A mere 14 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the United States first used the federal death penalty. On June 25, 1790, Thomas Bird was hanged for murder in Maine. Since then, a total of 343 people have been executed via the federal death penalty. Most were found guilty of murder but other crimes included rioting, rape, espionage, and piracy.
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Overall, the death penalty is governed by the individual states, rather than the federal government and the vast majority of death row inmates are there as a result of state laws. Nineteen of the 50 states have abolished the death penalty. Twenty-six have executed a prisoner in the last decade, seven carried out executions in 2014. Every state that has the death penalty allows for execution by lethal injection. Some allow for alternative methods - such as execution by lethal gas, firing squad, and electrocution - in case lethal injection is found to be an unconstitutional means of execution.
There has long been debate over the death penalty in the United States. Questioning of this practice continues to gain momentum. Many states no longer use the death penalty and more and more, juries are favoring life sentences over death sentences. Still, the death penalty continues to have vehement supporters as well.
Read more on the death penalty:
Death Penalty Focus: Working for alternatives to the death penalty
Cornell Law School: Death Penalty Worldwide