred thousand people in the U.S.

The United States government categorizes criminal acts into either violent crime or property crime. Under violent crime, the government outlines four types of criminal behavior: robbery, rape, homicide, and aggravated assault. The most common type of crime in 2016 in the United States was aggravated assault (Suartha, 2020). Cases of homicide have always been high in the United States, but in 2016, robbery was the second most common violent offence in the U.S. Government of the U.S lists property crimes to be motor vehicle theft and damage, burglaries, larceny, and arson.

Crime and Crime Rates in the Republic of China

In the past years, the government of China has cracked down on the influence of criminal gangs, illegal gambling, and the use of narcotics. The efforts put in by the government led to a decrease in crime rates. 1949 to 1956 saw a rise in non-political crime offences, including arson, murder, larceny, and rape. The same period also experienced major economic crimes such as tax evasion, bribery, and public property theft by unscrupulous business people and government officials. The crime rate in the Republic of China decreased from 1957 to 1965. The crime rate then increased subsequently until 1981, when the highest number of reported crimes was recorded. The most recent types of crimes that have been recorded in the Republic of China include; murder, fraud, theft, robbery, assault, rape, and smuggling (Suartha, 2020). Others include kidnapping of women and children, corruption, human trafficking, drug trade, domestic violence, and illegal guns. The Deng reforms in the Republic of China led to increased crime rates between 1984 and 2004. In 2004, more than a million criminal cases were reported in China.

Death Penalty in the U.S

Capital punishment (also termed the death penalty) can be described as the sentencing to death of a criminal and their subsequent execution, following a conviction of their crimes by a court of law. The death penalty dates back to 1630, when legal executions were conducted in some American colonies. The death penalty was imposed for many offences, even small crimes such as pickpocketing. Over the years, America reduced the number of capital offences and focused on the main ones. Also, executions were moved to be conducted within prison walls to eliminate the spectacle of public executions. The death penalty in the U.S saw public protests in the 1950s and 1960s, causing a gradual decline in the number of capital punishments in the U.S during that period.

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment to be unlawful due to how it was being used. The Supreme Court argued that capital punishment was a violation of the eighth amendment, which prohibited cruel and unusual punishment; it was stated that the death penalty was inconsistent in determining those who received or didn’t deserve it (MacLean & Miller, 2018). The Supreme Court further noted that new laws concerning the death penalty might be acceptable if they clearly outlined standards and procedures for the imposition of capital punishment. Essentially, no executions were carried out in the U.S from 1968 to 1976. From 1972 all through to 1976, death penalty laws were written by thirty-five states to meet the suggestions made by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in 1976, ruled in favor of capital punishment but gave clear guidelines on its application; executions resumed in 1977. In the same year, the Supreme Court made unconstitutional a law that inflicted capital punishment for the crime of raping adult women. In 2005, the Supreme Court decreed that it was illegal to inflict capital punishment on criminals less than eighteen years (MacLean & Miller, 2018). The court stated that capital punishment against murderers who were less than eighteen years was a violation of the eighth amendment. Additionally, the Supreme Court struck down capital punishment for crimes against persons that do not lead to death. In recent years, approximately fifty offenders have been executed yearly.

Twenty-seven states in the United States have retained the death penalty. The states include Utah, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wyoming, Indiana, Oregon, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, California, South Dakota, Louisiana, North Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Missouri, Idaho, Montana, and Nebraska. Additionally, the government and military of the United States retain the death penalty. Moreover, twenty-three states in the U.S have banned the imposition of capital punishment against offenders (Barry, 2019). The states include Alaska, Rhode Island, Colorado, North Dakota, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, New Mexico, Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa, West Virginia, Maine, Washington, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, and Minnesota.

Currently, in the United States of America, the death penalty is imposed for offenders convicted for committing murder or other capital offences. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the death penalty exists within the eight and fourteenth amendments and that its application is neither unconstitutional nor a cruel and unusual punishment. The United States federal government outlines capital offenses that are punishable by death. The offenses constitute spying or espionage, betrayal to state or treason, and different kinds of murder. The death penalty is applied to murder due to destruction of vehicles or aircraft, civil rights offenses, kidnapping, the assassination of the President or Vice President, and bank robbery (Barry, 2019). Other instances include sexual exploitation of children, use of a weapon of mass destruction, use of interstate commerce facilities and other various kinds of murder that the federal government considers to be capital offenses.

