On June 29, 1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. By a narrow margin, the justices said that executing a criminal was “cruel and unusual punishment,” and violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Just four years later, the court reinstated the death penalty under a “model of guided discretion.”
 
Today, use of the death penalty is decided upon by individual states. Many states do not use the death penalty at all, including New Mexico, North Dakota, and Maine. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia have used it the most often.
 
As of 2013, the United States is one of just 58 nations that use capital punishment. The nations that use the death penalty most frequently are China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. 
amendment
Noun

change made to a law or set of laws.

constitution
Noun

system of ideas and general laws that guide a nation, state, or other organization.

criminal
Noun

person convicted of a crime.

death penalty
Noun

punishment by execution. Also called capital punishment.

discretion
Noun

thoughtful judgement or wisdom.

execute
Verb

to put to death by order of the law or in a well-planned manner.

frequent
Adjective

often.

margin
Noun

amount allowed or available beyond what is necessary.

punishment
Noun

penalty inflicted for a crime or offense.

reinstate
Verb

to restore or put a position or policy back in place.

Supreme Court
Noun

highest judicial authority on issues of national or constitutional importance in the U.S.

unconstitutional
Adjective

against the laws of the United States Constitution.

violate
Verb

to break a rule.

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