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The death penalty, or capital punishment is the deliberate ending of the life of a sentient being by a government. The act of carrying out the death penalty is usually referred to as "execution" and the person being executed was often referred to as the condemned. Throughout the history of the galaxy, many different cultures have carried out the death penalty against individuals, for a wide variety of reasons—usually for punishment for crimes such as murder and treason.
As late as the 22nd century, the Vulcan people still practiced capital punishment for serious crimes such as treason. Administrator V'Las told T'Pol that she would be executed for treason. It is unclear if the Vulcans continued the practice after the reforms of the 22nd century, and the disbanding of the Vulcan High Command. (ENT episode: "Kir'Shara")
By the 23rd century, the United Federation of Planets itself had only one death penalty left. This was for visiting the planet Talos IV in violation of General Order 7. In 2267, Spock risked his life to take a crippled Christopher Pike to the planet, but Starfleet decided not to prosecute Spock for taking Pike to Talos IV. (TOS episode: "The Menagerie", Parts I & II). By 2320, the Federation government was discussing whether or not to abolish General Order 7 and do away with that last death penalty. (TOS novel: Burning Dreams)
The capital sentence for visiting Talos remained in effect as late as the year 2373 when Omega Squad of Starfleet Academy was sentenced to death after visiting Talos in response to a distress call. The cadets were cleared after their actions in this matter helped fend off a Jem'Hadar assault on the telepathic races of the Alpha Quadrant. (SA comics: #9 Return to the Forbidden Planet, and #10 A Prelude to War; Reality's End)
Janice Lester, while in possession of Kirk's body, ordered the execution of Kirk (in Lester's body), as well as Spock, McCoy, and Scotty. Her insistence, despite the illegality of the order, caused the remainder of the Enterprise crew to turn against her. (TOS episode: "Turnabout Intruder")
During the voyage of USS Voyager, Tuvok (suffering from the effects of a mind meld) asked Captain Kathryn Janeway to consider having crewman and former Maquis member Lon Suder executed for the murder of another crewman. Janeway declined, opting to confine Suder to quarters. (VOY episode: "Meld")
In the 23rd century, some Federation-aligned worlds still maintained their own death penalty laws. On Deneb V, Harry Mudd was sentenced to death, and was offered a choice between being put to death either by gas or phaser. (TOS episode: "I, Mudd") When Montgomery Scott was suspected of several murders on Argelius II, the Prefect Jaris warned Kirk that if Scott was found guilty that according to Argelian law Scott would be executed by slow torture. (TOS episode: "Wolf in the Fold")
In the Klingon Empire, capital punishment was still a part of the Imperial justice system in the 24th century. Not only could an individual Klingon be executed for crimes, but so could other family members. Upon learning that Mogh had been judged guilty of treason, his oldest son Worf challenged the ruling, knowing that if he failed the Empire would have him executed. After learning of a conspiracy in the Klingon government, Worf backed down and accepted discommendation. (TNG] episode: "Sins of the Father")
The Cardassian Union also practiced execution into the 24th century. Individuals were often brought to trial, but the trial's outcome would be predetermined as guilty, and the sentence would usually be death. The Cardassians had captured Miles O'Brien in 2370, and intended to put him to death after a show trial. When it was revealed that the charges were part of a conspiracy to discredit the Federation, the Cardassian Central Command dropped the charges rather than risk exposure. (DS9 episode: "Tribunal") Commander Sisko once talked Gul Skrain Dukat into having the Maquis leader Thomas Riker being sentenced to life in prison rather than death so that Riker would be persuaded to surrender to the Cardassians. (DS9 episode: "Defiant")
Jem'Hadar who disobeyed orders were often executed almost immediately by the First - the highest ranking Jem'Hadar in a unit. Omet'iklan once killed a subordinate on board the USS Defiant (NX-74205) after the subordinate got into a fight with Worf in violation of his orders by breaking the neck of the other Jem'Hadar. Omet'iklan expected Captain Benjamin Sisko to execute Worf in turn, and was furious when Sisko refused to do so. (DS9 episode: "To the Death")
The natives of the Nabu system executed their criminals by sending them to asteroids which were doomed to exploded. The fact that no one knew when the asteroids were to explode added mental torment to their punishment. (TOS comic: "The Devil's Isle of Space")
The methods used for carrying out the death penalty have varied widely throughout history.
- Crucifixion - A method of execution carried out on Earth by a number of ancient cultures. Perhaps the most notable culture to employ this method of execution was the Roman state who considered the punishment to be a very dishonorable way to die. Those executed by this method included Spartacus and the human religious leader Jesus Christ. (TNG novel: Spartacus; VOY episode: "The Omega Directive")
- Tal-Shaya - A method of execution carried out in ancient Vulcan society. The method involved breaking the neck of an individual in a way designed to cause instant death. The ancient Vulcans considered it a merciful form of execution. In 2268 the Tellarite Ambassador Gav was murdered on the USS Enterprise by an Orion agent who used the Tal-Shaya technique. Gav was being transported to Babel to a conference to help decide the question of admitting Coridan III to the Federation. Many Vulcans knew how to perform Tal-Shaya, and when Gav was murdered suspicion initially fell to Spock's father Sarek, also being transported to Babel before the Orion agent was exposed. (TOS episode: "Journey to Babel")
- Hanging - A method of execution on Earth which involved having the condemned stand on a platform. A rope was placed around the condemned's neck and the platform was removed, or a door was opened underneath the condemned allowing him or her to drop several feet, causing death when either the person's neck was broken or when the person was asphyxiated. Trelane considered using hanging to execute Captain James T. Kirk. (TOS episode: "The Squire of Gothos")
- Gas - A method of execution in which a person was subjected to poisonous gas. This was one of the methods practiced by the Nazi government of Germany on a large scale basis to commit genocide against the Jewish people. (Historical Accounts). The Denebians also employed it as a method of execution, and it was one of the methods offered to Harry Mudd before he escaped from Deneb V. (TOS episode: "I, Mudd")
- Shooting - A method of execution in which a condemned was put to death using a weapon such as a gun or a phaser. The Denebians employed it as a method of execution, and it was one of the methods offered to Harry Mudd before he escaped from Deneb V. (TOS episode: "I, Mudd")
- Lethal injection - A method of execution on Earth and other worlds in which a condemned was put to death by having a lethal concentration of chemicals injected into them. Prior to implanting memory engrams of a murder victim into the mind of the person convicted their murder, the Banean executed them by lethal injection. (VOY episode: "Ex Post Facto")
- Suicide implant - All Vorta had a suicide implant that would cause rapid death if activated. Vorta were expected to activate the suicide implant if ordered to do so by a superior officer or a Founder, in effect becoming a method of execution. (DS9 episode: "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River")