The execution of offenders who have been convicted sentenced to death is carried out in various methods. However, lethal injection is considered the only means of execution currently applied by the federal government and military of the United States (Barry, 2019). In 2020, the DOJ gave a ruling that allowed federal executions to be conducted by any means per federal law. Hence, execution methods such as lethal gas, firing squad, hanging, and electrocution are applied.

Capital Punishment in China

The Republic of China’s criminal law is severe and constitutes many crimes and offenses punishable by the death penalty. China’s 1979 Penal Code constituted seventy-four offenses liable to correction by capital punishment. In 1997, the Penal Code was revised, and the crimes facing capital punishment were reduced to sixty-eight; they included twenty-four violent crimes and forty-four non-violent crimes (Barry, 2019). In 2011, the code was again revised, and the crimes punishable by death were reduced by thirteen. In 2015, the penal code was further revised, and the offenses punishable by death were reduced by nine (Barry, 2019). Currently, the number of offenses subject to correction by capital punishment in China is forty-six; they include twenty-two non-violent offenses and twenty-four violent offenses.

Recently, capital offenses in China include treason, selling state secrets, collaborating with the enemy. Separatism, espionage, armed rebellion. Offenses that endanger public safety are also capital offenses, including arson, manslaughter, poisoning, bombing, sabotaging electricity, illegal possession of firearms, theft of explosives, and the illegal manufacturing of hazardous substances. Additionally, economic crimes such as manufacturing and selling counterfeit medicine and hazardous food products are considered capital offenses (Barry, 2019). Capital offenses also involve crimes against people such as rape, human trafficking, intentional assault, and homicide. Crimes against property such as robbery are considered to be capital offenses.

In addition, crimes against public order are considered capital offenses, including raiding a prison, smuggling, manufacturing drugs, and jail breaking. Offenses against national defense include sabotaging military weapons or communications and providing substandard military weapons and installations (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2018). Corruption, bribery, and embezzlement are crimes punishable by death in China. Lastly, capital offenses due to breach of duty by soldiers are punishable by death; they include surrender, selling military secrets, insubordination, falsely passing orders, theft of military equipment, cowardice, and killing innocent inhabitants of war zones.

The republic of China is the leading country in rams of death sentences and executions carried out on capital offenders. It is imperative to note that the Republic of China’s media and courts only report and publish a small number of capital punishment cases (DeLaet, 2018). China does not officially publish statistics on death penalty cases or the number of executions according to age, province, income level, gender, or type of crime committed. Therefore, it is ideally difficult to truly identify and keep track of death sentences in China. In 2007, the Supreme People’s Court was tasked with the power to review China’s death sentences. The shift saw a significant drop in the number of death sentences and executions conducted.

Before the Supreme Court was given the responsibility of reviewing death sentences, the provincial courts carried out the procedure of appealing such cases. They were in charge of carrying out the first instance and final instance appeals for death row cases. Basically, there was neither official procedural justice nor significant safeguards against abuse of the death penalty by the provincial courts. Therefore, there were rampant miscarriages of justice at that time.

The composition of the Supreme Court included hundreds of judges selected from all over the republic of China to form a committee that was tasked with the review of death penalty cases. The main aim of the capital punishment review committee was to ensure fewer death sentences and caution in the execution of capital offenders. The code of criminal procedure in China was amended in 2012, providing guidelines that the Supreme People’s Court must carry out the final appeal of all capital punishment cases (DeLaet, 2018). The code stipulated that accused offenders must be questioned and interrogated by the judges, who would also appropriately consider the lawyers’ opinions when reviewing the capital sentence.

The code also stipulated that the judges must ensure high standards of evidence in capital punishment cases take the responsibility of establishing a mechanism of excluding unlawful evidence in reviewing capital punishment cases. To some extent, the amendments made to the code of criminal procedure have seen a certain drop in the abuse of capital punishment in China. However, the reported number of judicial murders in China is still significantly low than the actual number (Jiang et al., 2018). In China, capital punishment statistics are legal secrets; keeping secrets concerning capital punishment is a national directive. It is imperative to state that the exact number of judicial murders in China is confidential and regarded as a state secret. However, researchers have approximated the number of executions In China to be five thousand annually; this estimates about fourteen judicial murders every day. Most judicial murders in the Republic of China are either through lethal injection or a gunshot of the head.

