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Anti-Death Penalty Movement Takes Shape


Beginning in this period and lasting into the early 1800s, most states begin limiting the number of crimes that are punishable by death (known as “capital” crimes). In 1794, Pennsylvania repeals the death penalty for all crimes except first-degree murder and, in 1834, becomes the first state to hold executions inside prisons rather than in public. Soon after, Tennessee becomes the first state to switch to a policy of “discretionary sentencing,” meaning that the death penalty is not mandatory even if a defendant is convicted of a capital crime. A number of states begin following Tennessee’s lead, passing laws against mandatory death penalty sentences for certain crimes.