Since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, a total of 118 nations have chosen to abolish the death penalty. However, despite the United Nation's strong encouragement to cease the use of capital punishment, many nations continue to permit the use of the death penalty for serious crimes.

The United States is o­ne of three industrialized nations (the others being South Korea and Japan) that continues to utilize capital punishment. The death penalty has long been a controversial issue in many areas of the United States.

Crimes currently subject to punishment by the death penalty vary from state to state, but generally include first degree murder, treason, the use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, and terrorism.

The first state to abolish capital punishment was Michigan in 1846. Michigan was eventually followed by Wisconsin in 1853 and Maine in 1887. Twelve other states and o­ne territory (the District of Columbia) have since abolished the death penalty. The states of New Hampshire and Kansas have not abolished the death penalty but have not used capital punishment a single time in the last thirty years, although these states still have inmates o­n death row.

The death penalty was federally outlawed in 1972 as a result of a Supreme Court decision in Furman v Georgia. This 5-4 decision held the use of the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment. The moratorium o­n the death penalty was reversed in the 1976 case of Gregg v Georgia.

Execution chamber, lethal injection
Although capital punishment is still allowed in most areas of the United States, there are currently a number of restrictions o­n the use of the death penalty. These include an abolishment of the death penalty for offenses committed by minors, and the abolishment of capital punishment for mentally retarded criminals.