The Impact of the Death Penalty on Crime Rates in the U.S

A wide variety of research has been done in the previous years to determine the impact of capital punishment on crime rates in the United States, especially homicide cases. Many studies were done during the thirty-five years since the Gregg case, particularly in the past decade, to approximate the impact of the death penalty on homicide cases. Many researchers have used data collected since the Gregg case to examine the statistical relationship between homicide rates and the implementation of the death penalty (MacLean & Miller, 2018). Factually, all the studies conducted have different results and conclusions about their research. While some studies conclude that the death penalty saves many innocent lives, some argue that capital punishment can increase the number of homicides (MacLean & Miller, 2018). Others suggest that the death penalty has no impact on the homicide rates and other crimes in the United States.

The Committee on Deterrence and the Death Penalty was convened to solve whether homicide rates have increased or decreased due to the imposition of capital punishment on murder charges. The committee concluded that research data collected from previous decades does not provide informative conclusions of whether capital punishment increases, decreases, or has no impact on the number of homicide cases reported (Girelli, 2019). Therefore, it is prudent to note that this study, just like the ones before, does not provide an official and formal conclusion concerning the impact of capital punishment on crime rates in the US. This study uses different data from varied studies with different conclusions.

The Supreme Court, in 1972, ruled and struck down the death penalty in the Furman v. Georgia case. The court termed the manner in which capital punishment was being applied in the United States to be cruel and unusual and in violation of the eighth amendment of the constitution (MacLean & Miller, 2018). However, in 1972 in the Gregg V. Georgia case, the court ruled in favor of capital punishment, opening avenues for the states to revise their death penalty statutes to satisfy the requirements of Gregg.

The National Research Council immediately filed a report based on the evidence relating to the impact of capital punishment, published in the mid-1970s. The council concluded that the available studies provided no useful information or evidence to determine whether the death penalty affected crime rates (Sassòli, 2019). The post-Gregg era has seen many types of research conducted to unravel the dilemma in the past thirty-five years. All the studies conducted have come up with findings that widely vary and contradict each other. The conclusions and commentaries done on these findings have sometimes been bitter. Let us dive into the varied and contradictory conclusions.

The first arguments are that the death penalty has deterred the crime rates in the U.S. Capital punishment serves three basic objectives, specific deterrence, retribution, and general deterrence. General deterrence applies to the persons who might be thinking of committing a crime. The message received by such persons is that they should not commit any crime or they will be sentenced to death; therefore, the fear of facing the death penalty has reduced the crime rate (Grusic, 2021). Specific deterrence applies to the criminal sentenced to death: The death penalty reduces the crime rate since the criminals who have been sentenced to death won’t be alive to kill other people. Retribution applies to the general public in making moral judgments concerning the kind of punishment to criminals based on the crimes they committed. In light of this, twenty-seven states of the United States and the people’s representatives in the Congress have imposed the death penalty on murder.

It is clear that each execution conducted on death row criminals resulted in a decline in the reported murder cases by seventy-four. A study was conducted about the correlation between capital punishment and the number of reported murder cases between 1979 and 2004, using data made publicly available by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The study suggested that when the number of executions increased, there was a corresponding decrease in murders committed and the general crime rate (MacLean & Miller, 2018). When the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, murders dropped in the early 1980s. When the number of executions stabilized to approximately twenty per year, the cases of murder increased up to the late 1980s (MacLean & Miller, 2018). Throughout the 1990s, the number of judicial murders in the United States rose significantly; this caused a substantial drop in the number of murder cases and the general crime rate reported. Since 2001, the U.S has reduced the number of executions and recorded a significant increase in the number of murders reported and the overall crime rate.

The second line of arguments is that the death penalty has not led to a decline in crime rates in the United States. Some people think that capital punishment does not prevent crime whatsoever. The southern states of the United States oversee an approximate eighty-one percent of the country’s total executions, yet they record the highest number of murder cases and general crime rate (Pakes, 2020). It is also prudent to note that murder cases are generally law in states that have banned capital punishment. Since 1990, the states that have abolished capital punishment have continually recorded low homicide cases and reduced number of other crimes than states with capital punishment (MacLean & Miller, 2018). Some people argue that capital punishment is inhumane, discriminatory and claims the lives of some innocent individuals.

