The death penalty is one of the oldest methods of punishment for committing crimes. The main distinctive feature that defines the concept of death penalty is that it is the most severe punishment. Usually a person is executed after the court’s judgment. It is a forced measure, enforceable by the State in public interests. Death penalty is preceded by a long period of trial. Usually the defendant has an opportunity to appeal the court’s judgment. Often this leads to the fact that the prisoner can wait for execution for many years. A good example is the USA, where the convicted people are waiting for the final judgment for more than ten years. By 2012, 140 countries all over the world have abolished death penalty, in 58 countries such punishment still exists. But in 2011 only 20 stated used it. Among these countries, there are mainly states in the East and in Asia, including: China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. The United States of America is a country where this type of punishment is still practiced. According to the Amnesty International organization, there are five main methods of depriving life. Usually it is chopping off head, electric current, lethal injection, hanging or stoning. This organization is also struggling for abolishing the death penalty all over the world. Thus, in the end of the 20th, the beginning of 21st century the overall situation of the death penalty in the world has seriously changed. There exists a definite trend to abolishing it. In 1948, only eight countries in the world banned the death penalty, by 1978 this number had changed to nineteen and the main percentage of rejections of the death penalties falls on 1990th. By 2001, 109 countries of the world have declined death penalty.
For the first time the death penalty was used in Virginia in 1608. Captain George Kendall was accused of spying for Spain. In 1612 the governor of Virginia adopted a set of laws known as the “Divine, Moral and Martial laws”, which presupposed death penalty, even for the minor offenses like stealing grapes. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony first execution took place in 1630. In 1665 there was adopted a set of laws called the “Duke's Laws”, according to which people denying God were sentenced to death penalty.
Since the beginning of 18th century, there is a trend in America that tends to reduce the number of executions. At that time abolitionist movements appeared that were the opponents of the death penalty as a punishment for committing criminal acts. In the end of that century the Pennsylvania state has abolished death penalty for all crimes except for the murder. During the Civil War the movement against death penalty waned. Anti-slavery movement appeared instead of it.
During the Civil War the so-called "lynching" spread across the U.S. It was named after the landowner from Virginia, Charles Lynch, who was punishing the offenders without any trial. People were judged out of the courts; local habitants decided whether a person was guilty or innocent.
In the first half of the 20th century abolitionist movement was resumed. In 1960th support for capital punishment among the population has fallen incredibly. In 1972 a moratorium on the death penalty in the United States was imposed. It contradicted the Constitution. However, in 1976 the U.S. Supreme Court allowed all states to resume the death penalty. In 1982, the first execution after the moratorium was held in Texas.
Nowadays, the death penalty in the United States is legalized at the federal level. It is also a part of the criminal law in 33 states. Usually it is used for the most serious crimes, such as murder or rape. In total, there are seventy types of crimes that presuppose corporal punishment.
In 2005 the U.S. Congress on the initiative of the Republican Party has approved a bill which proposed to expand the list of offenses that presupposed the death penalty as the most severe punishment. It also advised to use corporal punishment in all the cases resulted in death.
Nowadays many states have death penalty, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada , New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon (moratorium from 2011 to 2015), Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah. In addition, death penalty may be imposed by the federal government and the U.S. military tribunal.
States that do not impose death penalty, include Iowa (since 1965), Alaska (1957), Vermont (1964), Wisconsin (1853), Hawaii (1948), West Virginia (1965), Illinois (2011),  Kentucky (2012),  Man (1887), Massachusetts (1984), Michigan (1846), Minnesota (1911), New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), New York (2007), North Dakota (1973) and Rhode Island (1984). The District of Columbia also has no death penalty.
In 2010, 46 people were executed in 10 states, including Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and Utah.
In 2011, 43 executions were held in 13 states – Idaho, Alabama, Arizona, Virginia, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and South Carolina.
Since 2002, only jury may bring a verdict of death. According to the U.S. law, people who were sentenced to death are automatically entitled to appeal to the higher courts. They may even appeal up to the highest judicial institutions. Due to this practice, criminals are waiting for execution for years. Sometimes prisoners convicted to death may be pardoned by the President or the Governor of the State, but such pardons happen very rarely.
In the U.S. women may also be put to death. However, according to statistics, women commit only up to 13% of murders and only 2% of them are sentenced to death.
In the United States different people may watch the process of execution, including family, relatives, authorities, the media and other convicted persons.
According to the United States Department of Justice (2011), “Between January 1 and December 19, 2011, 13 states executed 43 inmates, which was 3 fewer than the number executed as of the same date in 2010. Three states accounted for more than half of the executions carried out during this period: Texas executed 13 inmates; Alabama executed 6; and Ohio executed 5. Of the 43 executions carried out during this period, all were by lethal injections. No women were executed during this period” (p.2).
This report also informs that during the year 2010, 22 states received prisoners that were sentenced to death. California got 24, Florida 14, Arizona 9 and Texas got 8 (United States Department of Justice, 2011, p. 1).
Another statistics shows the number of people that were executed, according to their race and gender.
In some American states convicted persons can choose their own way of punishment. In various states, there are different methods of executions, including electric chair, lethal injection into a vein, shooting, gas chamber and hanging.
Execution by electric chair was first held in New York in 1890. This kind of punishment was considered more humane, as they thought that accused did not feel pain. The first electric chair was created in1889. The inventor was Thomas Edison and his friend Harold Brown.
It was supposed that the first condemned to death prisoners would be placed in a water bath or on the table. But Brown has proposed design of a firm, wooden chair. The first experience was not very successful, after the first 17 seconds of discharge current, an offender was still alive. Today electrical execution is possible to select in nine U.S. states.
In the U.S, the most popular form of punishment is a lethal injection. This type of death is possible to select in all states of America except for Nebraska. For example, in 2006, 52 people out of 53 were executed by a lethal injection.
In recent years death by shooting is rather rare in the U.S. From 1996 to 2010 there were no executions carried out by shootings at all. Only in April, 2010 in the state of Utah the defendant chose such measure of punishment. Often the process of execution is made by five men, armed with rifles of 7.62 calibers.
Nowadays, the United States is the only country in the world where death penalty is possible through the gas chamber. The gas chamber is a small room that has a glass ceiling in order one could watch the process of execution.
In the U.S. the method of hanging is still practiced. But this method is almost never used. Today only two states offer this kind of punishment.
Thus, in the U.S. and around the world the death penalty is one of the most hotly discussed issues facing the society. Supporters and opponents of abolition of this penalty express many reasons in support or against their position. According to the statistics, in those states that have death penalty, the criminal rate is lower than in the states that have abolished it. Furthermore, it is a good way for the authorities to execute legally innocent people. One should not also exclude an error factor. People tend to make mistakes. But the problem is that such mistakes cannot be corrected.