50 Death Penalty Quotes That Will Make You Think

These death penalty quotes show it is a polarizing topic in the United States. 

As you will learn, people both for and against the death penalty often have compelling reasons for their strong points of view. 

Tell us which death penalty quote stands out to you in the comment section below. 

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Why should you read these death penalty quotes?

Reading death penalty quotes can show you different perspectives on this heavily debated subject.

It can also help you gain a better understanding of people who may not share your same beliefs. 

Whether for or against the death penalty, reading these quotes can increase your capacity for empathy and compassion for the people on both sides of the argument. 

The death penalty, also called capital punishment, is legal in 27 of the 50 United States. 

The states where the death penalty is legal are:

  • Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho, Indiana
  • Kansas, Kentucky 
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi, Missouri, Montana
  • Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina
  • Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon
  • South Carolina, South Dakota
  • Tennessee, Texas
  • Wyoming

Why do some states ban the death penalty?

The counterpoint to this list is the 23 states that do not allow capital punishment. 

There are several reasons why some states have chosen to ban the death penalty. 

One primary reason is the concern that it is a flawed and ineffective form of punishment.

Opponents of the death penalty argue that it does not serve as a deterrent to crime and that it can result in the execution of innocent people who have been wrongly convicted.

There are several moral and ethical arguments against the death penalty, too, along with the fact that it is a much more expensive punishment given the additional procedures and appeals that are required. 

Of course, supporters of the death penalty argue that it is a necessary and just form of punishment.

Many believe it to be the only reasonable punishment for heinous crimes like murder and that it provides justice and closure for the families and loved ones of victims.

Capital punishment proponents also argue that the death penalty is necessary to protect society from dangerous criminals who pose a continuing threat to public safety and who may commit further violent crimes if they are not executed.

We hope you find these death penalty quotes beneficial and thought-provoking!

Quotes against the death penalty

These quotes are from people who opposed the death penalty as punishment for crime.

1. “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.” Albert Camus

2. “Justice is never advanced in the taking of human life.” Coretta Scott King

3. “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed in retaliation.” — Coretta Scott King

4. “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

5. “My overriding belief is that it is always possible for criminals to improve and that by its very finality, the death penalty contradicts this.”Dalai Lama

6. “Government … can’t be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of its citizens to kill.” — Helen Prejean

7. “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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8. “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” J. R. R. Tolkien

9. “My objection to the death penalty is based on the idea that this is a democracy, and in a democracy, the government is me, and if the government kills somebody, then I’m killing somebody.” — Steve Earle

10. “With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory, I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.” Elie Wiesel

Quotes in favor of the death penalty

These words are from people who support the death penalty as a punishment for certain crimes.

11. “I believe that the death penalty is an effective penalty.” —Loretta Lynch

12. “I believe life imprisonment is far worse than the death penalty.” Nick Yarris

13. “I believe that people would be alive today if there were a death penalty.” Nancy Reagan

14. “I think capital punishment works great. Every killer you kill never kills again.” — Bill Mayer, TV host

15. “Personally have always voted for the death penalty because I believe that people who go out prepared to take the lives of other people forfeit their own right to live.” Margaret Thatcher

16. “I support the death penalty because I believe, if administered swiftly and justly, capital punishment is a deterrent against future violence and will save other innocent lives.” — George W. Bush

More death penalty quotes from supporters

Here are a few additional quotes in support of the death penalty.

17. “I don’t think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don’t think that’s right; I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people’s lives.” — George W. Bush

18. “I believe that that death penalty should be used only very rarely, but I believe that no one should go out certain that no matter how cruel, how vicious, how hideous their murder, they themselves will not suffer the death penalty.” — Margaret Thatcher

19. “If Capital Punishment is state-sponsored murder, then any lesser punishment is a state-sponsored murder of Justice…. It is Justice, not Laws, that cures the society. And Capital Punishment is the only Justice that suits a murderer.” — Saqib Ali, Democrat State Delegate

20. “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.” Immanuel Kant, 18th Century German philosopher

Death penalty quotes from judges and lawyers

These quotes show the perspectives of the death penalty from those working in the justice system.