Some social researchers have argued that the death penalty has no deterrent impact on crime. They have argued that persons who commit murders do so mainly due to passion, the influence of drugs or alcohol, or because they are not mentally stable (MacLean & Miller, 2018). Such people give minimal or no contemplation or reasoning to their offenses’ potential outcomes or effects. Additionally, the researchers argue that professional murderers plan their crimes beforehand, intending to avoid punishment at all costs by avoiding arrest. Some self-destructive criminals commit crimes expecting to get arrested and apprehended.

The Impact of the Death Penalty on Crime Rates in China

The policymakers of China have been operating under a belief that capital punishment acts as deterrence for future crimes and serves as retribution or the ultimate incapacitation of a violent crime. However, the idea that the death penalty has a deterrence impact on crime rates has been the subject of significant political debate in the United States (Liang et al., 2019). A study conducted by a significant body of academic research has made suggestions that the death penalty has neither prevented nor reduced crime rates in China.

Statistically, the imposition of the death penalty has seen a consistent drop in homicide cases in China from 1996 to 2018. It is logically impossible to determine or draw conclusions on the impact of capital punishment in the Republic of China because, for one, the government of China has neither officially announced nor published the crime rate in China for access to the general public. Secondly, statistics about the death penalty cases and the number of executions carried out are treated as judicial secrets. However, we can use data estimations provided by various researchers to estimate capital punishment’s impact on crime rates in China.

In 2018, the number of crimes committed beforehand in the republic of China was one million, one hundred and ninety-eight thousand. At the same time, the number of criminals convicted was one million, four hundred thousand, and twenty-nine (Liang et al., 2019). When the number of criminal cases and convictions was calculated against the total population (one billion, three hundred and ninety-five million, and three hundred and eighty thousand), the crime rate was estimated to be eighty-five. In 2019, the number of first-instance criminal cases in China was one million, two hundred and ninety-seven thousand (Liang et al., 2019). At the same time, the number of criminals convicted was one million, six hundred and sixty thousand. When the number of criminal cases and convictions was calculated against the total population, the crime rate was estimated to be ninety-two. Averagely, the imposition of the death penalty has been a key factor in reducing China’s crime rate.

The Impact of the Death Penalty in the U.S versus China

The United States and the Republic of China have wide variations in the death penalty, both on its imposition and its effect on the crime rates. In the United States, the impact of capital punishment on the number of crimes is arguably varied. Researchers and policymakers of the United States have failed to agree whether death sentences have increased, reduced, or had no effect on the crime rate.

Some researchers argue that capital punishment has a deterrence impact on crime rates in the United States due to retribution, specific deterrence, and general deterrence. On the other hand, some researchers argue that low murder cases and reduction in general crime has been experienced in states that have abolished the death penalty. However, other researchers argue that capital punishment has no significant impact on the number of crimes since some criminals who commit crimes, especially murders, are mentally ill, self-destructive individuals, professional murderers, or under drugs or alcohol. Unlike the United States, capital punishment in China has proved to cause a significant deterrence on crime rates. There has been a substantial and consistent reduction in crime rates in China from 1995 to 2018.


Different countries have applied the death penalty to punish capital offenses. There have been international campaigns to abolish the penalty in the past years because it violates a human being’s right to life and the constitutional right to live without violent punishments. The death penalty is still imposed in the U.S and China, but the two countries are different in applying capital punishment. The Republic of China uses capital punishment in violent and non-violent crimes, while the United States only imposes capital punishment on violent crimes, especially murder. Studies conducted in both countries indicated varied results concerning the impact of capital punishment on crime rates. The United States’ researchers and policymakers lack a common ground on the issue. Various researches conducted in the U.S on the effect of capital punishment on crime rates shows that the death penalty does not directly affect crime rates.


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DemoEssays. (2023) 'Impact of Death Penalty on Crime Rates in the US and China'. 12 March.


DemoEssays. 2023. "Impact of Death Penalty on Crime Rates in the US and China." March 12, 2023.

1. DemoEssays. "Impact of Death Penalty on Crime Rates in the US and China." March 12, 2023.


DemoEssays. "Impact of Death Penalty on Crime Rates in the US and China." March 12, 2023.