In the states that have the death penalty, can Jon Doe be sentenced to death if he did not commit murder or a national security crime?

I'm not asking if he could be wrongly sentenced.

Let's say Jon Doe commits a crime like the theft of one trillion dollars and that money is gone for good (he lit it on fire), could he be sentenced to death after being found guilty?

1 Answer 1


In the US, only crimes that involve death or crimes against the state can be punished with death, see Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (this was a child rape case and execution was held to be unconstitutional). There is a consideration of "proportionality" whereby execution is not an option for all crimes involving death. The court doesn't include or exclude non-death cases, they explicitly kick the can down the road ("We do not address, for example, crimes defining and punishing treason, espionage, terrorism, and drug kingpin activity, which are offenses against the State"). Therefore, there is no ruling that bars execution for treason, but there is for rape and burning someone's stack of hundreds.

This is a list of 2008 pre-Kennedy non-murder "surviving" state capital offenses (most of the cases listed in the article are for rape, which was ruled unconstitutional):

Treason (Arkansas, Calif., Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington)

Aggravated kidnapping (Co., Idaho, Il., Missouri, Mont.)

Drug trafficking (Fl., Missouri)

Aircraft hijacking (Ga., Mo.)

Placing a bomb near a bus terminal (Mo.)

Espionage (New Mexico)

Aggravated assault by incarcerated, persistent felons, or murderers (Mont.)

However, in Washington the death penalty is now unconstititional. The Missouri penalty for treason has been since reduced to a maximum of life imprisonment. On the other hand, Florida still has a "capital drug trafficking" penalty if you import 300+ kg of cocaine, knowing that "the probable result of such importation would be the death of any person" (death does not have to actually result).

Here is a list of federal crimes that allow execution, which includes only large-scale drug trafficking, espionage and treason in the non-death crimes.

  • I'm a little confused by your list; you say that most of the pre-Kennedy capital offenses were for rape, but then there are no rape offenses on your list. Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 20:11
  • The missing link!! This is from an article written before the decision, and I only included the cases that were not excluded by Kennedy. Now I have to recover that article.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 21:09

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