21. “The death penalty is a solemn responsibility that demands the utmost care, caution, and scrutiny from the judicial system.” — Judge Thelton Henderson

22. “The death penalty is a punishment that is inconsistent with the evolving standards of decency and fairness in our society.” — Attorney Sandra Babcock

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23. “The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and a profound violation of the sanctity of life.” — Justice Anthony Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court

24. “The death penalty is a grave and irreversible punishment that requires the highest standards of fairness and justice in its application.” — Judge Rosemary Barkett

25. “The death penalty is a reflection of society’s values and priorities, and its application must be consistent with the principles of justice and the rule of law.” — Judge Alex Kozinski

26. “The death penalty is a serious and solemn matter that demands rigorous adherence to the principles of fairness and impartiality in its administration.” — Judge Jed S. Rakoff

27. “The death penalty is a form of punishment that raises profound constitutional questions about fairness, due process, and the limits of government power.” — Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court

28. “The death penalty is a moral and legal issue that requires a nuanced and thoughtful approach, balancing the rights of the accused with the interests of society.” — Judge Richard Posner

29. “The death penalty is a complex and morally fraught issue that challenges the legal profession to carefully consider the principles of justice and human dignity.” — Attorney Bryan Stevenson

30. “The death penalty is a punishment that is irreversible, and its administration must be conducted with the utmost care and caution to prevent the wrongful taking of human life.” — Attorney Barry Scheck

Quotes from the last words spoken by some of those sentenced to the death penalty 

These words were spoken by convicted criminals who were sentenced to death for their crimes.

31. “I’d like to say I’m sorry to the victim’s family. This is only the beginning, not the end.” Ted Bundy, notorious serial killer, before his execution in the electric chair in 1989.

32. “I did not get my SpaghettiOs; I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” Thomas J. Grasso, executed by lethal injection in 1995 for murder, complaining about his last meal.

33. “I am sorry for all the pain I’ve caused. I hope my death brings some peace and closure to the victim’s family.” Troy Davis, who maintained his innocence until his execution by lethal injection in 2011.

34. “I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ass.” Johnny Frank Garrett, executed by lethal injection in 1992 for a murder he claimed he did not commit.

35. “I forgive all of you. I hope you can find peace in your hearts and forgive me.” — Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by lethal injection in 2004 for arson and murder, proclaiming his innocence until his death.

More Quotes from those on death row

Here are a few more quotes from people who were sentenced to death for their crimes.

36. “I love you all very much. I’ll be waiting for you all. I’ll see you all soon. Bye.” — Gary Gilmore, the first person executed after the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States, by firing squad in 1977.

37. “I am innocent, innocent, innocent. Make no mistake about this; I owe society nothing. This is the biggest fraud there ever was.” Carlos DeLuna, who maintained his innocence until his execution by lethal injection in 1989.

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38. “I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. The world is not ending, and the sun is still shining. That’s all.” — Teresa Lewis, the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years, by lethal injection in 2010.

39. “I am innocent; I did not kill my wife; I love my children very much. They know that I’m innocent. You make me feel ashamed.” — David Ray Harris, executed by lethal injection in 2004 for murder, maintaining his innocence until his death.

40. “I apologize to the victim’s family. This is not a death. This is murder, and in the name of justice, it should stop.” — David Mason, executed by lethal injection in 1993 for murder, expressing his opposition to the death penalty in his final statement.

