Current Events: The Death Penalty

Three days before World Day Against the Death Penalty, the Oregon Supreme Court published an opinion that, according to advocates and experts, could empty the state’s death row. In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 1013, which narrowed the category of capital crimes, and more specifically what constitutes “aggravated murder”; aggravated murder being the only crime in Oregon which may hold with it capital punishment. At the time the bill was being considered many Oregon legislators explicitly stated that they did not believe the legislation would apply retroactively to those individuals currently on Oregon’s death row. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled otherwise. The court concluded, “… although the legislature did not make SB 1013 retroactive as to sentences imposed before its effective date, maintaining defendant’s death sentence would violate Article I, Section 16” of the Oregon Constitution, which addresses cruel and unusual punishment.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruling also comes right on the heels of French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement of his intention to advance a worldwide abolition of capital punishment. In 2022 France steps into the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. With this new role, Macron stated that France will organize a meeting to bring together countries still utilizing the death penalty and seek to convince their leaders of the merits and importance of abolishing capital punishment. Currently, over 70% of the world’s countries have abolished capital punishment in either practice or by law, and within recent history the trend sees countries moving away from the punishment. The United States can be seen as an outlier amongst many of its democratic country allies, as it continues its application of the death penalty.

Yet even within the United States, the death penalty is a contested issue. Currently, 26 states have abolished the practice through legislation, court rulings, or a formal moratorium on executions (Oregon falling into the latter category). Virginia became the twenty-sixth state to abolish capital punishment, passing a bill earlier this year and pushing the number of states in the union without the death penalty into the majority. As of this post’s publication, the United States has executed approximately 1,536 people since 1976.

This week’s Current Events resources explore the death penalty and the debate around its practice and history. The resources shared provide information, history and context to the issue of capital punishment within the state of Oregon, at the national level, and on an international scale.

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Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:

  • What are the arguments for and against the use of capital punishment? Which do you think are the strongest?
  • How does the United States’ relationship with the death penalty compare to the rest of the world?
  • How does the Supreme Court determine the constitutionality of the death penalty? What documents and precedents do they refer to?
  • What role does federalism play in the implementation and banning of capital punishment within the United States?
  • What role does public opinion play on the implementation and banning of capital punishment?
  • How has the perception of the death penalty changed throughout the course of both U.S. and human history?

Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions & Death Penalty Vocabulary

Click here for a hardcopy of the Extend the Resources handout with suggested lesson activities and extensions





Cruel and Unusual, More Perfect, NPR, June 2, 2016

The Death Penalty, Civics 101, July 31, 2018

The Decline of the Death Penalty, Reasonably Speaking, The American Law Institute, October, 2021


Background Resources:

Death Penalty Information Center

Death Penalty, Legal Information Institute – Cornell Law School

International Data, Death Penalty Information Center

Capital Punishment Divides Legislators, but Not Along Party Lines, National Conference of State Legislatures, January 1, 2020


Recent National Articles:

Oregon Supreme Court ruling could end death sentences for many, OPB, October 7, 2021

Ohio House lawmakers hear arguments for banning death penalty, 13 Action News – ABC, September 23, 2021

Justice Breyer questions constitutionality of the death penalty, Washington Times, October 4, 2021

Supreme Court hears arguments on reinstating the death penalty for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston Globe, October 13, 2021


Recent International Articles:

Sierra Leone formally abolishes ‘inhumane’ death penalty, Al Jazeera, October 8, 2021

More than 150 global business leaders call for end of death penalty, The Guardian, October 7, 2021

Macron calls for worldwide end to death penalty on 40th anniversary of French abolition, France 24, September 10, 2021

Death penalty: How many countries still have it?, BBC News, December 20, 2020


Recent Editorials:

Editorial: The death penalty debate Oregonians didn’t get to have, The Oregonian, October 10, 2021

Editorial: Death penalty bill did not mean what legislators intended, The Bulletin, October 9, 2021


Articles for Elementary Students:

Boston Marathon bomber Tsarnaev sentenced to death, Newsela, May 17, 2015

California’s new governor puts a temporary halt on the death penalty, Newsela, March 17, 2019


Lesson Plans:

Should the Death Penalty be Abolished?, Bill of Rights Institute 

Should the United States Stop Using the Death Penalty?, The Learning Network – The New York Times

Lesson Plan: Supreme Court Landmark Case Gregg v. Georgia (1976), C-SPAN Classroom

Debates for and against the death penalty in the U.S., Content-Based Language Teaching with Technology


Media & News Literacy Lesson Plans:

Media Literacy ResourcesNewseum

News & Media Literacy LessonsCommon Sense

Media Misinformation, Viral Deception, and “Fake News”University of Wyoming

Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake NewsNew York Times Lessons