WHEN LIFE GENERATES DEATH (LEGALLY)
FROM MIDDLE AGES TO TODAY
In Europe, in the Middle Ages, there's a great confusion and overlapping of powers, because the feudal system provided many powerful men, the king or the emperor and the feudatories; so there were many men who could comminate punishments, even the capital one, which was applied for crimes such as murder, theft, sacrilege and high treason, sometimes respecting the laws, but often in arbitrary way. It was applied through beheading, hanging, drowning and torture till death.
There was a long time in the European history when death penalty was applied for delicts that are now considered of opinion. The fusion of politic and religious power caused for many centuries the condemnation of people who were against the Church ideas, in all ranges (political, scientific, etc.), and also there were many women condemned and burned, like witches.
Over the centuries, death penalty was still in use in many countries and new death instruments were frequently added. For example, in the France of the Ancienne Regime it was executed in different and terrible ways according to the social class of the culprit and the committed crime: the hanging was for the countrymen, the beheading for the nobles, the wheel for the heaviest crimes, the stake for the religious crimes, the quartering for the crimes against the State. During the Revolution, on Guillotin's proposal, different penalties were abolished and guillotine was introduced for everyone.
Death penalty remained in the largest part of legal systems until the end of XVIII century, when the attempts to oppose it started to be many and important. The most famous denunciation of the unfairness of death penalty comes from the Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria, who in his literary work Dei Delitti E Delle Pene (1764), sustaining its ineffectiveness as a prevention way for crimes and laying stress on the possibility of juridical errors, suggested its abolition; Beccaria's work obtained great attention also outside Italy and influenced in a decisive way the movements for the riformation of legal systems. One of the first examples of total abolition of death penalty is due to Pietro Leopoldo of Tuscany, who eliminated it from the Tuscany Grand Duchy in 1786. From the XIX century, in many States, first in some western one, then in many others, death penalty was abolished, and it was substituted with other punishments like the life imprisonment.
During this century it still was used by some dictatorial governments to get rid of the people who opposed them, for reasons of ideology or skin color, like in South Africa during the apartheid, in Russia in the time of Lenin and Stalin, in Europe in the time of the Nazism.
But sadly in many states it's still in use, and the people, in the largest part of the cases, agree to this extreme penalty. In many countries, expecially the ones which have a dictatorial regime, death penalty is applied quite arbitrarily by the powerful ones, though there have been written laws since many centuries.