Death Penalty. A Comparison Between Germany and American Attitudes Towards Capital Punishment

Pre-University Paper, 2012

14 Pages, Grade: 15


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Definition of the death penalty

3 Historical aspects of the death penalty
3.1 History of the death penalty in Germany
3.1.1 GDR
3.1.2 FRG
3.2 History of the death penalty in the USA

4 Attitudes towards the death penalty
4.1 Attitudes of the German citizens towards the death penalty
4.2 The attitude of Americans towards the death penalty
4.3 Comparison of the American and German viewpoint

5 Own opinion

6 Survey

7 Bibliography

1 Introduction

October, 10th is known for being the “International Day Against the Death Penalty”. It was also the day the author of the term paper watched the movie ‘Green Line‘, in which an innocent black man was sentenced to death. It made her think about this kind of punishment and if it really is the right way to have somebody serving a sentence. She also realized that some countries still exercise the capital punishment, especially the USA. And she was also wondering how could two democracies, like Germany and the United States could have developed in such opposite directions.

In the following term paper the author is going to compare the German and American attitude toward the death penalty. At first she wants to clarify the definition. This paper will give a brief overview of the recent history of capital punishment in both states. The emphasis is on the comparison between these different attitudes. Providing to the findings of the German attitude the author indents to carry out a survey. Finally, she would like to express her own opinion on the topic.

2 Definition of the death penalty

Death as punishment was originally known as vendetta in ancient. It was allowed to take revenge on the murderer of your relatives. Today the death penalty is the most controversial punishment world-wide. By definition it is a provided for by statute homicide as a sentence for a capital crime. In the ordinary criminal law the death penalty is usually imposed for murder. Some states also punish other direct and indirect crimes against life and health of persons with death:

Trafficking (China)

Robbery resulting in death (United States)

Bank Robbery (Saudi Arabia)


Drug trafficking and possession of drugs above a certain amount

(Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan)

Rape (China, Saudi Arabia)

terrorist attacks on oil and gas pipelines (India)

The act has been banned in many countries. There are over 140 countries, which have abolished this kind of punishment. 58 states continue the enforcement. The majority of executions which have taken place in year 2010 were in China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States. These states have an age requirement to fulfil the homicide, but there is also a possibility to levy a death penalty on a minor (only in certain cases).

The standard method of execution is the lethal injection. Other ways of execution are shooting, the gas chamber, hanging and the electric chair. The four most practiced execution methods in 2011 were:

Lethal injection in China, Taiwan and USA

Beheading in Saudi Arabia

Hanging in Egypt, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, North Korea and South Sudan

Shooting in Belarus, China, Yemen, North Korea, Palestinian Territories and

Somalia [1]

3 Historical aspects of the death penalty

For thousands of years very serious crimes were penalized by death. In pre- state societies an unwritten family law allowed the relatives of a murder victim to take revenge with the offender and his family. With an increasing sedentariness rules and obligations become necessary. The first known law with a death penalty arose around 1700 BC.

3.1 History of the death penalty in Germany

The death penalty has a long history in Germany. At the time of the Empire the legal position of the death penalty was inconsistent. Since 1871 the death penalty was imposed for murder and attempted murder of the emperor or ruler. The executions during the Weimar Republic dropped steadily, but an application of the SPD in 1927 to abolish the law was rejected.

Immediately after the seizure of power by the Nazis in March 1933 they issued the "kingdom act and imposition of the death penalty". The crimes expanded so it was imposed for any offense from 1944 under "healthy popular sentiment". Between 1933 and 1945, 16560 death sentences were imposed, approximately 12,000 of them were enforced. After the failed assassination on Hitler especially many executions and mass executions were made.

3.1.1 GDR

The Soviet occupation force was responsible for hundreds of killings in the 1940s and 1950s. In the GDR the death penalty was inflicted for murder, espionage, war crimes, sabotage and counter-revolutionary crimes'. Death sentences were announced in show trials, the executions took place under strict secrecy. The truth revealed after the turnaround. The GDR abolished the death penalty officially in 1987.

3.1.2 FRG

During the Nuremberg Trials there were a majority of executions because of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Federal death sentences were carried out until 1951 in prisons in the U.S. Army on German soil. Until the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 the application within the countries was inconsistent. The constitution declared the death penalty to be abolished. Although when the penal laws still contain appropriate provisions, they could no longer be enforced, and were formally replaced by life imprisonment. According to the German Basic Law and privacy laws the abolition of the death penalty is absolute and unchangeable, and is to carry into all future German constitutions. It is a non-tenable fundamental right that can’t be rescinded by any legislative initiative. [2]


[1] Death Penalty Law Law & Legal Definition- In: (Abruf vom 27.12.2012) Amnesty International Schweiz :Todesstrafe Zahlen und Fakten. – In: (Abruf vom 27.12.2012) ALIVE - Koalition gegen die Todesstrafe e.V.Ä: Exekutionsmethoden. In: (Abruf vom 27.12.2012)

[2] ALIVE - Koalition gegen die Todesstrafe e.V.: Ein Blick in die Geschichte – In: (Abruf vom 28.12.2012) Wikimedia Foundation Inc.: Todesstrafe – In: (Abruf vom 28.12.2012) Michael Kahr: Die Geschichte der Todesstrafe in der ehemaligen DDR Teil-1. – In: (Abruf vom 28.12.2012) Geschichte der Todesstrafe: Amnesty International Schweiz. – In: (Abruf vom 27.12.2012)

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Death Penalty. A Comparison Between Germany and American Attitudes Towards Capital Punishment
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death penalty, englisch, Facharbeit, capital punishment, Todesstrafe, Vergleich, Deutschland, Amerika, USA, Geschichte, comparison, attitude, Einstellung
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Aleks Ancenko (Author), 2012, Death Penalty. A Comparison Between Germany and American Attitudes Towards Capital Punishment, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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