Death penalty quotes from religious and other well-known figures

41. “The death penalty is not justice. It’s revenge.” Martina Correia

42. “The death penalty is a symptom of a society that has lost its sense of compassion and humanity.” Richard Branson

43. “The death penalty is a blunt instrument that does not respect the complexity of human life and human dignity.” Helen Prejean

44. “The death penalty is a punishment that contradicts the basic principles of human rights and human dignity.” Desmond Tutu

45. “The death penalty is a legal process that kills people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong.” Sister Helen Prejean

46. “The death penalty is a reflection of society’s thirst for vengeance, not a rational and just response to crime.” Marc Morial

47. “The death penalty is a stain on our conscience, a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.” Shashi Tharoor

48. “The death penalty is a relic of the past, a cruel and inhumane practice that has no place in a modern and civilized society.” Pope Francis

49. “The death penalty is a moral issue that requires us to confront our deepest values and beliefs about the value of human life.” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

50. “The death penalty is not about whether people deserve to die for the crimes they commit. The real question is whether we deserve to kill.” Bryan Stevenson

The death penalty is in decline 

The use of the death penalty in the United States has been declining in recent years. 

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there were 18 executions in the United States in 2022, the eighth consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions. 

This is a significant decline from the peak of executions in the 1990s, when there were more than 90 executions in a single year. 

Additionally, the number of newly imposed death sentences has also gone down in the recent past, with just 20 new death sentences imposed last year.

This number is down by almost 50% since 2018 when there were 43 new death sentences. 

Polls show that public support for the death penalty is at a near-record low, despite the perception that violent crime is up.

Tell us your favorite death penalty quote in the comment section. 

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  1. Dudley Sharp

    June 26, 2023 at 7:19 AM

    “Longer life is no boon to the sinner himself in such a case, and that his decease will bring a double blessing to his neighbors; it will be a lesson to them to keep themselves from wrong and will rid society of an evil man. These are the reasons for which a legislator is bound to ordain the chastisement of death for such desperate villainies, and for them alone”

  2. Dudley Sharp

    June 26, 2023 at 7:16 AM

    “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.”
    Pope Pius XII

  3. Dudley Sharp

    June 26, 2023 at 6:41 AM

    Tolkein’s anti-killing quote is attributed to the wisest of his characters, Gandalf. who, individually, killed thousands and contributed to killing millions more, based within wisdom, fighting evil and preserving good.

  4. Dudley Sharp

    June 26, 2023 at 6:30 AM

    (NIV) Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

  5. Dudley Sharp

    June 26, 2023 at 6:21 AM

    Reply to Camus:

    Execution is no more murder than incarceration is kidnapping, fines are theft and the sanction of community service is slavery, meaning not at all.

    In order to equate murder and execution, Camus must, amorally or immorally,  equate guilty murderers and their innocent victims and crime and punishment. That is what Camus calls for. It’s irrational.

    The premeditation is due process, which exists for all sanction, for all crimes. Camus would impose anarchy, as his illogic calls for the end to due process. Camus, really, is that absurd.

    To put it simply, Camus is stating that is it more gracious to murder the innocent than it is to execute their murderers  . . . clearly contrary to Camus’ moral imperative, to save innocent lives, just as it is, morally, bizarre.

    If Camus applied his thoughts on war and, necessary, resistance to inhumanity, in the same manner as he does execution, he would have concluded no war and no resistance was ever required, which he would not agree with. 

    Camus is, simply, not consistent. He just applies his logic in a manner that changes with his likes and dislikes. It’s perspective, with little logical support, even from Camus.

    Maybe Camus could have used more premeditation, prior to writing.

  6. Dudley Sharp

    June 26, 2023 at 6:15 AM

    The deterrent effects of any severe sanction, any severe prospect and any severe negative incentive have never been negated and cannot be.
    Dudley Sharp

  7. Dudley Sharp

    June 25, 2023 at 3:55 PM

    ” . . . the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin anymore.”
    Saint Thomas Aquinas:

  8. Dudley Sharp

    June 25, 2023 at 3:51 PM

    Tolkein’s quote number 8 is by the character, Gandalf, who killed thousands and participated in the killing of millions, all for justice, standing for a just war, as well as killing in self defense and in defense of others, all against unjust aggressors, are also for justice and protecting the innocent.

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